George Whitefield was an eighteen century Anglican preacher and promulgator of the evangelical and revitalization movement, know as the Great Awakening, in the American colonies. His contemporary, John Wesley was an Anglican divine and theologian.
Both men are credited with the foundation of Methodism.
Whitefield and Wesley were religious men, seen by their followers as visionaries, leaders, innovators. They were complicated figures who shared a problematic relationship. Wesley embraced Arminian doctrines and defended Christian perfection. He opposed Whitefield’s Calvinism and preached against the notion of predestination. The two men further disagreed on social and economic issues. Whitefield was one of the first to preach to the enslaved yet he campaigned for the legislation of slavery in Georgia where it was, at the time, outlawed. Seeing slavery as an industrial necessity, Whitefield himself owned slaves. Wesley on the other hand was an abolitionist.
Whitefield and Wesley’s discord remained however mainly religious and thus their disagreement went to the core of their being and argument. Unable to find common ground, the two men split the still infantile Methodist movement into two camps, locking the two leaders further into an angry debate.
When Wesley attacks the Calvinist theory of Grace, preaching and publishing his sermon ‘Free Grace’, Whitefield writes a riposte, ‘No, dear Sir, you mistake’ a key phrase in his retort.
A polite altercation. But sharp at the time.
Whitefield and Wesley, two men of the same faith. They believed in the same God, yet interpreted their heritage differently, their discord centered around the topic of evangelicalism. They disagreed, they argued, opposed each other.
When George Whitefield dies on September 30th 1770, Wesley writes a memorial sermon, Sermon 53, remembering Whitefield’s views and achievements, praising his qualities.
“There are many doctrines of a less essential nature….In these we may think and let think; we may, agree to disagree. But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…”
Agree to disagree.
Letter writing, sermons from the pulpit, literary works, judicial documents, public denouncement, popular campaigns, songs, poems, movies, TV shows, cartoons are all possible vehicles to convey opinions and disagreements, each requiring a particular vernacular, each suffering from its limitations, profiting from its qualities. Vocabulary, tone of voice, dialogue, description, colour, …
Whether politely proffering compromise, gently mocking, sharply attacking or satirically exaggerating, the authors of each form of critique create a particular mood and timbre. Sad or funny, vitriolic or sarcastic, parodic, caricatural, ironic….
Critique evokes reactions. As it should. And satire does so in particular.
Satire uses humor and irony. Satire magnifies and amplifies, blowing up weaknesses and imperfections. Satire attacks in an aim to alter and hopefully improve society and humanity. Satire can be clever, funny, mocking. It can be heavy, unsophisticated and clumsy. But it is honest. Unpretentious. And now it has become dangerous. And misunderstood.
Whitefield and Wesley, agreeing to disagree, begging to differ, tending a hand, opening their hearts, perhaps right, perhaps wrong, they too were Charlie.