UMC: Telegraphing

It’s called telegraphing….the sending of a message that shows what people are thinking, intending to do, etc.  Sometimes telegraphing is an unconscious messaging the senders are unaware of (but which others can easily detect)….or….a subrosa strategy senders use and can then later deny when called into account. 

But there’s more:  telegraphing also includes a conscious messaging that uses code language and other means to reveal what’s going on without ever actually saying so–stopping just short of coming clean about their motives and plans.

Since it began, The Wesleyan Covenant Association has been engaged in telegraphing.  There is no need to recount all the ways they have done this, starting with telling phrases used to incorporate the organization and then continuing (on their website, their blogs, social media, other digital and printed media, their gatherings, etc) to be expressed in the ensuing years.

A look back shows that the WCA has thrived on subrosa telegraphing which shows what they are really up to (despite their denials), while posturing themselves to be the “good guys”—” the only ones who have the truth”—and when needed, the “religiously misunderstood and persecuted ones.”

But as we move closer to the called session of General Conference, the WCA has moved into conscious telegraphing, making it increasingly clear (by their own plans, resolutions, website content, and public statements) that they do not want The United Methodist Church as it currently exists.  As a blogger wrote earlier on, they have no desire to “re-arrange chairs on the Titanic.”

This conscious telegraphing reached its highest peak (so far) at the recent WCA gathering in Marietta, Georgia.  It launched the Global Legislative Assembly (their version of General Conference) with delegates from around the world who convened and passed resolutions.  This new piece of structure adds to its already existing (by creation or affiliation) mission agency, women’s organization, seminary, publishing house, social agency, annual conference, and parachurch organizations–an “in the wings” defacto denomination they state they are ready to form if necessary.

In addition, the following decisions and declarations made in Marietta further telegraph that they do not want the current United Methodist Church…

(1) their Traditionalist Plan is designed (if passed at General Conference) to alter the makeup of the church by “cleansing” it of Conferences, congregations, clergy, and laity alleged to be “unbiblical, unorthodox, unWesleyan” as the WCA defines each of these terms.

(2) their declaration that they will not stay in the UMC if the One Church Plan passes, and will call within 60 days a gathering to initiate the process of becoming a separate denomination.

(3) that whether they stay in the denomination, or leave it, the church they create (by takeover or schism) will not permit same-sex marriages or the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.  According to their statement, LGBTQ+ persons will be welcomed to worship with them, but LGBTQ+ persons will not be affirmed in their non-heterosexual/nonbinary orientations.

So….in Marietta, the WCA amped up its telegraphing, even to the point of alleging they will be among those who “save Jesus” from a decadent “Herodian” UMC.  Their telegraphing has continued after Marietta as WCA advocates (via social media) have seized upon Bishop Ken Carter’s first address to the Council of Bishops in his role as president of the council, falsely making it appear that his call for unity through the use of scriptural imagination is an indication that he doesn’t believe in the authority of Scripture.

WCA telegraphing, from its inception right up to today–moving from subrosa (covert) telegraphing into conscious (overt) telegraphing.  Easily detected.

And then….doing what telegraphers almost always do: stopping just short of enacting their message. In the case of WCA, leaving the denomination they have told us in spades they actually don’t want to be part of.

Meeting in Marietta, they had a golden opportunity to become operationally congruent with their views and intent.  But they didn’t. So, as of today, the gap between their message and their motive remains.  Telegraphing continues.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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