Beliefs Culture Faith News Politics

Great quote, Tim Kaine, but John Wesley never said that

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., greets the crowd after being publicly introduced by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as her running mate during a campaign rally in Miami on July 23, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Scott Audette

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) It may not rank up there with Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians” coinage or Hillary Clinton’s tortured email explanations, but a phrase that Tim Kaine used in an effort to yoke his Catholicism to the Methodist faith of his Democratic running mate deserves closer scrutiny.

“I’m a Catholic. Hillary is a Methodist,” Kaine said during a Florida rally on Saturday (July 23) as Clinton introduced him as her vice presidential pick. “Her creed is the same as mine: Do all the good you can.”

Kaine was riffing on a famous saying attributed to John Wesley, one of the 18th-century founders of Methodism, which says, in full:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

While there are, of course, significant theological differences between Catholicism and Methodism, the two Christian traditions do share the social justice approach that phrase represents — embodying the injunction that “faith without works is dead.”

It’s also the perfect motto for the Democratic candidates of 2016, who are trying to attract faith-based voters based on the power of their policies more than their preachifying.

The only problem is that Wesley never said the words attributed to him.

“You can add this quote to other quotes that are stubbornly connected to John Wesley, despite the fact that there is no source that connects them to Wesley’s pen,” Kevin Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University wrote in a 2013 blog post.

The adage certainly sounds like something Wesley, who died in 1791, would have said. But it appears it was first linked to him back in 1904 — and it’s been running wild ever since.

“Wesley and others were frequently misquoted before social media, but with the advent of Twitter misquoting Wesley seems to be more regular,” wrote Watson, contributing to one of many scholarly efforts — largely fruitless — to set the record straight. “Wesley said enough interesting, surprising, and even controversial things that we should not need to attribute things to him that he did not actually say.”

The campaign has given the myth another boost since Clinton — a lifelong Methodist who is set to be officially nominated as the Democratic presidential nominee Thursday — likes to invoke the line.

It’s not the first time such universal wisdom has stuck to a particular religious figure.

Catholics love to cite the famous adage from St. Francis of Assisi, who reportedly said: “Always preach the gospel. Use words if you have to.” Only there’s no record Francis ever said that, though it also fits with his approach to evangelization.

It seems that some stories, as they say in the tabloids, are just too good to check out.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

29 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • did kaine attribute the quote to wesley? if not, what’s the point of your article–except perhaps to cast kaine in an unfavorable light??

  • Regardless of attribution both the statements attributed to Wesley and St. Francis are worthy expressions of advice. With respect to Mrs. Clinton’s Methodism, I should very much like to know what John and Charles Wesley, also their mother Susanna, would have to say if the were able to view her history of mendacity, and the causes she chooses to extol.

  • I would, too. We badly need another set of Wesley brothers today — not nearly as much to influence the culture at large as to wake up the church.

    Worth pointing out here that the name “Methodist” originally was an insult that the Wesleys’ more cosmopolitan and dissolute mates (all proper members of the Church of England of course) at Oxford used to mock the very “methodical” and serious manner in which they approached the study of the scriptures and the application of them to daily life. I think the Wesleys would be appalled at the very kind of people who mocked them with this term now wearing it like a mask over their own immorality.

  • but the immorality of homohatred– using religious belief to justify an ancient, vicious, and durable prejudice, and the mistreatment of gay people in law and society– not so much.

  • Since you’ve brought it up, you never have explained what that “ancient prejudice” is all about and where it came from, Ben. You seem to be arguing that “homohatred” (whatever that means) always existed and religion came along with reasons to justify it but the historical record really doesn’t show it pre-dated the Christian era other than within the limited sphere of Judaism. Western civilization repudiated same-sex practice because of the scriptures’ teachings — it didn’t superimpose an existing repudiation over scripture.

  • Playing stupid does not become you, because I know you are not.

    It’s one thing to believe homosexuality is a sin. It’s unite another to elevate it to the worst sin. And it’s quite another still to pretend that it justifies sodomy laws, anti marriage laws, don’t ask don’t tell. and the whole hate and lies campaign that is normally conducted by Antigay Christians.

  • Coincidentally, I’ve just finished a rather extensive volume on George Whitefield and his relationship with the Wesley’s, John in particular; Charles seems to have been a bit less forward in some respects. The volume provided some very interesting insights. Whitefield was among those who embraced Methodism, but eventually gravitated away from the Arminianism of the Methodists, and moved towards a more Calvinistic theology.
    There is a joke about when John and George were traveling together; late one night when they were retiring (sharing the same room at an inn), George climbed into bed rather rapidly as it was cold, and his night prayer was brief. Wesley cried, “George, is this what your Calvinism has lead you to?” Later that night, Whitefield awoke and discovered Wesley asleep on the floor beside his bed. He shook him awake and chided him laughingly, “John, is this what your Arminianism has lead you to?” Subtle but I find it hilarious. It is possible to be a Christian and have a sense of humor.

  • “It’s one thing to believe homosexuality is a sin.” You don’t identify that with this “vicious prejudice?” Very good — for once you are correct. You are also rather atypical among your mates.

  • I believe that, of course, and have said so many times. It’s your religion, and you are entitled to believe whatever you wish, nor matter how ludicrous, harmful, distorted, or put to evil purposes it may be. You can even tell other people who are in your faith that they are wrong for not believing what you believe.

    However, as I have also said many times, I believe it is an abuse and misuse of scripture, one that has been made into “the worst sin” (that’s a quote from mega hypocrite jimmy swaggart) because it fits so nicely in with that prejudice. Thus the sodom story, which you admitted really isn’t about homosexuality, is trotted out to justify whatever harm in body, soul, career, family or life to gay people, with a stern finger wagging of what your God thought of those cities on the plain.

    “God says it is a sin” has been trotted out to justify every lie, political campaign, distortion, slander, jail sentence, murder, execution that has been visited on gay people for the last 2000 years. Tony Perkins and Brian brown would have to go out and get real jobs of it weren’t for that prejudice disguised as religious belief. It has never been used to uplift gay people and make our lives better, only used as a cudgel against our right to exist, to twist and distort us a and make us afraid, ashamed, and cowed.

    Rotten theology bears rotten fruit. Jesus himself said so.

  • So … now you’re back to arguing that the root of the difficulty is “prejudice” of some still uncertain etiology which scripture “fits into.” Which brings me back to my original question: From whence comes this “prejudice” which is curiously absent from the historical record before the OT and the NT became the bedrock of western civilization?

  • Btw, Jesus did not say rotten theology bears rotten fruit. He said false teachers do — who profess His name while their lives consistently evidence unrepentant sin and lawlessness.

    And the whole POINT of that law is to make us ashamed, Ben. Certainly it’s not currently fashionable (nor was it wildly popular when it was new, either), but that was the central message of Jesus’ sermon on the mount–to make us conscious of how unable we are to reach God on our own merits. That holy guilt and consciousness of sin is the work of the Spirit which is supposed to bring us to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Savior so we can get past guilt altogether and begin obeying out of love instead of fear. “And when He [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Jn.16:8.

    If we are immune to holy shame, Ben, then we’re in the same boat with the Pharisees and the other biblical failures who spurned God’s mercy: “Yet you said, ‘I am innocent; Surely His anger is turned away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.” Jer.2:35.

  • No, I’m not arguing that at all.

    Let me put it this way.. I don’t care what you believe. I care what you do with those beliefs.

    But the harm inflicted on gay people for 2000 years has never been one of your concerns,

  • Of course, you would think that. You’re the Sola Scriptorum girl, and that is all that is really important to you.

    BTW. I am well aware of what the moral imperatives of Matthwe 5-7 are, and that he was referring to the leaders. And that is why I mentioned Brown and Perkins, though I could have mentioned hundreds more. Unrepentant sin–absolutely. Lawlessness– making criminals of mere sinners, but only some sinners, not others.

    As I have also said, the concerns about their reviling, slandering, bearing false witness, barring the gates of heaven, and placing burdens are severely, but not curiously, absent from what you and your fellow travelers have written. The so-called scripture inflames the prejudices, the prejudices twist the scripture.

  • Yes, Ben, you ARE arguing that, and and have done so on many threads. And since you don’t appear to know the answer to the question you are side-stepping it repeatedly (feel free to demonstrate the contrary, of course).

    The reason I am making a thing of this is that you and your pals are extremely fond of telling us what we really think, what we really feel, what our real motivations are, and so on. However, you don’t seem to have any consensus on what that is, or why. One tells us the source of the problem is not scripture but “hate” (although no one seems to know what the source or cause of this so-called “hate” is). Another tells us we want to “feel superior” about something we ourselves don’t feel tempted toward, while another asserts that we are really closeted-homosexuals ourselves — and both will high-five each other in their common resentment without even realizing, apparently, that their accusations are mutually exclusive. And so on and so forth ad nauseum. How about we pull out Occam’s Razor that you brought up yesterday and simply go with the plain and unadorned truth that we repudiate same-sex practice, as did our predecessors for 2000 years (over 2000 years longer if you count how long Israel repudiated it), because scripture teaches us to repudiate it. That way we can fling a lot less dirt and fine-tune our arguments to the actual issues.

  • So the scriptures that teach us that same-sex practice is wrong inflames the “prejudice” that same-sex practice is wrong, which leads us to twist the scripture to say that same-sex practice is wrong?

    Do you see the problem here? You are in actuality painting scripture and prejudice as one and the same.

    Also, you’ve made a fair number of references to “barring the gates of heaven” and “placing burdens” but I don’t think you fully understand what you are trying to say here. At the time of Christ the teachers of the law had added so many man-made rules and minutia to the actual Torah that trying to observe it all consumed a great deal of daily life and even in some cases nullified the Torah itself. Indeed it was impossible to observe it all, although the teachers insisted it was ALL essential. That is why Jesus spoke of “placing burdens.” But the moral law of God can never be an unnecessary “burden” — fulfilling it is why He went to the cross. The gates of heaven are not barred to any except those who claim to have no sin and therefore no need for the Savior’s mercy — and for those it would remain barred even if every believer on earth were to cheer them on their merry way over the cliff.

    As I said before, when Brown and Perkins join our discussion thread I will discuss the faulty arguments I see with them. Right now it is you who are offering faulty arguments about scripture so I will respond to them instead. I likewise do not expect you to chide your pals around here for their frequent offensiveness and lack of logic, for we are all presumably able-minded adults responsible for ourselves.

  • No, I’m not. I’m sure you have heard of dynamic processes, feedback loops, and such.
    You have demonstrated many times in the past that you are simply unwilling to call people like Brown and Perkins to account. So their presence is not necessary. Hell, you are simply unwilling to call virulently antigay posters on these very discussion threads to account.
    Again, you are sola scriptorum, and you simply deny there is any other way to experience what you claim to believe in.

  • The actual issues? I keep bringing those actual issues up, and you keep avoiding them. Prisons, vilification, lies, slander, reviling, executions, murder, and political campaigns run, funded, promulgated and manned by virulently antigay Christians who find on lie to vicious or vile to repeat and point at as capital T Truth.
    I’m done with the discussion. Until next time,

  • Ben, ANYONE who believes same-sex practice is sinful is “virulently anti-gay” in your estimation. That includes me, I’m afraid. Ho-hum.

    Nobody around here is advocating for you guys to be murdered or imprisoned. Political campaigns? People are as free as you are to campaign for laws consistent with their values — that’s why the founders said religion is necessary for public virtue and therefore liberty itself. As for “lies and slander,” you’re always quite generic about those. Cite a particular “lie” and maybe I’ll examine it. The main “lie” your camp tends to complain about is that the scriptures forbid same-sex practice. And I’m sorry as I can be but that is not a lie.

  • I can’t argue with you if you’re going to put words into my mouth, while demanding that the words of other people are simply of no account.
    As you say, ho-hum.
    It’s not your belief. Its what you do with it.

  • “I’m sure you have heard of dynamic processes, feedback loops, and such.” Sure…and circular logic, too.

  • Like the bible is true becauseyou believe it’s true because the bible says it’s true?

  • The Spirit bears witness to the truth of scripture, Ben. And to the truth of Christ, who in turn bears witness to the truth of scripture as well. We all must encounter the Spirit of God individually before we can deal in scripture at all.

  • But you have said repeatedly that any guidance from The Spirit, if it contradicts scripture, is to be disregarded.

    Which is it?

  • The Spirit draws us to Christ. And Christ tells us that we are to live not by bread (IOW fleshly concerns of the world) but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

    From what you’ve previously said, you’ve already encountered the call of the Spirit and answered no. Which is ok by me, but it also removes the premises from which you must start if you wish to tackle scripture with us.

  • I’d like to hear the quote from Kaine where he attributed these words to Wesley. Otherwise the article is pointless at best, deceptive at worst.

  • Wow! Anyone, anywhere, who ever says, “do all the good you can” is automatically referencing John Wesley, and deserves to be slammed for doing so incorrectly. Thank you, David Gibson, for explaining this to us!

    The only solution is that we Christians should immediately stop saying anything about doing all the good we can.

    Which makes sense, because doing good is obviously ‘works,’ and ‘works’ are the enemy of faith, or something like that. Heaven forbid that Christians value ‘works’ by doing good in this world! And that, of course, is Tim Kaine’s true sin. He’s going to Hell, for sure.

  • I would expect them to look at what she’s actually spent her life doing, rather than at what Fox News and talk radio say about her.

    She’s been the most investigated person on the planet over the past quarter-century, from Ken Starr to the numerous investigations of Benghazi and her email server, and all those investigations have come up with pretty much nothing. And she’s much more honest than most politicians.

    You may disagree with her politics, and that’s fine: it’s a free country. But I would be slower to throw around phrases like ‘history of mendacity’ without backup.

  • When the director of the FBI flatly contradicts statements made by the former Secretary, I think that’s a sound basis for the declaration made. The pattern is and has always been consistent with Mrs. Clinton.

  • Indeed it’s possible that the point of these Maxim’s has been lost on Social Media commentary… regardless of who said it, when they said, and how oft’ – if never they said it…….. (dramatic pause) are the principles espoused in the Maxim not worthy of discussion… do they not call us to action to do these very things? to do all the good that we can (regardless of attribution). Hmmm?

ADVERTISEMENTs