Among other business, General Conference 2016 will herald a success and a transition in The United Methodist Church’s mission work related to global health, one of the denomination’s Four Areas of Focus. GC2016 will celebrate the success of the Imagine…
We live in times of global migration. Migration of course has always been a basic human condition, but the visibility of migrating and fleeing people has increased dramatically since the summer of 2015 in Germany and in many other places in Europe. By the end of the year roughly a million refugees had made their way into Germany alone. I interpret this situation not so much as a sudden crisis that has erupted due to a war, but as an expression of years, decades, and centuries of colonial rule, unjust economic relations, and cultural imperialism.
Whatever our analysis of the reasons of this sudden presence of many refugees may be, we have now reached a stage in which not only the media is full of reports and stories about refugees all over Europe, but we are encountering them on a daily basis on the streets, in the supermarkets, and in public buildings. This means that we are now experiencing with new intensity the inequalities in our global community that have been a reality for a long time.
My hope is that this new visibility eventually turns into a realization that a change of lifestyle in the global west is needed, and into an awareness that we more than ever live in a global and planetary community in which we are mutually dependent of each other. At certain instances such a change of mindset can be noticed already, not least in Methodist congregations in Austria and Germany. Also students and faculty at Reutlingen School of Theology – a United Methodist related institution – are actively involved in having table fellowship with and teaching German to refugees from Eritrea and Syria. Regular eye contact is an effective medicine against stereotypical imagination of the others.
As time is passing I also notice in media and in everyday life an increasing anxiety and aggressiveness aimed at refugees. The horrors at the borders of Macedonia are only one symptom of such anxiety. They are signs of toughening attitudes that win out over human dignity and human rights. But crimes against refugees exceed the crimes committed by refugees both in terms of numbers and severity. Nevertheless the terminology used in the media to describe such large numbers of human beings on the move has been increasingly inflammatory. Downfall of the occident is just one of these allegedly descriptive terms. The result in the imagination of the general public often is a generalization of “the refugees” and what they are about as well as a tendency toward polarizing asylum seekers and the sedentary population, or even worse: asylum seekers and disadvantaged citizens as necessarily in competition with each other.
Under such conditions I believe that the Christian community is called to contribute to a re-imagination of cultural identity. And the global Methodist connection can play a pivotal role in such a re-imagination. Standing in the Jewish-Christian tradition, it has decisive resources to offer in situations of quickly changing cultural conditions. It can help in the struggle for new narratives in order to develop new strategies of encountering our new “others” with dignity.
The Need of New Narratives
Europe in the last decade or so has developed a very worrisome re-nationalization, in part due to the steady influx of refugees (both inner- and outer-European) and the increasing number of asylum seekers. Old stereotypes about “pure heritage” and the possibility (and alleged necessity) of clear cut distinction lines between cultural spheres are en vogue again. The symbolism we surround ourselves with in the European countries (and in a kind of mutual mirror effect in neighboring countries as well) oftentimes is one of old dreams of superiority. Such symbolism triggers narratives in Europe that are detrimental to a constructive view of current social and cultural conditions.
The warrior on the horse is a case in point. Especially since the sudden rise of Muslim refugees coming to the EU in late 2015 the message of the old visual representations becomes problematic. When a new Europe tries to emerge, falling back on old imaginations is counterproductive. In times of rising tensions between Turkey and the EU the prominence of equestrian statues such as the one of pasha Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople in 1453, and king Ian Sobieski III, the “liberator of Europe” from the Turks in 1683, becomes increasingly problematic. They mirror each other in terms of exclusive territorial and cultural claims in times when the cultural realms are as intimately intertwined as never before.
The constructed nature of such imaginations is easily forgotten when conflicts arise. Do we not risk these days to fall back into the simplifying narratives of the past in which one cultural sphere militantly opposes another one?
Instead a theologically rooted conviction that belonging to different cultures/worlds is part of what it means to be human may be one of the ways in which Methodists around the world could contribute to a more constructive view of the coexistence between human beings on the move and human beings in sheltered conditions. After all a rapidly increasing number of people know themselves to belong to different worlds. But do we have the imagination; do we have good narratives to accommodate such double or multiple belonging?
Belonging to Different Worlds
A theological view of the human being and of human community shows a certain analogy to cultural multiple belonging in as much as Christians through the ages have understood themselves not only to belong to the societal community of everyday life but simultaneously also to a spiritual community that exceeds tangible social connections. There is in other words a certain metaphorical doubleness of Christian existence. Christians are not only members of a certain social group, but always also members of the household of God. Christians are not only citizens of a certain nation, but always also citizens of God’s kingdom. A rethinking of Christian identity as a double identity in the deepest existential sense may help toward a re-imagination of our migratory situation, and it may facilitate new forms of participation with migrants who painfully experience a certain doubleness on a daily basis.
The Second Century Letter to Diognetus is an early Christian document describing such existential double belonging of Christians in very concrete terms: “They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. […] They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”
The tension between being citizen and foreigner simultaneously – metaphorically speaking – needs to be maintained in the life of Christians. I believe a rethinking of such theological understanding of belonging to two worlds can stir our imagination in positive ways in a social situation in which migrants are denied a double belonging.
David W. Scott looks at the proposal to cut the UMC’s coming four-year budget being sent to the 2016 General Conference by top executives of the 13 churchwide boards and agencies.
Today’s piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President’s Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the third in a three-part series.
In the first part of this series, I provided an overview of the global scope of depression and other mental disorders. In the second part, I shared examples of how The United Methodist Church is responding to this problem. In my conclusion to this brief discussion on global mental health and the church, I share 10 insights on healing that can be contexualized and implemented in most settings as more United Methodists seek to minister with those impacted by mental disorders:
1. RESURRECTION – Build your healing ministry on a robust and comprehensive theology of the resurrection. The resurrection is the origin, source, power, authority, and goal of our healing. Thus, God works from and to resurrection. Resurrection is the foundational evidence of the Kingdom of God, and the restoration of all things in heaven and earth, here and now. Restoration includes our health and wholeness. God desires to restore all things to their original purpose including our bodies and our minds. Healing is God’s gift to us both now and for the future. Our healing, and the healing of all things, begins now and culminates with the resurrection and redemption of our bodies, as well as a new heaven and a new earth (the new creation). All healing is a foreshadowing of this ultimate healing and prefigures it.
2. GOD HEALS – Since the resurrection is the complete picture of our healing, our faith and expectations should be based on the power of the resurrection and in the God of the resurrection. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Although repentance, faith, wisdom and proper medical treatment are essential to the process of healing, we rely ultimately on God who raises us from the dead. It does no service to the ministry of healing or the integrity of persons to judge, stigmatize, condemn or blame persons for sin or a lack of faith when we do not see or receive our expectation or our version of healing.
3. EDUCATION – Educate the community of faith concerning divine healing. Prepare the community by utilizing the teaching ministry. Instruct on healing from the pulpit, Sunday School, small groups, seminars, webinars, health fairs and by other means. People are able to process change and adopt new practices more easily once they are informed about the subject. Education clarifies and diminishes the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a complex subject such as healing or mental health. Work to create a culture of nurturing and healing.
4. COMMON LANGUAGE – Since healing, health, and wholeness can be complex, seek to communicate and operate out of a common language. For example, if you are to officiate a healing service, do it in the liturgical language with which your congregation or participants are familiar. For United Methodists, which is my tradition, I use the healing service in the UM Book of Worship. People are more apt to participate and receive in an ecclesial culture that is familiar, especially something as sensitive and complex as healing.
5. TRAIN & CERTIFY – Train, certify and install (publicly in a service) workers for a healing ministry. For example, if your local church has persons gifted to pray for the sick in the church, the community, or throughout the world, set them apart for proper training, and then recognize and commit their gifts and leadership in a public service. Those asked to pray for healing should feel equipped and confident for the task, and the people should feel confident to receive ministry from such persons. The community of faith needs to affirm and confirm such a ministry and its workers.
6. COMPREHENSIVE – A healing ministry should be comprehensive, encompassing physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational and other types of healing. Local churches and ministries should partner with other persons and institutions that are better trained at ministering healing in a certain area. Partnering with nurses, therapists, nutritionists, clinics, or 12 step groups adds to the bandwidth and effectiveness of the healing ministry. A good holistic health network, in-house training, and a thorough referral system are essential to an effective healing ministry.
7. INTEGRATIVE APPROACH – A healing ministry is most effective when it takes on an integrative approach. Theology and science, at their best, should work hand in hand. Do not be afraid to take an approach that identifies multiple causes and solutions to problems. For example, counseling, medications, intercessory prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oil can work together effectively to combat mental health issues. Not every problem is an ‘either/or’ issue of faith or science.
8. NETWORK OF MINISTRIES- Contrary to popular opinion or even stereotype, there are many types of healing ministries that one can have in and from the local church: healing services, an altar team, a visitation team, 12 step groups, health fairs, an in-church clinic, a medical missions team, deliverance and exorcism ministries (Yes, I said that), a Zumba class, a weight training room or gym, Stephen ministries or similar grief recovery ministries, various support groups like NAMI, nutrition classes, suicide awareness seminars, classes for Christian forms of yoga and or intentional deep breathing (may not be acceptable to all local churches), confessional and accountability groups (i.e. Wesleyan band meetings), Theophostic, Sozo, and other types of more “charismatic” inner healing prayer ministries, healing prayer teams, food pantries, free community meals, cooking classes, along with a host of other courses, events, ministries and teams. Think of creating an environment or culture of wholeness that nurtures and fosters health rather than merely relying on crisis intervention that addresses the problem after it occurs. Think of creating a healthy environment that fosters wholeness as a lifestyle: prevention as well as intervention.
9. EXPECTATION – Expect healing to come at any time, any place or in any way. If you are a leader, teach the people under your care likewise. Many are disappointed because they do not receive the healing they wanted or in the way or time they wanted it. Resurrection comes in many ways and at different times, and at all times death and resurrection become the greatest healing. Teach people to look for and expect resurrection every day and in every way. Give God the space and time to work God’s will and expect miracles.
10. OUR PART- Educate people to be responsible in terms of doing their part in the process. In Philippians, Paul instructs us that it is God who works within us the desire and the will to carry out his purposes. Healing is in God’s hands, but some things God has providentially given to our care and responsibility. Through prevenient grace, God chooses to use the practice of medicine, proper diet, sleep, exercise, wisdom, repentance, faith and other means of grace to work healing. Teach responsibility and education for our health.
As General Conference approaches, one of the important agenda items for the body is setting the budget for the denomination for the next quadrennium. As this UMNS article from two weeks ago indicates, there has been debate about what the budget should …
Today’s piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President’s Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the second in a three-part series.
In my previous post, I described the global scope of the problem of depression and other mental disorders. The problem of mental disorders is wide-spread and, especially in developing nations, often untreated. Yet the church can play a role in responding to this problem.
WHO claims the misconception is that many believe that amelioration of such mental health conditions requires sophisticated, highly specialized or expensive responses, which is not the case. The WHO goal is to increase the development of non-specialist healthcare providers through training, support, and supervision. The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) is part of the WHO’s comprehensive plan and strategy, which was adopted by the 66th World Health Assembly, for each country to develop non-specialist healthcare to supplement any existing specialized health care. The plan seeks to create “more effective leadership and governance for mental health; the provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings; the implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention; and strengthened information systems, evidence and research.”
The WHO along with other organizations are planning and executing strategies to tackle the global challenge of mental disorders. The church is also in the midst of the fray. The United Methodist Church has clear statements about the nature of the problem and has also strategized through its Boards (i.e. GBGM) and Agencies (i.e UMCOR) to address the crisis. The Book of Resolutions cites a lack of knowledge as a chief contributor to the problem. I would encourage our churches to become familiar with the statements on mental health from The Book of Discipline 2012, The Social Principles, and the Book of Resolutions 2012. These resources provide informed theological responses for the church to minister comprehensive healing to a broken world. These resources draw from the ministry of Jesus Christ, the model of John Wesley and the early Methodists, and the scientific and medical communities to shape a United Methodist theology and practice of healing.
One such example is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of “Caring Communities” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to Mental Health Ministries, #3303, Book of Resolutions 2012, global United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program that unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues. Caring Communities “Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering. Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness & their families. Welcome persons and their families into the faith community. Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect. Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.”
The theological statement on mental illness from the Book of Resolution 2012 stresses education as the key to opening the door to healing and wholeness, and the Caring Communities program models this type of education. The statement also specifically calls our seminaries to train clergy to educate and equip congregations and communities to minister with those impacted by mental disorders. At United Theological Seminary where I teach, I designed a course entitled “Renewal Ministry and Practice” that focuses on a comprehensive theology and practice of healing and wholeness. Students learn to construct theologies of healing and wholeness as modeled in Scripture and the history of the church. Students also engage in “labs” that challenge them to put their theology to practice in situation in their local contexts.
In my final post on this topic, I will offer 10 insights on healing from that course that can be contexualized and implemented in most settings, insights that can help guide United Methodists around the world who are seeking to develop their own responses to the problem of depression and other mental disorders.
Today’s piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, retired Director of Mission Theology for United Methodist Women.
History was without women for a long time. The history of our General Conference has not been exempt from this blind spot and irony. We have made gains in the recent election of delegates to the General Conference. But still there is a lack of gender parity.
Openings and Closings
While approving the category of deaconesses, the 1888 General Conference refused to seat elected female lay delegates. Another contradiction is the approval of the full-time lay vocation for women as deaconesses, while warding off ordination of women with rights to administer sacraments. In the midst of these contradictions, women had to live out their vocations within the church. The 1880 Methodist Episcopal General Conference not only voted against the ordination of women but also decided to revoke all the local preachers’ licenses granted to women since 1869. Women had to wait till 1956 to gain full rights of ordination.
With reference to offices such as class leaders, stewards, and Sunday School Superintendents at the local church level, the challenge of inclusive language was addressed by the1880 General Conference. Its decision removed the exclusive use of pronouns such as “he, his, and him” for such offices. While the question of lay women and gender was addressed in the General Conference 1880, it took a century to officially include inclusive language for God! In 1980, the Task force on Language Guidelines (inclusive language) was set up.
General Conference 2016
The recently released results of the monitoring done by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women reveals lack of gender equity, as evident in the article on “Women by the Numbers: Statistics and Research about Women in the United Methodist Church” at www.gcsrw.org. From among the 865 delegates elected to the General Conference, the break up details, as shown by the GCSRW research, are below:
In her recent presentation to the Interethnic Strategic Development Group in Baltimore, Washington, Leigh Goodrich, staff of GCSRW, pointed out that of the total 431 lay delegates, 192 (44.5%) are female and 237 (55%) are male. Out of 434 clergy delegates, 119 (27.4%) are female and 313 (72%) are male.
Among the total 865 delegates to the 2016 General Conference, 360 are from the Central Conferences. Out of the 360 Central Conference delegates, 267 (74%) are male and 90 (25%) are female with 3 delegates not listing gender. From among the 180 lay delegates from the Central Conferences, 116 (64%) are male and 63 (35%) are female; male clergy constitute 151 delegates (84%) and female clergy 27 (15%).
Since the break-up details of race and ethnicity are not available yet, my reflection does not deal with the “intersectionality” of women.
The Face of Women in Structure and Movement
The membership percentage of women in the United States UMC is 58%.
As for the southern hemisphere, the phenomenal growth of Christianity, especially, Africa, Asia, and Latin America is unprecedented. The emerging, burgeoning, and living forms of Christianity are mostly indigenous, and their agency primarily non-Western. They embody what is known as World Christianity today.
Today, two-thirds of all Christian are women, as Professor Dana Robert of Boston University points out. Robert asks, “What would the study of Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America look like if scholars put women into the center of their research?” In the growing grassroots movement of Christianity, the role of women is a key factor.
In the feminization of Christianity, do women occupy key positions, along with men, in their respective church structures in World Christianity? Until church systems and structures are open enough for women to gain positions at the structural level, women’s voices may not be converted into perspectives and mainstreamed.
Movement and structure need not necessarily be oppositional. Any movement which merely ends up as a structure loses its grassroots vitality. Any structure that is not rooted in the praxis of a life-giving movement is a mere skeleton without the embodiment of flesh and blood. A mere movement that does not structurally ensure power for its women is likely to be co-opted, and its power relegated to those who are at the top rungs of the structures. Movement and structure ought to form a life-giving hybridity.
Women stand to lose if they are not vigilant enough. As opinion-makers and decision-makers, men have a great role to play in the emerging Christianity, assuring that women get shared power in the growing movement.
As United Methodism begins to look at reorganizing, Dr. David W. Scott ponders on what factors the global denomination’s structure should be changed.
Today’s piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President’s Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the first in a three-part series.
The United Methodist Church has a theological statement in the Book of Resolutions 2012 on ministries in mental health that opens:
According to a World Health Organization report in 2012 entitled “Depression: a Global Public Health Concern,” one in four persons suffers from a mental disorder, and among mental disorders, depression is the most prevalent. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide in terms of total years lost due to disability. Depression, as well as other mental disorders, adversely impacts the ability of affected persons to perform at work, school, and in the family.
The World Health Organization (hereafter referred to as WHO) estimates 350 million people of all ages around the world suffer from depression, contributing significantly to the overall global burden of disease. Lack of treatment compounds the problem. Less than half of the persons afflicted with depression, and in some countries less than 10%, receive any kind of treatment. Lack of treatment is due to a lack of resources, including education, diagnostic tools, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, medication and support systems. Lack of resources is directly connected to the poverty and underdevelopment of such countries. Misdiagnosis is also another contributor to improper treatment. Untreated or improper treatment of depression can lead to other more dangerous mental disorders and often to suicide. The WHO cites that over 800,000 persons commit suicide every year, and it is the second leading cause of death globally in 15-29 year olds.
Depression is not the only mental disorder that afflicts persons globally. Anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, autism spectrum disorder and other mental and developmental disorders are on the rise as well, and countries face the similar challenges in treating these disorders. There are many individual and social factors that determine risk: genetics, perinatal infections, nutrition, stress, environment and environmental hazards, individual cognitive-behavioral coping skills, trauma, life crises, national policies, social protection, standards of living, work conditions and community support among others.
Many of these factors are part of the larger systemic issue of poverty and underdevelopment. The WHO has identified a mental health care gap between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries. In low- and middle-income countries, 76%-85% of persons with mental disorders receive no treatment, while in high-income countries the figure is 35%-50%. When it comes to treatment of mental disorders, substance abuse, and neurological conditions four out of five persons in low-and middle-income countries do not receive them. The resources are often not available, and when some resources are available, many of these countries allocate less than 2% of their overall health budgets for mental health.
For example in Sierra Leone where I have ministered, the WHO cites that there is no mental health policy or national mental health program and thus no allocated funds in the budget beyond taxation as the primary source for funding. There are also no benefits paid for persons with disability due to mental disorders. However, a mental health policy and programming are currently being developed. The Mental Health Atlas put out by the WHO also cites that in Sierra Leone “Regular training of primary care professionals is not carried out in the field of mental health. There are no community care facilities for patients with mental disorders. Some traditional healers and general practitioners provide mental health care in the community setting.” Much of the lack of treatment is due to the poor socio-economic conditions in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone ranks 181 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index. Poverty is clearly a factor in their ability to minister mental health care.
Having detailed the scope of the problem in this post, I will turn to how the church can respond in my next post.
I want to thank Rev. Meredith Hoxie Schol for recently inviting me to be part of a conversation for a class on General Conference she is teaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The thoughts in this post evolved out of that conversation.On…