Methodist Church

230-year-old Wesley text challenges modern-day slavery and racism

LONDON – A controversial anti-slavery pamphlet has been republished ahead of this year’s Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Originally available in 1774, John Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Slavery” challenged those in the society of his day to wake up to the evils of slavery.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and celebrated preacher, was well known as an opponent of slavery. He wrote “Thoughts Upon Slavery” to confront the widespread acceptance of slavery and to call for the abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

Although he never lived to see this happen, his writings and preaching were instrumental in the abolitionist movement.

“Thoughts Upon Slavery” has been reproduced with additional biographical details, including links to resources and information on the current “Set All Free” campaign to combat modern forms of slavery. It also contains the reprint of a letter written by Wesley to William Wilberforce, offering encouragement in his opposition to slavery, written six days before Wesley’s death in 1791.

Methodist Secretary for Racial Justice Naboth Muchopa said: “It is essential that we remember that the slave trade is not dead. We cannot turn a blind eye to the modern forms of slavery that surround us such as people trafficking, immigrants being paid slave wages and unfair trade laws that force countries into poverty and debt.

“The Methodist Church today must go back to Wesley and his call to name the evil that we would term ‘racism’ and shame us of our contemporary ills.”

The pamphlet was considered highly controversial when it was first published because of the common and often unchallenged acceptance of slavery, which was highly lucrative for Britain and its colonies.

But “Thoughts Upon Slavery” is not simply a moral argument about the evils of slavery; it offers an insight into the way slaves were treated and the conditions under which they were forced to live. Wesley discussed the gross punishments suffered by disobedient slaves and the rewards offered to those who killed or captured slaves who had run away.

All this led Wesley to ask: “Where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men; murdering thousands of them in their own land, by their own countrymen; many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea; and tens of thousands in that cruel slavery to which they are so unjustly reduced?”

Other resources available for the 2007 bicentenary include a set of seven posters jointly produced by the Methodist Church. The posters feature images of abolitionists and freedom fighters, together with their thoughts on the slave trade. — The Methodist Church in Britain.


Former European bishop named new WMC Geneva Secretary


AUNITED METHODIST bishop who has provided leadership to church members in countries spanning from Algeria to Albania is the new Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council WMC). Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, who retired last May as episcopal leader of the Central and Southern European Conference of the United Methodist Church, has begun work at his part-time position from Jan 1 this year.

The Rev Dr George Freeman, the WMC’s General Secretary, said Bishop Bolleter was chosen for the position “because of his wide ecumenical experience in Europe”, depth of knowledge about the church and linguistic skills.

As bishop, he oversaw United Methodists in France, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and all the Balkan states, along with Tunisia and Algeria.

The Rev Dr Freeman expects the bishop “will help to interpret to the council what’s happening in the ecumenical movement” and explain the council’s positions and programmes to others.

“We are very excited to have him in this position and look forward to the way that our participation in the ecumenical life will expand under his leadership,” he added.

In March last year, Bishop Bolleter was honoured by the Republic of Austria for being a “bridge builder” in Europe, particularly for his ability to build connections with Eastern European nations.

Bishop Bolleter, who grew up in Zurich, was ordained an elder in 1969 and elected bishop in 1989. He lives in Aarau, Switzerland, about halfway between Zurich and Geneva, to be closer to his three children.

He told United Methodist News Service that he will represent the council at specific ecumenical events, such as central committee meetings of the World Council of Churches and meetings of the World Lutheran Federation and Reformed Alliance. He said he “will help to interpret the World Methodist Council’s views to the other congregational families”.

Inter-faith issues also are a concern. “I think we have been awakened in Europe to the presence of Muslims in our societies,” he said. This presence requires dialogue not only at the state and organisational levels but also at the local level, he said.

“We have to see the people, to visit the people, to be more open to share our different views and our different cultural backgrounds,” added Bishop Bolleter, who will work closely with the Rev Robert Gribben of Australia, the new Chairman of the WMC’s Ecumenics and Dialogue Committee. – United Methodist News Service.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.