For a caucus that claims majority appeal, money, and momentum, why does the Wesleyan Covenant Association share falsehoods instead of naming and claiming what they are really about?
Culture of Deceit
The political climate of the past year has intensified since November 2016 with the focus on fake news, alternative facts, and government officials dancing around accountability in the White House newsroom. We venerate whatever is sensational and marketable at the expense of truth.
Sadly for a church that relies heavily on Truth, we are now witnessing the same secular rhetoric settle into the allegedly popular Wesleyan Covenant Association–and I wonder why they feel the need to resort to such questionable tactics.
A New Video
The Wesleyan Covenant Association recently updated their welcome section of their website with a video promoting the WCA in about 7 minutes. Here’s the video and page. It’s a well-produced video with a simple, strong appeal of three points, all of which seem perfectly reasonable and “why wouldn’t I be for these things?”
However, the substance falls apart very quickly, and the script has specific lines which are outright falsehoods–and one big gaping hole in their argument.
God? Bible? Who is against them?
The problem is that the WCA is resorting to either false witness or willfully ignorant statements about non-WCA members.
The script recited by Rev. Madeline Carrasco Henners of Texas states:
“God is Good, The Bible is True, and Promises should be kept…in today’s UMC, it’s not that simple; some people can’t agree with all or even part of these three simple statements.”
Clearly, that’s false witness. Find me United Methodists who disagree that God is good. Anecdotes are no substitute for actual facts, and the fact is that Methodists can agree that God is good! Unless the WCA is picking on people in grief over the loss of a child, wailing and wondering where God is, like in the Psalms. Charitably, I don’t think that’s their point.
Therefore, the purpose of such a statement is not to name the reality, but to promote the narrative that there’s “us” and “them”–and “them” don’t even believe that God is good! The statement is not based in reality, but in rhetoric.
Furthermore, saying “The Bible is true” is absolutely what progressive and moderate Christians say as well. From 1972 to 2008, General Conference floor speeches for and against LGBTQ inclusion quoted scripture at roughly the same rate (T. Steinwert, BUSTh dissertation ). Credible Evangelicals like Matthew Vines, Rachel Held Evans, and Tony Campolo support LGBTQ inclusion–and quote scripture to do it!
The conversation about what’s happening in The United Methodist Church is far more complex than simply framing those who believe “the Bible is true” or “God is good” against those who allegedly do not.
Promises are being Practiced
This false dichotomy of “only one side believes these things” has a third line: “Promises should be kept.” The script states:
At their ordination, clergy in The United Methodist Church promised to God and each other to be accountable to the UMC, its authority, its doctrinal standards, and our Book of Discipline…UM Clergy should keep their word even when it is hard to do so.
Again, it sounds so clearly defined that it becomes almost true.
However, when UM Clergy are ordained, they don’t make the promise outlined above. Here’s the language (page 20) :
Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting and upholding its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?
Compare the bolded lines, especially what is capitalized. The small “d” discipline actually refers to the ways we mutually submit to watch over one another in love. The Book of Discipline is part of that discipline, yes. But even those who take actions contrary to those in the BoD are still accepting and upholding the discipline of the church when they participate in whatever fair process may result (such as just resolutions, clergy trial, or even renunciation of orders). We keep our promises when we participate in the process of discipline, no matter what the WCA script says.
A Woman in the Pulpit?
Those are the main false witnesses leveled against fellow believers in God…but there are two lingering statements which are flabbergasting in their boldness. The script states:
If God says we should do something, then whatever it is, by definition, it is good. If God wants us to refrain from something, then likewise we should obey Him.
How does the WCA reads sections regarding women speaking in churches (1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14)? Since Rev. Henners is speaking in a church, to men and women, they must have a way of interpreting those sections so that those words are not true in their literal form. The Bible also asks slaves to obey their masters with fear and trembling. Again, they must have a way of understanding that passage!
The obvious answer is when it comes to these passages, The UMC and WCA alike have a hermeneutic of reading scripture that finds truth in the greater Biblical themes of freedom in Christ, being called by God by name, equality in the church and society, and others. These hermeneutics were hard won over past two centuries in America as slavery and women’s subjugation were overturned in the ever-revised plain reading of Scripture.
A clergy friend wrote to me on this topic
Rev. Henner’s very inclusion in the clergy order is a reflection of this dynamic and active Biblical hermeneutic at work in the world today. The very hermeneutic the WCA stands firmly against is the one that led to the eventual inclusion of women in ordained ministry of the Church! God is so good! Where there was alienation, persecution, hatred and fear against women, there is now the embrace of all who are called to the work of God in the world.Thanks be to God!
Why are we seeking to undermine and remove that very hermeneutic now?
The Final Turn
One last point. We see the same rhetorical strategy in the WCA video as in the Trump campaign of 2016: accuse your opponent of something you are vulnerable to and they can’t say it back to you.
“For forty years, a significant minority have been seeking to change the church’s historic practice to be more reflective–and they would say relevant–of American secular culture.”
This blog has been at the forefront of naming the ways how the WCA has reflected the very American secular culture they claim to despise:
The strategy of accusing your opponent of exactly what you were vulnerable to has made its way into the Wesleyan Covenant Association–and I wonder why they are so desperate to use it.
Say What You Mean
The main problem with slick videos like this is that they avoid the truth by eliminating the subtext. Like in Rev. Jeff Greenway’s dismissal of clergywomen’s concerns with “there are conflicting opinions in The United Methodist Church” there’s serious problems when the WCA does not say what they mean. They create a false version of their opponent, and attempt to mask the church conflict with language so generic and watered-down that it does seem ridiculous that anyone would disagree. I wonder why they are so desperate to say they are not about the continued exclusion of LGBTQ people and stand firmly on that side of history and a renunciation of a biblical hermeneutic of inclusion.
While any calls from this blog will go unheard from the WCA leadership, I do hope they are more honest about themselves and “the other side.” This kind of rhetoric is deceitful, and bearing false witness shrouded in darkness. But everything covered up will be uncovered, everything done in darkness will be brought to light (Mark 4:22). Might as well be honest.
“If God tells us to refrain from something, it is good for us to obey him.” I seem to recall something in the Bible about a prohibition against bearing false witness against another. This video’s script seems to contain an awful lot of false witness against others, and we must do better.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading, commenting, and your shares on social media.