The book of Esther is a fascinating tale of intrigue. It is a story of power that is used to harm and destroy. It is a story of how a young Jewish woman named Esther became queen to Xerxes, who ruled the Persian Empire when it was at it’s greatest height. When the diasporan Jews who lived among the Persians were threatened with destruction by Haman who was the premier to Xerxes (meaning he was second in power only to Xerxes), it was Esther’s uncle, Mordecai (who had saved the king from an assassination attempt early in the story), who realized that the only person in a position to save the Jews through Persia was Esther herself.
The words he spoke to her were simply this:
Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.
In my previous blog, I talked about taking deliberate steps and waiting on God. In no way is that a call to sit on our hands while harm is done. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began (almost reluctantly) to work with his brother, Charles, in the formation of The Holy Club at Oxford University. This group was called “Methodist” as a term of derision for their methodical, deliberate way of moving forward.
During that time, John and Charles both began to see where the Church of England was seriously missing the mark. It had become an elitist religion. It was simply unavailable and insignificant for the common person who lived in the margins. These were people who worked in mines, who sat in prison for the inability to pay their debts, and who were largely disregarded. The only purpose they served for the church was to be the place where a pittance of charity was given so the religious folks could assuage their guilt and then go about their lives with a clear conscience.
John Wesley believed that he was born for “just such a time as this.” He believed that God had perfectly suited him and his band of followers to take the message of faith and holiness to the streets, to the prisons, and to the mines. He reached out with more than charity. He reached out with solidarity, offering not just his money, but offering his hand. And a movement was born.
It was dangerous at times to be John Wesley. He was threatened with physical violence on more than one occasion. There were those in the Church of England that believed he had gone way too far. He was preaching in open air settings (a big no-no), but worse, he was preaching in the parish (think territory here) of other priests. He was ordered not to do so. Wesley was a fellow of Lincoln College at Oxford, and he had no parish of his own, which meant he was free to preach where he liked. There was, however, an assumption that he would not offend a parish priest by preaching when he was not invited by that priest, and especially so if he was ordered by that parish priest to leave his parish.
Having been confronted about his indiscretions and his clear violation of ecclesial authority, he wrote in his journal on June 11, 1739:
I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.
In November 2017, I attended the inaugural gathering of the Uniting Methodists (who are a group of United Methodists seeking unity in our diversity). It was during that conference that I first heard Dr. David N. Field speak. In that presentation, he referred to Wesley’s statement from 1739 and said, “That, my friends, is an act of ecclesial disobedience.”
Wesley would not follow rules that continued to marginalize people, perpetuate exclusionary practices, or in any way harm people and leave them cut off from the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the John Wesley of MY Methodism!
God has given me the perspective and strength of faith. God has called me to ministry. I have been ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church and told to “take authority.” I find myself amidst a growing movement of centrist and progressive clergy who can no longer abide with the harmful, exclusionary practices that marginalize and limit LGBTQIA+ people from full participation in the life of the church. It is time act!
But it is bigger still. In a conversation quite some time ago with a colleague, his message to me was clear. We haven’t finished our conversations about racial injustices, mistreatment of immigrants from our southern border, and a host of other social ills that continue to plague our society today.
Adam Hamilton said it well in a speech from the floor of the 2019 General Conference. He was speaking to the conservatives who call themselves the Wesleyan Covenant Association about the proposed adoption of the restrictive and punitive Traditional Plan:
Centrists and progressives never wanted a divorce. We were never looking for a gracious exit. We were looking for a little space. You wanted to leave because you were tired of fighting about this. But with this you’ve alienated not only the progressives but also the centrists. Will these churches protest less or more for LGBTQ persons in the future? Those proposing the Traditional Church Plan, you have inspired a lot of people to action at this [General Conference]!
The sleeping giant has been awakened. To my local church, to my centrist and progressive friends, to all who stand for the full inclusion of ALL people in the life of the church, I say with Uncle Mordecai: You are called for just such a time as this!