First — this apology to my non-United Methodist friends and readers. We United Methodists are amid some “denominational challenges” just now. I have written this letter as a way to encourage some of our more traditional and conservative leaders to answer five questions about their purposes and basic intentions. You see, I fear this “new effort” known as the Wesleyan Covenant Association in North America is merely a building of a highway for schism among folks in our denomination divided by our views around homosexuality. My prayer is that raising these questions may help identify some of the distortions often made by these, my friends, who claim to be more “Biblical, evangelical, and Wesleyan” than others of us. Forgive this interlude in my blog entries — please check out the recent post on my embarrassing moments as a pastor. It is much more fun… and probably more enlightening.
Dear Friends of the Wesley Covenant Association,As I read the names of the founding sponsors of the Wesley Covenant Association, I know many of you — have known you for years. You have been colleagues in our work as United Methodists. You are committed pastors, known theological educators and activist organizers in the Confessing Movement and the Good News Movement in United Methodism. Now you offer a new organization, a new association. Hopefully your claim that the Wesley Covenant Association is a re-booting, a move toward re-discovery, a signal of readiness to traverse beyond the tread-worn battles of the past is true. I pray you join me in the realization that the younger, rising generation of United Methodist seems rather disinterested in a rehearsal of the same old arguments, using the same labels and categories. Our battles still may appear to be unresolved, but there is little doubt they are increasingly insignificant in the lives and faith of our grandchildren. I would be helped if you could answer five questions. They are ones asked before, at various times and places. Not yet having received an answer I repeat them now – this time with a renewed sense of urgency as I fear the WCA may be simply a laying of the predicate for a schism in our denomination.These questions of you are not rhetorical. I sincerely would like to hear from you:
If “evangelical,” what is the “good news” you share?
If “evangelical,” why so little attention to Christian experience, to personal conversion? Why so little mention of the transforming love of Jesus Christ for persons and society?
If Wesleyan, why the silence about ministry with the poor?
If uniquely “Biblical Christian,” what is the basis of scriptural interpretation? What is the hermeneutic employed?
If Wesleyan, what of John Wesley’s concern about schism and his clear guidance to learn from others who differ as expressed in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”?
Answers to these questions would help me know if I might be included in the “covenant” you seek to draw. You see, I fear your appropriation of the word “covenant” is more of a way to exclude and narrow than it is a way to a hope-filled future. It is a misdirection away from the more profound meaning of covenant that comes from scripture. The covenant, I believe we share is much broader and more profoundly enduring than that which can be restricted by a few paragraphs in the ever-shifting-language of The United Methodist Book of Discipline. Using the word “covenant” in this narrow way may be beneficial to an ecclesial political agenda. It may serve to set folks like me outside of “the elect.” I reject this use of covenant language in this way. I will not be thus separated by your linguistic legerdemain.It was after all, conservative theologian, Richard John Neuhaus, of blessed memory, who taught the essential difference between “contract” and “covenant.” Our faith covenant binds us together by something deeper and more profound than contractual language can ever contain.A contract is limited to the temporal, “quid pro quo” reality. It is an effort to control and claim exclusive authority over things that are passing, temporal. It seeks to hold us together, by our past rules, limited language and small understandings. It is a way to count up grievances and deny our commonweal. It suggests the interpretation of scripture is the exclusive possession of one party and only this view will be acceptable for all United Methodists. A “contract” seeks to limit vision, thwart new expression, block new insights walling them in to past categories and perspectives.Covenant is not contract. Covenant is God’s gift for us ALL — something that draws us into the future, TOGETHER; it is the power of God’s Spirit at work in the world and it is beyond our ability to limit this. Covenant continually ReCenters us in Christ. Bonhoeffer wrote clearly of the church being centered in Christ where boundaries drawn by those who seek to limit the expansiveness of God’s activity in the world will not hold. Believing we all belong to Christ and this is our true covenant hope, I remain, your brother,Philip Amerson