FROM THE BISHOP
R. LAWSON BRYAN
“That’s what we need to hear today.” That was the response of my administrative assistant, Bobbi Googe, to this quote from John Wesley: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” Wesley does seem to be speaking directly to us today. And this is a popular Wesley quote. I like it, and I am challenged by it. But I also know that it is easily misunderstood apart from its context in Wesley’s sermon, “A Catholic Spirit.”
John Wesley did not mean that differences of doctrinal belief do not matter and should be glossed over. Wesley had many strong beliefs, held them with tenacity, and preached them with vigor. He did not shy away from engaging in serious debate with those who differed with him. In fact, the first clause of this famous quote shows how much Wesley is a practical theologian who recognized that, realistically speaking, there is no way to expect all of us to think alike on every matter. We are limited, finite creatures who come from separate backgrounds and life experiences. There are matters of conscience and deeply held beliefs on which people of faith may differ. Rather than overlooking or explaining away those differences, it is more honest and helpful to say, “…we cannot think alike….”
The genius of John Wesley is seen in what comes next, “…may we not love alike.” Wesley knew that doctrine matters, but he also knew something else. In his essay, “The Character of a Methodist,” he says that Methodists are not distinguished by manner of speech or outward appearance. Rather, Methodists love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and they love their neighbor as themselves. It is possible to be serious-minded about core beliefs while also extending a heart of love and peace to those with whom we disagree. That is what Wesley knew how to do.
And that, I believe, is what we see lacking in our own day. Either we assert our own deeply held convictions or we sacrifice those convictions for the sake of getting along with others. To John Wesley that is a false choice. He wanted Methodists to know that we do not have to fall for that. We can love God (theology and doctrine, rightly understood, are ways we seek to love God) and we can love our neighbor (including those with whom we cannot think alike).
How do we translate this into action in our lives? Here are the responses given by some of our sisters and brothers in South Georgia.
Rev. Don Adams, retired pastor: Any Biblical Christian is going to be under the same commandment to love our neighbor. We may differ as to how that happens. But there is no exemption.
Rev. Abra Lattany-Reed, pastor of Harper’s Chapel, UMC: Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 1:10, I am reminded that, as Christians, we are called to be united with the same understanding and same conviction not because we are exactly alike, but because we pledge our allegiance to the same Lord. This allegiance supersedes any other allegiance we may be compelled to follow.
Rev. Ben Gosden, pastor of Trinity UMC, Savannah: We must hold loving our neighbor at the very core of all of our convictions. Thomas Merton once wrote: “Love is our destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves, we find it with each other.” I need to hold on to the truth that whatever differing conviction we might have pales in comparison to the blessing of being sojourners together on this road of discipleship.
Rev. Rebecca Duke-Barton, pastor of Jesup First UMC: Jesus told us that the world would know we are his disciples when we love one another. Often our motivation is not to love and seek peace, but to be right and win the argument. This is not the way of Jesus. The Bible teaches a more excellent way.
Mr. J. Knapp, Conference Lay Leader: Whenever and wherever we gather, we do so with different perspectives, different gifts, and different ways of understanding – because God has made each of us unique. Yet above all of that, He has also made us each in His Holy image. When we choose to focus upon the calling Jesus placed before each of us rather than on the issues and the divisiveness around us, that is when the Holy Spirit bridges what divides us and binds us as the Body of Christ. The choice - our choice - is to keep our eyes upon the Cross.
A composite statement from members of the Appointive Cabinet: See everyone, even those with whom you are at odds, as persons created in the image of God. How would God have me relate to people who are made in God’s image? Follow the directions given by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-35. Pray to be able to look at people through the eyes of Jesus.
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?” That is what people need to hear today. Will they hear it from us?
Alive Together at the Table,
R. Lawson Bryan