Perhaps we need more grace

William Winans

William Winans

I have been reading about two men with impeccable moral  credentials.  William Winans was born in Pennsylvania, raised in Ohio, and became a prominent Methodist preacher in Mississippi.  John Bewley was raised in Tennessee and served as preacher in various places in the old southwest, including Texas.  They were contemporaries in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Biographers of each man spoke glowingly of their character.  Upright, gentle, never knowingly telling an untruth, never going back on their word, sensitive almost to excess about living right and doing the right thing.  I would imagine that both men, like many of their time, could put most of us to shame in their diligent practice of the Christian life.

In one area, they differed.  Though born and raised in the South, Bewley was antislavery.  Indeed, he was killed by a mob in Texas for being an abolitionist (though technically, his opposition to slavery was of a gentler, Methodist kind).  Though born and raised in the North, Winans gave his heart to Southern Methodism and the preservation of the Southern way of life, including the institution of slavery.

abolutionistsHoliness can be a tricky thing.  Both men would have been considered excellent examples of Methodist Christian character.  Both men were pilloried (and one killed) for their position in a matter of social justice.  Though there are folks who would meliorate Winan’s connection with slavery, the general view today would have it that he was wrong, and blameworthy in his error.  In one respect of holiness, Bewley would be seen as the better man.

In our membership vows in The United Methodist Church, we are asked to uphold the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  This last was added to the vows at our last General Conference, and places us squarely in the Bewley/Winans dilemma.  Holiness does not just consist of how much we pray, how regularly we at-tend the means of grace, how generously we give, and how much we serve, but also where we stand and why.

This is not new.  Christians have always struggled with issues both great and small, both per-sonal and pertaining to the world.  We all succeed in a degree, and fail in a degree, whether in living up to our own best selves, of living into what God would have us do in the world.  In the midst, we sometimes are tempted to miss our own failures and dwell upon the failures, or downright wrong headedness of others.

Perhaps we need more grace—for ourselves and others.  In grace we may admit our areas of falling short, and in grace perhaps see that others may have something right that we have not even considered.  In this way we may be drawn to a holiness that involves all of our lives, in-cluding the knottiest issues that we face.

Pastor Dan

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