Today, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) releases a working document with the tentative title “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline.” From November 2018 through January 2019, a team of 16 clergy and laity prepared the first draft of the document and submitted it to the WCA’s 34-member governing council. Since March of this year the council has methodically reviewed and significantly edited approximately 75 percent of that initial draft. This afternoon (November 8th) the 228 delegates at the WCA’s Second Global Legislative Assembly received that portion and commended it to its global members and friends for their review and comment. The WCA Council will continue to review and edit the remainder of the first draft and will make that portion public as soon as possible.
The WCA is mindful the release of “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” is not without controversy given the present state of uncertainty in The United Methodist Church. However, like many United Methodists, whether they be centrists, progressives, or traditionalists, the WCA acknowledges some separation of the denomination is not only inevitable, but preferable to the bitter division that now threatens the church’s existence. Given the option of continuing a costly and destructive fight over irreconcilable differences, the WCA prefers the path of freeing and blessing United Methodists to pursue the creation of new churches that conform to their firm theological and ethical convictions. It welcomes and will continue to support efforts that would have the 2020 General Conference adopt a fair and just plan of separation.
The WCA readily acknowledges “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” is a working document. Far from thinking of it as finished product, the WCA welcomes comments and anticipates further refinements of it. Indeed, the WCA is under no illusion it can, with this working document, dictate the terms of a new Methodist movement to anyone. It recognizes the local churches, clergy and laity that would want to unite together to form a new church would do so at a convening conference. That body would ultimately determine the core doctrines that would define such a new church and create a polity that would guide its mission in the world. The WCA has prepared “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” so such a convening conference would have a working document that could serve as the basis for moving forward as deliberately and expeditiously as possible. Despite the harm that has been done to many local UM churches by acts of defiance and dysfunctional leadership, the WCA strongly believes a new orthodox, evangelical Methodist movement has great promise and potential. If the WCA can be an instrument in the creation of such a movement, it will, by God’s grace, fulfill that task.
In the coming weeks the WCA will publish a series of brief articles on critical aspects of “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline.” Below are questions the WCA anticipate people will ask about it.
How did the WCA go about creating the document?
The delegates who attended the WCA’s First Global Legislative Assembly on November 2, 2018 at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, authorized the WCA’s 34-member governing council to select members for a Next Steps Working Group. This group of 16 laity and clergy prepared the first draft of “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline.” It then submitted its work to the WCA Council for its review and editing. The council assigned sections of the document to its various standing committees for review and editing, and then the committees forwarded their work to the whole council for its deliberation and refinement. The council has methodically and deliberately reviewed and edited most of the first draft; approximately 25 percent of the document is still under review.
Is the WCA open to comments on and recommendations for to the book?
Yes. The WCA regards “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” as a working document. It is sharing it publicly so WCA members and friends can offer thoughtful comments and recommendations. Comments and recommendations may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will the document be used in the future? What are the WCA’s intentions for it?
The WCA believes “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” can serve as the basis for a new governing document for local churches, clergy, and laity that would want to attend a convening conference to launch a new Methodist movement. Believing that time is of the essence, the WCA hopes “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” will enable a convening conference to move forward as deliberately and expeditiously as possible.
Will the WCA share the portions of the document its council is still reviewing and editing?
Yes, the WCA Council is eager to make the remainder of “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” available as soon as it completes the outstanding sections.
Why is the WCA releasing this document before the 2020 General Conference has decided to approve the separation or the dissolution of the UM Church or an exit path that frees local churches from the denomination’s “trust clause”?
It obvious to many United Methodists that the best way forward is some form of separation of the UM Church. The WCA Council believes, one way or another, separation will occur on the other side of the 2020 General Conference. It hopes for and is working for an amicable, just, and fair plan of separation that avoids creating winners and losers. It trusts the General Conference delegates will adopt a plan of separation guided by Jesus’ command that “we do unto others as we would have done unto us.” The WCA Council offers “The Book of Doctrines and Discipline” now so United Methodist traditionalists have an extended season to consider and discuss possibilities for a new future together.
Will the WCA work for the passage and full implementation of the Traditional Plan at the 2020 General Conference?
If it becomes apparent that no fair and just plan of separation will receive majority support at the 2020 General Conference, then the WCA will have no choice but to work for the full passage and implementation of the Traditional Plan. It also acknowledges that even with the full adoption of the Traditional Plan, some traditionalist local churches, clergy, and laity would still leave the UM Church to establish a new Methodist movement. And given their location in annual conferences where bishops have and will continue to defy the UM Church’s General Conferences and its Book of Discipline, they would leave with great justification. The WCA no longer expects traditionalist local churches, clergy, and laity to support leaders who act unethically and contrary to the UM Church’s teaching. Furthermore, the WCA would do all in its power to facilitate the creation of new Methodist church for those departing the UM Church under these circumstances. At the same time, many WCA member churches, lacking a fair plan of separation and facing the enforcement of the trust clause, would remain in the UM Church. That being the case, the WCA would also be obliged to work hard for the full passage and implementation of the Traditional Plan. Again, the WCA hopes for and is working for a fair and just plan of separation; however it will not simply acquiesce to any plan that would treat its member churches and individuals unfairly.
Does the release of the document mean the WCA is planning to create a new Methodist church?
The WCA is under no illusion it can create a new Methodist church. From its inception two of the association’s key priorities have been keeping orthodox, evangelical local churches, clergy, and laity united and connected, and preparing them for what might come next. The WCA acknowledges that only traditionalist local churches, clergy, and laity who desire to be connected together in a new Methodist movement can create a new church. Given the state of the UM Church, the WCA believes it is wise to prayerfully and carefully continue preparing for the increasing likelihood of such a new church.