In our baptismal vows, United Methodists commit to "renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world" and "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves."
Since the earliest times, the vows of Christian baptism have begun with the renunciation of evil and then the profession of faith and loyalty to Christ.
The renunciation of evil is rooted in Scripture. In Romans 12:9, we are taught to, "Love unambiguously, hating the evil, holding fast to the truth." Amos 5:15 similarly says, "Hate evil; love good. Maintain justice in the courts."
Loving and hating are not seen in Scripture as mere attitudes, but rather are understood as always being embodied in real action. The verb in Romans 12 for hate in particular means to hate violently or specifically, to abhor so completely that one takes action against the object of such hatred (the evil itself). We are called to take strong action against the evil that may be said to motivate, pre-condition or, in some instances, cause the actions other persons may take.
This does not, however, warrant violence against other people. Jesus is clear how we are to treat those who act with evil against us: love them, praying for and doing good even to those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44).
A persistent theme, especially in the Old Testament and through the prophets, is the constant call to resist evil, to end unjust economic practices and unjust courts, and to end oppression or lack of care for the vulnerable - widows, orphans and foreigners in the land.
The 10 Commandments also make clear that we are to resist evil as it presents itself to us, and the rest of the justice codes in the Old Testament (Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus, in particular) make clear the social costs of failing to do this.
All of this biblical and baptismal history is the reason the Social Principles so frequently call United Methodists to act to resist evil, injustice and oppression. We are called to witness against racism and abolish inequality and discrimination, to reject criminal justice systems based on racist policies and practices and work for restorative justice, to speak against irresponsible use of the earth's resources and become good stewards of God's creation, and to oppose war and work for peace with justice.
Remember that the Methodists in England played major roles in the abolition of slavery, the creation of the labor movement and the radical reformation of the penal justice and prison code of the whole British empire. The Methodists did not simply avoid evil in their own lives, they organized and worked with others to fight it as it appeared in the larger society.
United Methodists today, as servants of Christ, are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.
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This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications, and originally published on June 9, 2020. .