Last week I attended the Wesleyan Theological Society’s annual meeting which was held at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Over its 55-year history, WTS has tended to lean conservative but has always included more theological diversity than liberal United Methodists would assume.
This year was no exception. Among the dozens of papers presented, there were a few that articulated a positive application of Wesleyan theology for LGBTQIA persons (to my knowledge, no paper advocated for LGBTQIA discrimination). Keegen Osinski, a Vanderbilt librarian, presented ‘Don’t Be Sorry, Be Better: Queer Power and Wesley’s Caution Against Bigotry.’ She is working on a manuscript for Wipf and Stock for a book on queering Wesley. Emily Burke shared ‘Wesley, the Spirit, and the Gender Non-Conformity/Transgender Community.’
There were presentations, including my case study of my congregation’s development of ‘The North Declaration’ which summarizes the Wesleyan foundation for their practices of inclusion.
At the meeting, I encountered many—mostly young but not all—Nazarenes, Wesleyans, and Free Methodists who long for an inclusive Methodist church. They are motivated by their Wesleyan belief in the holy love of God and their passion to follow Jesus.
At the same time WTS was holding forth in Kansas City, left-leaning United Methodists gathered in Dallas for UM-Forward’s Lenten Gather to explore the possibilities of a ‘Liberation Methodist Church.’ It was a follow up to their Advent Gathering in Colorado last year. If the Protocol—or some version of it—creates a pathway for the creation of new Methodist denominations, this group of liberationists want to be ready to offer an alternative to a centrist-dominated UMC.
In the coming months and years, there may be a rare opportunity to create a fully inclusive Methodist denomination whose roots are wider than the remnants of UMC. We progressive/liberationist United Methodists who are ready to get on with being a new Methodism must not limit our scope to our current denominational ties. We have Nazarene, Wesleyan, Church of God, and Free Methodist siblings who are also feeling the same call of the Holy Spirit. None of us will be large enough to go on our own. Given the looser polities of those denominations, there are already a few churches that have disaffiliated from them because they are attracting a younger generation. They might want to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination that supports their practices of inclusion.
There is a much-needed gift that our non-United Methodist siblings can bring to us United Methodists. They have been formed by the Holiness Tradition and the deep practices of discipleship that are often lacking among mainline progressives. Personally, I feel more comfortable with them because of their holiness. It is a far better theological foundation for inclusion than the liberal pluralism of mainline Protestantism. It speaks to my Wesleyan heart and it is the antidote United Methodist congregations need.
The history of American Methodist schisms is full of stories about disparate groups finding their way to unite with one another. Could it be that we are on the cusp of a similar moment? We must be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit.