24 February, 1791
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in all of our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,
John Wesley [i]
To the People Called Methodist,
BLACK LIVES MATTER
BLACK VOTING RIGHTS MATTER
BLACK VOICES MATTER
Since George Floyd died beneath the crushing knee of a police officer, the cry for justice has been heard around the world, with new urgency. The cry and demand for racial justice can be found in the very origins of the Methodist movement, in John Wesley’s letter encouraging William Wilberforce to persevere in the seemingly hopeless battle against the “execrable villainy” of racial injustice embedded in the law and practice, trusting that, “if God be for you, who can be against you?”
Nearly 230 years later, this villainy has not been rooted out, but embedded in systems that we mask with words. A new generation of activists for the just treatment of Black people joins generations who have fought for decades and centuries to put right what is so very wrong and corrosive of the principle that all are created equal. The struggle is long and hard, and many people who benefit from the injustice work to perpetuate the unequal, cruel and even lethal treatment of Black Americans.
Today is celebrated as Juneteenth, remembered as the day emancipation of slaves was announced to the last state in the United States on June 19, 1865, following the Civil War. I pray that God continues in the midst of the struggle, with people in police departments, courtrooms, on the streets, in worship, attending funerals, behind prison bars. I pray that God is using the people called “Methodist” in our day to continue the struggle.
May all who see the injustice, say what we see, share what we see and never “never be worn out by the opposition of men and devils” who stand against justice. God is with all who stand and speak and work for racial justice.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5: 24
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
[i] John Wesley’s last letter before his death, sent to William Wilberforce, quoted in https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/wesley-to-wilberforce/