After six meetings held over ten months, the Commission on a Way Forward, presented its preliminary report to the Council of Bishops (“COB”) earlier this week. At its fall meeting, the COB considered the report’s merits, which included sketches of three models for proceeding forward, but did not express a preference for any one of the models. You may read the COB’s press release here. The Commission will submit its final report to the COB at the latter’s spring meeting to be held from April 29 to May 4, 2018.
As the COB recently made clear, it regards the Commission as an ad hoc advisory panel. The COB reserves final say on the proposal that will be put before an unprecedented special General Conference scheduled for February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri. The COB must publicly share the legislative details of its proposal no later than July 8, 2018. Ultimately, United Methodist delegates from around the world will have the power to approve, amend, reject, or substitute with another plan whatever the COB puts before them.
For its part, the Commission’s mission statement acknowledges that its work occurs “in a climate of skepticism and distrust.” It also acknowledges that “matters of human sexuality and unity are the presenting issues for a deeper conversation.” The more fundamental and underlying questions have to do with biblical interpretation, the authority of Scripture, and the core theological teachings of The United Methodist Church that are embodied in the great confessional creeds of the church universal. These questions present the COB with a set of challenges it has failed to address definitively.
The COB summarized the sketches of the three models presented by the Commission as follows:
- One sketch of a model affirms the current Book of Discipline language and places a high value on accountability.
- Another sketch of a model removes restrictive language and places a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
- A third sketch of a model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one COB, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.
Model 1 most likely would be similar to the Covenantal Unity Plan endorsed by Bill Arnold, Billy Abraham, David Watson, and others prior to the 2016 General Conference. Model 2 most likely would be similar to the “local option” plan advanced by Adam Hamilton, Mike Slaughter and others also prior to the 2016 General Conference. Model 3 most likely would be similar to the so-called umbrella plan which would place two or more theologically distinct “entities” under the umbrella of The United Methodist Church.
Model 1 would be consistent with the prior statements of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). You may read the WCA’s Chicago Statement here and the WCA’s statement to the Commission here. The WCA has previously expressed its opposition to Model 2. The WCA would need to see the details of Model 3 in order to evaluate it. We do have concerns about how the shared doctrine is expressed, what the shared services would be and the definition of the role of one COB.
Importantly, each sketch includes a gracious way of exit for those who feel called to exit from the denomination. The WCA supports retention of this provision regardless of which model is ultimately recommended by the COB.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) remains steadfastly and joyfully committed to the full proclamation of the Gospel and the historic and life giving teachings of our church. We rejoice and give thanks for those local churches that not only persevere in the midst of defiance to our Book of Discipline and disorder, but also actually thrive! They do so by remaining steadfast and true to God’s Word.
The WCA remains thankful for our polity and passionately committed to the value of connectionalism. We long for a church eager to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who are suffering in body and spirit. We will not relent in our efforts to share the transforming power of Jesus Christ, the One who is the way, the truth, and the light! Join us!