Pulling Punches

AS A UNITED METHODIST, I was excited to see the excerpts of a pastoral letter from the United Methodist bishops of Appalachia (June 1993). As I read their poignant assessment of the state of things, I repeatedly said "Amen!"

However, in the end, I was left flat; the bishops spoke with a lot of hot air, but did not articulate a decisive hermeneutical direction that the church must take to stand for true change in Appalachia in relation to the rest of the nation. In short, the ultimatums that follow the pejorative seem little more than lip service to Wesleyan social principles, leading me to view the first two-thirds of the letter in equally critical fashion.

Their letter gives a marvelous summary of the social setting and theological grounding for difficult preaching, but the bishops fail to embody their own words of empowerment. They should proclaim on a regional basis - or demand nationwide - a denominational stance on economic injustice. Unlike Amos, who addressed the privileged classes of Israel with searing indictments, the pleadings of our Appalachian bishops are esoteric and spiritualized, appealing to emotional solidarity with the oppressed with no requirements for physical commitment.

Our Appalachian bishops can take a more daring position than simply to plead for United Methodists to "sing in the morning and to dance in the evening and to believe all the day long that 'the kingdom of God is at hand.'" They can call for United Methodists outside Appalachia to hear clearly Jesus' pronunciation of Jubilee, which demands that the wealthy - specifically wealthy Methodists, since this is a denominational letter - redistribute their means of both generating and disbursing wealth, and divest from oppressive business activities.

The letter begins with tough words, but pulls its punch, stopping short of practical application. Certainly, a denomination choosing to model a Jubilee

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Sojourners Magazine January 1994
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