Crossing Swords

I have, according to many, committed the unforgivable sin. I dared to have concerns about  the Wesleyan covenant Association. Have no fear however, dear reader, I have been firmly chastised for my mistake by members of the WCA, including ordained elders in the UMC, across a variety of forums and in personal messages. The chastisement did not take, but it happened. Oddly enough, some of these concerns were the same ones I voiced two years ago.  These concerns are also those I have voiced about the UMC in general over the past four years of writing. The point being these are not new. In fact, when I voiced these very same concerns about the UMC, many in the WCA applauded me for doing so and pointed to them as a sign of the problems in the denomination. Whatever concerns I had about the Wesleyan Covenant Association are all overshadowed by this chastisement however, and really the behavior of the rank and file of the WCA.
I have a deep and abiding respect for pastors. When a pastor says something, I take it seriously, I examine it, mull it over, contemplate and meditate upon it. I do this because I believe in the call. I believe that pastors have been called by God to lead the church that Christ started. So, when a pastor, whether it is mine or not, explains to me that I do not care enough about doctrine, that I do not care about the direction of the UMC, that I am unwilling to use my resources, including monetary ones, for the advancement of the church, and thus the Kingdom of God, that I would refuse to “cross swords with” (their words) my pastor over the WCA if it came to it, and that every concern that I have is frivolous and amounts to nothing, I take that seriously. When it is more than one pastor that says it, I take it more seriously. I also have a long memory. In grade school, I was the quiet kid. I was smaller than everyone else, and that, combined with my being the quiet one (I know it is difficult to believe that I was ever quiet lol), led to the predictable childhood bullying. These things happen, and kids can be cruel, I understand all of that, and do not feel as if I was overly victimized, but I do remember what that felt like, even now some decades later. It feels a lot like pastors in the WCA levying personal and slanderous statements designed to discredit concerns instead of addressing them.
I hear and read pastors and laity in the WCA commenting on a variety of topics, like we all do from time to time. All to often, I hear them comment in dehumanizing ways about people. Most recently, it has been about the migrants coming from Central America. Let me be perfectly clear here, Christians can, and do, differ on what we feel are the best immigration policies for the nation. That is not only perfectly normal, I think it is healthy as it demonstrates individual thoughts and ideas that can be brought to the table to find solutions. I am not talking about conversations about political policy, I am talking about the abject failure to recognize these sojourners as bearers of the Imago Dei, and as such, human beings, just like us. It is not just the migrants however, it is pretty much anyone that is remotely “undesirable”. Gang members are animals, drug addicts, most specifically those using opioids, should be left to die instead of receiving life saving treatment, women who have had abortions being consigned to hell for eternity because of that choice, those who experienced same sex attraction being beyond redemption, no matter if they act upon it or not, women abused physically, emotionally, and sexually, that are living in perpetual adultery because they left their husbands due to such abuse and had the audacity to get married again as their husbands may have done horrible things, but they did not cheat on them after all, and really, the list goes on. Your members seem to take a perverse enjoyment of consigning people to hell, and frankly, that job is way above any of our pay grades. I myself have been told that I am assisting Satan in leading people to hell through the LGBTQ agenda because I was not troubled that the Rockefeller Christmas tree was from a farm that happened to be owned by a married lesbian couple. I have been told that I am serving the adversary because I do not blindly support the current president in all of his policies. I mean really? I serve Satan because I do not blindly follow an earthly king? I will put that in my list of things Jesus never said. This is what I hear from all to many of the rank and file in the WCA, pastors and laity alike. This is the message they are spreading and this is the way they are recruiting others like them to join. That is certainly not anything resembling a Wesleyan view of scripture.
There is the pressure of the false dichotomy that it is the WCA, or it is nothing. This is how the rank and file often presents things. It is a fear based bullying tactic that tries to convince people that this is their only option for faithful witness to the historic faith as understood by Wesleyans. If you care about, and really insert whatever you would like here, then you have to join the WCA because that is the only way to protect that. Let me take just a moment to remind you that the faith will not disappear as the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Pragmatic action is not always faithful action after all.  Our choice is not the WCA or nothing, it is faithful witness or nothing, and one can live a faithful life outside of the WCA, but to listen to many of the rank and file, that is not so. I know that you are the big bully on the block and that I am just a little guy, but I learned to stand up to the bully. My personal favorite is the offers to pay for my membership for a year. Just try it, if you don’t like it, don’t renew. It reminds me a lot of my old drug dealer. First taste is always free.
I mention things like this and I am reminded of the leadership, and how good it is. This is true. Many of the best theological minds in Methodism are part of the leadership. I can accept that the leadership is amazing, but that is not the problem. The problem is who they lead. The best shepherd can lead a diseased flock, but the disease will remain. It’s not all of us I hear, and that is correct. I personally know many wonderful pastors and laity that are in the WCA. The problem is that for every one wonderful and faithful follower in the WCA I know, I meet three more that reflect the above. The abyss has stared back and you have become the monster that you fought. When a group reflects more of  Nitzsche’s paradox than it does a wesleyan view of scripture, then it does not deserve the title it claims. Your rank and file does this. I get it. There is very real pain and hurt from this thing, but that is no excuse. We need to be better and rise above it, not to fuel it.
You can say all the right things about theology, and by and large, the WCA does. The problem is that it has not become practical and lived out. If your theology causes you to treat people as anything less than those who have been created with the Imago Dei, it is wrong. If your theology leads to to consign people to hell assuming the role of God, then it is wrong. If your theology causes you to look at those who agree with it, but won’t pay the membership fee, as agents of Satan, then it is wrong. To many of your rank and file are wrong and the vast majority of experiences that I have had over the past two years shows me that, even if my experiences with the WCA membership is unique, that even if I have had the misfortune of meeting the worst that the WCA has to offer, it has outnumbered the best. False teaching in the church is always  struggle, and the WCA was formed to counter that. That is a noble endeavor. False teaching is more than the scripture we quote or how we understand it however, it is also how we live it. This was one of the central points that Christ was trying to point out to in the admonishment of the Pharisees. Earlier I mentioned the pastor who had specifically accused me of not being willing to “cross swords”.  I mulled over that as much as I did everything else, and he likely had a point. I have been largely unwilling to cross swords, though not with my pastor, or any pastor, but with the WCA, over the rank and file of it’s membership, how they treat people who disagree, or have concerns, the way they speak about the least and the lost. Consider my sword drawn. Here’s my thrust.
“Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain, and gave themselves up to the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah. These are sunken rocks in your love feasts, feasting together with you; feeding themselves without fear; waterless clouds being carried about by winds; fruitless autumn trees, having died twice, having been plucked up by the roots; wild waves of the sea foaming up their shames; wandering stars for whom blackness of darkness has been kept forever.” (Jude 1:11-13)

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7 Replies to “Crossing Swords”

  1. Scott,
    I appreciate the WCA and, with you, have great respect for many of those in leadership. Still, I resonate with one of your main critiques, that of the ideological bent within the ranks. In fact, it has to do with the very metaphor you use in your blog, “crossing swords.”
    I am a convinced Christian pacifist. In fact, I eventually felt pushed out of the denomination of my upbringing (and which ordained me) due to those very convictions (that and a commitment to those who are marginalized). This often places me in the weird position of my more “progressive” friends thinking I am a liberal. Interestingly, because I am held by a doctrinal core (as a person in recovery, I hold to doctrine the way I hold onto the Big Book), my “traditionalist” friends think I am conservative. Both sides are shocked when they discover I don’t hold to the secular ideologies that seem to be the only options.
    I really do suspect that it is the ideological drive that contaminates and clogs up the current impasse. We are rife with a Constantinianism of either the ideological left or right. Wesley himself grieved the Fall of the Church with Constantine. We have yet to join him fully.

    1. I will freely confess that I do not understand Christian pacifism, while fully being able to respect the position. I am a ‘just war’ type myself, which I sum up as non-aggression. What I will say is that the church should never endorse violence. Period. We, as a body, can recognize that we are in a world deeply in need of restoration, and recognize that violence toward one another is a sign of the need of restoration. Near as I can tell, that should be the position of the church. I am in much the same position as you in many ways though. Depending on the issue I am a good traditionalist Christian, or a good progressive christian, when all I am aiming for is to be a an average Wesleyan Christian, which I often fall short of, but hey, realistic goals. 🙂

  2. Scott, once again well-thought out, well-said, and well-needed. Crossing swords with the WCA reminds me of an old Southern truism: Don’t try to teach your pig to sing because the process will only irritate the pig and frustrate you.

  3. Thanks for sharing.

    This describes my experience with the WCA perfectly and tragically. As a former Good News employee and student at Asbury, i am stunned to see so many leaders I greatly admire associating with such hatred. I pointed this out on a Good News thread that became particularly filled with vitriol and foul language toward others. I said that I knew some of those people and I thought we were better than this behavior regardless of our beliefs. They called me a “spawn of Satan”, among other things, and ultimately blocked me from their page for “stirring up discension”.

    I struggle too because my Asbury backround has caused people to associate me with the WCA and as a result, I have been appointed to churches who think that to follow Christ requires full allegience to Trump who they treat like the new Moses.

    On behalf of Asbury, i have to say that what we see out of the WCA is not even close to the Wesleysn values I grew to cherish during my time in seminary. My heart breaks that the image of a school I love, and my reputation by assiciation, has been hijacked by such political extremism and now I do not know how to navigate an appointment process that wants to keep all of us “radical conservatives” (of which i am not) on the fringes.

    In the end, I hope and pray there will truly be a place left in the church for those of us planted firmly in the middle between truth and grace.

    1. I am glad, I am not the only one, yet grieved at the same time. I am not a pastor of course, so that aspect of your struggle eludes me, but I cn only imagine how difficult it must be for you. Peace brother.

  4. Just an opinion from an outsider looking in. I don’t participate with UMC anymore.

    The moral and theological issues are one side of the argument. Everyone can argue forever about these issues. And call each other names, or that someone is going to Hell. But the facts are that no one knows for sure. That is why there are a multitude of Christian denominations, let alone a multitude of religions.

    The more important side of the issue is simply following the rules. Everyone, I would assume, joins a church because they accept the established rules of the organization/church. They may not follow the rules, but like “don’t ask, don’t tell”, they live with the rules, even if they break the rules. But they do not DEMAND that the rules be changed. DEMAND (in caps), is the problem with this entire sad situation.

    If a person doesn’t like the rules, just leave. The Catholic Church is a good example. Celibate male priests are a tough rule to follow. People can debate the rule. But to be a member of the Catholic Church and DEMAND that the Church change its rules to satisfy their view of discrimination or theology, misses the point of freedom of religion.

    The One Church Plan and the Connectional Plan both establish a dual path in theology. And a dual path in the rules. Two sets of rules. A church cannot have two sets of rules and still be called a united church. The reality is that they create two churches under one name, which doesn’t make sense. (Note: gay marriage and gay clergy are not just a minor variation in the way a church operates).

    Just follow the rules, or leave. That’s the Traditional Plan. The other two plans accept Glide Church as an acceptable UMC Church. If that is not ridiculous, I don’t know what is. Just follow the rules.

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