In the past two years I have continually asked myself what would Benjamin Titus Roberts, Clara Wetherald, Ida Gage, Marriet Hardy Freeland or other early Free Methodist pioneers do in society today? I’m not sure in all parts of the United States people attending Free Methodist churches are actually living out the social action call these individuals inspire me to live out daily.
When I began this blog over four years ago I began with a post “What is a Free Methodist Feminist.” I want to reflect on my manifesto, and also how I see this manifesto having grown now that I have children and my family is a multi-racial family. I have dear friends who are gay, I love them, and I am increasingly concerned that Free Methodist culture (note: I am not saying the denomination, but the culture in many churches) does not value every human being. Even if people say so, their actions speak otherwise.
Four years ago I said a Free Methodist Feminist is:
1.Someone who fights for gender equality.
As the basic premise of Benjamin Titus Robert’s prophetic book Ordaining Women proclaims in its conclusion:
“THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, IN THE PROVISIONS WHICH IT MAKES, AND IN THE AGENCIES WHICH IT EMPLOYS, FOR THE SALVATION OF MANKIND, KNOWS NO DISTINCTION OF RACE, CONDITION, OR SEX, THEREFORE NO PERSON EVIDENTLY CALLED OF GOD TO THE GOSPEL MINISTRY, AND DULY QUALIFIED FOR IT, SHOULD BE REFUSED ORDINATION ON ACCOUNT OF RACE, CONDITION, OR SEX” (104).
Christian feminism is grounded on the assumption that God created man and woman equal. Both are valued, and it was not intended for one sex to rule the other. In the opening chapter of Genesis there is no distinction between man and woman. Both are given dominion over the garden and creation. After the fall, God cursed humanity and man was given dominion over woman – for a time. However, as Roberts notes in his chapter “Objections – Old Testament” that opposition to gender equality is both Scriptural and natural. Roberts address both of these arguments when he discusses how women and men are naturally happiest when in partnership with one another. He then goes on to illustrate how Christ re-established the original intent for gender – partnership and equality:
Today the concept that men are the leaders and women the followers has become more than just a theological stance. It was become naturalized. What this means is there is little room for the belief in Biblical gender equality. Men were ordained to rule and any other stance is contrary to scripture. A Free Methodist Feminist fights back against Biblical gender inequality.
Four years ago that was it. “The Free Methodist Feminist Manifesto” was concerned about gender equality only. It can no longer be so. I am adding additional statements.
2) A Free Methodist Feminist Cares About the Immigrant
The 2013 Book of Discipline has added a wonderful section that notes that regardless of legal status, “We (the Free Methodist church) are committed to give meaning and significance to every person by God’s help. Remembering our tendency to be prejudicial, as Christians we must grow in awareness of the rights and needs of others. ‘Issues surrounding immigrants and refugees and modern slavery/human trafficking globally are complex. They require solutions that both serve the vulnerable and oppressed and also challenge individuals, organizations, and systems that create oppression and enslavement’.”
We need to move beyond politics and see people. People who want jobs, who are hurting, lost and need a home. Most of us, at one point, had family who were immigrants, too.
3) A Free Methodist Feminist Knows Black Lives Matter
Will you be there when my son or daughter need advice and help or will you be the Christian that sits on the sidelines and judges my son and daughter by the color of the skin? If they get pulled over by the police for no reason will you say the police had every right to do that? Would you say the same thing if it was a white child pulled over by the police for a “routine traffic stop”? As a parent of two amazing black kids I worry constantly about how they will be perceived in society. I continually teach my children about the Civil Rights leaders who fought for their right to vote and the legislation that has led to a more inclusive country.
A Free Methodist Feminist cares that nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S. are black and that 1 in 6 black men will most likely be incarcerated at some point in their life (NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet).
As Christians we need to be concerned churches are not mentoring minority youth, helping build strong families that are built on mutual respect and equality, and teaching the next generation of leaders to follow the model of the pacifists protest that the great Civil Rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s modeled (you know it wasn’t just blacks who fought for their rights, right? Whites came alongside and said this isn’t fair. This isn’t Christian.)
We have fallen down on our duty, and it is largely because we have moved to the suburbs and only “visit” the city, where the majority of the minority population lives, for the occasional service project. It is also because we need to re-evaluate our views on race. Racism is often unconscious, and the way we react to those of a different ethnicity can have a deep impact on how they are treated within the church and society. As a mother of two black children, as a Christian, and as a feminist, I believe that Black Lives Matter.
4.A Free Methodist Feminist Unconditionally Loves our GLTBQI Brothers and Sisters
This is where I diverge from the Free Methodist church. I was horrified at the 2015 General Conference as a resolution opposing the Supreme Court’s move to uphold same-sex marriage was brought to the floor and to hear some Free Methodist delegates use terms like “them,” “the gays,” “homosexuals” and speak about individuals who are my friends in the third person. This wasn’t across the board, but when I stood up and begged people to stop using language the objectified individuals it was brushed off by most. It was at that point I began to consider if I fit within the denomination or if I am a Free Methodist whose faith is emboldened by the historic teachings of Free Methodism but doesn’t really fit within the denomination anymore.
Soon after that conference a career move took us away from our long-time Free Methodist Church and moved us to an area where no Free Methodist Church existed. Yet, I still wrestled with this question for over a year. Am I a Free Methodist? Yes and no? I am still the Free Methodist Feminist who believes what I have always stood for, and I passionately love Free Methodist history and I am challenged in my faith by the courage of so many early Free Methodists.
Am I currently a Free Methodist- no. My husband and I made the decision that we could not raise our children surrounded by individuals who would not recognize our GLBTQI friends as people who deserve equal rights. I didn’t want my kids around people who would condemn our family friends and hear them tell our friends they needed to change or see them as sinners rather as people who were in loving relationships. Many of my GLTBT friends act more Christian than the Christians I know. While I know many of my readers will disagree with me, I will state it plainly: being in a loving same sex relationship is not a sin. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly or based simply on what culture tells me, but prayerfully and after searching the scriptures.
This view is a radical departure from Free Methodist doctrine of today. I’m not sure what B.T. Roberts would say or do. I’m not a revisionist. I think I can say that I know not all Free Methodists condemn my friends, and many would welcome them into church. Yet in the Midwest, where I live, I don’t see that happening. So, I’m choosing to be an ex-pat. A displaced Free Methodist. We are happily attending the local Methodist Church and staying within the Methodist tradition. For us, this is where we need to be right now.
So, continue reading as my blog as you will. This is the new manifesto. Race issues will come up a lot more in my posts, so will immigration, and GLBT rights. I’ve been silent for too long because I dreaded writing this knowing people will disagree and wishing that I lived somewhere slightly more progressive so I continue attending a Free Methodist church. I felt I could not write anything new until I had addressed my current beliefs. The original intent of this blog- discussing research ideas, Christian social justice and, yes, I will write on historic research but more on role models from a broader Methodist framework, will continue.
4 thoughts on “The New Manifesto”
I’m not sure where you moved to, but I also live in the Midwest and I have no problem with the issues you discussed. I also had a very long association with the Free Methodist Church, but after I was asked to “stay away”, I took my family to a multiethnic church, in the Methodist Church. Sometimes the issues we have with people groups, have zero backing from scripture, but just our bias.
It’s lower Michigan but the closest FMchurch is over an hour away. I agree with you that it is biases and not churches. As I said, but maybe didn’t say it well enough not everyone is this way. Where I live and my personal experiences have led me to this decision. I have no hard feelings.
I have just discovered your blog, and have been heartened to read your thoughtful updating of your manifesto. I am an Anglican, bisexual feminist in Australia and searched for a long time to find a church where I could be included and where I could feel respect for the church’s teaching. While I doubt that I’ll see same-sex marriage be allowed in our denomination in my lifetime, I am encouraged by the steps many church members take to challenge their own prejudices and to truly respond with respect and love to LGBTIQ people’s.
Thank you for your considered and courageous posts.
Thanks NIcki! I’m also encouraged by the response of individual Christians. It’s incredibly discouraging to see so many denominations still not ready to take that organizational leap of faith and show Christ’s love (and acceptance) in all areas of church life.