Author: Tim Crouch, Lay person, North Texas Annual Conference
“Let us know the meaning of the word (Methodist). Let us not always be fighting in the dark. Come and let us look one another in the face… and perhaps some of you may love what I am by the grace of God.”
- John Wesley – The Character of a Methodist
Is your heart right, as my heart with your heart? If it is, give me your hand. – 2 Kings 10:15
What is the Character of Methodist Centrists? In 1742, in “The Character of a Methodist,” John Wesley used the quotes above as a central theme. It is Wesley that has inspired the Methodist movement for over 280 years, but it is a movement that is now severely challenged by perhaps the most un-Wesleyan spirit—a spirit of intolerance and a spirit of incompatibility.
The challenge that faces those Methodists, who see themselves in Tom Berlin’s sugar packets as progressive compatibilists or traditional compatibilists, is that the positions of the incompatible progressives and the incompatible traditionalists are well known. It is less clear what the compatibilists or the centrists stand for. For most Methodists compatibilists, one thing that they know is what they are not–heartless traditional incompatibles nor wild-eyed progressive incompatibles.
In an age of absolutism, which prevents one side from listening to the other, our divisions tend to define us instead of our finding the common ground that draws us together. For those of us in the middle, the centrists, it is time to remember what we stand for and not what we are against. It is only appropriate to turn back to John Wesley to remember what it is that defines us as Methodists. After all, John Wesley was a centrist. In his “Character of a Methodist” he said, that he believed that Christians could be united by a few essential doctrines and have differing opinions on less important things, “but as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think “.
The presenting question facing Methodists today is whether the issue of human sexuality is a question of doctrine. For the centrists today the answer would be no. The debate over human sexuality is a debate over what might be considered conflicting passages of the Bible. Wesley’s interpretation would point to Jesus’s words, that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. Wesley today, might then add that while there are a variety of opinions about human sexuality, that opinions should be respected on all sides. And that is what Methodist Centrists believe—that we should listen and respect all opinions and to allow those with whom we disagree the right to their opinion. If you are a progressive incompatibilist or a conservative incompatibilist, your positions are incompatible with those of the founder of our faith.
As Methodist Centrists:
- We believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior
- We believe that scripture is inspired by God
- We believe that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and experience helps us to make the Bible relevant to our daily lives
- We believe in a Big Tent Church that allows room for progressives, centrists and traditionalists.
- We believe that we can live and worship and work with one another despite our differences.
- We believe that the grace of God is sufficient and is available to all
- We believe that we are called to love one another, even in the midst of our disagreements
- We believe that we are called to Make Disciples of Jesus Christ and in making disciples that we can transform the world
- We rejoice in reconciliation
- We believe that though we cannot all think alike that we can all love alike
- We believe that diversity in our churches is a gift from God and strengthens our church
- We believe in Wesley’s first General Rule to “Do No Harm”
As Methodists, we seek to follow John Wesley’s lead in asking, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?” rather than asking whether we agree with each other on the issues that are facing us today. But are our hearts right with God? Do we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that through him we are fighting the good fight of faith, that it is not our will but the Will of God that guides us, that we love all people without exception, that we love our enemies and that we show love by our works?
Then in answer to the question: “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?” we can reply “Give me your hand.” Hand in hand we can believe in and hope for a better future through the love of God.
What is the character of a Methodist Centrist? A Methodist Centrist is a true Wesleyan, a Wesleyan that embraces John Wesley’s understanding of our faith: “One Lord, One God and Creator of All, who is above and through all, and in you all.” – Ephesians 4:6
It is incredibly presumptuous for me to write something that defines the Character of Methodist Centrists. I am not a Bishop of the Church, I have not been to seminary, I am a lay person. However, I felt called to make a statement about what I believe that most Methodists believe. I believe that most people in our churches today want to continue to be the church together and not be forced to choose between two squabbling parents. I believe that the center will hold if we can clearly state what it is that we believe about our faith. – Tim Crouch, Lay Person North Texas Conference.