The Wesleyan Covenant Association is a group of United Methodist clergy and laity. For anyone who has heard of the WCA but is not aware of what it is, the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) stated purpose open with the following statement:
"The Wesleyan Covenant Association (“WCA”) is an association of congregations, clergy persons, and laity who desire to cooperate in the mission of the WCA to promote the ministry of the gospel from a Wesleyan theological perspective within The United Methodist Church and kindred bodies."
Like all organizations, the WCA uses particular words to define what it is. Some of the words that are most commonly used in the material that I come across are "Wesleyan", "orthodox", "evangelical", and "covenant keeping". Like any organization who defines itself, there are critics who say the WCA is claiming sole ownership of what it means to be, say, "Wesleyan" or "orthodox." I am thankful for the WCA giving members of the UMC to consider again what it means to be "evangelical" and/or "covenant keeping." Just as the no one Church has the exclusive rights to claim "Christian" so to the WCA does not have exclusive rights to a number of other defining qualities of the UMC.
In all the discerning work on what it means to be Methodist, there is one descriptor the WCA uses that gives me the most concern and frankly is, from my standpoint, the cause of a great amount of tension in our world.
The WCA has a "like-minded people" (LMP) problem.
Photo Courtesy of Jason Valendy
Is surrounding ourselves with LMP a form of egocentrism?
In the WCA "statements" page the LMP problem shows up a half dozen times. In a recent video put out by the WCA, Rev. Madeline Henners lets the listener know:
“Of course everyone is welcome to attend the Wesleyan Covenant Association Conference, however I do want to make two specific invitations. The first is to pastors and congregations of small to medium-sized churches. Depending on which conference you’re located in, sometimes you may feel like your voice is not heard or even dismissed. We want you to know that your voice matters to the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I’d also like to personally invite any young clergy who are in the process of being ordained or recently ordained. We want you to feel connected and supported to like-minded brothers and sisters, who not only are seeking to restore integrity to our covenant, but are seeking to belong to a vital Wesleyan movement.”
It seems that LMP is a feature and not a bug in the WCA system. I believe this to be a problem.
If the current state of U.S. politics teaches us, it is that we all are falling short and missing the mark (AKA: Sin) when we surround ourselves with only agreement. Confirmation bias is part of the human condition. However, the Church is the place that understands that the Grace of God works in and through us to open us up. The Grace of God reminds us that God loves all people – even if they are not like-minded.
I am working to repent of the LMP in my own life. I have subscribed to a web browser extension (Escape Your Bubble) which puts news stories from "the other side" directly into my Facebook feed. I have begun to access most of my news from allsides.com - "Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant." Finally, I have been intentional on listening with curiosity to people in my congregation that have a completely different values than I do.
Lent is the season to repent. It is the season to embrace, once again, a humble posture to the reality that we see through a mirror only dimly. It is the season to die to self and be reborn (not just a change of heart but a completely new heart).
Can Lent 2017 be the time we cure our LMP problem?
The Rev. Jason Valendy, along with his wife the Rev. Estee Valendy, serves as co-pastor of Saginaw United Methodist Church in Saginaw, Texas. He blogs at JasonValendy.net, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.