Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 13th, 2016 by Scott Fritzsche

From the outside looking in: Thoughts on the WCA

keyhold-eye-looking-through-610x235I want to be clear about a few things right off the bat. First, I am no longer a member of the United Methodist church. Second, I did not attend the WCA meeting, not because I would not have been welcome, but because I chose not to attend. Third, this is not about the theology of the WCA which by and large I agree with. Fourth, what follows are not accusations about the WCA, they are merely observations of what things appear to be like from my perspective, which is from the outside looking in. Fifth, I know and love people involved in the WCA. I do not distrust them or doubt their faith. That said, I imagine that it will be taken as some or all of the things I just said it wasn’t. Here goes anyway.

I had several questions and concerns about the WCA from what was posted on their web page. I obtained the email for questions and asked a few receiving answers in a reasonably prompt time. For that I am thankful and was pleasantly surprised. It is a new organization that is starting, so I assume there is much work to be done. Often times in that work, things take a great deal of time. I was impressed this did not.

My first concern was financial. There are membership fees for individuals and for congregations, so it seemed natural to question what that money was going to be used for. The answer is the money collected was to be used for developing the structure needed for the WCA, to hire staff, and to provide materials for the member congregations to help them in fulfilling their mission. I can understand this. I wonder what sort of resources are needed that already do not exist however. To be honest, there are already a slew of resources for churches, some good and some bad. I do question the need for more. Maybe it is because I am old fashioned, but I wonder if half of our problem as Christians is that there are entirely to many resources available. Part of my frustrations with the UMC was that we had a rich history of resources, all available for free, that we continually ignored. We have articles, confessions, standard sermons, New Testament commentary, and general rules. Those are just in our standards of faith. I dare say there is a wealth of resources there that remain largely untapped in the current time. I worry about the hiring of staff as well. While I do understand that any organization needs staff in order to function, I am not sure if that sends the right message. While I do not believe that it is the intention of the WCA to divert money form local churches or community causes, I do worry that it may be the unintended consequence. It seems to me that the money collected could be put to better use in local communities than to yet another central organization. I here also freely confess to being skeptical of organizations, especially para-church organizations, so keep that in mind.

Other concerns that I had were about the voting processes that the organization uses. Currently, only representatives of congregations may vote, but all pastors, active or not, may vote. That creates a large imbalance of power in the organization, and takes away the individual power of a member by not allowing them to vote. I was assured that those concerns had been heard and that a batter balance will be struck, but I remain cautious of that. I could not, in good conscience, join an organization that I have no actual say in. While I do hope that the imbalance is solved, I do not pretend to know how it will look or even if it can be solved to be honest. I know that I will remain concerned until it is. I think that a healthy skepticism is a good thing.

The membership is decided upon by an internal process according to the website. This process is not, as of yet, defined. Because of this, it remains a concern. While I assume that membership will only be denied to those who will not affirm the groups beliefs, I simply do not know that. I also wonder if a member can be removed from membership? Could a congregation? To be fair, I did not ask these questions, nor do I think at this time they can be answered.

Finally I asked about the membership fees and under what conditions they would be waived. I was told that thus far the conversations were about an individuals demonstrated inability to pay the fee. I don’t know entirely what that means, but it sounds like I would have to prove I am to poor to pay. Like most things with the group, it seems to be yet another area that is not completed yet. If that is the case, then I will say this. Being one who is among the poor here in America, having to prove that I am poor is fairly uncomfortable. While I do not believe that is the intent, it always ends up feeling like begging to be let at the big kids table even if I can not afford dinner. I do not believe that is the intent, but I also know that is how it ends up feeling. If there is a membership fee to be charged, then I don’t think that there is a way around that particular feeling.

I asked about the requirement to advocate for the WCA and how it differed from advocating for any of the other caucus groups. It was explained that this advocacy was for following the BoD and the like. I agree that we should advocate for that, but realize it can be done without an organization. I can and have done as much on this blog site and reached far beyond the walls of a local church, though it’s effectiveness can surely be questioned. I understand that there is power in numbers and all of that, but if the UMC has gotten to the point that you need to be a part of a para-church group to have any sort of effective voice, then I submit that the UMC is dead, long live what comes next. When we start looking more like lobbying groups to a government than faithful people committed to hearing the Spirit, then it’s a problem. Maybe that is not how this will all play out, and maybe it is not what it looks like. From the outside though, that is how it seems to me at least. I recognize that the goals of the WCA are greatly different than MFSA or RMN for example, but the process that they plan to go about doing things seems the same. Gain members, gather congregations, advocate for what Methodism is and should be.

The accusations have been made that the WCA seeks to form a new denomination. I do not believe that is their intent. That said, I also can look at it and realize that it does provide a structure that is capable of doing just that. I can see, especially given the current climate of distrust, why those assumptions might be made. To be honest I am not so sure that structure is not in place as a just in case measure. Quite frankly, it just looks bad. There is something to be said for avoiding the appearance of improper things. The WCA has the appearance of looking ready to be a new denomination. I did not say that it was going to be or that is one of their goals, I did say it looks ready to be. I realize appearances may be deceiving, but also realize that the current climate in the UMC is not one of trust, so the appearance matters a great deal. I realize that I can not shake the idea that since the structure is in place, that forging a new denomination (mind you I have said that the UMC should split) becomes a viable option with minimal structural requirements as much of them would be in place. The UMC has centrist movements and social cation movements and reconcilling movements and confessing movements and etc. etc. etc. I left because more and more I could not find a Methodist movement. I am not so sure that the WCA can accomplish that either. I understand the goals, but doing the same things and expecting different results does not seem a wise strategy to get there. From the outside looking in, this is all this seems like.

Scott Fritzsche

Comments

14 Responses to “From the outside looking in: Thoughts on the WCA”
  1. Jamie Westlake says

    The cost for a 200 member congregation (usually with an operating budget of around $200,000 or so) to join the WCA will be $300. Do you really think that will hinder current levels of mission and ministry?

  2. Scott Fritzsche says

    I do think that it could help increase levels of mission and ministry, especially if applied locally. $300 can provide one hungry person with prepared meals for a year if done well. I imagine that would make a huge difference to them. Properly understood, giving is also an act of worship so any amount that is taken away from a local congregation affects the worship of the congregation. The individual cost is $100 as well, so if your entire congregation is not joining you are out a bit. That money all comes from somewhere. If it is coming out of an abundance, then I think it is fair to ask why not then encourage people to apply it to their local churches and/or organizations. I would also point out that those are the minimums. I am fairly certain that the WCA would accept more if it were sent to them. That is where my concern for the unintended consequence lies. If individuals give more to the WCA, then I can easily see a scenario where it begins to affect giving to their local churches.

  3. I understand your concerns on membership fees. I would have announced how much was needed and trusted for it to come in. I suspect there is something about being a membership-based organization that they want to lay the groundwork for up front. Anyway, it is a variation in method that is not a deal breaker for me.
    I would hope that they would waive fees based solely on the statement by the individual that it is a hardship. This is a devoutly Christian organization and I can’t imagine anyone lying about that who would want to join. If you hear different please let me know.
    I regret you were unable to be there. So much of it was right with much you have written. I was pleasantly surprised that mUchiha of the time and every presentation dealt with freeing up resources for ministry with the poor, drug and other addictions, and prison ministry. “The God who can deliver you from he’ll can deliver you from the he’ll you are living now.”
    The UMC has host of top heavy bureaucracies that are supposed to be doing this but really aren’t. We are equally concerned with revitalizing this part of the church as we are our doctrine and polity. This was on the heart of each person i met. Right now there is no surer way to divert funds from the kingdom of heaven than to direct them to our general boards. The examples you gave of redundant “resources” are sufficient evidence.
    One of the unique things about this para-church organization is that for the first time a group has set a short timetable (Spring 2018) for a “definitive resolution” with specific guidelines for what it must include. It is also establishing a parallel structure which could be available for those who choose to use it if the process fails again. I do not see this as a breach of trust but as honest preparation for inherent consequences.
    I left with real hope, and I was a hard sale. I believe we have a reasonable expectation to see a revitalized “next” Methodist Church.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      You are preaching to the choir about the general boards and such. That said, they are still what we have. I don’t see how the WCA is in a position to be able to change any of that though lol. As I tried to say, I am sure that those there are faithful and I have no issues with the theology at all. I agree with the reality that it has set up a parallel structure and that is really a part of the problem. If it is a possibility that this structure will be used as a launch point of a new denomination, then it should be out there are honest instead of hiding behind statements about it not being the intent and such.
      I could not have afforded to go as Chicago is expensive and I won’t pay the membership fee so I can say I am a member but not have any sort of ability to vote. There is also that pesky not a UMC type anymore lol.

      • Speaking only from my own understanding and not as one with any other authority, I believe it is fair to say that for many members it really isn’t there intent to form a new denomination. They believe reform is still possible…even likely. For them, the structure is simply the most effective and Wesleyan way for organizing what is becoming a global organization. It is a system that easily relates to existing UMC systems.
        It’s also possibly a concession to elements of WCA like me who would have been willing to walk on Oct. 7.
        Chicago meeting was a real hardship for many of us. I cant do it every year. Expect to see regional/annual conference meetings in future.
        As for the pesky not being UMC thing, it may be an oversight but there is no requirement to be a member of the UMC to join the WCA. It is a Wesleyan movement not a UMC program. There were British Methodists there and they are not UMC.
        Still, you make valid points and there are flaws. You are at least an honest inquirer. There are those who ask questions to whom I would not even respond. This is a nascent community and will have to do a lot of fine tuning. It is helpful to hear what it looks like from the outside looking in.

        • Scott Fritzsche says

          That is really my intent is to ask honest questions and speak to what it looks like. I tried to not make claims about what the WCA is doing merely what it looks like.
          You are correct that there is no requirement to be UMC, but I think that to be against the spirit of the meeting. I could of course be very wrong mind you, but that is how it seemed to me.

          • Beth Ann Cook says

            Have a friend in another pan-methodist denomination who just sent a membership in.

  4. I have no problem with the WCA. Whatever works for people, if they want to join, more power to them.

    However, after reading this,
    http://www.pewforum.org/files/2011/03/Pillar_Autonomy.pdf
    I can’t help but think that this is a very good, strategic move by the group, to set them up as players in the legalistic process, as future litigants in court.

    After all, a group of multiple congregations united under the WCA banner, would have more legal affect than a separate group of individual congregations. Especially when they represent the original doctrine of the representative church.

    Many lawyers, much money to be spent on the process, when you look at the past, and the number of times similar issues have actually ended up in the Federal Supreme Court.

    So, I fully expect a future WCA versus UMC court case over property.

    • After watching what happened with TEC (ECUSA) with litigation continuing to this day, I hope we all will look to avoid that. Those I know on the traditionalist side really don’t have much stomach for it, but I admit that there is an element in the church that prefers to advance their agenda through litigation. They may choose to burn the house down on the way out.

      • Actually, in terms of litigation, the addition of the Nicene Creed for the WCA, may actually weaken their position as representing the original UMC doctrine, as a group. But I’m no lawyer. Seems to be horrendously complex. But I would suspect that WCA would want to express original Wesley doctrine, if they wanted to pursue future litigation, as a group.

  5. My thoughts on the membership fee is that it is a small measure of commitment. Is this a movement you truly believe in? If so, put some of your treasure behind it. I certainly did not flinch in giving when I joined.

  6. Lawrence A Kreh says

    I think the points made here by Joel Wattsbhave merit, but I have a few counterpoints in response:

    Why have WCA?
    Affinity groups alienated from the denomination create hope and fellowship that can be a glue to holding Methodists in organized fellowship–through conferences, compatible teaching, common materials consistent with their values, and a spiritual vision transcending political infighting. Moreover, in my contrarian view, the leaders in the WCA, the denomination at large, and any counterpart progressive or centrist groups should do likewise—Such plans should be kept private at this time in order to avoid undermining efforts to maintain UMC unity. But it is foolish to deny the obvious, that separation is a very real possibility, and chaos, rancor and bitterness can be best avoided with good planning.

    There is a precedent from our Presbyterian brothers and sisters. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has already experienced a major separation of congregations in recent years. While UMC church government is different from the Presbyterians, there are some principles that apply:

    Just as conservatives in the UMC created WCA, conservatives in the PC(USA) created ECO (Evangelical Covenant of Presbyterians). Beginning as an “affinity group” within the PC(USA), ECO hoped to avoid schism and remain within the denomination. Yet it also prepared for potential separation. Indeed, the denomination itself, at the Presbytery (Conference) level, developed plans for potential separation. When separation became inevitable these plans helped reduce chaos, strife, and further membership erosion. ECO became a new denomination, but member congregations had two options: (1) affiliate with ECO while remaining in the PC(USA) or (2) join ECO as members of the new denomination. The same options might be considered by WCA, but that is a sidebar…

    The Presbyterians also faced issues of property rights, pensions, and other concerns. Representatives of the San Francisco Presbytery (in my area) were appointed to work with the congregations’ governing boards (Sessions) to resolve property rights issues, supervise the congregational vote on separation, and finalize legal procedures. The Presbytery and congregations then ratified the agreements. Pension issues were addressed collectively by congregations entering ECO. There were bumps in the road considering the obstacles, all the planning worked well.

    So planning of contingencies is good. Not bad.

    What is good about affinity groups like the WCA within the UMC?
    Within groups like WCA (as with ECO) there is a different spirit and fellowship from the mistrust and political infighting in the denomination at large. The same would be true of any similar progressive affinity groups. Even if there is no separation, “The fellowship of kindred minds is like unto that above.”

    Just my thoughts…

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      Preparing for what may come would be good if you were being honest about it. I guess that would be my first point and I tired to make it in the OP as well. When you do not admit and be honest that is a part of the goal it seems to me to be a form of deception. The second thought I’d like to make is think of it like a marriage. How often is it that you prepare for a divorce but don’t follow through? Certainly it happens, but I don’t think it happens all that often. What is most likely is that in preparing for divorce, you ensure that you are better protected and prepared. Again, that is not inherently bad, but at some point you have to be honest about what you are doing or it becomes deception. In short, hope for the best but prepare for the worst seems a bad way to go for the Christian. Our hope is not to be in the worst but in the best.
      The affinity groups may provide a certain comfort for those attending, but it separates those from the body as a whole. There are groups that can avoid this, but such groups generally avoid the politics of the church. A group of UMC scholars that does not call for or lobby for political action in the church would be an example. A group of doctors, etc. If you have to form an affinity group that is based in a theology, then you are admitting you are indeed a different church and perhaps a different faith all together. Especially when you form a structure that is ready made to leave. If you are a reconciling Methodist, or a covenant Methodist, you are putting a condition on the connection and that separates, it does not unite.
      Over all I agree that separation is the end game in the UMC if there is to be any integrity. I have not shied from that. I do however think that it should be done honestly and not cloaked behind nuanced language designed to hide that purpose.

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