“As pale a form of Christianity as…”

May 28, 2010

Methodism: Insert your own punchline about being watered-down here.

I just finished reading Christian ethicist (and fellow United Methodist) Stanley Hauerwas’s essay entitled, “The Radical Hope,” about a Christian understanding of family (versus popular pseudo-Christian or sub-Christian alternatives).1 He argues that there is a sense in which Christianity challenges the human family. He doesn’t quote next week’s “Relatively Speaking” text, Mark 3:31-35 (“Who are my mother and my brothers?”) but he may as well.

In a section of his essay, he seeks to illustrate ways in which our Christian faith challenges traditional family allegiances. Allow me to share this heartbreaking passage. Emphasis is mine.

For example, my friend Will Willimon notes that during the time he has been Dean of the Chapel at Duke [ed. note: Willimon is now a United Methodist bishop in Alabama], he has received four angry phone calls from parents. All the calls have taken the same form. The parent says, “We sent Suzy to law school. But she has become so involved in the Wesley Fellowship that she has now decided she is going to become a missionary to Honduras. How could you let this happen? You have ruined her life.” That as pale a form of Christianity as Methodism can still produce this kind of result indicates pretty definitively that the Gospel is not altogether friendly to the family.2

Ouch! Is it really so bad, Stanley? Well, maybe so… But as much as I love Hauerwas—and few thinkers challenge me more to consider how demanding it is to follow Jesus in this world—I often think the only way to be the Church from his point of view is to become separatists, like Anabaptists (e.g., Amish or Mennonite). Still inasmuch as we Methodists are watered-down, I happen to know there are a lot of us Methodists who are not happy to leave it that way!

1. Stanley Hauerwas, “The Radical Hope,” in The Hauerwas Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 505-518.

2. Ibid., 511.

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