In a leadership seminar I attended several years ago, a speaker observed how preachers are quick to attack dangers other churches might face, but not so quick to point out internal threats.
For example, a fundamentalist preacher will attack liberal theology in the church down the street, but is much less likely to explore the harmful effects of dogmatism. Or a Pentecostal preacher might decry other Christians’ inability to speak in tongues, but be far less likely to consider the dangerous side of what John Wesley called “enthusiasm.”
We need to focus more on those matters close to home, the speaker said. With that in mind, I thought I would take a moment to express what I think the WCA’s greatest internal threat may be.
I can sum it up in one word: “Conflation.” As Christians, we are always in danger of mixing the secular and the sacred, the world and the church. As WCA members, we must be careful not to mix American politics into our group’s mission.
I’ve already seen some evidence of this happening in online forums. As we might expect, some of our WCA supporters also are politically active as American conservatives, rallying behind our current president and his causes.
In mid-January, President Trump made some derogatory remarks regarding immigrants and their countries of origin. The exact words he said were debatable, but no one contested that he had used dehumanizing language to describe people in the developing world. The WCA, taking a scriptural stance, rejected the president’s statements, preaching truth into the ongoing debate.
As I watched reactions online, I was surprised at how the WCA statement confused some of the conservative United Methodist Church members watching us, people who apparently presumed the WCA is some sort of religious arm of an American political movement.
The WCA is not, of course. No political party does a great job of standing for what is biblical, so there cannot be direct ties between what politicians want and what the WCA seeks.
These kinds of conflicts between conservative political positions and scriptural thinking could happen again, particularly when we consider the unpredictable nature of our current president. Let’s be careful, folks.
The WCA has its spokespeople and news releases, but individual members witness to what we’re trying to accomplish, too. We don’t want careless conflation by our own members to pull the WCA off message, particularly as we near the time for United Methodist annual conferences and other forums for debate.
The WCA is part of the body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to stand for scriptural authority. We also are so global that it would be short-sighted to think there could be a pairing of our mission with American politics. The African bishops and pastors encouraging the WCA serve as glorious evidence of how we exist beyond national boundaries.
Additionally, we do not want to fall into the trap church progressives desperately want to set. In mid-March, UM Insight ran an article that categorized the WCA and other advocacy groups as part of an evangelical takeover, one practicing an “unholy marriage with politics.”
The progressives wish this were true, as it places our conflict on the secular playing field where they feel comfortable. Seeing them out there waiting, we shouldn’t even get off the bus.
As members of the WCA, we are bound by one basic idea: The Holy Bible authoritatively expresses the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The global church has trusted this idea for centuries, letting Scripture guide us into lives of discipleship. The power of the Holy Spirit to bring change to people’s lives through Scripture has never diminished.
We are so much more than politics.
Chuck Griffin is an ordained elder in the Hiwassee District.