Our Wesleyan Heritage

In President Obama’s inaugural speech last week, he spoke forcefully and often about our call as Americans to care for people who find it difficult to care for themselves. In addition to supporting democracy across the globe, he stated thatAmerica“must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.” He also stated that “the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls andSelmaand Stonewall….”

To hear the president speak about these things in these terms is not new. He often calls Americans to think about and act toward people who are mistreated or on the edges of society. What intrigued me about this particular speech is the reference toSeneca Falls.

Seneca Falls,New York, is a two hour drive across I-90 from Houghton. It is a hamlet of fewer than 10,000 people that declares itself the Historic Gateway to theFinger Lakes. This beautiful, picturesque village is also known as the Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. It is to this claim that President Obama was referring.

As you near Exit 41 on I-90, you will see a huge sign declaring: Seneca Falls: The Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. Many people know this. What many people do not know, perhaps including the president, is that the First Women’s Rights Convention inAmerica was held in 1848 in theSeneca FallsWesleyanMethodistChurch.

Equal rights for women has been a core element of The Wesleyan Church since its inception. In fact, the social issues of suffragette and abolition were instrumental in the forming of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection in 1843. From the beginning, The Wesleyan Church has given full access for women to use their God-given gifts and graces for ministry including lay leadership, teaching and ordination. Unfortunately, The Wesleyan Church hasn’t always practiced what we preached, but we are working to recover the ground lost over the last decades on this important issue.

The Apostle Paul’s teaching about women in the church has been debated for centuries. I am convinced that his meaning has been misinterpreted thus treating women as second-class citizens in the church. After all, it is the Apostle who emphatically declares: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Wesleyans (and I would hope others) need to recommit ourselves to equal rights for all people—not because we are trying to make a political statement, but because we believe that God does indeed create all of people equal and because we believe that in the kingdom of heaven there is no such thing as second-class citizens. It’s a vital part of our Wesleyan heritage; we pray it will be a part of our Christian future.