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Why the Wesleyan Covenant Association?

WAC_Stacked SmallBy Bill Arnold-

The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is a new alliance of congregations, pastors, and laypeople, coming together to enhance and support vibrant, scriptural Christianity within United Methodism.

The question for many is why? Why form the WCA? And why now?

I have been involved with the WCA since its beginning. My reasons are complicated, and reach back to my ordination as an elder in the Church, and beyond.

When I was ordained in the UM Church, I answered certain familiar questions that many have answered before me. These are part of what we call the “Historic Examination for Admission into Full Connection” as an elder in the church (Book of Discipline, paragraph 336). These questions were formulated by John Wesley and have been asked of every Methodist preacher from the beginning with little change. They are, of course, “historic” and are therefore not obligatory as official polity. Few would insist, for example, that every Methodist minister must recommend fasting and abstinence “both by precept and example” (question #16). And yet, while not official polity, they are treasures left to us by Father John himself, and they contain wonderful insight into what we ought to be and do as Methodist clergy (such as diligently instructing “the children in every place,” #14). Along these lines, I find especially instructive the following three, which seem as relevant now as in Wesley’s day (questions #11–13).

• Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?

• Do you approve our Church government and polity?

• Will you support and maintain them?

In the context of Methodism’s early history, one of the reasons these questions were asked was to address the debate between episcopal forms of government versus congregational forms. As a United Methodist, I continue to believe the episcopal form of church governance is preferable. In this, I agree with John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit” in which he embraced an episcopal form of government as scriptural and apostolic. I have been privileged to serve as a member of the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s Committee on Episcopacy for four years. I have seen firsthand the task of our bishops, and I think I have a good understanding of the challenging role bishops have in the Church. I stand in awe and appreciation of our SEJ bishops and I am grateful for the leadership they provide.

But of course, these “historic” questions also relate to the concept of accountability. One of the many beauties of early Methodism was the accountability built into being a Methodist Christian. Even now, we have accountability built into the system all along the way (theoretically), from General Conference (and the decisions it makes contained in the Book of Discipline), through the annual and charge conferences, into the life of every local church. I love our connectedness, and the strength in ministry it provides. And that’s part of why I answered “yes” to the historic questions.

• Studied United Methodist discipline and polity? Check.

• Approve our government and polity? Check.

• Support and maintain them? Check.

So how does all this relate to the WCA? Some pastors, local churches, and conferences in the UM Church, have decided, with deliberate forethought, that they can no longer approve our church’s government and polity.

General Conference 2016 did not alter our views on human sexuality. And yet, since the conclusion of General Conference in Portland, a number of boards of ordained ministry in some annual conferences have said they will no longer uphold the ordination standards prescribed in the Book of Discipline. Others have declared they stand in “non-compliance” with the General Conference on the question of same-sex weddings and ordination of practicing LGBT+ candidates for ministry. On July 15, the Western Jurisdiction elected a married lesbian as bishop, who assumed an episcopal role in the Mountain Sky Area (being the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences).

By contrast, the General Conference did, in fact, change our Church’s relationship with the abortion-rights advocacy group “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” by requiring our boards and agencies to withdraw from it. Almost immediately, several annual conferences, in deliberate defiance of the intent and will of the General Conference, voted to join the RCRC.

The accountability of our polity is broken. Our Book of Discipline is no longer accepted as an agreed upon form of administration, holding our Church together as one.

On the one hand, part of me understands and even respects the decision by some United Methodists to declare their open rebellion against the General Conference. They have fought these fights for many decades. They feel the culture and popular opinion in the United States has changed in their favor, and they believe they are standing in a prophetic tradition that requires these actions. They have had enough. They think the UM Church is wrong, and needs to be forced into changing its positions.

I hope those United Methodists will allow me to disagree civilly. I think the changes in culture and popular opinion in the United States are alarming and reflect our broken society as much as anything. Besides, I think such cultural changes are irrelevant to the Church’s position on human sexuality. Fifty years ago during the sexual revolution, the Church failed to articulate and defend a consistent foundation for sexual ethics. As a result, the UM Church’s current standards for ordination and our affirmation of Christian marriage (joining one man and one woman in union for life) appear to many to be hopelessly out of step with the times. Nevertheless, these are biblical and theological mandates, and in the best parts of Christian history, the Church has stood for these principles. The burden of proof for changing those standards must rest squarely on the foundation of clear and compelling biblical exegesis. So far, I have been unconvinced such a case can be made.

At the same time, the Church is being called to a more proactive, loving, and robust ministry to persons experiencing same-sex attraction. With regard to the UM Church specifically, I grieve over the loss of accountability in our Church’s governance and polity, without which we cannot move forward as a unified branch of the Wesleyan movement.

And so, at this moment in our Church’s history, many have publicly announced their decision to break from the governance and polity of The United Methodist Church. I have chosen this venue, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, as a place to say, just as publicly, that I support and maintain that governance and polity. Through the WCA, I commit myself to uphold and maintain the governance and polity of The United Methodist Church.

The WCA is nothing more for me than a way to embrace Methodism. I love our Church. I love its rituals, its history and heritage, and I love its Wesleyan theology. In short, I love being United Methodist. Other than the influence of my godly parents, God worked through The United Methodist Church more than anything else to redeem my life, nurture my faith, teach me the Scriptures, confirm my calling, and ordain me to ministry.

The WCA is a way of saying all this publicly – of recommitting myself to my ordination vows. I want to be a good Methodist. At this point in time, that means participating in the work of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

Bill Arnold is an ordained elder in the Kentucky Conference of The United Methodist Church and professor of Old Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Bill has been a delegate to three General Conferences and is the author of numerous books including Introduction to the Old Testament (Cambridge University Press) and Seeing Black & White in a Gray World (Seedbed). This article originally appeared on www.teddyray.com and is reprinted by permission.

Comments

  1. Tom Mendenhall says:

    Pastor Arnold. Very well put; I wholeheartedly agree. Your reasoning’s are a big part why I have dedicated myself to use Wesley’s sermons whenever I am asked to preach as a Certified Lay Servant. I am half way to becoming a Lay Speaker and hope to accomplish that goal in a couple of years. I feel Methodists need to hear actual words of Wesley’s instead of some diluted translations with a liberal bent. Thanks for the time you took to prepare this article. Tom EQUMC – NYAC

  2. Ray Rhoads says:

    Please explains why the following paragraph from your essay does not apply to divorce. I quote you:
    I think such cultural changes are irrelevant to the Church’s position on human sexuality. Fifty years ago during the sexual revolution, the Church failed to articulate and defend a consistent foundation for sexual ethics. As a result, the UM Church’s current standards for ordination and our affirmation of Christian marriage (joining one man and one woman in union for life) appear to many to be hopelessly out of step with the times. Nevertheless, these are biblical and theological mandates, and in the best parts of Christian history, the Church has stood for these principles. The burden of proof for changing those standards must rest squarely on the foundation of clear and compelling biblical exegesis. So far, I have been unconvinced such a case can be made.

    • David Trawick says:

      So, since the UMC has generally followed the culture in accepting divorce, we should do the same regarding homosexual intimacy? Wow. Let’s apply that logic to polygamy in Mormon country, or fornication all across the nation. Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got?

      I’d take your reasoning and make it a case for the church to go back and take divorce more seriously!

  3. Yayuba Bazel Yoila says:

    Thanks new movement please if organized program let invite Africa most especially Nigeria ,we standing for any focus for the new movement.

  4. Jerry Eckert says:

    I’m confused about some things offered in this article. Why is it really important to join another group to prove you are supportive of the United methodist Church. I became a part of the church when I was confirmed. I can understand belonging to an advocacy group within our Church. Maybe that’s what WCA really is. I also have seen that groups which may intend to strengthen the spirituality of a person like Curseo also tend to become a point of pride and separation. The temptation is for one to show how much more Godly and faithful one is because of one’s participation in such groups. I’ve seen an arrogance coming from those who participated in such groups that bothered me.

    I am also bothered by the presumption that just because someone disagrees with and does not follow certain specific rules completely rejects the rest of the denomination and the rest of its rules. I do not know of anyone who follows every rule in the Discipline. Why is it that disagreeing with one particular set of rules becomes so important that it is seen as apostasy despite open willingness to abide by everything else? Is our denomination really dependent on agreement over homosexuality and rules about it that were not part of our life or law before 1972? Such presumptions about our faith and life together do not seem to be consistent with Wesley’s “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”

  5. joe miller says:

    The burden of proof for changing those standards must rest squarely on the foundation of clear and compelling biblical exegesis. So far, I have been unconvinced such a case can be made.

    I agree with the first sentence. The second, I do not. The case has been made many times thorough sound biblical exegesis. My book (“Homosexuality: A Scriptural Way Forward for the UMC”) summarizes that scholarship. Many scholars disagree with you. My book is nothing innovative, but it summarizes some of the best scholarship today. Scripture is primary source for Wesleyans… BOD is not primary, and it has been changed every 4 years for generations. The 1972 addition with a statement out of the blue that has no biblical warrants given is a good example.

  6. Galynn Ferris says:

    I have always said, if you want to be a United Methodist you must follow the Book of Discipline. If you don’t want to follow the Book of Discipline; then don’t be a United Methodist. The action of the Western Jurisdiction will guarantee the dis union of the United Methodist church just as the institution of slavery did at the General Conference in 1844.

    I am not convinced that the sanctification of same sex unions has the same moral clarity as slavery; but the results will be the same.

    IMHO: the decline in the influence of organized religion in general and the UMC in particular can be traced to a lack of discipline and conviction. The world doesn’t need another service club. The world needs compassion and the kindness of a savior.

    The Wesleyan quadrilateral relies on scripture and tradition. Sanctification of same sex relationships fails on both counts.

    You may call me a hater if you like. I know to whom I belong.

  7. Ruth KETCHUM says:

    The Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Jesus said nothing about it. The “sin of Sodom” is not sexuality but the threat of violence to a stranger. In a desert climate, if a traveler is not given aid and protection, it could mean death for them. The holiness code is just that: it lays out the dangers of idolatry, and turning away from God’s love. John Wesley didn’t write the 1972 statements in the UMC discipline: it’s revised every 4 years. There is a lesson in this. We are all God’s children. It’s not up to you or me to decide who is and who isn’t. I am a Gay Christian, I love the Methodist Church, it saved my life and showed me God’s love. I wish the UMC would stop fretting about unity, or dropping membership, or hanging on to the African churches or “disciplining” the Western jurisdiction…there is a lot of hate and hurt and fear in this world and the people of the UMC need to get to the business of sharing God’s good news of Resurrection and Love that He is offering by the grace of God to all.
    Blessings to all of you.

    • jimmie groom says:

      Ruth I suggest that you read the book of Discipline of the UMC. Then focus on EVERY line. If you disagree, with any part of it, I would suggest that You leave the UMC and find a church that better coincides with your beliefs.

      • Carla and Bob Skidmore says:

        WOW, Jimmie, you certainly have an unusual attitude for a Christian. You unceremoniously told Ruth that if she does not agree with the BoD that she should “get out.” Churches, over the years, have behind what many of us believe. I remember reading that the Methodist Church violently disagreed over the issue of slavery, and still kept our black sisters and brothers in the Central Jurisdiction for years after slavery was abolished. So, too, in time the BoD of the UMC will change and agree that ALL who love God and are in love and charity with our neighbors are accepted fully, into the UMC.
        The SCOTUS voted to allow marriage equality, and discrimination of anyone who is LBGT is illegal, sadly, the church lags behind what so many believe.
        How true the words, sung to Onward Christian Soldiers, “Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God. Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod. Some lack hope, and some lack love and all lack charity.

  8. Mr. Arnold, you say, “I have chosen this venue, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, as a place to say, just as publicly, that I support and maintain that governance and polity. Through the WCA, I commit myself to uphold and maintain the governance and polity of The United Methodist Church.”

    Let me ask a clarifying question. Do you mean you are committed to upholding and maintaining the governance and polity of the UMC AS IT PRESENTLY EXISTS (sorry about the ALL CAPS, but I have no other means of emphasizing), or that you will uphold and maintain that polity EVEN IF IT CHANGES? I ask this because it seems to me that “upholding and maintaining” is easier when you agree with what’s being upheld and maintained.

    So, IF the Book of Discipline is revised in the future to remove all restrictions on full participation by LGBTQ members, will you still be committed to upholding and maintaining it?

  9. lynn price says:

    I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH! I also don’t want us to be disunited. Our Bishop visited us in Boulder, MT. It gave me hope that I am where God wants me. My God has spoken to me, saying,” You are exactly what I had in mind when I created you!”
    I respect that we UMC have a Book of Discipline, and it has a good purpose. I disagree that the Bible or Jesus, forbids same sex marriage. Check out Paul, who says, paraphrased: if you can, be like me, but if you can’t, get married! The most frustrating idea for me is that same sex marriage and promiscuous sex are the same thing!! However, I suspect that the experience with promiscuous homosexuality and AIDS may be a real fear based on experience. Heterosexuality does not guarantee fidelity. Adultery and ” not loving our neighbor as we love ourself” (I.e. USING another person as a sexual object) are sins! Not loving and marrying the person you love. I especially reach out to you all to look for our common ground in Christ’s great commandment. Thank you, Lynn

    • Carla and Bob Skidmore says:

      Well stated, Lynn.
      We are very proud of Bishop Karen Oliveto, as she graduated, many years after, Bob graduated from Drew Seminary.
      Does the Wesleyan Covenant realize that the UMC BoD did not even mention homosexuality until 1972, before that, homosexuality was “not even on the radar.” Our LBGTAQI sisters and brothers have been with us for years, serving as clergy, lawyers, nurses, doctors, secretaries and no one cared, and for good reason. It matters not one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, all are people.
      Gratefully, the SCOTUS has voted to allow marriage equality, but sadly, the church will be slow to follow suit.
      I, like you, do not want the UMC to split but split it will unless, the “powers that be,” decide to amend the BoD.

  10. Jerry Adkinson says:

    We must take these issues very seriously. We cannot
    just sweep them under the “rug”. If we do, someone will come
    along one day and pull the “rug” right out from under us!

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