It was at the Miami rally where Senator Tim Kaine was introduced as Secretary Clinton’s Vice Presidential running mate. The topic turned to faith. The Senator said, “I’m a Catholic. Hillary is a Methodist. Her creed is the same as mine. Do all the good as you can.”
Let’s hold that thought for a moment. Yes, the Senator is attempting to paraphrase a portion of a well-known quote from John Wesley.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
Methodists now know that John Wesley never said those words. Someone made them up, around the turn of the last century, and placed them in his small English mouth. For a moment, hold that in the back of your mind. I want to ask, apart from the technical definitions of a creed (or specific examples thereof), is that all churches are about? Of course, I’m asking as a United Methodist.
Is organized Christianity solely about doing “good”? Am I leading simply another community non-profit, a social service organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity, albeit with some hokey language and organ playing? Is that it? For some, yes. (Others want to rack up souls saved on the eternal life scoreboard. It’s a long running debate.) For those who don’t bother to come to church, they can do good all by themselves, in clubs, organizations, and activities which never speak of eternity, the afterlife, or virgins getting pregnant. Many people have this vision of church. I know them.
I’m certain there’s more to being the church than something which motivates our desire for goodness. It’s not the fear of eternal damnation. I don’t believe it is the idea that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. I think loving our neighbors is a choice we’ve come to realize we can’t afford not to make. Doing good leaves open the door to doing bad and making alternative choices. We don’t “affirm” doing “good” as if good can later be rejected. By this, goodness, as a moral action isn’t included in any of the historic creeds of the church. No one gets up on Sunday morning because they believe in being good. That ought to be part and parcel of our humanity, that’s why the early church writers didn’t include simplistic moral formulas in our creeds.
Christians have come to that place, like alcoholics and drug addicts reaching rock bottom and finally admitting that doing all the good we can has failed and the only option we have left is love. The good we do comes with too many strings attached but the love we share is completely free. There are always limits, definitions, and financial constraints placed on sharing “the good”. Love is a free gift which cannot be quantified or stopped. This is why Jesus’ love frightens some in power. That’s not like a creed. It’s a way of life. Once you tell someone they’re loved, their world changes forever. This is why the church is different. Without love, churches will become monuments to a movement built on love.
Doing good isn’t nearly enough. Anyone can do good. To this I say, Amen. But if it’s just about doing good, then churches ought to close up shop and go home. We have to do better than good. We have to love. Loving is hard and it hurts. The cruciform love to which we are called is says there is neither “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is in all things in all people.” Paul says get ready to love in a world without boundaries. That’s going to take more than goodness. It’s going to take all the love we can muster…black and white, rich and poor, white and Hispanic, gay and straight, Arab and Jew, Christ is in all things in all people. Christ is in all things in all people; tell me, can you believe that last sentence without love?