February 6, 2018
By Walter Fenton
At its inaugural 2016 gathering over 1,800 attendees affirmed the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “Chicago Statement.” It called on the Council of Bishops to “bring forth a recommendation that would definitively resolve our debate over The United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics and its understanding of marriage.” It stated the best way forward was to adopt a plan that called “for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restore[d] the good order of the church’s polity.”
It also stated it could not support a “local option” plan that would dramatically liberalize the church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. Local option plans have failed to gain traction at the last two General Conferences, and it is highly unlikely such a plan would pass at the special 2019 General Conference since nearly all the delegates in attendance will be the same delegates who were prepared to reject such a proposal in 2016.
Unfortunately, the recently formed Uniting Methodists caucus group is encouraging annual conferences in the U.S. to pass petitions supporting just such a failed approach. The group claims its model petition is a “call for unity of the denomination,” however, what they propose will actually lead to further conflict, deeper division, and ultimately the disunity of the UM Church.
Time and time again, the global church has rejected the laissez-faire approach the Uniting Methodists group is proposing. Proponents of local option plans refuse to accept or acknowledge that orthodox, evangelical United Methodists in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S. will not support or remain in a church that teaches a sexual ethic contrary to Scripture, redefines marriage as between “two people,” and advocates for the ordination of openly gay and sexually active clergy.
At the 2016 General Conference efforts to change the church’s teachings on these matters could not even gain support in the pertinent legislative committees, let alone support from the majority of the 864 delegates. Yet still the Uniting Methodists caucus group is asking people in U.S. annual conferences to promote what our global church has clearly rejected.
Uniting Methodists believe their proposal is reasonable and fair, but it is not. It is not fair to ask a global church to sanction the progressive mores of a minority group largely centered in the U.S. Furthermore, the proposal is actually unreasonable. It would create situations where United Methodist pastors in a given annual conference (even in the same city or town) would be teaching diametrically opposite things about our church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. One pastor would be teaching that the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage are unbiblical and therefore incompatible with Christian teaching, while another UM pastor, just miles away, would be teaching the practice of homosexuality is a good gift from God and same-sex marriages should be celebrated.
As the WCA said in its Chicago Statement, “any form of the ‘local option’ around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church [emphasis added].”
The WCA strongly encourages orthodox, evangelical annual conference delegates to vigorously oppose so-called “unity” resolutions, to persuade others to vote against them, and to be present at their annual conferences’ gatherings so their votes can be counted.
Click HERE to read more on Uniting Methodists’ local option approach.
Walter Fenton is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and Vice-President for Strategic Engagement at the Wesleyan Covenant Association.