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The July/August issue of Good News magazine features many words of appreciation (from bishops, professors, pastors, and lay people) for the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, who retired this week after 28 years of leading United Methodism’s flagship renewal ministry.

James V. Heidinger II

James V. Heidinger II

He is variously described as “cheerful,” “passionate,” “gracious,” “patient,” “humble,” “sensitive,” “thoughtful,” “truthful,” and “motivated by the love of Christ.”

One writer, Dr. Bill Bouknight of the Confessing Movement, noted that Jim Heidinger “illustrates what it means to contend for the faith without being contentious.”

The July/August Good News republishes three of Dr. Heidinger’s columns (out of more than 170 written over the years), selected by the magazine’s long-time editor Steve Beard: “Remaining United Methodist” (from 1982), “The Legacy of Theological Liberalism” (from 1990), and “The Road to Emmaus” (from 1983).

In addition to his writing, James Heidinger has made himself available as a spokesman for evangelical concerns within the UMC and the larger mainline Church. He has often been called on to explain and defend the Church’s standards relating to homosexuality.

Use the audio and video players below to hear/see various interviews with Jim Heidinger, beginning with the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore.

It was in 1984 that General Conference delegates approved a clear guideline aimed at prohibiting non-celibate homosexual persons from being ordained to the United Methodist ministry. Dr. Heidinger was asked to comment on the General Conference’s action. (This 2:50 audio clip is from a UM Communications production narrated by Harry Johnson. Mr. Johnson is also the interviewer.)

Four years later, at the 1988 General Conference in St. Louis, UM Communications asked Jim Heidinger to comment on a failed attempt to overthrow the ordination restrictions passed in 1984 (the attempt was defeated by a better than two-thirds margin).

 

In March 2004, Dr. Heidinger discussed the Karen Dammann trial with host Todd Wilken on the radio program, Issues, Etc. (16:35).

Later in 2004, Mr. Heidinger was a guest on the Albert Mohler Program, talking about the Beth Stroud trial (8:55).

And in November 2005, Jim Heidinger again appeared on Issues, Etc., along with Mark Tooley of UM Action, to discuss rulings issued by the United Methodist Judicial Council at its Fall 2005 session. (17:35).

James Heidinger is a retired clergy member of the East Ohio Annual Conference. An Illinois native, he earned degrees from Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Theological-Malpracticeguarding-the-gospelDr. Heidinger’s books include United Methodist Renewal: What Will It Take? (Bristol Books, 1988), Theological Malpractice?: Essays in the Struggle for United Methodist Renewal (Bristol House, 2000), and Guarding the Gospel: Biblical Faith and the Future of United Methodism (Living Streams, 2007).

Jim Heidinger and his wife, Joanne, live in Nicholasville, Ky. They are members of the First United Methodist Church of Lexington, where Dr. Heidinger has taught an adult Sunday School class for many years.


Related articles and information
Much has changed since Jim Heidinger became a leader of UM evangelicals | Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service (July 9, 2009)
Reflections on passing the torch | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (May/June 2009)
Heidinger reflects on Good News leadership | Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service (April 2, 2009)
Good News announces new leadership upon Heidinger retirement | Good News (March 12, 2009)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
40 years of vision for United Methodist reformation and renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
An interview with the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II | Katherine T. Phan, The Christian Post (Nov. 6, 2004)
Good News board honors Heidinger | Tim Tanton, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 13, 2003)
Coalition speaker Heidinger describes renewal ‘phenomenon’ | Evan Silverstein, PCUSA News (May 27, 2003)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
Good News celebration emphasizes revival and renewal | United Methodist News Service (July 1, 1997)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)
Evangelical leaders from mainline denominations form new association; Heidinger named chairman | United Methodist News Service (Oct. 24, 1996)
‘Re-Imagining’ rejects historic Christianity | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (January/February 1994)
Mainline conservatives protest women’s ‘Re-Imagining’ conference | Carlton Elliott Smith, Religious News Service (Jan. 15, 1994—reprinted in the Feb. 16, 1994 issue of The Christian Century)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)

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thinker-twitterIn the right column of this page, just below the list of Today’s Most-Viewed Posts, you will now see a box labeled ThinkerTwitter.

It features (primarily) quick summaries of interesting news items, plus links that will take you to additional information.

In most cases, items in ThinkerTwitter feed will not be discussed here in the main blog posting area. We simply think these items are worth noting.

If you have a  Twitter account and wish to “follow” ThinkerTwitter, go to Twitter.com/MethoThinker.

Don’t have a Twitter account and don’t want one? 🙂

That’s okay. Just check the right-column feed here regularly, or keep up-to-date by going directly to the ThinkerTwitter page.

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The Reverend Mr. John Wesley (actor Alan MacNaughtan)

The Reverend Mr. John Wesley
(actor Alan MacNaughtan)

Posted below is the debut edition of The MethodistThinker Podcast, featuring timeless teaching by Methodist pastors and leaders.

This week, a sermon by the founder of the movement: Anglican clergyman John Wesley!

Click the audio player below for details — or download an mp3.

(The podcast is 11-and-a-half minutes.)

Next week, a sermon by the Rev. Bill Bouknight: “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”


Related post
Coming soon: The MethodistThinker Podcast

Related information and resources
Biography of actor Alan MacNaughtan
34 U.S. libraries that have the BBC-TV film, John Wesley: Preacher
Text of John Wesley’s sermon, “The Almost Christian”
Text of John Wesley’s sermon, “The New Birth”

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A recent post by Southern Baptist blogger Trevin Wax has stirred my thinking about how bishops and other UM leaders can more effectively sow into the lives of younger pastors and leaders.

I continue to see articles and hear comments about the loss of young pastors from the ranks of the [Southern Baptist Convention]…. To those [leaders]…concerned about the future of the SBC: may I make a humble suggestion?

cross-mp3playerRelease your resources. Give away all sermons and conference talks for free on the internet. Let us hear your heart!

One reason [non-Southern Baptist] pastors like John MacArthur and John Piper have such a large following among young Southern Baptists is because all their sermons (audio and manuscript) for the past 30-40 years are available online for free. I suggest that Southern Baptist pastors look to these men as an example of how to invest in younger pastors….

Want to see more young people showing up at your conference?… This year’s conference resources [distributed free online] are next year’s advertising.

Want young people to listen to your sermons? Then open up the archive…. Flood the…web with your resources. Give everything away, and then watch how God blesses.

The problem Mr. Wax describes is even more pronounced in the UMC than in the SBC. For years, I have been puzzled by the paucity of material from UM leaders available online, even on Annual Conference web sites.

For people who are supposed to be “connectional,” we have made very few connections via the Web — at least in a teaching/leadership sense rather than just an “institutional” (forms, committees) sense.

I have attended some denominational events that were not even recorded, much less posted. Many events are recorded, of course, but are not available except to those who can avoid to spend ~$15 for a DVD. (That’s ~$15 for one presentation; purchasing an entire event often costs more than $100!)

The Internet offers bishops and other leaders a low-cost means to speak to pastors (and lay people) who are looking to them as role models of effective teaching, leadership, and theological reflection.

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Bishop Lindsey Davis
Kentucky Conference

The good news is that some bishops have started posting short videos (such as this one by North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson on the appointment process). A few leaders post audio on a regular basis (North Alabama Bishop Will Willimon even has a podcast).

But for the most part, UM leaders have failed to take advantage of the power of online distribution of teaching and leadership material.

To help fill the void (albeit in a small measure), next week we will launch The MethodistThinker Podcast. Each Monday, Lord willing, we will feature audio of a bishop or other church leader. Some of these recordings will be current, others may date back many years.

A related change: A Podcasts page will be added to this site, accessible via a tab at the top of this page.

We will begin next week with the founder of the movement: a sermon by John Wesley(!), reenacted in the early 1980s for the BBC.

In the weeks ahead: Bill Bouknight on “The Resurrection”; Bishop Lindsey Davis on “The Primary Task of the Church”; and the late Bill Hinson on “The Making of a Minister.”

Do you have material you’d like to submit? E-mail MethodistThinker.com.

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The March 20 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate will be the 172-year-old newspaper’s final issue “in its current format,” according to a story in the Advocate‘s March 6 edition.

The newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, battered in recent years by rising costs and declining revenues, then will go through a “two-stage metamorphosis.” That process eventually will result in two new publications — one for North Georgia, one for South Georgia — produced jointly by their respective Conference information offices and the Texas-based UM Reporter.

From the March 6 Advocate:

[In stage one of the transition, issues of the paper to be published] in April and May…will become “An edition of the UM Reporter.” [The Reporter is a publication of the non-profit company, UMR Communications.]

wca-march-6-09There will be a front section of eight or twelve pages that will contain our local news, our current columnists, our crossword puzzles, and most of the regular features you have been reading for years.

Those papers will then have a second section created by the Reporter that will contain the news about the United Methodist Church worldwide.

Then beginning with the first issue in June, there will be a separate paper for North and South Georgia which will be put out by the communication offices of each Conference. However, what those papers will be called has not yet been determined.

Those papers will have a front section with news relevant to each Conference, and then the same second section which will come from the Reporter.

Unable to close the widening gap between revenues and costs, the Board of the Advocate voted in mid-January to cease publication. The paper generates about $300,000 annually, but yearly expenses exceed $400,000, according to information published in the paper’s Feb. 6 edition.

UMR Communications began as a regional Texas Methodist newspaper in the 1840s. Today it is a non-profit corporation that publishes newspapers for 16 UM conferences, including Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Western Pennsylvania.

UMR also operates Lumicon, a company that produces digital worship resources for churches.

According to the UMR Communications web site, the company “is not funded directly by the United Methodist Church…. It is financially independent, and derives its income from fees paid by clients for its services, along with grants and bequests from donors.”


Related post
Wesleyan Christian Advocate to ‘cease publication’; paper may merge with UM Reporter

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After a long financial struggle, the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the 172-year-old newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, will cease publication within the next six months.

The paper, however, may continue in a different form as part of Texas-based UMR Communications, publisher of the UM Reporter, owner of the UM Portal web site, and parent company of Lumicon Productions.

The Advocate has the story in its Feb. 6 edition:

Faced with increasing costs and decreasing revenues, the Board of the Advocate voted unanimously at a called meeting on January 15, 2009, to close the Advocate and cease publication prior to the 2009 Annual Conferences….

wca-february6-coverOnce the decision was made to cease publishing as a stand-alone paper, the Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson, editor of the Advocate… contacted Sarah Wilke, CEO of [UMR Communications].

[Wilke] immediately expressed an interest in working with the Advocate to ensure its continued existence. She flew to Atlanta and met with Nelson, [North Georgia] Bishop [Mike] Watson, and several members of the North Georgia conference staff. She is trying to set up similar meetings in South Georgia.

Wilke is primarily interested because there is… an established subscriber base in Georgia. “Several conferences which eliminated print communications several years ago, are now asking us to create a publication for them. This is much more difficult and more costly once you’ve lost that base,” [she said]….

Sarah Wilke

Sarah Wilke

The Advocate generates [more than] $300,000 annually in revenue, not counting… grants from the conferences. Unfortunately, current expenses exceed $400,000, [with] most of that deficit [being] made up by the grants from the two conferences….

[If UMR Communications were to take] over most of the administrative functions of the paper, thereby reducing the staff to only one person to write, collect, and edit the local stories, the expenses would drop below the $300,000 mark….

If the two conferences and the Reporter can reach an agreement, some changes [in staffing and publication] may occur in the next few months, but it will take until the conferences meet in June before the transition is complete.

“The good news,” according to Nelson, “is that we would be able to keep our name, continue our 172-year tradition, and continue to keep our members informed. Plus keep our Sunday school lessons, our Georgia columnists, our letters to the editor, [and] our job postings.”

UMR Communications currently publishes newspapers for 16 UM conferences, including Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Western Pennsylvania.

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Rob Renfroe is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church, one of the UMC’s ten largest churches. He is also a former member of the UM General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).

Writing in the January/February 2009 Good News, Mr. Renfroe mentions the current lawsuit related to whether GBCS has violated a 1965 Declaration of Trust that earmarked certain donated funds for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (lawsuit details are here and here).

While serving on the Board, I asked questions about the suit that had not yet gone to court….

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

When I made a motion that every Board member be given a copy of the Trust so we could read it for ourselves, I was voted down.

And after the suit was filed, when I asked why we were employing a legal strategy that had not been authorized by the Board (i.e., asking the court to allow the Board to use funds for purposes other than those specified in the Trust), I was told that these matters could not be discussed with me.

At that point, I resigned.

For Mr. Renfroe — and for anyone else who may wish to read it — the 1965 Declaration of Trust is posted here (PDF—8 pages).

Key paragraphs (note: the Division of Alcohol Problems is a predecessor to the General Board of Church and Society):

The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems….

declarationoftrust[These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.

It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….

It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:

Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.

The General Board of Church and Society is asking the District of Columbia Superior Court for a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”

The Board’s Feb. 2007 complaint filing to the Court is here (PDF—15 pages).

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS appears to be using funds that should be restricted for temperance-related ministry to lobby for causes associated with the American political left, such as abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.

In 2007, the Western North Carolina Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board to comply with the “purpose stated in the Trust and use Restricted Funds for the work on temperance and alcohol related problems” (see “Petition 34” here—PDF).

The resolution asserted that the Board has not “followed either the letter of the trust or the spirit of its founders as it has expended a large portion of the funds from the trust (approximately $2 million annually) on items and programs not in accordance with the requirements of the trust.”

District of Columbia Superior Court associate judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF), a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, is expected to issue a ruling in the Trust case soon.


Related posts
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
Source documents in the Methodist Building Trust case
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act

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The United Methodist News Service has published a well-researched article, authored by UMNS reporter Kathy Gilbert, on the continuing legal battle over the Methodist Building Endowment Fund.

Unfortunately, the UMNS did not post the full text of the document which is at the center of the case: a 1965 Declaration of Trust that established boundaries on the use of funds donated decades ago to construct the Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. and to endow the work of the now-defunct Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals.

The United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.

The full text of the eight-page Declaration of Trust is linked below, as is another source document in the case.

At issue is whether the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) — a successor board to the Board of Temperance — is free to use earnings from the restricted endowment for causes other than alcohol- and drug-abuse ministry.

Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS has been using money earned by the endowment to lobby for causes far removed from the intent of the endowment, such abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.

Records of GBCS spending show that temperance-related spending now accounts for a relatively small percentage of Board’s expenditures. In 2006, the bulk of the Board’s $2.3 million program budget was spent on areas such as “Economic and Environmental Justice,” “Education and Leadership Formation,” and maintaining an office at the United Nations.

The 1965 Declaration of Trust (here in PDF—8 pages), which transferred the Methodist Building and significant stock holdings to what would eventually become the General Board of Church and Society, stipulated that income from the trust would be devoted “in perpetuity” to addressing the “areas of temperance and alcohol problems.”

From the Declaration of Trust:

The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems…. [These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.

It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….

It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:

Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.

Kathy Gilbert’s report for the UM News Service highlighted recent developments in the Trust dispute:

The case went to trial Oct. 6 and Judge Rhonda Reid Winston heard final arguments on Oct. 22. Attorneys are working on final summary statements, which are due to the judge Jan. 8. After the judge reviews those statements, she will issue a decision.

The judge [has already] ruled that the creators of the 1965 Declaration of Trust probably meant to confine the funds to alcohol and temperance concerns, but she was uncertain whether the language in the document accurately reflected their original intentions.

“The Court is convinced that there is genuine issue about whether the [1965] Declaration, as drafted, inaccurately and mistakenly reflects the intentions of the settlors,” Winston said.

In closing arguments, Jeffrey A. Liesemer, an attorney for the Board of Church and Society contended that the Declaration of Trust was based on the mistaken belief that individuals who had given money to the board during the 1920s and 30s had wanted their donations to be confined to temperance and alcohol-related work.

“There is no evidence of any gift restrictions on pledge cards, in minutes of meetings, on bonds — nothing reveals any gift restrictions,” he said, according the UMNS report.

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

Further, Liesemer argued that an October 1965 compromise agreement among three Methodist boards that were being merged into one “supplants” the legal Declaration of Trust agreement drawn up just seven months earlier.

According to the UMNS account, Liesemer said the compromise made it clear that, “the money could be used for all programs and couldn’t be squirreled away for temperance and alcohol problems.” The October 1965 compromise gives a legal basis for “reformation” of the Trust, he argued.

Interestingly, the compromise agreement, which now appears to be central to the Board of Church and Society’s case, is not mentioned in the Board’s original complaint filing to the Court (here in PDF—15 pages). GBCS made the filing, instigating the current case, in an attempt to gain a final resolution to the Trust dispute (details here, 2nd item).

Without referencing the October 1965 compromise, the Board’s complaint — submitted in February 2007 — asked the D.C. Superior Court to allow a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”

Among those testifying before the Court was Roger Burgess, a former executive with the Division of Alcohol Problems and General Welfare of the Board of Christian Social Concerns (a successor to the Board of Temperance and a predecessor to the Board of Church and Society).

Another view of the UM Building

Another view of the UM Building

Mr. Burgess, who served from 1953-1965, told the Court he believes donors who gave to support construction of the Methodist Building and the subsequent work of the Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals did intend for their contributions to be used solely for temperance and alcohol-related work, according to the UMNS account.

Evidence presented in the case included letter written by Mr. Burgess just weeks before the Declaration of Trust was signed.

In the January 1965 letter, Mr. Burgess noted that “a reading of the minutes and a study of the old Boards of Temperance and of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals indicates very clearly that the money given in previous years was given in trust for work in the field of alcohol problems. To expand the use of the trust now would be to break faith with those who gave the money.”

After leaving the Board of Alcohol Problems in the mid-1960s, Mr. Burgess became vice president of the United Methodist Publishing House. He later served as general secretary of the United Methodist General Commission on Communications.


Related posts
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn

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The Nov. 7 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the official newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, quotes a recent United Methodist News Service column by J. Richard Peck titled, “John Wesley’s Advice on the Economy.”

wca-november-7-coverThe column purports to summarize Mr. Wesley’s Dec. 1772 letter to the Lloyd’s Evening Post newspaper. Here is the excerpt the Advocate selected from Mr. Peck’s column.

John Wesley believed that most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

Wesley felt the cure was to repress “luxury, either by example, by laws, or both.” He asked legislators to establish laws that would prohibit the distillation of alcohol.

While he lamented high taxes upon the poor and middle class, he called for additional taxes on luxury items such as horses and carriages.

He also expressed concern about future generations and called for a reduction of the national debt. In short, Wesley called for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products.

The excerpt appears to give “theological cover” (from the founder of the Methodist movement himself!) to those in the current political climate who advocate stepped-up redistribution of wealth from high-income members of society to people with lower incomes.

However, the larger context of Mr. Wesley’s letter gives quite a different impression.

From the actual letter (PDF):

Why have [so many in England] nothing to eat? Because they have nothing to do. They have no meat, because they have no work. But why have they no work?… Because the person who used to employ them cannot afford to do it any longer.

Many, who employed fifty men, now scarce employ ten. Those, who employed twenty, now employ one, or none at all. They cannot, as they have no vent for their goods; food now bearing so high a price, that the generality of people are hardly able to buy anything else.

John Wesley

John Wesley

A major reason for high food prices, Mr. Wesley argued, was that immense quantities of “breadcorn” are “consumed by distilling” alcoholic beverages.

He noted that the abundance of land being used to grow wheat for distillation reduced the acreage available for other crops, while also driving up prices for other wheat-based products.

Mr. Wesley decried the government’s unwillingness — for financial reasons — to discourage the consumption of alcohol. Sales of that “deadly poison-poison” were bringing in “large [tax] revenue to the king,” he noted.

Indeed, the government’s overweening desire for tax revenue was having perverse effects throughout the economy, he observed.

[W]hy is it, that not only provisions and land, but well-nigh everything else is so dear [i.e., expensive]? Because of the enormous taxes which are laid on almost everything that can be named.

Not only abundant taxes raised from earth, and fire, and water; but, in England, the ingenious statesmen have found a way to tax the very light!

In a series of suggestions for improving the economic health of the nation, Mr. Wesley hinged his argument on the need to drive down agricultural-commodity prices. Lower food costs, he argued, would increase discretionary income and stimulate appropriate consumption of other consumer goods, thus creating economic growth and increasing employment.

The key to driving down food prices was “prohibiting for ever that bane of health, that destroyer of strength, of life, and of virtue, distilling. Perhaps this alone will answer the whole design,” Mr. Wesley wrote. (In another part of the letter, he argued that more family farms and fewer farm “monopolies” would help drive down food costs, as well.)

lloyds_evening_postIn general, John Wesley urged eventual tax reductions — conceding, however, that servicing the nation’s large national debt made the continuation of certain taxes a necessity.

As for tax increases, he suggested that the government could make up revenue lost from prohibiting distilling with an additional tariff (of 10 pounds) on “every horse exported to France” and a hike in the property tax on horses in England used to draw “gentlemen’s carriages.” (He also believed these particular taxes would reduce the number of horses being raised, thus driving down the cost of oats.)

While Mr. Wesley did decry “the amazing waste” of food by some wealthy people (which contributed to food scarcity problems for others), there is nothing in his letter that suggest, as asserted by Mr. Peck, that Wesley believed “most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.”

Indeed, the assertion seems to put the cause and effect backward. Income disparity was a result of a problem-laden economy, not the cause. Improve the economy, John Wesley argued in his 1772 letter to the Lloyd’s Evening Post, and the lot of the poor would improve along with it.

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