Over the past 18 months, a new group within United Methodism has repeatedly claimed their support of United Methodism and their denial they are creating a new denomination. But a newly discovered document challenges both those claims.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is a registered non-profit, which means they had to file founding documents with the government, specifically a Certificate of Formation of a Non-Profit Corporation. Such materials are privately filed but publicly available upon request (to be clear: these are not secret). Knowing their home state of Texas made a request for a legal copy of this public document very easy.
When we received a copy, there were three interesting takeaways from the document—and one is incredibly revealing, so rather than force you to read all three, we’ll start with that one.
01. The Missing Word
The first thing we’ll notice is there’s a discrepancy between the privately filed document and the public document the WCA has been sharing over the past year.
The public By-Laws of the Wesleyan Covenant Association are posted here. Section III is copied word-for-word from the purpose of the non-profit….except for a few missing words.
Here’s the public Section III:
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (“WCA”) is an association of congregations, clergy persons, and laity who desire to cooperate in the mission of the WCA to promote the ministry of the gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective within The United Methodist Church and kindred bodies.
But the screenshot above from the document filed with the State of Texas above has a curious omission. Here’s how Section V of the private document writes that sentence:
The Wesleyan Covenant Association (“WCA”) is an association of congregations, clergy persons, and laity who desire to cooperate in the mission of the WCA to promote the ministry of the gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective.
You’ll notice it cuts off too early. The private document doesn’t mention United Methodism. In fact, the private document doesn’t mention United Methodism at all, though the public document certainly does as they recruit current United Methodists to their ranks.
The discrepancy between public and private is part and parcel of the way how the Wesleyan Covenant Association operates, so this is no surprise to those of us who are watching them closely. But it is revealing that from the beginning, despite their advertising, their intention has nothing to do with supporting ministries with The United Methodist Church.
02. The Date
It’s curious to me how a myth won’t die: “when” the Wesleyan Covenant Association came into being. I keep seeing social media comments that the WCA was formed in response to the inaction by General Conference—or in response to the election of Bishop Oliveto. To be fair, none of the WCA leaders make this claim.
The picture above should settle this. The screenshot above shows a filing date of March 3rd, 2016…over two months before General Conference. And it was check-marked to begin “immediately” upon filing (see below screenshot), not activated at a later date or in response to an inciting event.
We knew this already. The website WesleyanCovenant.org was registered on May 2nd, 2016, just over a week before General Conference 2016 began. That’s been known for a year. But to register as a non-profit over two months before General Conference is an added drip that proves the organization of the caucus group long before General Conference.
No matter what the General Conference delegates decided, the WCA was ready to move, belying a lack of faith in the delegates to guide the Church in a way they thought appropriate.
03. The Lawyer
The “organizer” of the Certificate of Formation is Daniel Dalton, a lawyer in Michigan. Longtime readers of Hacking Christianity will recognize the name: Dalton is the lawyer helping a local UM church take a $1million property from The United Methodist Church and give it to a local evangelical congregation (that local church paid for part of Dalton’s services, in fact).
Dalton is also the author of a document circulating in back channels which details how to beat the Trust Clause. We have a copy and are still analyzing it, but it mostly describes the case law state-by-state and offers advice on how to proceed for churches looking to sell out the hard work of previous generations who purchased their buildings with decades of tithes.
UPDATE: It’s old news now, but a reader pointed out that Dalton’s firm is the official legal counsel of the WCA, per his press release here. So there’s no denying his connection to the scope and plans of the WCA.
We’ve previously seen similar work done by the late Dr. Tom Oden in his book Turning Around the Mainline as he dedicated over 30 pages to beating the Trust Clause. The trust clause has longtime been a bane in conservative evangelical church’s side as it keeps cooler heads prevailing and hundreds of churches weathering temporary storms and remaining United Methodist.
It remains to be seen how many churches will try these approaches, but they all will have the Wesleyan Covenant Association on speed-dial.
One Final Question
One more note is that the three names on the “Board of Directors” are wholly expected:
- Keith Boyette, current President of the WCA and author of two plans for the schism of The United Methodist Church.
- Brian Collier, who is now no longer a United Methodist Elder, having given up his credentials when he took his congregation and their $9million property from the Mississippi Annual Conference.
- Thomas Lambrecht, Vice President of the Good News caucus group and occasional commenter on this blog (hi Tom!).
So the final question is this: given the evidence above, at what point do we:
- stop identifying the Wesleyan Covenant Association as a caucus group within United Methodism, and
- start identifying them as a loosely-structured takeover denomination within United Methodism?
While nothing in the document is earth-shattering, every drop contributes to Hacking Christianity’s river of posts over the past 18 months that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is not what their closely manicured image professes to say.
We will keep vigilant, and I hope you share our work with colleagues or friends considering an affiliation.
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