by Chris Ritter
There is a new movement developing about which everyone in the church should be wary. While claiming to be faithful to the church, they are starting an organization that could potentially replace it. Like modern-day Pharisees, they promote a purification of our otherwise diverse and intentionally middle-of-the-road brand of Christianity. This organization is actually charging dues, which can do nothing but suck money from the coffers of our shared ministries. There are troubling associations between this group and those who have been destructively critical of the church in the past. They seem to downplay the resources of our official publishing houses in favor of their own. Those that don’t agree with the positions of their group are not even allowed in the door. This sort of thing is dangerous, potentially divisive, and can only lead the simple-minded astray. Faithful members of the church should remain very skeptical of this new movement if not oppose it outright.
Sound familiar? It should. These are the talking points of the critics of John Wesley and the early Methodists. The Eighteenth Century produced a plethora of Anti-Methodist literature aimed at warning faithful Anglicans and people of reason against what they perceived as a fanatical and divisive movement that could only do harm to an already struggling church.
In his sermon “On the Ministerial Office”, Wesley styled the Methodist preachers as “As extraordinary messengers, raised up to provoke the ordinary ones to jealousy.” And jealous they were. I suppose it is human nature to throw rocks at something we fear, or don’t completely understand. As he built an organization that transformed nations, Wesley spent a great deal of his time answering both official statements of concern by church leadership as well as swatting away a continuous volley of heckles from the cheap seats. (The blogosphere of his day came in the form of hastily printed pamphlets.)
You may also recognize the talking points of the Anti-Methodists in posts preemptively critical of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. (See here, here, here, and here for a few examples.) These authors seem to completely miss the historic irony of Methodists discounting the potential value of a renewal organization rising up to stand next to an established ecclesial body. Methodism itself was founded as exactly this sort of parallel organization. The United Societies sprung from the Evangelical Revival in England as a movement promoting vibrant Christian ministry, faithful to scripture and deeply committed to both social and personal holiness.
There are those that build and those that critique. Both have their roles. (Constructive critique is actually quite valuable and welcome.) Made to choose, I would rather be among the Builders. That is how Wesley expended his enormous efforts. He was willing to take the arrows that are invariably aimed at leaders. As one voice committed to both the UMC and WCA, I choose to believe that the best days of the Wesleyan Movement still lay ahead. I am eager to partner with like-minded folks who want to discover that future together… even as our denomination chooses its course.
So let the new Anti-Methodists fire away. Those preparing for future electronic pamphleteering may consider these additional proven Eighteenth Century themes:
- “The Conveners of the Movement: Suspicious Characters All”
- “The Sinister Hidden Meaning Behind The Movement’s Seemingly Innocuous Public Statements”
- “How One Cherry-Picked Gospel Verse Proves that Jesus Would Never Be Part of Something Like This”
- “One Person’s Brave Journey Toward Deciding Not to Join the Organization”
- “The Bad Behavior of Someone that was Seen at the Organization’s Meeting”
- “Behind Closed Doors the Organization is Secretly and Deservedly Falling Apart”
- “The Autocratic Dictatorship of __________ (insert name of whoever is elected to lead)”
- “How Most People are Leaving the Organization (Even though Numbers are Going Up)”
- And, of course: “Who Do Those People Think They Are, Anyway?”
As for the rest of you, I hope to #seeyouinchicago.
Note: Pictured above is “Enthusiasm Delineated”, a 1761 print by William Hogarth. He depicts a preacher in a Methodist meetinghouse before a maniac audience. The preacher suspends puppets styled from classic religious art.
OMG, you GOT me! When I began reading I thought, “Oh, no, not another one taking cheap shots at the WCA.” Excellent job putting this together! And I hope the WCA ends up being as consequential for the spread of the gospel as the original Wesleyan movement. See you in Chicago!
I wish I could be there but cost is prohibitive. I will be praying for those present and those of us who are of like mind and heart but cannot be there. God bless.
The problem is not UMC’s alone but all Wesleyan denominations. Hoping there is strong support for the New Room.
As one of the authors you cite I will gladly acknowledge that I’m opposed to the WCA and point out that my opposition is grounded in none of the points you mention in the first paragraph. If the purpose is truly renewal of the denomination it would seem like any of the several “renewal” groups would accomplish the purpose. Instead we have a new group, one that originally had an extremist view of Scripture before redefining their position a few weeks later (extraordinary in itself as a group with a high view of Scripture), that excludes all LGBT individuals from equal protection (even those who are celibate), and that has (intentionally or unintentionally) already marginalized women. I continue to maintain that the comparison to the ACNA is a strong one, and one that should concern 90% of United Methodists.
Thanks for the comment, David. The draft statement on scripture was updated in July when the first WCA planning group convened. The original was problematic and needed updating. Your statements on scripture are also problematic and need to be revised. You write:
“The United Methodist, and Biblical, view is not that the Bible is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). This is not a superficial difference. Scripture points to the Word of God, which is our true final authority.”
We say that God speaks to us through the Bible, that it’s God’s Word. This authority derives from three sources:
We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired, that they were filled with God’s Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.
We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life’s present realities.”
Will you revise your statement on scripture? I hope so.
As to the status of LGBTQI folks in WCA, it is the same as the official statements of the UMC. I understand that you disagree with what the church says, but not enough to end your voluntary affiliation or to renounce your vows to uphold what we believe.
I don’t find your arguments about women at all convincing. The clergy in your local church are 100% male. Does that make your congregation 100% committed to marginalizing women? WCA has very clear statements affirming women in ministry. Female leadership is honored on all levels in WCA.
I like you personally, David, but I don’t think your three posts maintain the quality of discourse we need in this hour. Peace to you.
Chris, my statement on Scripture is consistent with our UMC principles, specifically our Articles as I believe I cite in my post. I suggest that our Doctrinal Standards hold more authority than the editor of our web page. Further, the WCA statement on Scripture was not updated. It was replaced. An update or revision would make sense. A complete rewrite from an extreme view to, frankly, a very moderate view needs some explanation.
If you would like to simply affirm the current status of LGBT individuals I would think you could do the same with our statements on Scripture, which are much more fundamental to both our Wesleyan tradition and to what I hear most traditionalists refer to as the real issue that we face. The WCA has an opportunity to affirm in a statement what supposedly the traditionalists believe – that our concern is not about orientation, but about practice. You have chosen instead to have a statement on equality that specifically excludes the group that there is the most concern about. I would not expect a statement affirming practice, obviously, but the traditionalist talks out of both sides of their mouth when saying it’s all about practice and at the same refusing to grant equality to those who are celibate.
Regarding women, I have one associate pastor on staff who is a woman. I previously had an additional part-time associate who also was a woman. But even if it was an all-male pastoral staff I think we can agree that a sample size of 2 is a little different than a sample size of 55. As I stated in my blog, I’m not a fan of quotas. But 7 of 55? You’ve got to be kidding me.
I like you too, Chris. If you are an author of the WCA material you are capable of much better work. I stand by my statements in their entirety.
Just more evidence of the division in the world today–not just in the UMC but in the church at large. Lord, help us! With such division in the name of inclusion, we know we’re getting close to Revelation’s events being played out before our very eyes. Anyone who believes wholly in The Bible as the inerrant Word of God has an obligation to stand up for It and for its Author and His Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. There’s no room for politics there! We who believe that God’s Worth is Truth are guided by the Holy Spirit in our firm stance for adhering to the black-and-white (not gray) Word! I pray that God’s will be done in our church at large; and if His will is for our UMC to split so that some of us may worship knowing that we are following His truth and not watering down Scripture by using it according to our own personal interpretations, then we’re ready to go the way of following the Lord’s lead! If the split doesn’t happen, then there will be many leaving the UMC.
Excellent, Dr. Ritter. Thank you.
Thanks Dr Ritter and yes you will see me in Chicago. The time is now!!
As a single, celibate clergywoman, I’d like to insert a word of caution to the WCA. Currently in The United Methodist Church (and most protestant churches), I believe MARRIAGE is viewed as the ideal state for adult Christians, and celibate single folks are almost always pitied rather than honored. Could our over-emphasis on the value of marriage be part of the reason gay folks want to be “married”?
I would like to see the WCA explore ways to bring honor to those who choose to be celibate, I would like to see celibacy honored, supported, and maybe even celebrated. It would be wonderful if some of the WCA leaders are single, celibate Christians.
In what ways would your abstract description linking the WCA to Wesley’s movement NOT also be acceptable as a description by the RMN?
Interesting question. Thanks for taking time to read and ask it. I am sure there are those in RMN that would see themselves in that light. I have heard from one or two of them and would defend their right to make that assertion. There seems to me to be abundant evidence pointing to the fact that what John Wesley was trying to do was fundamentally different than what my friends in the reconciling community are advocating for. Having an extended dialog about this from both sides would very likely help us better define our Methodist DNA. We might find that our view of the past is as divided as our hopes for the future. Maybe not…
Bottom line. Any clergy who takes their ordination is agreeing to the discipline. therefore, those many who have come out as gay were being deceitful and lying from the beginning. We know who the father of lies is. I have no need for someone whose greatest passion is their sex drive. We need pastors whose passion is the Lord.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Bill. Most openly gay folks would say their sex drive is not higher than anyone else’s. However, there is a significant spiritual issue at stake when we consider whether and how our human-constructions of sexual identity should be subjugated to our identity in Christ. When we are baptized, all lesser identities (like race, gender, nationality, and sexuality) are swallowed up into our identity in Christ. Thanks again for offering your thoughts.