A perspective of the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering

October 24, 2016
Editor's note: This is an editorial offered by the Rev. Paul Kottke on his perspective of the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering Oct. 7. It does not represent the Rocky Mountain Conference's stance on the event or on the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

Submitted by the Rev. Paul Kottke
Superintendent, Metropolitan District

On Oct. 7, the Rev. Marv Vose and I attended the Wesleyan Covenant Association's inaugural gathering in Chicago. We went specifically to observe and offer, when possible, a minority perspective. Many have since asked me what my experience was like.

First of all, the clergy and laity from the Rocky Mountain Conference were very welcoming of me and Marv. Rev. Randy Jessen, in particular, could not have been more hospitable. He made sure that we all sat together and he introduced me to a variety of folks including a reporter from United Methodist News Service. I had several heart-felt conversations.

Second, there was a call for a revival, for a renewed United Methodist vitality for the Season in which we are living. My response: AMEN! Anyone who has heard Bishop Karen preach knows full well that she is also advocating for such a revival of the transforming power of Jesus Christ in our churches - not to convert people to our churches, but that our churches would be the Beloved Community of Jesus Christ with an abundance of grace that is reaching out to a world of hurting people. In fact, I could not help but feel that if Bishop Karen had given the keynote address at the WCA, the people gathered would have given her a standing ovation. Several times during the WCA gathering, it was stated "We need to know what we are gathering for, not what we are gathering against." Again, AMEN. I truly believe that if we trust courageously in the Holy Spirit, we will be able to create a renewed Church together. The United Methodist Church's theology of grace and polity of flexibility is perfect for such a Season as this.

Yet there were several concerns which I have that were not addressed at the gathering. I lift these up here, not because I have the answers. But because if the renewal movement is to be authentic, these concerns must be addressed.

GENDER EQUITY - The WCA has taken a strong stand on the rights, privilege, and blessing of women in ministry. Again, I say AMEN. The UMC is a much better place because we have wisely made room for women to provide leadership as clergy and as lay leaders throughout our church worldwide. The tension, however, is that such a decision is NOT biblical. The Apostle Paul made it very clear in several of his letters that women were to remain silent and to have not authority over men. [ I Timothy 2; I Corinthians 11]  We have wisely discerned that these biblical prohibitions are not valid for our day. We know that we can be biblically authentic and hold exception to Paul's limitations for women.

SCRIPTURAL AUTHENTICITY - The WCA makes it very clear that all of its positions are grounded in Biblical Authority ["If the Lord God said it in the Bible, then it must be true" - said one of the morning preachers.] Yet as noted with gender equity, the WCA has already compromised this position. In addition, as I sat in the gathering of 1,700, I wondered how many of them had gone through divorce or have men and women in leadership in their churches who had been divorced. We understand the painful reality of divorce and its necessity in our society. However, once again, it is NOT biblical. Jesus never said anything about women in ministry, nor did he issue one utterance about sexual orientation but he did absolutely condemn divorce - "What God has put together, let no one divide." [Mark 10.9; Matt 19] How is it then that the WCA is able to understand the wisdom of adjusting these scriptural prohibitions to the faithfulness of our day, but when it comes to the few passages with translations of sexual orientation, these must be adhered to with literal rigidity? Why is it that Christians will often rally around what the Bible says so little of and be so silent about what the Bible says so much about?

WESLEYAN ORTHODOXY - The WCA has a tremendous desire to use John Wesley as the anchor for a new Wesleyan orthodoxy, which is the embracing of a Wesleyan faith into an orthodox position. What is curious is that John Wesley bristled against the orthodoxy of his day in the Church of England. He wanted a revival freed from orthodoxy. He could easily have grounded his theology in rigid, early Church creeds but intentionally chose not to. He instead preached a Holy Spirit of grace that would find new expressions of faithfulness within the Industrial Revolution of England.

NICENE CREED - This was woven into the day-long gathering as the concrete, kingpin of authentic Christianity. According to the WCA, the Nicene Creed becomes the litmus test of what it means to be truly Christian. The problem, of course, is that the Nicene is found nowhere in the Scriptures. The Nicene Creed does not make any reference to the teachings of Jesus. The Nicene Creed comes out of a church council held under the auspices of Emperor Constantine 300 years after Jesus. John Wesley could have chosen to have the Nicene Creed as his litmus test and he intentionally did not. It is possible that the Holy Spirit can move in our midst in ways that are not grounded in the Nicene Creed?

BREAKING COVENANT - We did hear a lot during the day that there is a great swelling of disobedience across the UMC against the various prohibitions on sexuality in the Book of Discipline. Perhaps the question should be: Why is there so much disobedience occurring? Is it perhaps that the UMC has gotten itself so bogged down on the issues of sexuality that it cannot see the Spirit-filled ways in which God is moving among us? I for one am clear that I have not broken Covenant of the Discipline, rather I have helped free the Discipline from the legalism that is killing the UMC. Covenant, in marriage as in faith, is not grounded in legal codes based on popular vote. Covenant reaches deeper into life based on grace, finding ways for relationships to build into abundance, not be constrained by judgment. Indeed, Jesus himself was accused by the Pharisees of his day of breaking covenant.

LOCAL OPTION - The WCA makes it very clear that the Local Option is not acceptable. (The Local Option is a catchphrase that says a particular group may be exempt from a certain ruling if the Discipline conflicts with a local custom, such as an African custom.) Never mind that the Central Conferences of African, of Europe, of Asia already have Local Option. The Local Option here in the United States would allow each jurisdiction to determine how it would respond to sexual orientation issues. As we seek to develop global governance, can it at all be fair that throughout the world Local Option is embraced as crucial to the local cultures? But here in the United States, we are not allowed a Local Option that addresses our custom and culture. Who is benefiting by such discrepancy?  

In closing, I truly look forward to working with and wrestling with the WCA. I believe that together, we will see a new day of The United Methodist Church, which neither side can currently envision, a new Church that will truly transform the world.