While deploring cultural accommodation, the WCA caucus group has embraced some of the worst aspects of American culture. This week: hypocrisy.
To Become the Villain
It happens all the time in the secular world: the people with full-throated opposition to a policy or people group end up being a part of that people group. The church is no different. Antigay preachers like Ted Haggard are found to be gay themselves , or like Kenneth Adkins who said terrible things about gays at the Pulse nightclub shootings are convicted of horrendous sexual sins .
As Harvey Dent, the hero prosecutor who became a murderous villain, says in the Batman movie The Dark Knight:
Sometimes you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
When it comes to The Wesleyan Covenant Association , we see that in a mere six months of their official existence, they and their allies have fallen into embracing exactly the patterns of conduct they previously condemned.
In two recent situations, the WCA either used an argument they accused an opponent of making, or they are undertaking an action they previously ascribed to an opponent.
Let’s see how this plays out.
Don’t prejudge the WCA–But WCA can prejudge Centrists.
The first area where the WCA is not practicing what they preach is how they are treating an emerging centrist group with two named participants including Rev. James Harnish and Rev. Tom Berlin. There hasn’t been any press releases or detailed beliefs of this group–or even a -name- –but that hasn’t stopped two WCA affiliates from discussing them.
- Rev. Dr. David Watson, academic dean at United Theological Seminary, waded in against Harnish’s blog, insinuating the group would be promoting the Local Option, then arguing against it (again).
- Rev. Chris Ritter, pastor in Illinois Great Rivers, wrote on the WCA blog that he expected a Local Option from this group and placed Harnish and Berlin in various categories without seeing the substance from the group.
That’s fine for them to criticize a group. That’s well within their right. However, offering judgments or condemnations of a group before it is formed was precisely what BOTH of these men criticized others for doing before the WCA inaugural conference in October.
- Watson said that “Charitable readings of one another’s intentions are in short supply” when defending the WCA from advance criticism .
- Ritter criticized four Methodist pastors (myself included) for preemptively writing on the WCA before their October meeting.
- Numerous comments on my blogs and others said to “wait to be judgmental” when it came to the WCA. But if conversation on the Facebook Group UMClergy is any indication, that call for charitable engagement is not being heeded when it isn’t of their own “Tribe.”
In short, the Wesleyan Covenant Association members lambasted non-supportive commentary on their movement before their inaugural event, but they have no problem issuing the same critiques on another group before they’ve even got a website, press release, or roster. Specks and planks indeed.
Local Church conflict is bad–except when it is good for the WCA
The second way is far worse than hypocrisy: it’s the effect of the WCA membership policies are having on local congregations.
I got contacted by a layperson from a church in the South that is having a vote soon on whether to join the WCA. She wasn’t asking for arguments or my writings–she had those already –she was just calling to lament that her church is being torn apart by this vote and friends are on opposing sides.
It struck me that this conflict–a local church being torn apart over a local vote–is the same argument WCA affiliates made at General Conference against the Local Option.
The Local Option was presented at General Conference 2016. The proposal would allow annual conferences to decide whether to ordain LGBTQ candidates, and allowing local churches to vote on whether to allow same-gender weddings. The arguments against it centered on that it moved the argument from General Conference and to the local church–and how terrible it would be for local churches to hold votes of which way they would go.
But now we see that the WCA is doing exactly that: ripping apart congregations by their clergy leadership holding votes on whether to join the WCA as a congregation instead of just individuals. I’m fielding calls from moderates and progressives, and I’m sure others are as well.
Doesn’t have to be this way
Chaos is being injected into communities because of careless, reckless endangerment by the membership policies and promotions by the WCA to communities who are too divided to have healthy votes on this subject.
As we discussed months ago , progressives know that the health of the congregation is paramount. Reconciling Ministries have interested churches go through a study, long process of discernment, and don’t typically hold votes until they know it will have supermajority support. It’s slow but honoring of where people are at.
The WCA was encouraged (by me) to take heed of this reality–but they are not heeding it and are full steam ahead to cause conflict at the local church level, because 51% is still a win for a pan-Methodist organization, no matter the effects on the local church.
The same conflict the WCA publicly deplored is now part of their core strategy for growth. What a turnaround that they could have easily avoided by offering a process and a method to help churches ease into the decision.
While this is unlikely, I do hope the WCA can ratchet back their scorched earth recruitment efforts, offer a path for congregations to study and affiliate, and do the right thing for the local church they so venerate. The health of every congregation–progressive, conservative, centrist, or regressive–is of value to me, and I hate to see good congregations be broken up by marketing strategies with poor accountability.
How to respond?
As before, this series looks at how The WCA has been publicly denouncing cultural accommodation, but internally has been absorbing and embracing some of the worst aspects of American culture. Today’s article is in the same vein as this is a common approach in secular politics: accuse someone of doing something you did so they can’t accuse you of the same.
Over the coming months until the called General Conference in 2019, congregations and individuals have a choice.
- They can wait and see what happens with the A Way Forward process, a General Conference-approved vote, a process being held with regular, transparent updates, with elected members voting for the future.
- Or they can join with a group that has proved they will say and do anything, with no constituent input or real decision-making ability, to recruit and promote themselves, with no promises they will retain affinity to the institution that gave them everything they have.
The choice is yours.
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