I grew up in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, more specifically in the firey Reformation Movement known as the Church of God, Anderson, IN. Raised in a church pastored in the early 1930’s by a woman, I grew up steeped in the stories of our pioneers and their work for gender and racial equality. Before I was old enough for the youth group, I knew about Evangelist Lena Schoffner who had preached a revival in the racist South just on the heels of the Civil War. In the tent where she spoke, there was a rope hung down the middle dividing space where black and white folks could sit. As she preached the kerygma of gospel holiness and unity, she called for the rope to be torn down and the divisions to be forgotten since we are all one in Christ Jesus. Later, those who opposed Schoffner’s message of unity blew up the site where the church had been gathering.
I am not sure what it was, but as a very young child, I felt connected, felt at home in the company of a people who were committed to human rights and dignity, who believed in Paul’s words that Christ had made us one, who acknowledge there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free (Galatians 3. 26-28). This sense of unity, holiness, justice seemed to resonate deep in my bones and in some ways, defined me and my place in the world.
It wasn’t until later that I’d learn about the great Holiness revivals of the late 19th century, that I’d learn about sisters and brothers who born of the same water and fire. All of us descended from John Wesley’s Methodism, the Free Methodists had broken off because they believed the poor should not be excluded from worship if they couldn’t pay dues; the Wesleyans had separated during the fight for the abolition of slavery, my own tradition distinguished itself over the insistence of inclusion, that all are welcome at the table of the Lord.
As I have matured, have studied, have grown, I have wondered about those early days, about the passions and call that drove us forward that seems all but lost across the last century. I wonder where the fire burned during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, where we lost our way in the fight for gender equality, how it is that we have been silent on issues of justice, have forgotten the poor and the alien in our midst. Instead there has been much talk on justification, taking Augustine’s perspective on justification as conversion. We have busied ourselves winning souls for their safe keeping in the afterlife with no attention to living in such a way that we might make this world a better more just existence.
This is a misunderstanding of the Pauline notion of justification, at best, and a complete and total missional estrangement at worst. For Paul, justification cannot exist without justice and the justice of God is worked on this earth through the people of God who live and love as Jesus (1 Cor. 15). As God’s creatures, we are saved to do the work of God in the world, to partner with God in setting all things right.
This summer, the Church of God, Anderson will gather in Oklahoma City, OK, a different location than where we have gathered for the past 100 years. We will gather in a place that is not the site of our fear, not in the site where in the early 1900’s we asked our darker skinned brothers and sisters not to convene due to mortal threat of the Ku Klux Klan. Instead, we will gather in the city where our spiritual mother Lena Schoffner was called to pastor in 1903 and we will dream new dreams and we will see new visions of hope and peace and justice.