The last bread crumb was here.
The history of the Wesleyan tradition, indeed the origins of my own branch of it, went beyond the principle of helping the individual needy to a concern for the structures of society as they perpetuate inequity. Addressing the "hateful" structures of a society is loving your neighbor written large. The Wesleyan Methodist Church traces its origins to 1843 when a group of Methodists withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church primarily in opposition to slavery as an institution in the United States. Along with Quakers, some of these individuals participated in the underground railroad and one can still see the bullet holes in one of the church buildings that survives in the South.
In keeping with their sense of the trajectory of the gospel, they were some of the first in recent times to acknowledge that God could call women as well as men to preach the gospel, in keeping with the promise of this age of Christ, when God's sons and daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:17). It was in the building of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, that the movement to give women the right to vote, the birth of the women's rights movement, took place. And Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, preached the sermon at the service of the first woman to be ordained in America, Antoinette Brown, in 1851.
As we mentioned above, the Wesleyan tradition could take these positions because it recognized the priority of the principles of Scripture over its time-bound particulars. This is not to say that our parents in the faith had worked through their hermeneutic in sophisticated terms. It is only to say that they recognized that in their time, it seemed impossible to play out the core principles of the gospel and perpetuate structures that Scripture allowed, such as slavery.
At the same time, we are prone to miss the ministry role that, for example, women actually played in the ministry of the early church. We would argue that only one passage in the entire Bible potentially stands in tension with women in ministry--1 Timothy 2:11-15--at that it is really much more about the husband-wife relationship than women preaching. By contrast, we have ample evidence that in practice women worked side-by-side with men in ministry. There was nothing unusual for Phoebe to be a deacon in Romans 16:1 or for Junia to be an apostle in Romans 16:7. The book of Acts also treats the ministries of women like Priscilla (Acts 18:26) or Lydia (Acts 16:15), just as Paul speaks of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).
We wonder if today even the structure of husband headship in the home, a concept whose language and categories come more from Greek political theory than from the Old Testament, is a structure God would have us abolish today in the name of Christ. The subordination of Eve to Adam in Genesis 3 was a consequence of the Fall, and Christ has atoned for all the sins of Adam, let alone the sins of Eve. We know that women are not in any way innately inferior to men intellectually, spiritually, or as leaders. Nothing stops us today--indeed we improve our witness to the world--if we advocate for women as complete co-partners with men in all areas of life, including the home, without putting on them the artificial distinctions of ancient culture. In the kingdom women will not be "given to men" in marriage, in subordination as they were. What would stop us from making the structures of earth now more like the structures of heaven?
There may be other societal structures our love of neighbor will want to speak prophetically to. Those of us who are "white"--a construct that only means we do not look like those who are "other"--do not realize the ease with which we move through life in comparison to others. We do not have police or store owners scrutinize us more carefully because of how we look. We do not face the likelihood of distrust in many of our dealings with others. We often to not realize the additional obstacles that those who look differently face on a regular basis. The same has often been the case for women in contrast to men.
Those of us who grew up in middle-class homes where you are expected to go to college and walk into a predictable career also do not often realize the obstacles--both real and psychological--that might keep others from emerging from cycles of poverty and dependence. The path out may seems obvious to us--go get a job. But usually those who would say such things do not realize the difficulties such a seemingly simple proposition may pose (we have cars, attainable jobs that pay enough and are in good proximity, either no children or someone to take care of them). But perhaps even more serious, what seems like a common sense path to us may be to others like some skill we do not have would be to us. Suggesting someone in generational poverty go get a job might be like someone asking me to replace a water pump.
Suffice it to say, it is the charge of the Wesleyan tradition to be on guard against structural hatred of our neighbor, and to work for its abolishment and reformation. Many in our tradition failed in this charge in the twentieth century. We were not outraged that African-Americans had to ride in the back of the bus or drink from a different water fountain. Indeed, many begrudged those "trouble makers" who were causing such a societal ruckass. We largely slept through the civil rights movement, to our shame.
Even today, many grass-roots Wesleyans are more concerned about the fact that illegal immigrants have broken the rules in getting here than about the lives of real people and the potential consequences of reactionary laws to children and adult alike. Suffice it to say that this attitude is not only out of sync with the Wesleyan tradition. It does not know the mind of Christ as revealed in the New Testament, nor the dictates of the Old Testament law toward strangers in Israel's midst. No "true Wesleyan," the name of some of an early journal of our tradition, will have such attitudes today. The working out of principles is complicated. These values are not.