By Rowland S. Buck
I have been a United Methodist my whole life. My great-great-great grandfather was a Methodist preacher. My father was a Methodist preacher. I have been born and raised in the Methodist Church.
So, the schism we experience now, the divide that has been building for several decades, is heart-wrenching to me. In mid-2016, after the last General Conference, I started hearing about the Wesleyan Covenant Association from United Methodist pastors I had grown to admire and respect, people like Maxie Dunnam, Jeff Greenway and others.
I have heard more than one person level the charge that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a divisive group that should be avoided. Most of us want to avoid a confrontation and will remain silent so as to not drive wedges or choose sides. I was leery of the same thing.
I do not want to tear the church a part. I do not want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution. At times I have bitten my tongue and tried to keep the peace. I have also allowed myself to be drawn into unproductive arguments to my frustration, and even embarrassment. So why would I join and support the Wesleyan Covenant Association?
After the 2016 General Conference, I, like many others, came to the obvious conclusion that we were in schism. We have ordained clergy who either did not believe their ordination vows when they took them or have since changed their minds about them without any accountability. We have consecrated bishops that had no intention of upholding our Discipline, even defying it.
We have allowed clergy, bishops, local churches, annual conferences, and even an entire jurisdiction to promote doctrines contrary to our Discipline with no consequences. We are divided. The name “United Methodist” has become an oxymoron.
The Church that nurtured me in the faith from baptism to ordination into the daily work of ministry is in trouble. I have been focusing on the trouble. I was guilty of negativity and complaining. I was focused more on what’s wrong than what’s right, letting those attitudes become my default.
That is not what I want! I want to call the church back to her first love. I want to promote faithfulness to the doctrines of the church that explain to us the transforming grace of God. I also want a better vision of the future.
If the next 40 years of the United Methodist Church are to be like the last 40, then count me out. I want something different. I want to hear somebody talk about becoming an authentically Wesleyan, orthodox, Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, Kingdom-seeking, disciple-making movement, one God can use to transform the world.
That’s what I heard in October of 2016 at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s first gathering in Chicago. I heard hope. I heard the articulation of a vision for a vibrant future, not just for a troubled denomination, but for a troubled world.
In the words of William J. Abraham, it is the vision of “a Methodism that will be missionary oriented, open to the full working of the Holy Spirit, unapologetically orthodox, sacramentally robust, and committed to justice and the care of the needy.” (From the forward to A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future, p. ix.)
I know there are those who disagree with that vision – or at least the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s articulation of it. That’s fine. I’m not going to be in a bad mood about it. I don’t want to argue or debate it.
I have realized I want something different. I want something that feels like a heart strangely warmed. I want something that has the power to give the world hope.
I want to know my sins are forgiven and to offer that transformation to others. I want to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. And I want a church that supports those ideas. In Chicago in October of 2016, for the first time in a long time, I gathered with over 1,000 Methodists that wanted the same thing.
That’s why I joined the Wesleyan Covenant Association. If we describe something you want too, I invite you to join us.