What freedom?

One of the questions most asked of me is “what is a Free Methodist?” Most people have heard of the Methodist Church or the United Methodist Church, but very few truly know what the Free Methodist is. As a denomination, the Free Methodist Church is older than the United Methodist Church. We were formed in 1860 when B.T. Roberts and several other pastors were expelled from the Methodist Episcopal Church for standing up for the impoverished community and calling for the Methodist church to change their pro-slavery stance, even in the North. They said “[the church] has a mission from God to hold up the New Testament stand of religion, and to preach the Gospel to the poor” (Roberts, Why Another Sect, 1879, page viii). It was the goal of the founders to preach the Gospel to the poor; this included African Americans, especially those bound in slavery.

In the New Testament Jesus was clear that his message was for all people, not just one nation, he preached the Good News to the Jewish people, but he found more success reaching people in the margins. These were the people who were being oppressed by the religious and cultural elite. He offered salvation to a prostitute (John 8:1-11), to people in Samaria (John 4:1-42); to those who were unclean (Matthew 8:1-4); he even proclaims the good news to several Romans (John 4:43-54). The Jewish people would discriminate against these people. All of these people were considered outcasts to the Jewish people. Paul echoes Jesus’s sentiment in Galatians when he makes a claim “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28). What he is saying here is not that there aren’t differences among us, what he is saying is that we are a diverse group of people that together make up one Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is a place where diversity should be celebrated not feared; it is a place where all people can come together to worship one God. People with ideological differences should be allowed their individuality but also should be able to work together. We should not look to divide; we should seek to unify. But our culture is telling us that we must be of one like mind, one hive mind, or else we must divide and conquer. People are picking sides, and they are not willing to work together. This way of thinking is problematic in our society as a whole, but it is especially dangerous when it comes to the church. Roberts wrote, “in former years the most bloody persecutions arose from the effort to produce uniformity where God meant there should be only unity” (Roberts, Sect, vi).

There will always be people that preach division. Some churches still preach segregation, whether it is segregation based on race, segregation based on gender, or even segregation based on beliefs. But this is not what the Gospel teaches; John writes “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother or sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (1 John 2:9-11)

t is my prayer today that we as a church seek unity, not division, we seek diversity, not conformity, that we seek to be one in Christ united by our differences and not divided by them. This reconciliation was the intent of Jesus and is still be the intent of the church today. So seek to be one in Christ even when our differences separate us.

The Rev. Richard Wilkinson is the senior pastor of the Gloversville Free Methodist Church and the director of the Center of Hope.

By Patricia Older