Work ahead for WCA

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has issued their “Chicago Statement”, even though they don’t meet in Chicago until tomorrow. Never mind that there actually is not any covenant. Questions about the credibility of the WCA extend well beyond their ability to write documents.
At its inception, WCA is a single-issue group. Never mind their statements about “high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment”. They are about homosexuality. Their statements makes it clear. The Bishop’s committee must resolve the homosexuality question to the satisfaction of the WCA, or they’re gone.
Unfortunately for the WCA, that single issue is not going to resolve the issues that currently exist in the UMC. As a separate organization, the WCA will take with them a host of unstated, non-scriptural positions that exist in the UMC. And those will eat at the heart of the new organization until they are resolved.

– Sexual Immorality – WCA, as noted, is focused on homosexuality. Forgive me if I suggest that’s just an easy target. There are much more prevalent examples of sexual immorality in the UMC today. The classic is remarriage after divorce, where the Book of Discipline is in clear, direct contradiction of Jesus’ teachings on the matter. Beyond that, the sin of fornication (two unmarried people carrying on a sexual relationship) is rampant. And, it is completely ignored by clergy and laity alike (except in hushed tones in Sunday School classes).
Failure to include these types of sexual immorality in their mission means that the WCA will simply continue to harbor sin, in a different form than they are fighting now. Will they separate again over the issue of remarriage? One cannot help but recall Garrison Keilor’s example of the Baptist churches that continued to sub-divide over the correct way to make green bean casserole.

Authority and accountability – These are huge issues to the WCA, because a number of Bishops and annual conferences have taken exception to the UMCs position on homosexuality. These issues have always existed – just look at the annals of General Conferences of a hundred years ago. There are all kinds of admonitions and ruling regarding ‘sins’ of the day which have gone unchallenged. This is not new.
The question is, how does it get resolved without creating an authoritarian figure at the top of the denomination? As long as there is any system of justice, which requires ‘judges’ to both apply the law and attempt to determine God’s will, there will be people who say the ‘system is broken’. There are always (at least) two sides to a case, and the losing side is destined to be unhappy abut the outcome. The question is, what level of judicial discretion can be maintained, while still holding people to accountability.
While WCA has said repeatedly that they yearn for a return to accountability, they have not made clear what level of accountability is required, or how to measure it. We can ony have truly consistent results if all the ‘judges’ are clones of each other. Even in our most frantic moments, it’s not clear that anyone would want that. So, to establish some goals, it is contingent on the WCA to define what the relative levels of authority versus discretion in the judicial process, and how that balance is to be achieved and maintained.

-Wesleyan vitality – It’s not at all clear what the WCA intends to do to achieve this objective, but it’s certainly worth the effort. To achieve it with credibility, though, WCA is going to have to define what it means. Does it mean complying with the (doctrinal) sermons of Wesley? If so, there’s already a problem.
Wesley’s guiding rules on when it is OK to separate from your current church are clear: either you are being prevented from doing something you feel is necessary to preach the Gospel, or you are being required to do something you believe is in error in terms of preaching the Gospel.
The issue of homosexuality does not, to date, meet that threshold. And, under a number of different proposals, that threshold will still not be met. Only if a pastor is required to perform a wedding that he or she doesn’t think is Biblical, will the threshold for separation be met. So the veiled or open threats of separation are distinctly un-Wesleyan in nature.

– Nicene Creed – The WCA has added the Nicene Creed to their belief statements, enlarging on the list of documents that comprise our theological doctrine. On the surface, this seems innocuous. We accept the Nicene Creed in the UMC as a statement of fundamental Christian beliefs. Why it is not in our doctrinal statements is something that is historically lost (at least to me).
However, this addition comes immediately on the heels of a General Conference that rejected a proposal to add it to the doctrinal statements. I’m not sure of all the reasons, but my information is that it had little to do with the Creed itself, but rather the gravity (and difficulty) of changing the content of those documents.
In any case, here is the WCA, proclaiming new doctrinal elements that are in addition to, or perhaps in conflict with, the decisions of the General Conference. While it may seem trivial by comparison, this i exactly what the WCA is accusing ‘rogue’ conferences of doing – ignoring the clear intent of the GC.
If the WCA is going to be the rock in the stormy waters of the UMC, then they must conduct themselves by the very highest standard of compliance to UMC rules and doctrine. Adding the Nicene Creed may be a useful step toward ecumenicism, but in this case it’s also a statement to the GC that ‘we know better than you do’.
You simply can’t have it both ways.

I am not going to Chicago, and I don’t intend to join or support the WCA. Despite that, I wish them well. If they can expand their focus into the whole realm of sexual immorality, and act in exemplary obedience to the UMC doctrine and laws, it will be a truly refreshing day within the UMC. But they have a lot of work to do.

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11 Replies to “Work ahead for WCA”

  1. Actually, I don’t think Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon includes Baptists, since “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average”, clearly implies Lutherans.

    1. Although, I guess, Lutherans have the same problems with the gay issue as UMC.

      I think the Lutefisk issue might separate their young and old members, more than the green bean issue. Even I would refuse to eat Lutefisk. And my family was originally from Minnesota.

        1. Lutherans are a strange people. Use to see picked pigs feet in the refrigerator, which is a favorite of old-time Lutherans in Minnesota (my father). Turned my stomach even looking at them. Thank goodness Methodists aren’t that odd.

  2. I have a lot of hopes for the WCA but I absolutely agree, as I have frequently said elsewhere, that if the WCA becomes a one-issue movement it will be discredited and fail–and if its leaders are not both devout and savy we are in treacherous waters.
    But the fallacy of the article is that many in the UMC are advocating ENDORSEMENT of homosexual practice, ordination, and marriage within the church. No such overt movements exist in the UMC to defy the Discipline in matters of fornication, divorce and remarriage, for example. Speaking for myself, I can accept practicing homosexuals in the church on the same basis as those who fornicate or divorce and remarry, but I would not endorse those practices and legitimize them in the practices of the church….

    1. There was, in the past, and active movement to change the rules on divorce and remarriage. If you review the proceedings of the General Conference from about 1924 on through the 1970’s, you’ll find a steady progression of more liberal rules about who can remarry. Today, the Book of Discipline allows people who have been divorced, for any reason, to remarry if they can convince a pastor that they truly regret their first marriage and how it turned out.

      Fornication doesn’t have an active lobby, because it doesn’t need one. The only thing they are asking is that the church turn a blind eye. The UMC is very effective at that.

  3. If you had bothered to actually attend you’d see your concerns were answered. You gave a Monday NFL report on Sunday’s games on a Saturday.

  4. a view from an extremely disenchanted lifelong Methodist/United Methodist– The WCA is right on two fronts: after 40+ years, it is time for the UMC to get off the fence re the sexuality question and move on. It is also time to bring order back into the church. The church cannot continue functioning in such disarray. Beginning with GC 2012, I have been monitoring a myriad of voices within the UMC; I am stunned at the spectrum of theologies and other understandings that have taken root. My growing sense has been something is going to have to give because the church has become nothing more than a gianormous square raft with umpteen oars lining the sides each paddling the best it knows how. In the months leading up to GC2016 that image changed to competing factions jockeying for position and control and ultimately to cats with their tails tied together. I applaud the WCA for standing up and saying enough is enough. Somebody needed to!

  5. What is the definition of insanity? Dong the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The UMC is approaching 50 years of consistent numerical decline–what it is doing is not working! And yet, since their own GC2012, the Wesleyan Church is experiencing continual growth and during that time they had at least three consecutive years of record-breaking growth here in America as well as around the world!

    1. Perhaps if people would quit talking about how screwed the UMC is, and go back to worshiping Jesus, the decline could be arrested.

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