Pope Francis’ position on the distribution of wealth should sound familiar to Methodists who have read the works of E. Stanley Jones, including the daily devotional The Word Became Flesh published in 1963. Consider this excerpt--
[Acts 2:18] “I will endue my slaves, both men and women, with a portion of my Spirit and they shall prophesy.” The slave was not only on the basis of equality in receiving the Holy Spirit, but in opportunity of forthtelling the Good News. That quiet happening spelled the doom of slavery. For a member of the House of Lords once said, “There is no power for reform so great as this: if alongside of a corrupt practice you lay an incompatible principle, then that incompatible principle will slowly but surely overthrow that corrupt practice. In this way the Christian principle of equality before God was placed alongside the corrupt practice of slavery and silently worked its overthrow.”
. . . .
O Jesus Redeemer, Thou art slowly but surely redeeming this race of ours. We are in the birth throes of that redemption. Help us not to be afraid of it. For if we are afraid of it we are afraid of sanity. We welcome Thy redemption. In Thy name. Amen.
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I saw in a newspaper a picture of signs which had been taken down and were now in an ash can. They read, “For Whites Only.” We are fast dumping such signs in the ash cans. That is where they belong-- they belong to a discarded and outgrown past.
Another sign which is slowly but surely doomed for the ash can is, “For the Rich Only.” That sign is not a visible sign in our civilization, but it is no less potent because it is invisible. Slowly but surely we are seeing the need to distribute wealth widely to have a healthy society. For wealth is like manure, gathered in one pile it is a stinking mess, but scattered across the world, partly through fear of Communism and partly through our Christian principles that we must share with human need. But we are scattering it, and if it is wisely done it will result in a golden harvest of a free and uplifted humanity. And we will lift ourselves in the process. For only the servants of all become the greatest of all. The Word is becoming flesh!
O Blessed Father, Thou art putting Thy helping, saving arms under the dispossessed of the world and Thou art lifting them. Help us to co-operate with Thee. For if we do not cooperate with Thee we belong to the dustbin. Save us. Amen.
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I shall throw into the dustbin every vestige of old and dying snobberies.
Jones argued that Christian principles were at work in the abolition of slavery and the demise of Jim Crow laws, and are at work in the effort to broadly distribute wealth. As is typical in his writings, this is a statement of faith. Jones did not try to prove his claim, he merely stated it as fact. Fact that the Christian principle of equality before God came alongside the corrupt practices of slavery and racism and overthrew them. Fact that the Christian principle of sharing with human need is coming alongside the corrupt practices of classism and is overthrowing them. For Jones, these changes are inevitable and unstoppable because they represent both the application of the Gospel in human affairs and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Jones recognized that even though these social reforms were Spirit-led, not every Christian was comfortable with them because they were revolutionary upheavals of cultural norms. His response to that anxiety was to encourage the fearful to pray for redemption, for deliverance from fear, and for the opportunity to cooperate with God’s mission.
United Methodists in the US have the opportunity to cooperate with God’s mission at this moment in history by contacting their Congressional representatives and letting them know that they support the broad distribution of wealth by means of SNAP, unemployment insurance, and tax increases. Clink on this link to the General Board of Church and Society to begin cooperating with God’s transformation of the economic order from “For the Rich Only,” into one that reflects the principles of the Gospel.
I find the notion that a Christian principle can overthrow a corrupt practice in Wesley’s writings, as well. The Christian principle of Matthew 7:20, “By their fruits you will know them,” overthrew the corrupt practice of banning women from preaching at Methodist meetings. Wesley would grant a woman a license to preach if her sermons produced spiritual fruits even though this practice upset some Methodists who believed it went against biblical teachings found in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12.
Today this same Christian principle, The Discernment of Spiritual Fruits, is also overthrowing the corrupt practice of discrimination based on sexual orientation, a change in cultural norms that is as revolutionary as women preachers in Wesley’s day and racial and economic equality in Jones’ day. Methodists are discerning the fruits produced by the ministry of LGTB folks and this is causing them to question the traditional interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. People see two mature adults who love each other, want to get married, want to raise children, and spend their life together, they are discerning that there is nothing sinful about these desires, and they are discerning that these desires are the outgrowth of the spiritual fruit of love.
This Spirit-led revolution is as anxiety producing as the cultural revolutions with which Wesley and Jones cooperated. The response to that fear is the same-- pray for redemption, for deliverance from fear, and for the courage to foster rather than hinder the reform that God is causing in the world.
What Christian principle do you see at work today and what corrupt practice is it overthrowing? What Christian discipline relieves you when you feel anxious over the rate of social reform?