The seeds for the Wesleyan Covenant Association have been growing for a long time. It’s important to trace the efforts which have led to its creation of a new Wesleyan denomination.
1966: One Against the Many
The WCA consistently uses narratives of institutional oppression, “one against the many” and rallying language of minority status. This is a throwback to its origins in the 1960s.
Rev. Charles Keysor was the originator of the Good News Magazine and eventual caucus group for conservative advocacy in The United Methodist Church. His first article (calling for the creation of Good News) was a 1966 article entitled “Methodism’s Silent Minority: A Voice For Orthodoxy”
Orthodoxy seems destined to remain as Methodism’s silent minority. Here lies the challenge: We who are orthodox must become the un-silent minority! Orthodoxy must shed its “poor cousin” inferiority complex and enter forthrightly into the current theological debate. We who are orthodox must boldly declare our understanding of Christian truth, as God has given these convictions to us. We must speak in love and with prophetic fearlessness, and must be prepared to suffer.
Keysor’s article was a rallying cry for who he perceived to be an ideological group that he could claim minority status. For straight white men, ideological minorities are the only form of a minority that they can often claim. In the days before the Internet made such connections easily, Keysor made it possible for folks of a particular ideology to gather arguments and become convicted by shared value literature. This became the Good News Magazine, published out of his basement and now housed out of a megachurch in Texas.
In order to galvanize his minority group, they needed to target and antagonize other minority groups. In 1974, in an editorial in Good News Magazine titled “Confronting the Cults,” Keysor lays out his opposition to minority groups doing theology informed by their identity:
“One of the most common forms of humanism is minority mania–the preoccupation by the church with minorities which represent only a small fraction of the whole membership…this variety of humanism replaces God as the primary object of love and concern with “sexist” obsession and “racist” obsession over being white, black, yellow, red, or brown-skinned.
The opposition to “minority mania” continues from 1974 to today as the Renewal and Reform Coalition members regularly criticize feminist, womanist, latino and black liberation, queer, and other theologies that speak about God out of their ethnicity, gender, and identity instead of in spite of them. While clearly there are significant numbers of ethnic minorities and women who are part of the Reform and Renewal Coalition today, that doesn’t negate the Coalition’s suspicion of those who do theology primarily from those identities.
In conclusion, the predecessors and current largest reform group supporting the WCA is an ideologically driven coalition of like-mindedness operating in The United Methodist Church. It began by bullying other minority groups in a “Lord of the Flies” attempt to create power in The UMC, much like the “minority” Traditionalists have repeatedly attacked LGBTQ inclusion advocates (a much smaller minority party in The UMC).
1970s: Withholding Denominational Support
Since The UMC began, this like-minded movement began to antagonize not just other minority groups but the institution of United Methodism itself, both by withholding church tithes and eventually creating a parallel denomination.
It became a regular tactic of those opposed to LGBT Inclusion in the UMC to withhold or threaten to withhold Apportionments. ( see previous post )
- In 1969, the United Methodist student magazine motive published an article on LGBT issues. Local churches withheld their apportionments in protest (or threatened to withhold) and eventually motive magazine was removed from the GBHEM and made into an independent entity. It lasted two more issues and then folded.
- In 1979, five Nashville-area churches withheld their apportionments in protest of the GBOD’s “Sexuality Forums” which included videos on LGBT issues. The forums were then dissolved at the 1980 General Conference.
- In 1990, Bethany UMC in Eastern PA conference withheld its apportionments in protest of a abortion-related issue , donating that money instead to a pregnancy crisis center for one or two years.
- In 1998, First UMC in Marietta, Georgia, at the insistence of the IRD’s UMAction rightwing advocacy, decided to withhold its apportionments to the general church agencies (ie. General Administration, World Service Fund, MEF, etc) in response to the Jimmy Creech trial and its own “special task force” in its church that researched and cataloged all the doctrinal breaches of the meta-church leadership
- They resumed their apportionments that same year after further review of the finances of the General Agencies and the news report includes a comment that “UMAction had their facts incorrect.” Now THAT’s a news flash! Ha!
- In 2004, St. Peters UMC in the North Carolina conference sent a letter to their new bishop threatening to withhold apportionments due to sexuality disagreements.
- In 2011, as a response to the clergy who pledged to offer same-sex marriages, the authors of the FaithfulUMC petition repeatedly threatened that if the Bishops did not condemn those clergy that the denominations’ largest churches will begin withholding apportionments.
- In 2014, among other churches, Mt. Bethel UMC in Georgia withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments and pledged to withhold the entirety of its 2015 apportionment in response to what they believed to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination.
- In 2019, the Wesleyan Covenant Association created the Central Conference Fund, a container for churches to withhold their apportionments and funnel that money to the WCA directly.
For decades, those affiliated with the Renewal and Reform coalition (Good News and other conservative organizations) have withheld denominational money in attempts to prosecute and antagonize other minorities (mostly LGBTQ inclusion advocates). And now in 2020, they want to take the money from these denominational structures to form their own anew.
1980s: Shadow Denomination Structures
The 1980s were an explosion of traditionalist efforts to operate parallel denominational resources without oversight or accountability.
Through the Mission Society ( 1984 parallel to the General Board of Global Missions), Bristol House Books ( 1987 parallel to Abingdon), and the RENEW network ( 1989 tiny supplemental parallel to UM Women), traditionalists created a parallel structure that provided books, women’s fellowship, and missionaries for congregations to support outside of United Methodist oversight, accountability, or connectional leadership. The parallel entities in the 1980s gave the narrative that they were to support the persecuted, downtrodden conservative minority.
After being quiet for two decades, during the past seven years, the ratcheting up of conservative alternative entities has intensified. The Methodist Crossroads ( 2014 ), Seedbed ( 2012 – which later took the ashes of Bristol Books under its wings), New Room Conference ( 2014 – to sell Seedbed books & promote their speakers), and now the Wesleyan Covenant Association ( March 2016 ) all came about during this same period. The past seven years have consolidated the gains and efforts of the 1980s into a parallel network of missionaries, books, revival meetings, and seminaries, with the WCA to rule them all …and in the darkness, bind them.
For decades, those affiliated with the Renewal and Reform coalition (Good News and other conservative organizations) have created a parallel infrastructure to The United Methodist Church, siphoning donations, talent, pastors and laity away from UMC causes and authority and to their own. And now in 2020, they want to take the money from these denominational structures to form their own anew.
Interlude: The IRD’s attack on social witness
I don’t have nearly enough pixels to write about the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s decades-long attack on The UMC, which began in 1981.
Basically, a group including prominent neo-conservative Catholics started an organization to target three protestant denominations and undermine their social witness. As the video of their history tells us, if they could destroy the organized social witness of the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and United Methodists, they could strike a blow to all the social justice struggles in America.
I cannot spend time here today, but this stream is an important one to understand the raw amount of money and antagonism that has gone into undermining United Methodism in ways far more substantial than LGBTQ inclusion advocates ever have.
Watch the video. Get informed.
2004: the WCA as a means to an end
A 2004 strategy document (that we previously discussed here) names a variety of ways how Good News (remember them from 1966?) could transform The United Methodist Church to their liking.
One of their five pathways was Voluntary Departure–which became 12 years later the Wesleyan Covenant Association–which had like-minded churches leave The UMC as “a new formal network” for a new denomination.
However, this pathway was undesirable because:
“It may require some congregations to leave their property behind (although one hopes a large enough critical mass of those departing could work around this problem). It also leaves the United Methodist denomination somewhat intact, with the accumulation of resources to potentially continue for decades on a progressively revisionist track.”
The UMC is so offensive to this group that leaving is not enough, it must be destroyed. So this tactic had to be changed to allow the exiting group to take as much money as possible from the UMC.
Hence the WCA’s support of the Indianapolis Plan, especially the amendments on asset division: they need to take as much money, people, and property from The UMC so that the leftovers are less able to advocate for social justice for other minorities.
2016: the seeds of a new denomination
Finally, the founding documents of The WCA, which were filed before the 2016 General Conference, leave out any mention of United Methodism in their legal documents, even though they added that in the public framing of their organization. Read more here.
In 2019, the WCA has created its own Book of Discipline, its own fund for Central Conferences, and many of the seeds to be able to receive the millions of dollars in siphoned funds if the Indianapolis Plan is passed.
The narrative of by the Wesleyan Covenant Association is they are the triumphant majority within United Methodism that wants to separate themselves from the wayward minority. We should just be at peace and go our separate ways.
But tracing the published history of this perspective in The UMC yields a different one: one of a minority group which laid siege to United Methodism, withheld money, people, property, and participation in connectionalism, biding their time and raising the temperature in the church until it boiled over in 2019, and now they are the best placed to seize the super-majority of a denomination’s resources in a crisis they created, leaving the burned-out husk aside.
It is important to frame this history accurately and outline the myriad efforts over the years to lead us to this moment. And to ask both supporters and wallflowers alike if the ends justify the means. These questions must be asked now, because to the victor goes the spoils in 2020, and then any questions of ethics of how the money got to their coffers will be silenced.
It is less a peaceful separation than a takeover and expulsion of progressive social witness from the world stage by ending a global denomination–a global denomination that progressives and conservatives created together that Traditionalists (and Liberationists) want to render asunder.
All is not without hope, and we’ll return to the hopeful efforts in another post (this one is far too long). But a clear analysis of how history is in conflict with the current narratives was needed today.
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