And So Shall We

It was a part of every membership inquiry class in twenty-eight years of pastoring United Methodist churches. I would pass out a copy of the Social Principles to each person, and we would go through it together. Oh, how spirited the discussions were!

I decided to become a United Methodist as a young adult in part because I loved John Wesley’s insistence that the social aspect of holiness is essential to the Christian faith. In the Preface of Wesley’s Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), he writes, “Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.”

My intent in spending time with the Social Principles was strategic. I wanted those who felt led to become part of United Methodism to understand our roots in both evangelical piety and a passion for imitating Jesus by “preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, liberating the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Many times, I would remind participants that United Methodism strives to be a theologically, economically, socially, and spiritually diverse denomination that welcomes people from all walks of life. More than once I used George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as examples of how United Methodists can belong to different political parties and still claim a common Wesleyan spiritual heritage. Of course, we didn’t always agree with one another, but, time and again, I heard these words, “I want to be part of a church that wrestles with integrity about difficult issues, encourages people to come to their own decisions, and honors differences while remaining united in mission.”

The Social Principles is one of United Methodism’s greatest gifts to Christianity and to the world. Previous Books of Discipline dating back to John Wesley’s time contained statements on social holiness and justice. The origin of the first “official” Methodist Social Creed, however, was in the early years of the 20th century when The Methodist Federation for Social Service (later Social Action) was founded in Washington, DC, in December of 1907.

Recognizing that our country was moving from an agrarian to an industrial society, the leaders of this group decided to draft a set of statements about the rights of workers and presented it to the 1908 General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church, where it was adopted. The Methodist Social Creed of 1908 was the first social statement of any religious group in the U.S., and to this day it is posted on the wall in the rotunda of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The 1908 Social Creed was rewritten in 1972 and again in 2008, when a companion litany and musical version was also produced that could be sung to various musical styles.

God in the Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ, calls us by grace
 to be renewed in the image of our Creator, that we may be one in divine love for the world.

Today is the day God cares for the integrity of creation, wills the healing and wholeness of all life, weeps at the plunder of earth’s goodness.
And so shall we.

Today is the day God embraces all hues of humanity,
delights in diversity and difference, favors solidarity transforming strangers into friends.
And so shall we.

Today is the day God cries with the masses of starving people, despises growing disparity between rich and poor, demands justice for workers in the marketplace.
And so shall we.

Today is the day God deplores violence in our homes and streets,
rebukes the world’s warring madness, humbles the powerful and lifts up the lowly.
And so shall we.

Today is the day God calls for nations and peoples to live in peace,
celebrates where justice and mercy embrace, exults when the wolf grazes with the lamb.
And so shall we.

Today is the day God brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives,
gives sight to the blind, and sets the oppressed free.
And so shall we.

In 1972, an expanded version of Methodist principles related to social issues was also approved by the General Conference of the newly formed The United Methodist Church (1968). The Social Principles are in our Book of Discipline but are generally not legally binding. Rather, they are a guide to help United Methodists determine how, from a biblical and theological foundation, we can create a just world where all people are empowered to live full and meaningful lives. Every four years the Social Principles are reviewed for inclusion in the new Book of Discipline.

 

The 2012 General Conference acknowledged the incredibly fast pace of change in our world as well as the global nature of our church by recommending that a complete rewrite of the Social Principles be initiated. Several hundred United Methodists from around the world have been working in six teams to create social principles that are more concise, relevant, and globally inclusive. Two of the sections, “Human Sexuality” and “Rights of Persons of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities” have not yet been rewritten in light of the 2019 special called General Conference to consider the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.

I’ve had a chance to read over the current draft of the revised Social Principles, and I take great delight in discovering new sections and paragraphs that express so well the contemporary issues of our world and the social holiness to which we are called as United Methodists.

  • In The Community of all Creation, we read, “Creation is an expression of God’s grace, and God’s creation is very good,”… “We lament humanity’s disregard for God’s beloved creation, which has a global impact, especially in the progression of climate change,”… “We recognize God as the ‘soul of the universe.’” And so shall we …
  • In The Nurturing Community,” a common theme is found, “Each person is formed in the image of God and endowed by God with intrinsic worth.” Sections such as “Full Inclusion of Differently-abled Persons,” “Sexual Exploitation and Violence,” “Bullying,” and “Suicide,” are written with sensitivity and compassion. And so shall we …
  • In The Social Community,” we read, “Healthcare is a basic human right… Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions where health thrives is a responsibility shared among individuals, governments, and society.” In another section is a relevant statement for today’s world, “The promise of God’s kingdom is made visible when racial diversity is celebrated.” And so shall we …
  • In The Political Community we remember the scriptures (Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 10:18) about caring for the sojourners, widows, and orphans and read, “It is the obligation of governments and the Church to care for those who are socially disadvantaged or who lack adequate access to resource needed to thrive…” I also like the emphasis on restorative justice rather than retributive justice. And so shall we …
  • In The Economic Community, I found an interesting statement lamenting the prosperity gospel. “As a church we utterly reject the notion that material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing for individuals, peoples, and nations, and, conversely, that the lack of such wealth signals the absence of God’s favor.”… Serving as the episcopal leader in a farming state, I appreciate this. “We call upon the agribusiness sector … to responsible corporate citizenship that respects the rights of all farmers, small and large, to receive a fair return for honest labor.” … The section on human trafficking is new and grieves the holding of any human being in captivity. And so shall we …
  • In the final section, The World Community, I was deeply grateful for this claim, “Our ability as a church to flourish together for the common good of this one world, is only possible as we join in solidarity across nation and culture, trusting in God’s promises.”

The General Board of Church and Society is eager to hear from United Methodists around the connection, and so shall we have a chance to offer input! You can find the current draft revision of the Social Principles here. After reading the draft, if you would like to give feedback, please click here. Every voice is important! May the call to do justice, love kindness, and walk with God be embodied in our everyday lives.

Their Only Dream

My heart went out to Ziki. Ten days ago, I saw a special CBS news report on child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ziki is an eleven-year-old boy who mines cobalt along with 40,000 other children in the Congo. His parents died, so he has to work to support his grandmother and younger siblings. His only dream in life was to go to school.

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its vast natural resources. The DRC mines over 50% of the world’s cobalt, which is a critical component for electronic devices such as cell phones, lap tops, and electric cars. However, mining cobalt is dangerous, especially for children, many of whom breathe in toxic fumes and perform backbreaking work rather than attend school. Ziki’s only desire was to go to school and receive an education.

The DRC has been in the news lately because of a very serious and ongoing humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Security Council has expressed great concern over the deteriorating political and economic situation, with at least 13.1 million Congolese in need of assistance out of a population of 30 million. More than 7.7 million people are experiencing severe food insecurity. The UN also expressed concern over the extremely high number of internally displaced persons in the DRC. That number has doubled in the last year to more than 4.49 million. There are also more than 714,000 refugees from the DRC who are now living in neighboring countries because of internal fighting.

The strife is not new, however. According to a video produced by Save the Congo!, over 5.4 million Congolese were killed between 1998 and 2008. Save the Congo! is a Congolese-led campaign group that has been working since 2008 to help end the wars that are destroying the country and its people. The video also states that the DRC is the rape capital of the world, with a woman being raped every minute of every day since 1998. Around 1,500 people are killed every day in the DRC by wars, famine, and diseases.

Last Friday, The European Union, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Kingdom of the Netherlands co-hosted the DRC Humanitarian Conference in Geneva. $528 million was raised at the conference by international donors to mobilize resources to respond to the crisis in the DRC. Unfortunately, President Joseph Kabila of the DRC refused to participate in the conference, insisting that there is not a humanitarian crisis in Congo at all. Kabila’s mandated two-term limit expired on December 19, 2016, and by refusing to cede power, he is denying the country’s Constitution.

Plans to organize governmental elections have been stalled, and security forces have sought to suppress dissent by human rights activists, journalists, and civilian protestors. Catholic bishops had sought to mediate a power-sharing agreement to hold elections by the end of 2017, but it hasn’t happened yet.

According to news reports, six people died on January 21 in Kinshasa after Congolese security forces used violence to disperse protestors who were demanding that President Kabila step down and that new elections be held. Ahead of the protests, the government also cut internet and SMS services (text messaging) across the country.

The United Methodist Church has a long-standing presence in the DRC, particularly in Katanga Province. There are three million United Methodists in the DRC, more than in any other country in Africa. Since fighting originally erupted in 1999, local United Methodist churches have been involved in the peace process and have assisted refugees from other countries as well as internally displaced persons. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has had an office in the DRC since 2001.

Last week Rev. Kiboko Kiboko, who is a district superintendent in the Iowa Annual Conference and is from the DRC, shared his country’s struggles and told about his brother Vano’s leadership in the midst of the violence. Vano gave me permission to tell his story.

A few years ago, a woman named Ms. Mule was killed trying to protect her land. At the time, Vano, who was a former Congressman and also represented Kiboko’s tribe, the Sanga tribe, and other tribes residing in Kolwezi, took a stand. He pleaded for Congolese to work together and said that whoever was responsible for this woman’s death should be brought to justice. Vano also protested the non-revision of the Constitution by President Kabila.

When a reporter asked to speak to him, Vano replied that he was flying to Houston the next day for surgery. Vano’s passport was subsequently confiscated at the airport. The next day he received his passport back but disappeared for six hours and was taken to a maximum-security prison. Vano was confined to prison for 492 days and began to share his faith and evangelize the prisoners. He started a ministry in the prison to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, take care of youth who were imprisoned, bring doctors for the sick, and find teachers to create a school system.

Every day, more than thirty people gave their lives to the Lord through Vano’s ministry. After the first sixty days in prison, Vano had a congregation of four hundred people! He called his United Methodist bishop and said, “People here want to be baptized.” The bishop gave Vano permission to baptize those who had confessed their faith in Jesus. In 492 days in prison, Vano converted more than 1,500 people and baptized more than 700 people.

More than that, Vano taught the values of being United Methodist to those who had been imprisoned. When people asked, “Why are you not upset at the government?” Vano said, “God placed me here to make a difference.”

Vano was set free on May 5, 2016, the day before the 2016 General Conference began, with advocacy from the General Board of Global Ministries. When asked about the courage he demonstrated in prison, Vano said, “I am afraid of being afraid. They need my voice.”

Imagine. Eleven-year-old Zikki is now going to school because of the generosity of donors. He says that his only dream now is to become a minister when he grows up so that he can help other people.

Imagine. Vano Kiboko had the courage to be a voice for the voiceless and stand up to injustice. From the pain he experienced through his imprisonment, Vano’s only dream became sharing the word of God with those who do not know Jesus, ministering to the needs of the other prisoners, and celebrating God’s grace with them through the breaking of bread and the sharing of food. In Vano’s words, “When the pain turns into praise and adoration of the Lord, everyone is filled with joy and happiness.”

The only dream of United Methodists in the Congo is to resist injustice and oppression wherever it is present, provide assistance to those in need, and embody the good news of Jesus Christ. If you feel led to help, you can support UM missionaries in the DRC by clicking here, and you can contribute to Advanced Special UM projects in the Congo by clicking here.

Thanks be to God for The United Methodist Church, the United Nations, the European Union, CBS, Save the Congo!, and all those who are helping to make the dreams of our Congolese brothers and sisters become a reality in their beautiful and broken country.

A Single Garment of Destiny

The coincidence was startling. It was last Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the daily devotion from The Upper Room Disciplines was Acts: 4:32-35. It was also one of the lectionary passages for yesterday.

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need. (CEB)

Acts 4 describes God’s hopes for us as disciples of Jesus Christ. You and I are called to live in community with one another, honoring differences, making sure that each person’s needs are cared for, and bearing witness to God’s abundant grace for our world and every living creature.

Driving to the office last Wednesday, I listened to NPR’s On Point, which focused on Dr. King’s legacy. When King was killed on April 4, 1968, he had been in Memphis to support black sanitation workers who were on strike and had experienced a pattern of abuse and neglect. King had been there previously and said to a group of labor and civil rights activists and church leaders in Memphis on March 18, “You are demonstrating that we can stick together. You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down.”

On April 3, King was back in Memphis and preached to a crowded church about the sanitation strike and his own future. It would be King’s last speech. “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” King also warned that “the whole world is doomed” if something “isn’t done and done in a hurry to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty.” The next day, shortly after 6 p.m., Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.

Economic, social, and racial justice were all woven into a single garment in King’s ministry. The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.” In NPR’s April 4 On Point program, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, leader of the Poor Peoples Campaign, which was organized in 1968 by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said, “In some ways, we’ve moved forward and we’re thankful for that. But in other ways we’ve made it worse. We have more poor people in this country now than in ’68. 140 million people are poor or working poor. That’s 43 percent of the nation. And we are having elections where there is no discussion of poverty. Only the middle class and the military. That’s a tragic reality.”

The single garment of destiny has yet to become a reality. In a meeting last Wednesday, we shared memories of April 4, 1968. I remember the day King died but without any details. All I know is that my parents were very sad. One said, “I was in college and remember a white friend who came into the room and said, ‘Thank God, that bastard is dead.’”

It was also remembered that Robert F. Kennedy flew to Indianapolis that night and, despite warnings, went directly to the black ghetto and addressed a large gathering in one of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century. “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” A single garment of destiny.

“There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.”

We also reflected on the interesting confluence of King’s assassination with the 50th anniversary of The United Methodist Church. It was a few weeks later, on April 23, 1968, that the Evangelical United Brethren Church (75,000 members) and the Methodist Church (10.3 million members) merged into one church. The merger was notable for several reasons. One was that the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church was eliminated. In addition, the merger assured full clergy rights for women. Still, both racism and sexism linger in The UMC to this day.

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death reminds us that we cannot be tied together in a single garment of destiny until we become the Beloved Community, which was one of the primary tenets of Dr. King’s teaching and theology. For King, the Beloved Community was nothing more than the reign of God on this earth where all people share equally in its welfare.

In a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery Alabama’s buses, King said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends… It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In the Beloved Community, everyone has a place at the table in a single garment of destiny. In the Beloved Community, everyone is valued, and differences are welcomed. In the Beloved Community, we learn from, encourage, and challenge each other to become our best created-in-the-image of God selves.

I wonder. As The United Methodist Church is faced with important decisions about the future of our denomination around human sexuality, is it possible to reclaim the Beloved Community? Over several hundred years, The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations attempted to weave a single garment of destiny, struggling to welcome African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, embrace those who are divorced, and affirm women in ministry. With God’s help, we continue to journey to the Promised Land but are not there yet.

“The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all.”

Now the possibility of full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals stretches that single garment of destiny and abundance of grace in our denomination. Dare we become Beloved Community for each other? Dare we proclaim today, “If one refugee is down, we are all down. If one opioid addict is down, we are all down. If one LGBTQ individual is down, we are all down. If one human trafficking victim is down, we are all down. If one person with bi-polar disorder is down, we are all down. If one poor, single mother is down, we are all down. If one African-American is down, we are all down. If one person with a physical or mental disability is down, we are all down.”

May the abundance of grace which turned a rag tag band of Jesus followers into a mighty movement of discipleship, outreach, and abundant grace, tie each precious child of God into in a single garment of destiny today as, together, we all become the Beloved Community.