Issues of race run deep in the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley fought in England against the slave trade in the late 18th century.
The Wesleyan Methodist church in this country was founded in 1843 in large part over opposition to slavery. For leaders like Orange Scott and Luther Lee, their opposition to slavery was not a matter of “political correctness.” It was not complicated. It was simply a part of what it meant to follow Jesus Christ in this world. This same connection between personal faithfulness to the scriptures and a commitment to social activism in the name of freedom animated Houghton’s own founders like Willard Houghton.
Somewhere in the early 20th century, things got complicated. Too many Christians felt the need to choose between commitment to the authority of scripture and commitment to social justice. This theological divide translated all too easily into a political divide. Social justice became associated with the left—and personal piety with the right. The Wesleyan Methodist Church of the 1960s shied away from participation in the Civil Rights Movement, so much so that church leaders felt the need to make a public statement of repentance at their General Conference in 2012.Black and White Christians alike are judging each other’s politics—and, all too often, their Christian faith—by how they voted on November 8th and its perceived implications for race.
Only one or two Houghton students in the 1960s joined the host of American college students journeying south to support Civil Rights. In the 1980s, I heard Wesleyan Missionaries defend the need to support apartheid in South Africa as a bulwark against Communism.
This entanglement of race and politics reached a new height in our recent presidential election. Black and White Christians alike are judging each other’s politics—and, all too often, their Christian faith—by how they voted on November 8th and its perceived implications for race.
Today’s Houghton students and alumni are seeking to restore the wholeness between personal faithfulness and social justice that they see in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ—especially in the area of race relations. They are pursuing this wholeness in a range of ways. For American Christians on the other side of the 20th century, these connections will never be uncomplicated—and never altogether uncontroversial. In this issue of Houghton magazine, we seek to honor those who are seeking to carry on the Wesleyan and Houghton tradition of linking personal faithfulness to the pursuit of social holiness—and to reflect more fully on what it means to honor our Lord Jesus Christ—in anticipation of that great day when “a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will stand before the throne of God and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).