Why Align with the Wesleyan Covenant Association? Five Points to Ponder
by Bob Phillips
The WCA, formed in late 2016, has become ground zero for denominational bomb-throwers anxious and upset about the impending collision of reality with 51 years of consistent decline in the US church and systemic dysfunction within the institution. I saw a cross-stitch on the bulkhead (land lubbers call it a wall) of the cabin of the executive officer of one of the aircraft carriers on which I served. It read: Happiness is a known enemy. For lots of folks, especially Facebook commandos and blogger bandits, their great happiness is in naming the demon possession of the denomination as the WCA.
The WCA performs miracles in the power of the antichrist. How else can one validate the accusation that an organization with a full-time staff of three has undercut the apportionment financing for a global organization of 12 million souls? Even the most nefarious Russian hackers cannot claim such success with US elections. The agenda of the WCA has always been about power, money, division, the extermination of cocker spaniels…name the offense and the WCA must be the sinister presence.
Or not. Saner heads on all sides of the current kerfuffle in the denomination are staying away from accusations, finger-pointing and name-calling. Some are motivated by Sean Connery’s wisdom in the movie, Rising Sun, where he counsels: Fix the problem, not the blame. Others, perhaps in the spirit of Total Quality Management and faithful Episcopal layman Edward Deming, realize that where an organization has serious issues and is not delivering the outcome for which it was created (making disciples), the process rather than individuals are the main reason 95% of the time. Put motivated people of faith and integrity into a deeply flawed system and flawed outcomes will be the result…for which individuals often and wrongly are blamed.
The creation of the WCA, like Good News, like the Reconciling Movement, like UMC/Next, like Mainstream/UMC, like the MFSA, shares a legitimate seat at the table. Their collective roles are discerning and unpacking potential futures for a denomination that, in the US, is nearing the tipping point either into fresh birthing of new expressions of Methodism or an acrimonious religious civil war. The irony is that the war would be over a subject that is basically incidental to the long-term dimensions of dysfunction. Folks, the most compelling challenges are not about sex. By the way, our African brothers and sisters have been trying to tell us that for a long time but, in our collective Western hubris, we know better.
So why align as an individual or a church with the WCA? Loud voices claim that would be to align with schism, division, hate, power-grabbing, bigotry, manipulation of third world Methodism for racist and self-serving purposes and, worst of all, the WCA calls names. Right.
Look hard for name-calling or innuendo besmirching other Christians during this time of turmoil. Look hard for proof (as one allegation goes) that since 2008 or earlier, WCA has been trying to undercut the denomination, a neat trick for a group formed in 2016. Or look beyond the verbal bricks lobbed at the WCA to sound, solid and constructive reasons to align.
“Align” can mean formal joining of the group, joining conference WCA fellowships and Facebook sites, donating, reading what they are producing, and pondering what they say in the light of personal convictions and common sense. Here are five reasons to move in that direction.
The WCA gives a clear and coherent global voice to a traditional understanding of the Wesleyan way. The person and work of Christ, the authority of scripture, salvation in Christ alone, holiness of heart and life, love of God and neighbor; these and other great emphases of Wesleyan Christianity are advocated within the historic contours of the universal Christian faith. This is not nostalgic Methodism for 1955. It is more along the line of the marriage of 30AD Pentecost with 1738 Aldersgate, voiced in 21stcentury language to introduce Christ to those who know him not.
The WCA is a crucial voice in discerning the future organization of Methodism. Both in-house planning and wider efforts with those from various perspectives have WCA focus and effort. A system that produces sustained decline MUST change and WCA has been asking the tough questions and offering some ground-breaking insights into a re-formed church…how about a Book of Discipline half the size, not sliced for the sake of slicing but streamlining and ‘clearing the decks’ to deliver ministry that fulfills the mission and the Great Commission to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The WCA is a voice of sanity beyond any single issue. The movement clearly realizes that the challenges facing the church are far more than sexuality. While clearly affirming historic and universally consistent definitions of marriage and ordination standards, WCA even more is committed to encouraging and nurturing clergy-laity-churches in spiritual revival in classic Wesleyan Christianity preaching, teaching and practice. WCA is committed to see bickering over sex moving to the rear-view mirror of a church transitioning from sustained decline to renewal.
The WCA has a global vision for Wesleyan Christianity. Philip Jenkins, a leading scholar in the movement of Christianity in the 21stcentury, makes clear that by 2050 the Christian church will be larger in numbers and percentage of population membership than it is today, but only 17% of the global membership will be the white, Western Christians. The WCA seeks to leverage the vibrant and exuberant Christian faith expressed by overseas United Methodists as a blessing and encouragement to the US church, rather than walling off their perspectives as an embarrassment to the West. The overseas churches are NOT perfect but we have reached a point where they have far more to teach us about life in Christ than the existing status quo is willing to hear. The WCA believes it is time for a change. It is time to hear.
The WCA affirms the best biblical perspective on a ‘connectional’ church. Any future beyond GC2020 will bring strong temptation to go it alone, by liberal and conservative churches and clergy simply tired of the fighting and distraction and the inability of the existing system to score a touchdown with the mission. That said, WCA is preparing expressions of a clear Wesleyan vision that provides healthy Christian connection, geared toward real support and mission accomplishment, replacing the existing outdated and increasingly incoherent bureaucracy…remembering also the first part of this article that it is the system that has become the villain.