I 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.