Last Friday, October 7th, I experienced the high privilege of participating in the first meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). It was my honor to preach at the closing communion service and share with my friend and colleague Bishop Bob Hayes in presiding over Holy Communion.
I experienced the event as a movement of the Holy Spirit. Prayer was deep. Hope was bright. A sense of the Spirit’s leading was strong. Obedience to Christ was paramount. Such prayer, hope, sense of the Spirit’s leading, and obedience to Christ remains paramount.
In writing these words I quite realize that the gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association was and is controversial. For some, the WCA is viewed as a potentially schismatic organization. Honesty compels me to acknowledge that a case can be made that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is potentially a church in waiting. Yet it is carefully worth noting that WCA is supportive of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. In point of fact, unlike some 9 Annual Conferences, the WCA upholds the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. The WCA is active in searching for a meaningful new unity.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association statement of purpose notes: “The association is a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from across The United Methodist Church, committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the uncertain future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.”
While facing the possibility of future schism, the opening meeting Wesleyan Covenant Association shared a commitment to give the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward an opportunity to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Like the rest of the church, this is not a blank check to support whatever the Commission proposes but rather an opportunity to allow space for a new kind of unity.
We need something greater than a tepid statement of vague theological tolerance. If we are too rigid, boundaries will strangle us as a denomination and we will lose our cardinal focus on the cross of Christ and the redeeming grace of the Lord active in our midst. Without meaningful theological and ethical boundaries, the United Methodist will dissolve into cultural flotsam. In its theological statement, the WCA is benefiting the whole church by calling us back to the central issue of reclaiming our core Christian theology. For those who believe the theological and ethical boundaries are wrongly drawn, a serious debate on what constitutes the core of the Christian faith is blessing to the whole church. At its heart, the issue before us is not (ultimately) about human sexuality but rather is a dispute about what accurately constitutes the core of the Christian faith and the essence of United Methodism. To be united is to share a common doctrine, discipline and mission (which includes methodological coherence).
At its heart, I believe we need to recover a high Christology and a deep doctrinal emphasis on the cross of Christ. For myself I stand with the Apostle Paul and witness of Holy Scripture. In my closing sermon at the WCA gathering, I shared again the great testimony of faith from the Word of the Lord to the Church at Corinth (and in Central Texas!). “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:22-24).
For myself as Bishop of the Central Texas Conference, the Fort Worth Episcopal Area, I wish to be publically clear that I believe it is important across the theological spectrum to give the Commission an opportunity to offer a new way forward. I continue to pray daily for the United Methodist Church and its future under the Lordship of Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we together walk with Christ!