A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Court of Appeals 5th Circuit stuck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas. The 5th circuit court is known to be a conservative court in case you may be thinking this is judicial activism. The Court agreed with the plaintiff that these laws disproportionally impacts minorities. It came close, but did not say discrimination was intentional on the part of the lawmakers, but it did send that part of the case back to the lower district court and said that Texas had to modify their laws to ensure greater access to IDs for people to vote.
The 4th circuit of appeals also struck down major parts of a 2013 North Carolina law that had voter ID requirements, limited early voting and made it harder for new voters to register. Courts in Kansas and Wisconsin also struck down various voter ID laws. To my knowledge even if the courts struck down parts of these laws, the courts did not say that these laws were intentionally discriminatory. That is to say, the lawmakers may be within some version of the law but because the disproportion of affect on people of color and perhaps even unintended consequences of these laws, current versions of the laws need to change to be in compliance with the constitution.
I say all this to point out that the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) may be within some version of the Book of Discipline. I don't know if such an association is illegal or not. I don't know what happens when this association meets to talk. I know that the association is quick to point out it is not creating a framework for a new denomination or a breakaway group from the UMC.
I am not saying it is the intention of the WCA to create a new denomination. It is argued by some in the association that it is within the Discipline to create such a association. And that may be true. What is frustrating to me is that while there is no "smoking gun" of a stated intentional desire to form a new denomination via this association, and that regardless of what is stated by the groups press releases, this action is just as divisive as stating non-compliance with the Discipline because of the way it affects the denomination as a whole.
The creation of an association of UMC congregations and leaders that are bound together by a covenant that is separate from the covenant all UMC churches have with one another splits loyalties. Is a church in the WCA going to honor the covenant of the UMC or the WCA as primary?
While there is not a stated intention of the WCA to break any laws, the creation of such a association disproportionally impacts the rest of the denomination in adverse ways. So it is appropriate for the Bishops to state that the election of a Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop, declarations of non-compliance, and the creation of the WCA equally "opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism."
Neither the voter ID laws or the WCA state language to be divisive, but they still are. I do not buy the argument that voter fraud is out of control and we need additional voter ID laws. I also do not buy the argument that the UMC connection is so out of control that we need additional covenants. Rather, just like voter ID laws restrict voter participation, the WCA may restrict UMC participation.