Party, Partisanship, Partners, Partakers. All of these words have the word “part” in common. In a “party,” the healthy perspective is to see yourself as a part of a larger whole. There is great danger in believing that the part can be the whole, that any part can possess all truth unto itself.
Wesley would agree. This is why he cautioned us against “party zeal” in the church and contrasted this zealousness with the call to be peace-makers. Here’s Wesley’s definition: A peace-maker is one filled with the love of God and all people, one who is not confined to expressing this love only to family, friends, or party – those of like opinion or “partakers of like precious faith,” but who steps over all these narrow bounds, and manifest love to others, even strangers and enemies. In another place, Wesley insisted that followers of Christ purify themselves from all “party-zeal” and purify their own hearts before casting any judgment on others. To give into such zeal is to become a “narrow soul.” This doesn’t mean that we give up our opinions, but it does mean that we engage others in opinion-sharing in a very different way than we often see modeled in the world. (See Sermons: Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse 3 and National Sins and Miseries).
If politics is the art of making good decisions for the whole, and not the part only, then politics requires meeting in the middle, opening ourselves to new perspectives, and coming up with solutions that are “win-win” rather than “win-lose.” Wesley actually uses the word “middle” as the proper place for true Christian witness and the best platform upon which we might see more of the whole and thus be instruments of peace. Extremes bring harm. This may not be the way politics is practices in the world, but it is the way we are called to practice politics AS the church.
In this light, Wesley asks this question: How can we bear the name of the Prince of Peace and wage war with each other – “party against party,” faction against faction!” For the church, this happens when we are “drunk with the blood of the saints.” In this state, we allow contention and malice to drive us, “even where [we] agree in essentials, and only differ in opinions, or in the circumstantials of religion!” Our true calling, says Wesley, is to “follow after only [his emphasis] the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” Anything other than this is to “devote each other to the nethermost hell.”
Wesley makes it clear. If the world is looking at us and saying anything other than “look at how they love one another” then our witness is causing harm. That happens when a lust for rightness and power becomes our focus, usually justified as righteousness. (Sermon on the Mount, Discourse 2). For Wesley, “true religion is nothing short of holy tempers.” – humility, patience, and love above all, virtues to be practiced as parts of a larger whole, virtues that make for peace. In these anxious times we need peace-makers… and a lot of them.
Up next: The Narrow Way (A Wesleyan Perspective)