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April 18, 2008

John Wesley Ministered to a Gay Man?

I wanted to share with y’all an excerpt from a legal brief that RMN submitted to the Judicial Council during the trial of Rev. Beth Stroud in support of her efforts to regain her credentials as an ordained pastor within the Church. Before reading this document, I knew that Wesley actively served the poor, people in prisons, and even advocated for the abolition of slavery, but I had no idea that this man – in the early 18th century – felt called to serve and be in ministry with at least one gay man that we know of.

Amicus Curiae Brief of Reconciling Ministries Network, Inc. in Support of Respondent Rev. Elizabeth Stroud. August 25, 2005, pp. 15-16:

The United Methodist Church follows the model of Wesley striving to include the disadvantaged, especially those disadvantaged due to socially dictated status. Wesley's experiences beyond the conventional church with the poor, working-class laborers, prisoners, children, and slaves transformed him and help make care for the disadvantaged a hallmark of nascent Methodist Church Societies (¶103). His "tenacious [obsession with] every point relating to decency and [Anglican] order" yielded to inclusive ministries that stood in solidarity with God's oppressed people, even when that placed him against conventional church custom (13). Wesley recognized entire groups of people as victims. He committed himself to ministry with them, and agitated for major reforms on behalf of them and the church eternal. He saw "the finger of God" touching them.

Wesley's ministry is exemplary in the context of the present case. In practice, Wesley shunned bigotry, controversially including an actual homosexual (14). The Holy Club's ministry with Blair a protégé of Wesley who was also a homosexual and imprisoned for sodomy provides context for the Judicial Council's current deliberations. Members of Wesley's Holy Club "showed an unconventional and unpopular sympathy" for Blair. Nowhere in fourteen journal entries does Wesley judge Blair; instead, Wesley read to him, contacted his attorney, and wrote his legal case. On November 14, 1732, however, some Methodists met at a local inn to discuss Blair's case. People criticized Wesley and the Methodists, believing it would be better for Blair to suffer in prison than to associate Methodism with homosexuality. Despite hostile criticism, Wesley and the Holy Club maintained their ministry with Blair (15).

Wesley embodied the doctrinal belief in God's prevenient grace, justifying us in Jesus, and refused any temptation to commit bigotry when he encountered a homosexual. Although his own church used Blair as a pretext for gossip, coercion and conformity, Wesley demonstrated an abundant sense of grace and reckoned the homosexual as his protégé. Both Wesley and Jesus urged a faithful response to those in need, regardless of their status, and in firm resistance to human religious authorities.

13. See, Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley and Patterns for Church Renewal. Illinois; InterVarsity Press, 1980. 186-87. See also Snyder, Howard A. Liberating the Church: The Ecology of Church & Kingdom. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983. 181-194. and Carder, Kenneth L. A Bishop's Reflections. Tennessee: Providence House, 1996. 90-91,100-101,107-108.

14. See Knotts, Experiencing God's Love: A MFSA Presentation to The United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality, December 1989, citing V.H.H. Green and Wesley's Journal entries from Oxford, Autumn and Winter of 1732.

15. Green, Vivian Hubert Howard, John Wesley. Nelson, 1964. 32.; Green, Vivian Hubert Howard, The Young Mr. Wesley: A Study of John Wesley and Oxford. Epworth Press, 1963. 167, 178-179.

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The citation leaves one more than a little doubtful. It's Knotts citing Green citing Wesley from the Journal entries from 1732. I will also search the Thomas Jackson edition from this period of time - but this looks rather doubtful from the get-go. I used to have a copy of the Green book, but I'm not sure I still do. But, I'll look.

I hope someone can further corroborate this. Or not. One way or the other, it would be good to know how much truth there is to this.

Citing this could backfire on those who use it. Try searching Wesley's Works for the word "effeminate" sometime. Yikes.

I can find mentions of a "B. Blair" and an "Andrew Blair" in Jackson's Works, but no indication of homosexuality. What are the primary sources to support this claim?

Not that Wesley would have done anything wrong to minister to a homosexual; quite the opposite. It would be praiseworthy of him to follow the example of Christ and share fellowship with the outcasts. But I see no evidence to support the claim.

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