Loving the Neighbor We Disagree With

by jacobjuncker

The differences of opinion theological diversity of the United Methodist Church (UMC) has been center stage over the last few days as news of Rev. Schaefer’s defrocking has spread.  The UMC, the Church through which I live into my call, is deeply divided on how to respond to homosexuality (and–let’s face it–a host of other topics).  I’d rather not enter into a debate here, at least in this post.  I would, however, like to share a quote from Wesley that I ran across this morning.  It’s a helpful reminder that we are called to love even–and, perhaps, most importantly–the neighbors we disagree with (see Matthew 5:43-48, Mark 12:28-31, and Luke 6:27-38).  Wesley writes to one such “disagreeable” neighbor:

Every disputant seems to think, as every soldier, that he may hurt his opponent as much as he can; nay, that he ought to do his worst to him, or he cannot make the best of his own cause; that so he do not belie, or wilfully misrepresent, him, he must expose him as much as he is able.  It is enough, we suppose, if we do not show heat or passion against our adversary.  But not to despise him, or endeavour to make others do so, is quite a work of supererogation.

But ought these things to be so?  (I speak on the Christian scheme.)  Ought we not to love our neighbour as ourselves?  And does a man cease to be our neighbour, because he is of a different opinion?  nay, and declares himself so to be?  Ought we not, for all this, to do to him as we would he should do to us?  But do we ourselves love to be exposed, or set in the worst light?  Would we willingly be treated with contempt?  If not, why do we treat others thus?  And yet, who scruples it?  Who does not hit every blot he can, however foreign to the merits of the cause?  Who, in controversy, casts the mantle of love over the nakedness of his brother?  Who keeps steadily and uniformly to the question, without ever striking at the person?  Who shows in every sentence that he loves his brother only less than the truth?

I fear neither you nor I have attained this. [1]

As my brothers and sisters in the faith (lay and clergy) debate the application of deeply held convictions, I pray that we will all share Wesley’s humility, participating in conversation that is holy and builds up the Body.  I pray that we will keep in mind that we’re all doing our best to be faithful.  I pray that we’ll have the courage to recognize our feeble attempts to understanding and living into God’s will for a world that desperately needs to know and experience the love of God found in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as the conversation continues in private and on the national stage…

I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God.  Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.  You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. [2]

[1]  John Wesley in “The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained: Occasioned by the Rev. Mr. Church’s Second Letter to Mr. Wesley.  In a second letter to that gentleman.” in The Works of John Wesley: Complete and Unabridged, 3rd ed., vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 309-310. Emphasis added.

[2] Ephesians 4:1-5, The Common English Bible.