We sang Bob Dylan’s anthem a lot in the 1960s, as we crusaded for civil rights for black folks. A majority of Methodists then believed the Bible was against racial integration and civil rights for black folks. But black folks got those rights. A majority of Methodists later voted for a black president. The Bible had not changed.
There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible gave kings a “divine right,” and so opposed the freedom of the American colonies, since the king was against it. The church split over that. The colonies became free. Methodists became US patriots. The Bible had not changed.
There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible gave them the right to own slaves and treat them any way they wanted to. The church split over that. It came back together when I was two years old. The Bible had not changed.
There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed that the Bible says black folks and white folks should not be allowed to marry one another. They supported laws against it. The laws were changed. The Bible had not changed.
There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed that the Bible said that women should not be pastors. It wasn’t long ago. I was already a preacher when Methodists started ordaining women. The Bible had not changed.
There was a time when a majority of Methodists believed the Bible said a pastor should not continue in the ministry if divorced. Now I know a pastor who has been divorced three times and is still being appointed. The Bible has not changed.
Albert Outler, the great Methodist church historian--who codified and explained John Wesley’s “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Bible, experience, tradition, and reason, and one of my professors at Perkins School of Theology at SMU before I got thrown out of Dallas and finished seminary at Garrett, at Northwestern U—used to say, “The church has never done the right thing except under pressure from the world.”
A majority of Methodists don’t know that the world, it is a-changin. That doesn’t matter. The world is gonna change anyway. “Get on board, little children,” or get left behind.
John Robert McFarland
Helen’s father always claimed that spring starts March 1, regardless of what a majority of Methodists and weather forecasters might say, so in the name of Earl “Tank” Karr, I wish you a happy spring.