MFSA affirms the vital importance of theological reflection as the Church weighs great issues of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel in United Methodist worship, governance and witness. We offer to following paragraphs as a point of departure for reflection and discussion.
THE GOODNESS OF CREATION
The Methodist Federation for Social Action has lived at the crossroads of church and society for over 100 years, guided by our common prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The vision of God’s beloved community, present here in this life, is a sacred call for us.
We affirm that God is good, and that the creation of all Being is God’s on-going good work, in which we share. God calls all Being into existence, into relationship with God and with each other. We see God, and God’s persisting image, in all creation. But we see this holy image blurred, stained and corroded by sin, individual and corporate, every time we treat each other or creation as though we are not all images of, reflections of, God.
We recognize that human systems – political, economic, religious and social – create the conditions in which people grow and thus have great power for both good and evil. It is the responsibility of the church, as the people of God, to advocate for those conditions that make possible the abundant life and to oppose attitudes and decisions that deny and distort the human-borne image of God. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, injustice, economic and corporate exploitation, and destruction of the environment are inherently evil. We pray for the openness and wisdom to recognize and resist these forces whenever we find them in ourselves, in the Church and in the social order.
In this, we believe we are following in the footsteps of Jesus, the embodiment God’s love, who taught us to welcome the outcast and to proclaim justice. We cannot do less.
As people of faith, we cherish the rich and varied gifts of Scripture, where we encounter the Word of God. Scripture is a written record of this human encounter with the Holy, a collection of stories and histories, gospels and letters, poetry and law, allegories, reflections and visions written down over hundreds of years, collected and canonized by human councils, always the work of people inspired and motivated to express God’s will. Scripture is a long and varied narrative of God’s presence and activity with the Hebrew and early Christian peoples.
From its beginning, with two creation stories side by side, through the ever-present tension between purity and compassion, to the theologies of Luke and Paul, our Scripture testifies that God is active in human affairs in ways that we never fully understand. The many witnesses are, in their very differences, evidence of our human inability to fully comprehend God or God’s Word. We understand the rich diversity of the witness contained within Scripture to be an invitation to wrestle with God and each other about the on-going meaning of God’s presence, recognizing that we experience the presence of the Spirit in the process of engagement. Consequently, we believe that it would be a grave misunderstanding and oversimplification of Scripture, as well as a violation of our Wesleyan heritage, for the United Methodist Church to proclaim that any single creed or faith statement can reflect the “true” voice of Scripture or God on any issue.
LOVE AND LIBERATION
As the Methodist Federation for Social Action we are guided by Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loved us. Throughout the history of the church, efforts have been made to express in laws the requirements of love. We affirm these efforts so long as the proposed rules are recognized as bound to particular times and circumstances and are kept subservient to the one law of love.
Essential to our self-understanding as Christians is the proclamation of Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We believe that these words are key in defining the mission of the church. Followers of Jesus are those who carry on this ministry. We believe that Jesus is most present to us when we engage in his ministry of love and service, a ministry that must be redefined in each age.
THE SOCIAL ORDER
Today the widening gap between rich and poor, the increasing concentration of power in global corporations, the deification of money, the pervasiveness of racism and the rise of militarism all violate the Scriptural vision of the Kingdom of God and the beloved community. The “gospel” of unlimited growth and the increasing concentration of wealth destroys the other species with which God calls us to share the planet, renders human community less sustainable and elevates consumption above servanthood and discipleship. Economic considerations supersede all others in national policy and in international affairs. We are developing a permanent underclass, much of which we keep locked up in our prisons. In the Third World, the situation is far worse.
As we enter the new millenium the church must develop a critique of the new global capitalism that will lead to the development of new economic and political institutions that seek to share the riches of God’s creation equitably among all Earth’s peoples.
JUSTICE, HOSPITALITY AND INCLUSION
As the Methodist Federation for Social Action, we respond to the themes of justice, hospitality and inclusion woven throughout the Scriptural witness. We hear this theme from the initial proclamation that creation is good, through Jesus’ affirmation of those who society rejected, to the final vision of people streaming into the holy city through twelve gates. We hear the call for just dealings, indeed a jubilee of justice, in Leviticus, and we are inspired by the story of God’s action to bring captives out of slavery in Exodus. Scripture tells us, in many and varied ways, that we are to treat each other as children of God, bearers of the images of God, brothers and sisters all.
In particular, our commitment to the full inclusion of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgendered people is grounded in Scripture. With Philip, we speak the promises of Isaiah 53-56, of a place within God’s walls and of a name better than sons and daughters, to the eunuchs of our day. With Peter, we proclaim that God shows no partiality, that God calls the faith community to welcome those who have been called unclean. Indeed, we recognize that, had this spirit of welcome not prevailed in the early church, we ourselves would not now be Christian. We believe it is an affront to God and our predecessors for descendants of the “unclean” Gentiles to proclaim any other people too unclean for God’s welcome. We work and pray that The United Methodist Church might incorporate God’s welcome into church polity.
The Methodist Federation for Social Action and The United Methodist Church still stand at the crossroads in the beginning of a new millennium. As God has guided the faithful through the centuries, so God has been our guide for over 100 years. In rejoicing and communion, in the dialogue of diverse opinion and in the Scripture that invites that diversity and dialogue, we celebrate. We repent of our role in the struggles that divide the community of faith, yet we affirm God’s creative mandate of grace and reconciliation in our world as love-justice for all. We work and pray for the day when God’s love, justice and welcome will be fully realized in our United Methodist Church and the entire human community. We invite all who seek to be Jesus’ disciples to join hands with us in this effort.
(Latest Revision: September 2008)