By John Miller
When Methodists met, and John Wesley was in their midst, he often took special offerings for the poor, including five in one day from what his brother Charles called the “same poor exhausted people!” Charles said of John and his captive congregation. “He has no mercy on them.”
John Wesley showed no mercy in his collection efforts, or in his advocacy on social justice issues like slavery, because he faithfully lived the words of the prophet Micah: he did justice, and he truly loved mercy. What about us: Do we show no mercy in doing justice and in expecting the same from others, because of our concern for our most vulnerable people?
I’m sure you have a story of how compassion for others moved you to action. For me, the financial and health struggles of the “working poor” and those on society’s margins spurred me to participate in programs to end the abuses of payday lending and to improve health care access, primarily through Medicaid expansion.
Wesley did more than personally advocate for justice, however, and he did more than urge others to follow his example; He insisted that his followers join him in sustained action. As our Social Principles recognize, “The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice.” Our Missouri Conference is blessed with leaders who are strong, inspired justice advocates. Bishop Farr has pledged to visit, pray and engage monthly in one of Missouri’s urban and rural communities suffering from poverty, inequality and neglect. Bishop Farr also has announced his intent to appoint Rev. Tina Harris as Director of Mission, Service and Justice. Rev. Harris will help equip local congregations to confront issues of social justice.
Bishop Farr, Rev. Harris, and others can encourage and equip us to do justice, but the leg work must be done by each of us acting with our congregations. Some churches have a missions committee that often focuses on the short-term “mercy” aspect of “mercy and justice,” and some social issues are taken up by individual church members or small groups with passion for a cause, but “as a church we have not been supporting our positions on social issues in a systematic way that engages our members and brings about change in our society.”
That quote comes from Deb Umberger at Aldersgate UMC in Wichita, which formed a social justice team. As Deb’s congregation recognized, advocacy for social justice is hard work and requires a sustained, coordinated effort. Concerns that advocacy is “too political” or “not the church’s role” are rebutted by the example of Jesus, who vigorously confronted issues of social justice to help those who were suffering and oppressed.
The Book of Discipline reminds, “Our love of God is always linked with love of our neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.” I plan to continue advocating for matters of social justice, and I promise to show no mercy in praying for (and persistently urging) everyone to join in making a difference in our communities, our nation, and our world.
John Miller is the District Lay Leader for the Northwest District of the Missouri Conference, and he is the Lay Leader at Platte Woods United Methodist Church. John has joined in social justice advocacy with the PICO National Network and Missouri Faith Voices, as well as other faith-based organizations.