The Council of Bishops is just over a week away from announcing the membership of the Commission on a Way Forward, as we’ve previously reported. Thus, by now most of the content of this news article about A Way Forward from the UMC in Germany will…
Astute readers may have already noticed two changes to UM & Global in the past month and a half.The first is actually a change for the blogmaster, rather than the blog itself. As you can see in the “About Me” section at the bottom of the page, I ha…
Following are two stories about how European United Methodists continue to undertake work relating to migration:First, migration was a significant topic of discussion at the meeting of the Switzerland-France-North Africa Annual Conference, held Ju…
Today’s post is contributed by Dr. Bill Mefford. Dr. Mefford is Faith Outreach Specialist for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Prior to that position, he was Director of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). His post takes the form of a litany calling for justice for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
With great concern and sadness we recognize the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ happening throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity. Like many religious groups in the region, Christians have been forced to endure civil wars and unrest as groups vie for control. In addition, Christians have been targeted for persecution from Islamic extremist groups that have arisen in the chaos across the Middle East.
The percentage of Christians living in the Middle East has declined precipitously in recent years due to regional unrest, the collapse of national governments and ensuing economic turmoil, and targeted persecution from violent Islamic extremists. The factors creating unrest in this area of the world are complex. We doubt there is a single solution that will bring peace.
We are especially aggrieved by the persecution our sisters and brothers in Christ are facing. The United Methodist Church has long stood against religious persecution and urges “policies and practices that ensure the right of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political, or economic restrictions.” (2012 Book of Discipline 162-C)
We call for an end to blasphemy laws that curtail the full expressions of faith for all people including Christians. We call for all nations to abide by article 18 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
We recognize that in many nations, unrest or even civil war have made protection of religious minorities difficult. Without governmental protections, fair and effective law enforcement does not exist. Thus, religious minorities have become targets of extremist violence. Civil society, including religious and faith-based bodies, thrive under conditions of democratic transparency and inclusion.
We call for all people to promote religious freedom wherever they reside, and to abstain from religious discrimination of any kind. All religions must be wary that their interpretations of their sacred texts and teachings do not allow discrimination and violence.
We urge United Methodists to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ for “when one member of the Body suffers, all suffer.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
We urge President Obama, as we do all world leaders, to make religious freedom a prominent part of their diplomacy with all nations, particularly with nations in the Middle East.
We call on all nations to protect religious minorities and to allow for the full expression of religious beliefs for all of their citizens.
While much has been written by Americans about American perspectives on the Commission on a Way Forward and the possibilities and perils of its work for the future of the denomination, few voices from outside the US have been lifted up in that conversa…
Today’s piece is written by Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.
It is encouraging to know that the Council of Bishops (COB) is in the process of moving the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships (OCUIR) to Washington D.C., and hiring six new staff. COB’s tacit acknowledgment that the old model was procrustean and needed restructuring is indeed admirable. Unquestionably, our denomination needs clarity in our understanding of Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology in the context of interfaith or multi-faith relations, which COB strives to address. Just like great apps such as “WhatsApp” or “Yelp” and others enhance our daily social interactions with our peers, a great missional and theological app can enhance, inspire, and illuminate our ministry of witness.
Since the emerging new world is remarkably similar to the Greco-Roman pluralistic domain, it offers new challenges every day in our collective struggle to witness our faith in Jesus Christ. With the ostensible questioning of traditional religions by modern scientific, philological, and archaeological discoveries, and by application of various theoretical apparatuses such as deconstructionism, phenomenalism, etc., the foundational beliefs of Christianity have been challenged to the core. Christianity’s relationship with people of other faiths and the Body of Christ has to be clearly defined in today’s context. We sincerely hope the creation of this office will lead us to the next higher level.
Nonetheless, I had a question while I was reading on-line the purpose of the office and the responsibilities of the staff. The program responsibility of this office in Washington D.C., at least theoretically, comes close to the very purpose of the mission board. Let me clarify.
Anyone who is committed to Christian mission will undeniably agree that mission and evangelism are two sides of the same coin. Mission lays out the road map and evangelism connects all of us with the Author and Creator of all. I believe that the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) has got the expertise, experience, and potential resources in working with ecumenical groups and interfaith communities. By theoretical definition of mission, the functional role and responsibilities of this office come close to the mandate of Global Ministries. If we house the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns under Global Ministries, our denomination will reduce the replication of our missional tasks.
Mission Conferences Speak
Let me submit one historic reference. The global ecumenical mission conference held in Jerusalem 1928 was dominated by the debate between Hendrick Kraemer and William Hocking about ministry with people of other living faiths. This debate spilled over to the ecumenical Conference held in Tambaram, India in 1938 in which Karl Barth, E. Stanley Jones, and others continued the conversation. These and all the subsequent ecumenical mission conferences held in the 20th century discussed and deliberated the church’s interaction with people of other faiths under the umbrella of mission and evangelism, but never as an isolated task. This office in Washington D.C., can be justified to function apart from Global Ministries only, I submit, only if it were to be established to function as a Think Tank.
Research Institute Model
As a Think Tank and under the governance of the bishops, this office would be able to produce quality resources which will equip our constituents to know what they believe and why they believe. It will help us overcome the sophomoric spasm of multiculturalism and ecumenism, and nurture an informed religious community that is equipped to rethink in knowledgeable ways. Most importantly, this office would help all of us focus on the challenges we face as a denomination rather than the progress we have made; it will take us from the present-day corrosive culture of consultancy to the primary goal of finding answers. Lastly, it will be multi-disciplinary, and where appropriate, it will be multi-theological.
On the other hand, if it were to function as a program office, it will look for answers outside the problem and will continue to impose externally formulated ripostes. The Think Tank model will also help us come to grip with the problems we face, identify the questions and assumptions we have, and most importantly enrich us to articulate theology from the core of our Christian convictions.
If we want people to join the United Methodist movement in the transformation of the world, we need to be intentional about developing intellectual leadership and put together a team that would better communicate what we are and who we are. It is not just enough to minister with the poor and marginalized. We must develop and cultivate scholars and intellectuals who can minister to the movers and shakers of our society which include the intellectuals and affluent from all religious backgrounds.
As COB strives to re-ignite the engine of the denomination’s mission with people of other living faiths and create a public theology, and as it is committed to move past education for maintenance to education for mission, we request the leadership not overlook the rich resources readily available within the diasporic community among us. They will be an asset and strength in our missional engagement, as they know many languages, several cultures, and various sacred scriptures of major world religions. Our sacred history itself corroborates the necessity of engaging the diasporic faith community as our society becomes multi-contextual and pluralistic. For example, the Septuagint, commonly known as LXX or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was translated from Hebrew to Greek for the scattered Hellenistic Jews. They recruited and engaged seventy scholars from the diasporic community. Can our beloved United Methodist Church and COB have such a grand vision for our larger society and tap the untapped rich resources that are readily available among us?
In the final analysis, the unanswered question is this: Is the Office of the Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships envisioned as a programmatic office or a research institute? The answer determines where it should be housed: GBGM or the COB.
Dr. David W. Scott of the collaborative blog UM & Global reminds us that the special commission on the Council of Bishops’ “A Way Forward” proposal will consider more than the debate over human sexuality.
This blog has previously reported on changes underway at Global Ministries. Those interested in the agency’s transformation to a new model of organizing mission will undoubtedly want to read Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo’s recent piece, “No Periphery, No Cent…
News broke this week about plans made by the executive committee of the Council of Bishops for the Commission on a Way Forward, the group tasked with carrying out the bishops’ plan approved by General Conference to try to find a resolution to highly co…
Today’s post is written by Dr. Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director, Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology. It is the third of a three-part series. The first and second parts can be found here and here, respectively.
The problem of culture that I developed in the last blog doesn’t just apply to understandings of gender and social institutions like marriage. Institutional structures and decision making processes are also deeply influenced by culture.
The General Board of Global Ministries is now imagining itself as “an agency that comprises global mission connections. In doing so it recognizes that ours is a multi-centered world in which Christianity’s center of gravity has shifted to the Global South and East. These changes invite dialogue and mutuality among local churches, mission partners, and the world’s vulnerable people.” This means in practice establishing “global mission connections” in various sites around the world: one in South America, one in Africa, and one in Asia. Thus the GBGM will “explore mission in deeper ways through the relationships we will be able to form on the ground in key geographic regions.” (http://www.umcmission.org/learn-about-us/news-and-stories/2016/may/0506surprisingactivity)
It isn’t clear that this new structure takes seriously enough the complexity of culture. Can a “connection” in Korea will be relevant to mission in Vietnam or Indonesia or the Philippines? The latter two countries have a wide range of languages and cultures, none of which share the worldview and situation of Korea or even one another.
Buenos Aires, the location of the Latin American connection, is a city that is far more European the Mezo-American, a place where Spanish is still spoken with an Italian accent. Argentina has virtually none of its indigenous or African slave population left. Apart from remnants of German colonists and refugees what does it have in common with Portuguese speaking Brazil, a country with a huge Afro-Brazilian population and an extraordinary number of indigenous peoples living in Amazonia? Or with Central America and its very different political problems and peoples?
My fear is that the United Methodist church conceives of being global church in purely geographical terms rather than in terms of cultural difference.
Which returns us to decision making. An earlier blog pointed out that the customary timing of US annual and jurisdictional conferences isn’t shared world-wide. Do we realize that this difference is cultural? US Annual conferences take place when the public school year is ending and thus pastors with families can easily move. And that in turn is tied to the agrarian economic cycles typical of the northern hemisphere – cycles that demanded that children be available to help their parents on the farm.
As I quickly learned as a missionary with the GBGM, these cycles aren’t found elsewhere in the world. Schools in Malaysia and Singapore aren’t on holiday from June to August – because they have very different cultural patterns to follow.
But it isn’t just when we meet. It is how decisions are made. The whole UMC is set up in decision making structures that are distinctly Anglo-American in culture. (What could be more Anglo-American that Robert’s Rules of Order?) These structures are significantly different from those of ethnic minorities within the US, and even more so United Methodists outside the U.S. But I have yet to see any recognition that these cultural difference make a profound difference in how decisions are made, and can be profoundly disenfranchising of individuals and whole peoples. Mere translation is a minuscule part of inclusion. No matter who attends the General Conference, its entire structure, from the daily schedule to the overall plan privileges Anglo-American culture and empowers those who have mastered it – while disempowering those who have not.
In the worlds both of global business and of multi-cultural institutions such as hospital and universities there has now been for the last 40 years intensive interest in cultural difference and how that plays out in different values as they are realized in all social settings. The work of Hofstede, Minke, and Livermore on intercultural understanding and practical intercultural team building and decision making is a commonplace in these environments. In Dallas I’m regularly asked to provide training in cultural intelligence for institutions serving diverse cultures. Global businesses, who actually sponsored a great deal of contemporary research on cultures and values, also consciously adapt to local values and decision making processes.
But as near as I can tell, not the UMC. With the exception of the Rio-Texas conference I know of no conference wide effort to insure that every UMC leader understands cross-cultural dynamics and is developing the skills to that are absolutely necessary to function effectively in a complex cultural environment. Has the council of bishops engaged in training in cultural intelligence and cross cultural relationships and values? Have the leaders of the general boards and agencies? Have any of the boards of ordained ministry in the different annual conferences? Or do they assume that Robert’s Rules will insure the openness and fairness of their deliberations?
The announcement of the reimagining of Global Ministries is interesting in this regard. It envisions global connections through regional centers. It foresees an international coaching network. It foresees expanding the number of missionaries from around the globe. It looks forward to initiatives in global health. It talks about a commitment to responsible stewardship. And not once, not once, does it mention the word “culture.” Or indeed even allude to the concept.
Coaching, Christian witness, health, stewardship: these are concepts and activities that are deeply embedded in culture and influenced by culture. But there is no mention of culture and addressing it as a specific issue. In my experience the unnamed is the unthought.
This may not end well.