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.