The Wesleyan Covenant Association: A Few Reflections

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The Wesleyan Covenant Association has become a source of controversy among some in our denomination. Only in times such as these could a group that affirms all of the central teachings of United Methodism, is led primarily by pastors who have kept their ordination vows and pay their apportionments, and has publicly disavowed the intention to divide The United Methodist Church be accused of attempting to foment such a division. Then again, we UM’s live in a time of broken trust, broken covenants, and a broken system of church governance. Charitable readings of one another’s intentions are in short supply.

 I get it. We are broken people. God is making us whole again, but we still have our faults. My family and close friends could no doubt recite a litany of mine. The church, as we know it, is imperfect because God has chosen to work through imperfect people like us. As a friend of mine likes to say, there are no problem-free situations.

 I have to remind myself of this often these days. There are no problem-free situations. Still, the characterization of the WCA as a divisive movement has always struck me as a misunderstanding of its purpose. The specific doctrinal and ethical affirmations of the WCA are no different from those of the UMC, with one addition, the Nicene Creed. This last point seems rather uncontroversial, since the Nicene Creed is affirmed by virtually all of Christendom, including our ecumenical partners.

 Many felt that Bishop Ough mischaracterized the WCA in a statement on behalf of the Council of Bishops: “The reported declarations of non-compliance from several annual conferences, the intention to convene a Wesleyan Covenant Association and the election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop of the church have opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism.” Why, they asked, would our bishops understand the formation of the WCA in the same way that they understood open defiance of the General Conference? As Dr. Kevin Watson wrote in a very insightful blog post, “one of these things is not like the others.” It is an informed and well-reasoned piece that I commend to your reading.

 I served under Bishop Ough when he was bishop of the West Ohio Conference, and I very much appreciated his leadership. I found him to be a fair and reasonable leader with the interests of the whole church in mind. I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt then, that he did not mean to mischaracterize the WCA, but instead perhaps meant to indicate that the divisiveness within the UMC does not come entirely from one direction. Nevertheless I agree with those who hold that it was unhelpful to lump the WCA in with acts of open defiance of the General Conference.

 It struck me as an odd omission, moreover, that there was no mention in the bishops’ statement of an unofficial meeting at General Conference that included some of the most influential people in the denomination. During this meeting, as described in this video by Adam Hamilton, the participants seriously considered the idea of a three-way division. Surely this meeting and the buzz that it generated contributed as much as anything else to the concerns around a denominational split.

 At this point, I don’t think anyone knows what that future of the UMC will look like. There are too many variables. What decisions will the Judicial Council make? What recommendations will the bishops’ commission bring forward? Will these recommendations pass a special General Conference in 2018? What happens if they don’t? Will we become two denominations? Three? Will we fracture into several? Attempts to answer these questions are generally exercises in conjecture. We just don’t have enough information. God has not made clear our future yet. All we can do is continue faithful dialogue and prayerful discernment with all of the constituencies of our denomination.

The UMC is my home. I was baptized, confirmed, educated, and ordained in this tradition. I got on board with the WCA early on because I am committed to upholding the teachings of the UMC and the vows that I took when I was ordained. With all of the instability of our denomination right now, I find it helpful to be part of a community of people who openly share those commitments. That’s it. I’m not a radical right-winger or a fundamentalist. Those terms don’t accurately describe the beliefs or ethos of the WCA. We’re just trying to be faithful in the best way we can with a community of people who have a similar understanding of what faithfulness entails. As for the future, that is really up to God. May God give all of us–progressive, centrist, conservative, or anything else–the wisdom we need to be faithful in these challenging times.

 

Dr. David Watson, UMR Columnist

Rev. Dr. David Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and an Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary. David is an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. He has worked in the local church and in a United Methodist campus ministry. He currently serves on the Miami Valley District Committee on Ordained Ministry and the West Ohio Inclusive Body of Christ Ministry Team for Persons with Disabilities.

David is a regular contributor to UMR. You can also find more of his writing at : Musings and whatnot…….

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Daniel Waglejimmie shelbyJames BallardJohn JP PattersonDoug Recent comment authors
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Bruce Davis
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Bruce Davis

Yes, it’s a truly weird situation that a group of pastors and leaders who want to uphold the Book of Discipline as affirmed at General Conference just a few months ago are cast as trouble makers. Strange.

james
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james

Bruce: Is that not how the liberal/progressive mind-set works?

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

Isn’t this the point? If you disagree with a progressive, it’s not a disagreement in their mind, it is bigotry. Sure there is a continuum with all thinkers including progressives, but typically conversations and commitments with them are all founding on shifting sand, rather than a solid foundation of truth.

Trey
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Trey

As a fellow UM, it’s not so much the nature and creation of the WCA that gives me pause, but the rhetoric and actions of certain persons who have chosen to join it. In my own conference, there are a handful of very vocal pastors who support the WCA who have made it abundantly clear that they believe the division of The UMC is the only appropriate path. One goes as far as using the terms apostates and pagans to refer to people in our denomination who disagree with him (specifically on the issue of human sexuality). For me, these… Read more »

Fielden Sanders
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Fielden Sanders

The folks who are claiming that the WCA is decisive are being disingenuous Aatrix best.

John JP Patterson
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John JP Patterson

Hmmm… “Let’s be honest. The call of the General Conference, the creation of Bishops’ commission and the forming of the WCA is about one thing–the church’s stance on homosexuality… Though I fail to see where homosexuality and same-sex marriage are at ‘the core of what we believe as United Methodists’… You can cloak it in all the broad language of vision, mission and theology, but in the end, that is what this is all about… so I don’t plan to attend.” ~ Jack Harnish
https://jackharnish.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/wesleyan-covenant-association-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin/
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jimmie shelby
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jimmie shelby

Tough thing is that it is difficult to identify in many of these comments who is laity and who is not. Sometimes it feels like those folks of the cloth would rather we laity just keep our hands folded & blindly follow. The umc for sure serves many different folks who move with different strokes. But, if the Great Good News of a Crucified and Risen Savior does not become the focus of food offered from the pulpit the umc will continue to dwindle in membership and Christian influence. Seems to this layperson that Christendom has become so watered down… Read more »

Richard F Hicks
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Richard F Hicks

If you’re not happy, leave. If you’re happy, stay. Stay, leave – happy is an attitude you chose. Circumstances don’t matter. Attitudes matter big time! Don’t put your trust in the UMC inc. That would be like putting your trust in General Motors, Sears, etc. Don’t hook your wagon to a star in decline. Ultimately all stars reach the end and need to take that final bow and exit the stage. You can be a good servant up to that final bow but don’t put your trust for the future in that star. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

James Ballard
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James Ballard

I just hope for all the resources, energy, and time being put into the formation of yet another conservative group that ends up having very little influence and whines all the time. The “conservative groups” I have seen form end up being about a few pastors trying to defend the faith for all of us. They ae not DS’s. They are not Bishops. They can’t wield influence. It is all about fund raising in order to put out periodicals that “keep us informed” and encourage us to “keep the faith” in the midst of rebellion. Meanwhile, conservative pastors who ae… Read more »

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

James, I feel a similar grief that seems to come out of your post. I’ve been part of all of those movements. They for me were a voice to communicate and validate the stance for those of us who trust in Scripture. They are a transparent declaration that we will stand together, not unified under culture, but under the proclamation of Good News, that Jesus is the only way, and that Scripture is inspired by God and is trustworthy as our source for truth. My interpretation of the WCA is that it goes one step further. I’m not officially part… Read more »

Doug
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I would say the “fear” that the WCA will look for division rests on the idea of “why is it needed?”- for many -if, as this article and the comments suggest there is no “agenda” for anything outside of the current polity, why is there a need to create such a group, especially one that requires “loyalty” and fees of the kind that the initial materials clearly call for? Whatever the actual goal – there are aspects that seem to be prepping for something more and that is why so many, including many middle of the road folks (not just… Read more »

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

Doug, so do you think that it is perfectly okay for 700 UM churches to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network, but not okay for UMs to join WCA?

Daniel Wagle
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Daniel Wagle

I am so proud that my original Church, St Marks Umc in Bloomington, Indiana just voted this past Sunday 197 to 0 to become a Reconciling Congregation, which they welcome all persons as equal in God’s sight.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

All churches should welcome all persons as equal in God’s sight, Daniel. (John 3:16-21) We should all come “as we are” encounter Jesus and then experience transformation that over time leads us to look more like Jesus. You do not mention this, but I would add that after we come “as we are” we should “leave different.” That is leave our life of sin, separation. Sin is not merely “bad” behavior, it is our (everyone’s) orientation prior to conversion. Embracing Jesus as God’s Son and our Savior is about allowing God to change us by restoring us to God’s original… Read more »

Daniel Wagle
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Daniel Wagle

Does becoming like Jesus mean becoming heterosexual? We don’t have any mention in the gospels of Jesus being married or having children. Some people will quote 1 Corinthians 6:9 as “proof” that conversion entails a change in sexual orientation. However, the Greek word Paul uses that is often translated as “homosexual” or Arsenokoitus does NOT mean desire, feelings, or attractions, but rather some kind of act or outward behavior. Heterosexuals, such as in prison, can engage in homosexual behavior. So just engaging in outward homosexual acts does not necessarily make a person gay. Likewise, many homosexually oriented men have been… Read more »

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

Jesus gives everyone opportunities to leave a life of self-focused identity, self-focused solutions, self-focused perspective to embrace a God-focused identity, God-focused solutions, and God-focused perspective. It’s not about going from a same sex attraction to an opposite sex attraction. It’s simply about giving God our everything including our sexuality. Heterosexuality is not equal to holiness. There are plenty of heterosexuals who misuse their sexuality. The point is total surrender. Progressive thinking basically says “sexuality is off limits” to any boundaries or limitations. While you and I might have boundaries, progressive thinking makes no claim to an unchanging standard for sexuality… Read more »

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