Page 4 of 5

Our situation holds much in common with Wesley. We too live in a society that’s only recently begun to value religious diversity, and we too are struggling to understand how to adapt. The concept of the United States as a “Christian Nation” emerged around the same time that these more liberal immigration laws began to allow larger numbers of non-Christians into the country, and represents one kind of response that has been too common in more conservative circles: the denial that diversity exists and is important to our society. To these people, Wesley may well have re-preached his “Caution Against Bigotry,” which indirectly challenges the biblical foundations of the concept of a state church. Wesley claimed that rejecting anyone who “followeth us not” is rejecting God’s ability to work through whomever God chooses. This troubling idea is a pervasive one in American culture, but I am more concerned with new threats to religious liberty from a different direction.

More liberal wings of our contemporary American society have increasingly fallen into a trap Wesley warned us about in “Catholic Spirit:” the attempt to manage religious harmony by having what he would call “an indifference to all opinions.” Wesley would likely accuse us of “vainly endeavor[ing] to blend [multiple opinions] into one.” Religious liberty is not served by pretending that real, significant differences do not exist. If we blend our opinions into one or water them down into the barest minimum that all people can agree to (if such a minimum even exists), we aren’t serving religious liberty at all. We are, in fact, doing the opposite: we run the risk of culturally outlawing any religious practice outside of a certain civil religion formed out of the nation’s general religious sentiments.

Wesley’s charge not to exhibit either “an indifference to all opinions” or to “vainly endeavor” to try and take our different religious beliefs and convictions and “blend them into one” has gained a new urgency in 2017. These impulses are, according to Wesley, “a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend” to religious diversity. When Sanders suggested that Vought’s personal religious convictions made him “not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” he was challenging one of the most basic tenets of American society: the right of each person to hold private religious beliefs.

I agree with Vought that Muslims do not fully know God because they have rejected God’s self-revelation in Christ. My Muslim friend believes that I don’t know God because I have rejected God’s revelation to the prophet Mohammad. I’ve given him a New Testament, and he’s given me a Qur‛an. Sometimes we talk about our religious beliefs. More often we play board games and talk about school. Differing religious convictions doesn’t mean an inability to exist peacefully together. Comments like Sanders’ or, more recently, like Senator Dianne Feinstein’s claim that Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge nominee Amy Coney Barrett was unfit for office because “[Catholic] dogma lives loudly within [her],” suggest that my friend and I cannot peacefully coexist. Experience and Wesley say otherwise.

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
What John Wesley Would Say to Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein