Note: This is a post in response to an article written by Rev. Paul Kottke in the Rocky Mountain Conference News concerning his impressions of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. It will be helpful to read his critique before reading my rejoinder.
The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies of all time. This fairy tale about a beautiful princess, a dashing hero, a giant, an evil prince, and some colorful sidekicks always makes me smile, but one of the best parts about the movie is that it is eminently quotable in a variety of situations. Sending the church staff out at the end of a staff meeting? “Have fun storming the castle!” Got some bad news to deliver? “Chocolate coating makes it go down easier.” Trying to impress a potential mate? “Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”
Inigo Montoya, the Spanish swordsman, gets a lot of the best lines—most famously his practiced revenge speech for day he meets the six-fingered man who murdered his father: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But while that’s the quote everyone loves, there’s another that I find even more useful. When his boss, the nefarious Sicilian named Vizzini, keeps using the word “inconceivable” to describe situations that are, in fact, conceivable, Inigo looks at him thoughtfully and says:
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I will be attending the first gathering of the newly formed Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) on October 7 in Chicago, along with a “remnant” of orthodox colleagues in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference. The recent election in the Western Jurisdiction and appointment of an openly lesbian bishop to our annual conference have raised the stakes for those of us who serve in the West and in other jurisdictions and annual conferences that are in open defiance of our Discipline.
I have been excited to watch the formation of the WCA as a unified voice for orthodox United Methodists. Nearly a thousand have already registered to attend the one-day gathering, but very little has been said about what will actually take place on October 7. There is great anticipation that this meeting could be a watershed moment for United Methodism, but I also sense an equal amount of skepticism that the gathering will simply be a continuation of the strategies of the various orthodox renewal movements that have been part of the UMC for the past several decades. Groups like Good News and the Confessing Movement have done good work holding the line, lobbying for traditional doctrine and discipline in the church, and acting as a voice for orthodoxy in the midst of the denominational leadership’s continuous left turns toward a progressive theological unitarianism. Recent events, however, have indicated that the time for lobbying, politicking, and voting has passed.
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TLUMC Church Family,
The Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church met July 13-16, 2016 in Scottsdale, AZ. The primary purpose of the jurisdictional conference is to elect and assign bishops to annual conferences within the jurisdiction. The jurisdictional conference meets every four years and, this year, there was one opening for a bishop. Bishops are elected by a slate of delegates from each annual conference in the jurisdiction.
On July 15, the Western Jurisdiction took the unprecedented step of electing a married lesbian, Karen Oliveto, pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, as its new bishop. On July 16, they assigned her as the resident Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area (which includes our Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference). This election took place despite our denomination’s Book of Discipline and its express prohibitions against “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” serving as clergy in the UMC. Essentially, the Western Jurisdiction decided to set aside the rules established by the UMC General Conference, which sets the Book of Discipline. A request has been submitted to our denominational Judicial Council, the church’s version of the Supreme Court, for a ruling on the validity of this election. That ruling will likely be presented in late October of 2016.
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(Wesley’s words are in bold).
10. BECAUSE the Experiment has been so frequently tried already, and the success has never answer’d the Expectation. GOD has since the Reformation raised up from Time to Time many Witnesses of pure Religion. If these lived and died (like John Arndt, Robert Bolton, and many others) in the Churches to which they belonged, notwithstanding the Wickedness which overlowed both the Teachers and People therein; they spread the Leaven of true Religion far and wide, and were more and more useful, ’till they went to Paradise. But if upon any Provocation or Consideration whatever, they separated, and founded distinct Parties, their Influence was more and more confined; they grew less and less useful to others, and generally lost the Spirit of Religion themselves in the Spirit of Controversy:
We, too, are in danger of losing “the Spirit of Religion” in the “Spirit of Controversy.” We’ve seen it happen too many times, even in our Methodist tradition. We’ve seen splinter group after splinter group, with narrower and narrower expressions that tend to breed controversy from generation to generation and increasing levels of schism on one issue or another. To quote Rosanne Rosannadanna, “It just goes to show you that it’s always something.” Separation means that our influence is more insular and more confined. It means that the great common mission projects that we have mutually supported for many years will suffer and wither. Wesley didn’t want to be just another sect, he wanted to change the world. What we need is not another denomination, but a new Methodist movement. More on that later.
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(Wesley’s words are in bold)
7. BECAUSE, whereas Controversy is now asleep, and we in great Measure live peaceably with all Men, so that we are strangely at Leisure to spend our whole Time and Strength, in enforcing plain, practical, vital Religion, (O what would many of our Forefathers have given, to have enjoyed so blessed a Calm?) This would utterly banish Peace from among us, and that without Hope of its Return. It would engage me for one, in a thousand Controversies, both in Publick and Private; (for I should be in Conscience obliged to give the Reasons of my Conduct, and to defend those Reasons against all Opposers) and so take me off from those more useful Labours, which might otherwise employ the short Remainder of my Life:
I am not in agreement with the direction the majority in my annual conference have gone on many issues, but I have also not been persecuted for my beliefs. Controversy is certainly not “asleep,” but I have always been “at Leisure to spend [my] whole Time and Strength in enforcing plain, practical, vital Religion.” Wesley is right that compared to our apostolic “Forefathers,” and even our ecclesiastical ones, our climate for continuing to preach the gospel is still a blessed calm. Indeed, as a member of the orthodox minority whose church is growing I have many clergy colleagues and members of the Cabinet who are interested in learning from us about our process for growing disciples. Working toward separation, engaging in posting charges against other clergy, or making loud speeches and protests at conference and denominational meetings tends to “banish Peace from among us, and that without the Hope of its Return.” Wesley saw talk of separation as a quagmire of controversy that would “take [him] off from those more useful Labours which might otherwise employ the short Remainder of [his] life.” I can’t help but think the separation talk is preventing us from redeeming the time we’ve been given as well.
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