Thursday, May 26, 2022

Notes from the Wesleyan Sidelines

I listened with interest to the General Conference of the Wesleyan Church this week. I feel a little detached at the moment. I'm not working at a Wesleyan school (though working with several). Perhaps that gives me more freedom to speak. If I were in leadership somewhere, I'd have to be more careful, I suppose.

There were clear tensions at the conference. I thought the leadership did a good job steering between Sylla and Charybdis. They did a good job diversifying the voices, I thought.

On a late-night whim, I made a quick drawing to try to capture the diversity of the church that, I think, expresses some of the tensions in the church right now:

It's a poorly drawn tree. The trunk is the "holiness folk," the roots of the church. They are deeply troubled at any discussion of allowing tongues or drinking. They think we are going to hell in a handbasket.

Closely related to that group are what I call the "culture warriors." They are in continuity with the older group although their issues are civilly oriented rather than the older morality orientation. Their chief concerns are to codify statements in the Constitution against abortion and to prevent TWC from ever accepting homosexuality. They are trying to prop up the tree.

The bulk of the tree I pinned as "Church Growthies." These are the larger churches and the ones focused on evangelism, discipleship, and marketplace ministry. I suspect they hold the dominant influence at the moment. Certainly some issues of interest overlap between these groups.

I put some birds in the tree. There are a good number of Baptists who have become Wesleyans over the years. The Wesleyan Church bears the impact of baptistification like the rest of the American church. These elements often reinforce fundamentalist elements in the church.

I also put some charismatics who have joined us. It was interesting to realize that tongues is already practiced in some Wesleyan churches. I suspect that Latino elements of the church, and perhaps some other diverse congregations, have quite a bit of this element.

Then there is always a group of Wesleyans who are secretly or not so secretly attracted to our Anglican roots. There are even some closet Catholic lovers in our midst. These tend to be the more contemplative Wesleyans.

Finally I put fire on the top to represent what I decided to call "radical Wesleyans." Call them "Don Dayton" Wesleyans if you would. They are the closest we have to the Orange Scotts and Luther Lees. Call them progressive Wesleyans. Call them "social justice warriors." The cultural warriors think they should be kicked out of the church. To them they are burning down the church. So are they on fire for God or setting the church on fire?

I'm pretty happy with this picture. It is meant to be descriptive rather to endorse or condemn a faction. To me, it explains the tensions.

This is probably long enough for a post, although I have thoughts on tongues and drinking, considered at the conference.