From chapter 6 of Songs from the Midst of Flames, by David J Bromell, published by ColCom Press 1995.
It’s an important part of the Christian tradition generally, and of the Wesleyan tradition in particular, to insist that faith without works is dead. There’s not too much argument about that. The argument concerns whether ‘faith working through love’ is purely a private matter, or whether it extends to political action. In other words, is the Christian church a sect which exists as a group of dissidents who largely accept the existing social structures as a given, but try themselves to act differently so far as those structures permit? Or does Christian faith imply claims of universal validity, claims which reach out to embrace and to judge the social structures which, in a democratic society at least, we have ourselves created and for which we are responsible?
To give an example: Given that the social structures of Aotearoa/New Zealand today, including the structures of organised religion, still discriminate in certain ways against women, is it any business of Christian believers to bring the light of the gospel to bear on that discrimination and to work within the larger society for change? Or is the Christian response simply that of ‘leaving the world to the devil’ and trying, within our own small corner, to be less sexist within the church? Is our faith ‘catholic,’ in the sense of conveying a universal claim and a universal obligation, or is it ‘sectarian?’
The Wesleyan tradition has consistently affirmed a catholic faith. Consequently the Methodist Church world-wide has a long history of involvement in social justice. My proposal that a congregation’s mission include speaking out, taking sides, risking implication and involvement in social and political issues is not a ‘radical’ proposal. It’s a mainline Wesleyan response. It’s a mainline Christian response. What I have proposed really does not need justification. What needs to be justified is doing any less than this.