Sermon 50, “The Use of Money,” par. I.4

The curse of God cleaves to the stones, the timber, the furniture of them. The curse of God is in their gardens, their walks, their groves; a fire that burns to the nethermost hell! Blood, blood is there: The foundation, the floor, the walls, the roof are stained with blood! And canst thou hope, O thou man of blood, though thou art ‘clothed in scarlet and fine linen, and farest sumptuously every day;’ canst thou hope to deliver down thy fields of blood to the third generation? Not so; for there is a God in heaven: Therefore, thy name shall soon be rooted out. Like as those whom thou hast destroyed, body and soul, ‘thy memorial shall perish with thee!’”

This warning is addressed to the owners of distilleries.  Wesley rebuked them for selling a product that caused harm to the body.  The estates of liquor merchants were cursed, in Wesley’s opinion, because their wealth was built out of blood money.  

It is the only example of Wesley’s advocacy that I have found in the UM doctrinal standards.  In his role as advocate, Wesley directly addressed a powerful group, challenged their business model from a theological perspective, exposed the injury they were causing to society, and reminded them of the eternal consequences of their behavior.

When I taught a seminary course on John Wesley, this sermon and other examples of Wesley’s advocacy writings were on the course reading list.  I remember how energized the students were the day we discussed these publications.  Discovering the political activism side of Wesley’s ministry was a new insight for all of them, one which they welcomed.

One student confessed that she had been struggling with Wesley up to that point in the course.  She could not identify with Wesley’s theology, and because of this theological disconnect she had wondered if she should remain a Methodist.  Reading Wesley’s defense of the poor and oppressed convinced her that she did fit in with the Methodist tradition.  This was a kind of minister she and the other students in the class aspired to be.  

They all wanted their ministries to be socially relevant.  For them, the Gospel addressed contemporary political, economic, and environmental issues, and they wanted to share that message with others.  To learn that the founder of Methodism had a similar conviction was an inspiration to them.

While I am glad my students found a theological role model, I wish I could have shown them more examples of this kind of reflection in the doctrinal standards.  One paragraph does not a central feature make.

Hints at a Wesleyan understanding of advocacy as a spiritual discipline are present in Wesley’s doctrinal writings, however Wesley did not integrate advocacy into his theology of Christian maturation.  Just because I see a similarity between Wesley’s definition of works of mercy and his practice of speaking out against injustice and rebuking those responsible for it does not mean that Wesley made that connection.

I think that a case can be made for including advocacy as a Wesleyan work of mercy.  This argument would be easier to make if Wesley had made it himself, but he did not.  I am satisfied that identifying advocacy as a means of grace is consistent with Wesley’s legacy even as I admit that this claim is not part of the received tradition.  

I am adding the spiritual discipline of advocacy to Wesley’s list of the means of grace.  I want to do so in a way that clearly identifies it as my addition.  The idea for this innovation comes out of my reading of Wesley; I “see it” in his life even though I can not cite it in his writings.  A Wesleyan Spirituality without mention of advocacy seems incomplete, inconsistent with Wesley’s lived example.

So much for my hunch that this would be an easy connection to make!