Young Clergywomen Refute Wesleyan Covenant Video
March 6, 2017
By Cynthia B. Astle, United Methodist Insight Editor
Nearly 220 young United Methodist clergywomen have issued a statement refuting the claims of a new video from the conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association that is intended to sway the deliberations of the Commission on A Way Forward.
According to the clergywomen's statement, John Rogers of the WCA emailed the video to "United Methodist clergy around the connection" on March 2. The video features the Rev. Madeline Carrasco Henners, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Luling, Texas, and a WCA organizer,
Asserting that it "believes in the Church," the WCA video makes three claims about the turmoil in The United Methodist Church that threatens to split the denomination over the acceptance of homosexuality:
- God is good.
- The Bible is true.
- Promises should be kept.
These simplistic claims are fleshed out with arguments that those who seek to change The United Methodist Church's current stances regarding LBGTQ people are unfaithful Christians. Rev. Henners says in the video that it will be sent to the Commission on A Way Forward in an effort to sway the group's deliberations. She also invites viewers to join the Wesleyan Covenant Association and attend its coming conference scheduled April 28-29 in Memphis, Tenn.
The clergywomen's statement refutes each of the claims of the WCA video.
Excerpts from the clergywomen's statement follow in which their responses to WCA assertions are emphasized.
"As United Methodist young clergywomen, many of us have come together to say, yes, we do believe in the Church. And yes, we believe that God is good, and that the Bible is true, and that promises should be kept--- all assertions made by the WCA in this email. That does not mean we can support the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The WCA claims to advocate on behalf of those who believe that God is good, the Bible is true, and that promises should be kept. They do not speak for us.
"... We believe in the Church, both the Church universal and The United Methodist Church. ... Unfortunately, Christ’s body is still broken in this world, and the Church, insofar as it is a human institution, is fallible and in need of redemption. ... The church continues to sin whenever it divides people from one another or prioritizes death-dealing human authority over the life-giving authority of the Holy Spirit.
"... We believe that God is good. God created us in God’s image--- all of us in the diversity of our abilities, in the diversity of our races, and in the diversity of our genders and sexualities. ... grace is what holds us accountable in our Christian walk going forward. This grace is what keeps us from thinking we can limit God's continuing work in the church and the world.
"... We believe that the Bible is true. Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Gospels are a witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and scripture tells the story of our ancestors of faith in their struggles and triumphs. ... We bring our whole selves when we read scripture, including our tradition, reason, and experience. So when we disagree with a passage from Romans by asserting that homosexuality is not shameful or unnatural, it isn’t because we don’t believe the Bible is true. Instead, we do so in a way that is faithful to the whole of scripture from Genesis to Revelation and to God’s continued revelation through the Spirit working in us today.
"... We believe in keeping our promises. The most important promises that we have ever made are those in our baptismal vows: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in Christ’s grace, and serve Christ as Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. We cannot keep these baptismal vows without naming the injustice and oppression experienced by LGBTQIA+ Christians in this Church which Christ has opened.
"All of our other promises flow out of these baptismal vows. This means that we strive to ever more closely align church practice, doctrine, and polity with our identity as baptized members of the Body of Christ. We promise to modify the The United Methodist Book of Discipline when we believe that it is in conflict with God's will and with the promises we make, first to God, and then to one another and the Church."
The statement ends with a declaration and invitation:
"The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s rhetoric is an unfair and dishonest representation of the faithful United Methodists who disagree with them. We challenge them to talk with us, listen to us, and pray with us rather than making assumptions about our faith and how we live it in our ministries."
The Rev. Shannon E. Sullivan of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, one of the organizers of the clergywomen's response, told United Methodist Insight in an email that their concern began with a conversation in their Facebook group.
"We are part of a United Methodist young clergywomen's group on Facebook and people were wondering if we had all gotten the email from John Rogers at Wesleyan Covenant Association. Not everyone had, but we could all go watch the video they had created featuring fellow young clergywoman Rev. Madeline Carrasco Henners," Rev. Sullivan said.
"But as we talked, we shared how disturbed we were at the implications in the video that people who disagreed with the mission and theology of the WCA did not believe that God is good, or the Bible is true, or promises should be kept. We expected and welcomed critique from WCA, but the video made it seem as though if we disagreed with the WCA, our faith itself was being maligned."
Rev. Sullivan said the group then crafted its statement cooperatively, using social media to perfect the document. Once satisfied, the group posted its document on Google Docs and invited more response.
"And then it got big!" Rev. Sullivan continued. "We received so many comments from people who were not under 40 or who were not clergy but who loved the statement. And meanwhile young clergywomen just kept adding their names."
The statement concludes with an invitation:
“If you are a United Methodist clergywoman under the age of 40, you are welcome to sign onto this statement as well by following the link here: https://goo.gl/forms/kzhVZXOFmAIfpqEs1. If you are not, you are welcome to write your own letter or let your colleagues who did sign know you support them.”
Despite the wave of enthusiasm, church politics still intruded on their process, Rev. Sullivan said.
"... We also heard from many women who wanted to sign but felt like there would be repercussions for them if they did. If they were provisional (clergy), for instance, they worried about their full member interviews, especially in conferences where many on the Board of Ordained Ministry are in the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
"One of the cowriters at the very beginning did not feel like she could sign. So we added the asterisks to honor them and to highlight how sad it is that too many of our young clergywomen live in fear of expressing their faith in their annual conferences if they are not conservative enough for those in power. At least seven women reached out to me (or had mutual friends reach out to me) saying they wished they could sign but they were afraid. That needs to change, too."
Rev. Sullivan said her group hoped the document would gain 200 signers, but added that goal was quickly exceeded.
"We did and more!," she said in her email. "My hope is that this statement prompts some real dialogue with the WCA, and that the UMC generally can see how pastors like us are faithful to God, the Bible, and the promises we make precisely by working to change the Book of Discipline."
Another organizer, the Rev. Roslyn Lee of the New York Annual Conference, confirmed Rev. Sullivan's account, and added that more media distribution of the clergywomen's statement is planned.
"There will be a video of clergywomen reading the statement coming out early this week," Rev. Lee told Insight in an email. "We were intentional in inviting clergywomen from various annual conferences as well as considering racial ethnic diversity. We don't assume to represent all young clergywomen. We simply wanted to come together to voice our concern and to stand together.
"What makes this amazing for me is that we weren't seeking permission from any group or agency. We who love the United Methodist Church came together and organically, passionately put our hearts together. Our UM connection is truly amazing as we've witnessed it this weekend."
Meanwhile, participants wanted their response to be a timely reaction to the widely distributed WCA video, so they sent it on to the WCA on Sunday, March 5. She said the WCA hadn't responded by the time the statement was sent to United Methodist Insight.
Insight also called the Wesleyan Covenant Association's office number listed on its website to request an interview with someone about the video's production, funding and purpose. As of Monday, March 6 at 11 a.m., the WCA had not responded to Insight's voicemail, which was tagged as urgent. If the organization responds, this article will be updated.
Cynthia B. Astle serves as Editor & Founder of United Methodist Insight.