The editorial in Monday's (24/5/10) Fiji Times on the founder of Methodism, John Wesley commemorated Reverend Wesley's spiritual conversion and challenged Methodists of Fiji to recommit themselves not only to Wesley's spiritual teachings but also to putting them through, "caring for the poor and helping the downtrodden in society".
In 1772 John Wesley addressed a letter to the editor of Lloyd's Evening Post regarding the causes of and cures for high unemployment, food shortages and dismal economic conditions.
Wesley, who was 69 at the time, began the letter by asking, "Why are thousands of people starving-perishing for want, in every part of England?"
In describing the situation in London at the time Wesley wrote, "I have known those who could only afford to eat a little coarse food every other day. I have known one picking up stinking sprats from a dunghill, and carrying them home for herself and her children. I have known another gathering the bones, which the dogs had left in the streets, and making broth of them, to prolong a wretched life."
The founder of the Methodist Movement then went on to frankly point out the impact of poor land use and farming practices by landowners, the use of wheat and grain for alcohol rather than food production, high taxation and the increasing national debt as the root causes of the economic and social problems facing 18th Century England.
John Wesley believed that most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.
Wesley felt the cure was to repress "luxury, either by example, by laws, or both."
He asked legislators to establish laws that would prohibit the distillation of alcohol.
While he lamented high taxes upon the poor and middle class, he called for additional taxes on luxury items such as horses and carriages.
He suggested people be taxed on what they purchased rather than upon what they earned. Basically this was a call for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products.
While he attempted to prick the consciences of the readers of Lloyd's Evening Post, Wesley did not publicise his personal actions, he organised groups of Methodists to visit the London workhouses where poor people were housed and employed. The groups also provided worship services for the inmates, most of whom were children and elderly persons.
Leading by example, Wesley also pushed for less reliance upon pharmaceuticals, experimented with alternative health practices (herbal and traditional medicines), he rose each morning at 4 o'clock and relied heavily on an active lifestyle. He lived to age 88.
Methodists under Wesley's direction became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements.
In his seminal work in support of the abolition of slavery, Thoughts Upon Slavery, Wesley wrote,
"If, therefore, you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor the revealed law of God,) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do unto every one as you would he should do unto you."
His concluding prayer in Thoughts Upon Slavery can also be read in light of the many oppressive structures in the world today. It is a cry for justice:
"O thou God of love, thou who art loving to every man, and whose mercy is over all thy works; thou who art the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and who art rich in mercy unto all; thou who hast mingled of one blood all the nations upon earth; have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise, and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son's blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; let it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the south. O burst thou all their chains in sunder; more especially the chains of their sins! Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed!"
The legacy of John Wesley is spiritual piety, practical Christian love, typified by mission to the poor and marginalised through education, health services, and other social welfare programmes including building houses for the homeless. It is a legacy of speaking truth to power, of calling for justice, mercy and compassion.
Some months ago I was sent an email which read: Leave a legacy that says you Loved God; you took good care of your family; you were kind and generous; you were a true friend; you kept your word; you encouraged others; you had a great attitude; you helped those in need; and that you lived true to your faith.
What will our legacies for future generations be? May the rest of you week be blessed with light, love, peace and the courage to speak the truth in love.
* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Mr J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: padrejamesgmail.com