The Wesleyan Covenant Association: A Few Reflections

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has become a source of controversy among some in our denomination. Only in times such as these could a group that affirms all of the central teachings of United Methodism, is led primarily by pastors who have kept their ordination vows and pay their apportionments, and has publicly disavowed the intention to divide The United Methodist Church be accused of attempting to foment such a division. Then again, we UM’s live in a time of broken trust, broken covenants, and a broken system of church governance. Charitable readings of one another’s intentions are in short supply.

 I get it. We are broken people. God is making us whole again, but we still have our faults. My family and close friends could no doubt recite a litany of mine. The church, as we know it, is imperfect because God has chosen to work through imperfect people like us. As a friend of mine likes to say, there are no problem-free situations.

 I have to remind myself of this often these days. There are no problem-free situations. Still, the characterization of the WCA as a divisive movement has always struck me as a misunderstanding of its purpose. The specific doctrinal and ethical affirmations of the WCA are no different from those of the UMC, with one addition, the Nicene Creed. This last point seems rather uncontroversial, since the Nicene Creed is affirmed by virtually all of Christendom, including our ecumenical partners.

 Many felt that Bishop Ough mischaracterized the WCA in a statement on behalf of the Council of Bishops: “The reported declarations of non-compliance from several annual conferences, the intention to convene a Wesleyan Covenant Association and the election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop of the church have opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism.” Why, they asked, would our bishops understand the formation of the WCA in the same way that they understood open defiance of the General Conference? As Dr. Kevin Watson wrote in a very insightful blog post, “one of these things is not like the others.” It is an informed and well-reasoned piece that I commend to your reading.

 I served under Bishop Ough when he was bishop of the West Ohio Conference, and I very much appreciated his leadership. I found him to be a fair and reasonable leader with the interests of the whole church in mind. I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt then, that he did not mean to mischaracterize the WCA, but instead perhaps meant to indicate that the divisiveness within the UMC does not come entirely from one direction. Nevertheless I agree with those who hold that it was unhelpful to lump the WCA in with acts of open defiance of the General Conference.

 It struck me as an odd omission, moreover, that there was no mention in the bishops’ statement of an unofficial meeting at General Conference that included some of the most influential people in the denomination. During this meeting, as described in this video by Adam Hamilton, the participants seriously considered the idea of a three-way division. Surely this meeting and the buzz that it generated contributed as much as anything else to the concerns around a denominational split.

 At this point, I don’t think anyone knows what that future of the UMC will look like. There are too many variables. What decisions will the Judicial Council make? What recommendations will the bishops’ commission bring forward? Will these recommendations pass a special General Conference in 2018? What happens if they don’t? Will we become two denominations? Three? Will we fracture into several? Attempts to answer these questions are generally exercises in conjecture. We just don’t have enough information. God has not made clear our future yet. All we can do is continue faithful dialogue and prayerful discernment with all of the constituencies of our denomination.

The UMC is my home. I was baptized, confirmed, educated, and ordained in this tradition. I got on board with the WCA early on because I am committed to upholding the teachings of the UMC and the vows that I took when I was ordained. With all of the instability of our denomination right now, I find it helpful to be part of a community of people who openly share those commitments. That’s it. I’m not a radical right-winger or a fundamentalist. Those terms don’t accurately describe the beliefs or ethos of the WCA. We’re just trying to be faithful in the best way we can with a community of people who have a similar understanding of what faithfulness entails. As for the future, that is really up to God. May God give all of us–progressive, centrist, conservative, or anything else–the wisdom we need to be faithful in these challenging times.

15 thoughts on “The Wesleyan Covenant Association: A Few Reflections

  1. Thank you, David, for this thoughtful piece. Only in times such as these could the WCA be characterized as schismatic. I could regale you with similar comments from my progressive colleagues going back many years. That is because they define Methodism as something quite different from our understanding and the historical record, so that to hold to an orthodox view of Scripture and the Wesleyan expression of Christianity is seen by them as heretical. In less artful ways than your writing, I would say that no matter what becomes of the UMC, we evangelicals will be blamed by progressives and by “the unity at all costs party” for anything they do not like and anything that does not meet their agenda.
    I look forward to seeing you and many others in Chicago, Oct. 6.

  2. David — I have been at the World Methodist Conference / Council meetings in Houston for the past week, so I missed your post right when it came out. I must say, my friend, that you have the ability to speak in an irenic and moderating way that few others can match. I am so grateful for your leadership in our connection and appreciate the clarity of your voice. We are in an era when perspectives like yours are needed in vital ways.
    The work that Jesus Christ truly calls us to be about is to preach the gospel of salvation: to call sinners to repentance, to proclaim the redeeming grace of God, and to form disciples of our Lord and Savior who grow in holiness of heart & life. There really is no greater life to live. I am grateful that we have the chance to continue that work together in the years ahead.

  3. Not a comment but a sincere question. What is the distinctive reason the Nicene Creed has been specified? Is there something that distinguishes it from the present holdings of the UMC?

    • I think it is because the Weslyan quadrilateral has been used often as a way to undermine classical understandings of basic Christian belief. I think that the WCA just wants to emphasize our doctrinal standards presuppose the Nicene Creed.

  4. Thank you David for inspired insights. God’s call to maintain our faith is gloriously defined by Wesley with His call to the UNITY of believers. He demonstrated that in ministry with Whitfield and his reformed doctrines of Calvin. I love the man for his invitation to give him your hand “IF your heart is as my heart..” THE HOLY Spirit established through
    Wesley “The Way to The Kingdom” (his sermon!). “The Kingdom of God is RIGHTEOUSNESS,..IN the Holy Spirit” Rom.14:17
    Wesley surrendered His life, and his heart was strangely warmed as he ENTHRONED Jesus as lord and King!

    The fruit of his sanctification was an answer to the Lord’s Prayer of John 17 with how to “BECOME ONE” – through HOLY Clubs, HOLY Communion, and corporate worship, hallowing the name of The Father and Son through prayer and praise. The Psalm 133 blessing upon those who DWELL together in unity revolutionized England and America and continues to restore millions through His message of Justifying and SANCTIFYING GRACE.

    If I sound like an Asbury graduate, yes I am. In 1965 at 25, God spoke in my spirit and through a vision to answer a call for renewal of our denomination. I graduated in 1970, and I celebrate being at the college chapel on Feb. 3rd when the glory of God came down on the student body. The Holy Spirit ignited the fire of The Asbury Revival that swept through our nation. It caused classes to shut down for that week and I went on witness teams every weekend after that until my graduation.


    I also celebrate Maxie Dunnam inviting me to be on the first Emmaus Walk. I went on to serve on Memphis teams until 1984 when the cabinet moved me to West Kentucky where I was on the steering committee that planted the West Kentucky community. So I was greatly encouraged by your article above on our need for openness to The Holy Spirit and the Charismatic Renewal you have experienced at United Seminary with Randy Clark and Aldersgate Renewal Ministry. I have been blessed by their conferences and was with ARM at its inception at the historic Kansas City Conference in 1977.

    (that those guided by the HOLY Spirit will become equally acknowledged and affirmed….UNITED under ONE umbrella by the WCA. This would include The Transforming Congregations Movement, etc.)

    DR. DAVID, PLEASE use your influence to include ARM in some way on the WCA day!
    Through the years of Good News and others publicizing the Confessing Movement’s ministry, I have seen little or no articles on ARM’s ministries. The purity of The Word of God should not take any precedent of importance over the power of The Spirit of God who inspired It!

    Adam Hamilton’s suggestion of the THREE-WAY DIVISION is for a departure from UNITED Methodism “maintaining the unity of The Spirit in the bond of PEACE.”
    It sounds like the same old plug for Pluralism in our Church, promoting doctrinal distortions which produce ethical disagreements of Biblical proportions!
    As always, we have here the source of separation and disunity in the “ONE Body” of Christ.
    The call for all to come together under one big TENT is an invitation to a THREE-WAY CIRCUS! And that Big Top makes for many metaphors!

Comments are closed.