Reflections on The Wesleyan Covenant Association



The idea of a “Wesleyan Covenant” makes me nervous.  When have self-selecting groups formed from ideas of religious exclusivity turned out well?  Your plan, such as there is one, is to give people like me only one option.  Purges are easier if the dissenters are gone.  There will be no place for me in your Wesleyan Covenant Association.  I am not ordained in covenant with John Wesley or anyone in his family.  My covenant is with God.  The United Methodist Church is how I express the covenant.  If you want to create a new club, go right ahead.  No one is stopping you.

Both dysfunctional churches and scary cults form from the same concept. Remember:  Methodism doesn’t have the market on cornered on the exclusive means of salvation and personal holiness.  We have good ideas but those aren’t unique to us nor do they make us superior to others.  Exclusivity in the guise of revival and renewal is self-aggrandizing narcissism.  It’s also dangerous.  You may find ways to justify your actions in Wesleyan theology.  However, do you honestly think Jesus would be on board?  Or has John Wesley become the Blessed Virgin Mary, a perfect moderator for your vision of Jesus’ teaching?

I served Methodism’s mother churches in Britain and Ireland for four years.  I know what Methodism looks like in situ, across the tiny villages of northern England and Ireland.  It is dying, like most of religious traditions in Western Europe.  Yet, tiny class meetings, a phrase American Methodists regard as exotic and magical, continue to meet to keep their small churches alive.

Shortly after my arrival in Northern Ireland, I was attacked by a group of Catholic youth just steps from my church.  Knocked to the ground, I bled to keep the Wesleyan covenant alive in a divided Irish village.  In a move to bring peace, I walked with my attacker through a process of restorative justice to keep him out of prison.  He found treatment, therapy, and a job.  It was long and painful.  Our church committed to each step of the process.  They covenanted with me and the Catholic community.  That is a real Wesleyan covenant.  This was in a town, a church where John Wesley often preached when in Ireland.   However, this wasn’t because we were Methodist or Wesleyan.  It’s because we were followers of the risen Christ.  We happened to be Methodist.  Yes, our numbers were small but this didn’t matter.  Most of our neighbors were Roman Catholic, who cared?  Our covenants, made to God (not John Wesley) at our Baptisms were alive and well.

Methodism isn’t a hobby or I thing I do on vacation.  It’s my life.  I’ve spent a third of my professional career in the British and Irish Methodist churches.  I’ve served churches Wesley planted.  I took my family to Northern Ireland at considerable risk so we might be Methodists in a different time and place.  Yet, I cannot make the Wesleyan Covenant.  I will not join the covenant.  It’s got nothing to do with my “Methodist” credentials.

I can’t join the WCA because I’m not “Orthodox” enough.  I’m too nice to gay people.  I think they ought to be able to get married in the church and be ordained.  I believe Jesus, if he were among us today, would be ok with gay people being fully integrated in the life of the church.  John Wesley might not.  Here’s the thing, I value Jesus’ opinion much higher than I do John Wesley’s.  Sorry John.  This doesn’t mean we’re breaking up.  I’m just really in love with Jesus.


3 thoughts on “Reflections on The Wesleyan Covenant Association

  1. Richard, this is heartfelt, but I think you’ve buried the lead. I’d like to move these two sentences to the top for UM Insight:

    The idea of a “Wesleyan Covenant” makes me nervous. When have self-selecting groups formed from ideas of religious exclusivity turned out well?

    Then the post would continue as written. Let me know if this is OK with you. Thanks!

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