One of the purposes of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is to create a unified response to the work of the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward that would maintain traditional, orthodox United Methodist beliefs. The Chicago Statement was an initial step in fulfilling this purpose.
On May 1, 2017, the Bishops’ Commission invited the WCA, as well as other groups invested in The United Methodist Church, to “[d]escribe your constituency’s preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, condition and extent of the inclusion of LGBTQ people within the Church.”
Acting through its Council, the WCA filed the following statement with the Bishops’ Commission in early June, 2017. We understand that our statement as well as submissions by other groups is being reviewed by the members of the Commission to inform their dialogue as they prepare their final report to the Council of Bishops. We are grateful for both the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Bishops’ Commission and for their prayerful consideration of our input.
The Bishops’ Commission will be meeting in Chicago, Illinois, from July 19-21. We urge your continued prayers for the work of the Commission, for The United Methodist Church, and for God’s purposes among the people called Methodist in these critical days.
Here is the statement the WCA submitted to the Bishops’ Commission:
A Statement to the Commission on a Way Forward from the Wesleyan Covenant Association
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus from the Wesleyan Covenant Association. We have been praying with and for you as you seek to find a way forward through these turbulent and uncertain times. Thank you for the invitation to make a contribution to the Commission’s work by describing our preferred future for our denomination regarding the nature, conditions, and extent of inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the church.
We affirm the ways all persons are welcomed into our church in a graceful and biblical way. Our United Methodist Book of Discipline presently affirms LGBTQ+ persons as people of sacred worth, deserving to receive the full life of grace which the church provides. All people are welcome and valued and we hope this never changes.
We also know that we are living in a day when the church we love is fractured because of our very different understandings of what it means to be faithful in witness and ministry with all persons. Our Book of Discipline affirms a definition of marriage (a covenant between one man and one woman) which accords with the teachings of Jesus and the tradition of the Christian faith for more than two millennia. Further, our Discipline affirms the New Testament ethic of fidelity in monogamous marriage and celibacy in singleness. When we minister in accordance with these affirmations, we are being faithful in witness and ministry with all persons.
While human sexuality is the topic that grabs the headlines, we believe it’s the presenting symptom of much deeper theological fissures and systemic problems that are dividing The United Methodist Church. The formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968 was, among other things, an experiment in theological pluralism. Rather than attempting to harmonize the historical statements of faith of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, we adopted a theological process that could yield any number of results. We attempted a “big tent” where a variety of theological commitments could find expression. We didn’t fully acknowledge that theology undergirds everything we do and say. The tensions inherent in this approach have now reached a critical point resulting in irreconcilable differences in The United Methodist Church.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association urges The Commission on a Way Forward to offer a solution that does not require moral or theological compromises as the price to remain part of the same institution. The big tent approach has failed us. We need to allow the various theological streams in our church to reclaim their identity and move forward with integrity.
The United Methodist Church today is a deeply divided church where we often use the same words, cite the same Scriptures, quote the same Wesley Sermons, and pledge fidelity to the same Discipline; but we are talking about VERY DIFFERENT expressions of Christian faith. We disagree in basic beliefs and practices, with no real means of accountability, which makes our covenantal relationships untenable. We are no longer one church.
While we pray that the Commission will help our church find a way to right itself and restore the order of our covenant, we believe we are likely at a Paul and Barnabas moment as a denomination. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas recognize that their different commitments have the potential to hinder or even destroy the mission. Rather than jeopardize the mission, they enter into a new season of ministry where each pursues essential ministry commitments without imposing their differences on the other. We contend we are at a Paul and Barnabas moment, and we should not allow our irreconcilable differences to prevent us from pursuing the mission. Our mission might be better served if we blessed each other and entered a new season of ministry — so we can see what God does when pursuing the mission once again becomes central.
We would love for the Commission to propose a plan that calls for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restores the good order of our church’s polity. However, each act of disobedience and accommodation makes that increasingly unlikely. If the Commission determines no such a plan is possible, then we believe it should prepare a plan of separation that honors the consciences of all the people of the church and allows them to bless each other and go forward in peace and good will, much like Paul and Barnabas separated for a time because they could not agree.
We yearn for a proposal that acknowledges our different perspectives and provides a way for us to live into the future with grace and integrity. This is not about winners and losers — or saving a forty-nine-year-old institution. This is about freeing persons of good faith who have an irreconcilable disagreement to move forward in keeping with their deeply held commitments. We reject proposals that seek to segregate out the votes of our United Methodist brothers and sisters in the Global South
We are aware that there are some who would wish to provide three options for the future, and divide the church into Progressives, Traditionalists and Compatibilists related to human sexuality. We believe framing this conversation solely in terms of the presenting symptom is deeply flawed, and pray that the Commission will acknowledge that what divides us is deeper and more complex than human sexuality. Our core struggle is about the nature and divinity of Jesus; the nature, role and authority of Scripture; and the meaning of personal sin, justification and sanctification in the Wesleyan tradition.
We desire faith with integrity where we can hold each other accountable in love. Any plan that requires evangelical, orthodox, United Methodists to compromise our principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. We have issued a strong and unified statement against any form of the “local option” because we see how this could be used to very destructive ends by those who cannot abide the classic, biblical understanding of marriage and human sexuality. We also believe such a plan would stand little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the UMC. The ecclesial and numeric disaster overtaking the ELCA, TEC, UCC, and the PCUSA denominations for adopting versions of the “local option” presage calamity for us if we repeat their actions with the assumption that our outcomes will differ.
We are grateful for your labors on behalf of the entire church. Our prayer for you is that you will develop a plan that will move us beyond our current impasse and toward a faithful, fruitful future.
Jeff Greenway, Chair Keith Boyette, President
Wesleyan Covenant Association Council Wesleyan Covenant Association
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