Last Friday, I joined over 1,700 fellow United Methodists from around the world, including many clergy colleagues from North Georgia, at the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in Chicago.
You can read about the meeting here. According to a founding document that was approved at the meeting, the organization exists to “advance vibrant, scriptural Christianity within the global United Methodist Church.” It continues:
We affirm that the core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture. We look to the Bible therefore as our authority and trustworthy guide, which “is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; NRSV). Illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church’s primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice.
We affirm classical Wesleyan doctrine and the historic faith, which the church has used to define the parameters of Christian teaching.
We believe that both women and men are called to and gifted for ordained and licensed ministry, and both genders are able to hold any role of leadership within the WCA.
The WCA specifically renounces all racial and ethnic discrimination and commits itself to work toward full racial and ethnic equality in the church and in society.
We believe marriage and sexual intimacy are good gifts from God. In keeping with Christian teaching through the ages and throughout the Church universal, we believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union. We affirm faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness as equal paths of discipleship.
In grace and truth, we seek to love God with our whole hearts and afford every person compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity.
Among other things, the WCA urges our bishops to fulfill the promise they made at General Conference to appoint and convene a commission to resolve the crisis that threatens our denomination’s existence, and to do so quickly. It urges them to call a special General Conference in early 2018 to vote on this commission’s proposals. It rejects any plan for unity that involves the so-called “local option,” which allows individual congregations or clergy to decide whether or not they’ll submit to historic Christian doctrine regarding marriage and sexual ethics.
I affirm each of these points. And along with the WCA, I reject “unity” at any cost. If we can’t agree on a proposal that will enable our church members to live together with integrity and in good conscience, then let’s create a plan for separation.
I know this sounds drastic. Why has it come to this? Why has the WCA formed now?
One reason only: Since the bishops promised to form their commission at General Conference in May, in exchange—they vainly hoped—for breathing room to solve the problem, covenant-breaking among clergy and annual conferences has only increased. As one WCA statement points out, “at least nine boards of ordained ministry or annual conferences and two jurisdictional conferences have pledged not to conform or comply with the requirements of the Discipline.” One jurisdictional conference even elected a bishop who is herself in a same-sex marriage, in defiance of church law.
In general, I’m a reluctant “join-er” of organizations. But I decided to be part of the WCA because, like Wesley, I am a “man of one book”—or at least I want to be. And despite what you’ve heard, the issue that divides our denomination isn’t marriage and sexual ethics—those are merely symptoms of the real issue.
The real issue is the authority of scripture: will we as a denomination be faithful to God’s Word or won’t we?
A part of me wishes I could be among the famous “Methodist middle,” and sit outside the ring while Methodists further to the left and right of me duke it out. It would certainly be better for my career. But I can’t. When I was ordained in 2010, I told God, my bishop, and our annual conference that I believed in our church’s doctrines, which included its traditional stance on marriage and sexuality. My fingers weren’t crossed behind my back. I wasn’t equivocating.
I wasn’t even—to use the popular parlance of candidates for ordained United Methodist ministry—”conflicted.” Not by 2010. I’ve long since repented of the ways I played fast and loose with God’s Word in the years during and shortly after attending a liberal mainline seminary. But in 2010, I meant it.
My point is, if I weren’t convinced at ordination that our church was right about marriage and sex, that this is what I believe God is telling us through his Word, based on our best exegesis and interpretation of scripture, I would have found another church in which to minister. At least I hope I would. (God knows I’m a hypocritical sinner.) To do otherwise would compromise my integrity even more than it is routinely compromised by sin.
All that to say, within the next couple of years—in fact, before the next scheduled General Conference of 2020—we’ll know whether or not we will, as a denomination, strive to be faithful to scripture as our “primary and final authority on all matters related to faith and practice.”
In the meantime, I intend to play my part to ensure that we do. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.
That’s why I went to Chicago last week. And that’s why I’m joining the WCA.