United Methodists in Central Conferences (regions beyond the United States) are an invaluable resource on climate change issues, writes Dr. David W. Scott of UM & Global.
Dr. David W. Scott encourages United Methodists to take part in a series of videos being hosted by the Connectional Table in preparation for the 2016 General Conference.
One of the major international news stories from the past month has been the climate change talks held in Paris, referred to by the abbreviation COP21. While the negotiators at these talks represented governments, there was active participation in the …
If you’ve not already seen them, the UMC’s Connectional Table has been releasing a series of videos about important topics in the UMC as part of the run-up to General Conference 2016. You can do two things regarding these videos as a United Methodist i…
The coming year will be notable not just for the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, but also for several global Methodist gatherings, writes David W. Scott.
For United Methodists, 2016 is significant as the year of the upcoming General Conference, to be held in Portland, OR, from May 10-20. 850 official delegates from around the world plus many other on-lookers will gather for two weeks of fellowship, wors…
Today’s piece is written by Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. It extends remarks Rev. Dr. Dharmaraj made in a previous post from October.
In one of Norman Rockwell’s drawings, an overwhelmed mother holds her little boy face down in her lap. At her feet lies a hammer, along with evidence of a destructive spree: a broken mirror, a shattered vase, and an eviscerated clock under her chair. Not being sure of how to discipline her child, the mother grips a hairbrush in one hand, and a book on child psychology in the other: To spank or not to spank? She doesn’t know the answer.
Many in the church in global north are confused and lost over the missional issues of immigrant concerns and global diaspora, particularly about millions who are forced to flee from their native lands because of political instability, religious, racial, ethnic persecutions. What is our missional response to them? At times the multiplicity of responses given by experts threatens to devolve into cacophony.
Embodying the Gospel
Most of us are well aware that the church cannot carry on a monologue detached from the marginalized world with mere relief offerings but must stand in solidarity with them to address this huge human crisis. Pope John Paul aptly said, “Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.” Being in solidarity with the weak and vulnerable is more than extending compassionate and charitable services. Human charity is a hard emotion to sustain; over the long run, it cloys.
True solidarity breaks down the illusion of disconnectedness and works for kinship, which is a cherished conviction. In the final analysis, being in solidarity with the broken and bruised, and gaining their trust and confidence will offer better opportunities to share the love of Jesus Christ.
We need to be aware that there is a major difference between global diasporic mission and mission with the immigrants who have moved into our neighborhoods. Diasporic mission is primarily a global phenomenon set in motion by voluntary or involuntary conditions. Research professor Enoch Wan avows it as glo-cal in nature. It is border-less, pluralistic, transnational, multi-directional rather than homogenous. It is comprised primarily of people who were involuntarily or coerced to move.
In diasporic mission, the focus is on holistic mission and contextualization that integrate evangelism and social concern. We cannot just proclaim the Gospel among refugees without also addressing their physical needs and becoming their advocate. The workers work best when they learn the languages, understand cultural nuances and are mindful of the practices of the faiths of others who are rootless refugees, while keeping one’s core faith identity. Mere proclamation with an intention to start church during human vulnerability will spawn only “exploitative-Christians.” Mission is contextual as well as comprehensive, and should never employ humanitarian aid for religious proselytization.
Diaspora missiology does not replace “traditional missiology,” which is primarily evangelistic; rather, it supplements traditional methods with those that are geared to the new demographic realities of the 21st century. It is not a case of “either/or” in a mutually exclusive way as some tend to assume. In diasporic mission, participants are invited to stretch their imagination and look beyond the narrow perspectives of the present and to set themselves in the context of world realities on the one hand, and on the other hand, the analytics of root causes, power relations, and knowledges provided by the victims.
Mission with the “sinned-against” people
Historically, mission movements in the global north have rarely engaged questions of immigration and global diaspora as missional issues. If we hack through the opaque theological thicket and saunter through mission archives, we still find ourselves in the same old corridors of starting place. At times, we are narrowly guided by favorite scripture passages and past practices in order to discover missional comfort and seek ecclesial refuge. During the Christendom period everything seemed to be fixed and stable, but now the topography of the mission site is changed.
The demise of colonization, end of Christendom and waning of denominational ecumenism on the one hand, and the emergence of globalization and instant communication on the other have transformed missional participation from the predictable to the adaptive, from the mono-directional and anticipated to multi-directional and flexible ways of engagement.
In diasporic mission, witness to the Gospel comes mainly through advocacy work on behalf of the “sinned-against” and giving witness to the structures of power that create this sub-human condition. The agency of the diasporic communities is a key. In other words, we need to take the marginalized and repressed voices from the periphery and help amplify and facilitate these voices to be heard. This would mark a significant change in the way we do mission in a traditional sense. We cannot merely dispense throat lozenges that makes people feel better when the patients themselves know what they need is a serious medical treatment.
When I say our witness should be characterized by love and advocacy, I am not downplaying the reality of sin nor the need for transformation. However, it may be that hurting, disillusioned people need to find kindness through our caring action. During biblical times, when our Hebrew ancestors migrated from impoverished agrarian region to the advanced, urbanized Egypt, they had the invaluable advantage of having Joseph, who happened to be a blood relative, in the country’s top public office. Joseph’s advocacy and timely interference made this vulnerable diasporic community’s transition relatively easier. When problems arose for that community a few centuries later, it was Moses who stepped into the role of advocate.
Biblical history also documents people from all walks of life who witnessed against the structures of power on behalf of the poor, oppressed and voiceless. We can cite only a few towering figures such as Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther, Paul, and Apollos who did the ministry of advocacy on a larger scale and cross-cultural context. There are a number of so-called “minor” role players. Suffice it to say that a vital key to the health and viability of diasporic communities lay in the availability and the power of advocacy to represent their needs.
What is clear is that advocacy is a key ingredient in diaspora issues both past and present, and is increasingly being recognized in governmental structures as an important dynamic in the process of diaspora engagement. Wherever diasporas have appeared, their ability to cope and thrive has been in large part due to the willingness of those who carry influence and inspiration to serve as advocates and campaigners for vulnerable and scattered peoples. Wangari Muta Maathai, a Nobel Laureate, aptly said, “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”
The phrase “religion and politics” connotes certain issues, attitudes, and fault lines within American society. It is a useful reminder to Americans, then, that religion and politics can relate in much different ways in different national settings. The…
This blog post is the second in a two-part series by Arun Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism at Candler School of Theology. In these two pieces, Dr. Jones examines how other Christian traditions function as global churches for the sake of making comparisons with The United Methodist Church.
Several months ago I offered some suggestions about how Roman Catholicism is able to hold together as a global Christian body in today’s world, and said that the other Christian tradition (perhaps “stream” is a better word) that accomplishes this well is Pentecostalism. As in the case of Roman Catholicism, my observations do not come from an in-depth study of Pentecostals, but from personal experiences in various parts of Asia, Africa and North America.
To be clear, I do not think Catholics and Pentecostals understand “church” in the same way (they have very different ecclesiologies). The contrast between Catholicism and Pentecostalism is instructive, and shows us that there is no one sure way to be a global church. Paradoxically however, I think that often their different ways of being “church” accomplish similar ends when it comes to being global.
First of all, what is it that unites Pentecostals? I would venture to say that whereas the Roman Catholic Church is held together by an organization and regularized liturgies, Pentecostalism is held together by personal relationships. Certainly there are important international Pentecostal denominational bodies, such as the Assemblies of God, but personal relationships are the real glue that binds together Pentecostals worldwide. Networking is what makes for the global nature of Pentecostalism. So Pentecostals who are part of a world-wide connections get along with each other, and are generally of the same theological/ecclesial disposition. If things don’t work out on a personal level, they leave the network and join/form another one. Roman Catholicism, held together by organization and liturgy, can embrace people who really don’t agree (or at times even like!) each other.
Secondly, both Catholics and Pentecostals have a counterweight to the authority of Scripture, and this counterweight can provide for much needed flexibility. For Catholics, it is Christian tradition; for Pentecostals, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who can lead us into new and uncharted territory (as the scriptures attest). So Pentecostals can improvise as they form new global connective bonds. This is not to say that Scripture is unimportant for Pentecostals: quite the opposite is true. Yet Scripture always needs to be interpreted, and Pentecostals can quite rapidly give fresh interpretations of Scripture, based on their understanding of what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do in new situations.
Thirdly, I have been surprised at the amount of English used in Pentecostal services (both in the singing and speaking) I have attended in non-English speaking parts of the world. I think that many (certainly not all) Pentecostals who are part of thriving global networks do not simply use English for convenience sake, but the language is a sign of connection to American evangelical Christianity. In other words, contemporary American evangelicalism is a mythic vision of church that helps to bind together Pentecostals around the world. This binding occurs first at the level of ideas (“that vision is what we aspire to”) and then at personal and material levels (“let us meet others who aspire to that vision, let us imitate the American evangelical lifestyle in some way”). The worldwide popularity of the prosperity gospel is, I believe, another manifestation of the connection that the mythic vision of American evangelicalism provides. It seems to me that this mythic vision functions like the idea of “Rome” for Roman Catholics – the vast majority of whom have never been to that city, but revere it all the same.
Finally, Pentecostalism takes seriously the claim that spiritual forces are not merely existing but are active all around us, and within us. This give Pentecostals a theological language and certain religious practices that are simultaneously easily understood and shared around the world, but also are open to thoroughly local interpretation. In ways that are analogous to Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism has developed language and gestures that are common and shared, but can mean very different things in different places and cultures.
For at least these four reasons, it seems to me, Pentecostals are at the forefront of creating worldwide Christianity, albeit through a multiplicity of organizations and fellowships. Pentecostalism provides a radically different alternative to Roman Catholicism to be a global church. (The Catholic charismatic movement, interestingly, draws on both traditions.) However, the different alternatives respond in their own way to some common requirements, which I have hinted at above, for a truly global Christianity.
Today’s piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the second of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.
As I mentioned in the first two parts of this blog series, the United Methodist Church can no longer ignore the growing non-US sector of the UMC, but there is an increasing cost associated with bringing together delegates from around the world for an often ineffective meeting at General Conference. While I enjoy being part of a global church, I have come to the realization that it is not the most cost-effective way to organize an international body.
One proposal to address this problem is for a Global Book of Discipline that will move all the binding polity for the global church into one section that can be addressed at GC. This is important because the UMC functions in a variety of languages, cultures and under several governments with different laws that affect how the church must relate to the state. The remaining sections of the Book of Discipline will allow for changes by the Central Conferences for the church to function within the local context. The Global Book of Discipline will be available for review and discussion at the 2016 GC, but will not be eligible for adoption until 2020.
While these are positive incremental changes, I feel that they do not go far enough. Before joining the UMC, the EUB Church facilitated the independence of its former mission churches around the world. The PC(USA) and the Episcopal Churches have done the same; the latter maintains a connection to those churches through the worldwide body of the Anglican Communion.
The current configuration of the global United Methodist Church is still a holdover from the traditional mission model with the U.S. at the center, and former mission churches at the periphery. As I mentioned in my first blog, some of those Methodist Churches in Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Latin America and the Caribbean became autonomous, while those in Africa, Europe and the Philippines did not. This would be tantamount to some of the 13 American colonies choosing independence and some remaining part of England.
I would like to propose picking up the work of the COSMOS commission in the 1960s to have conversations with the Central Conference churches, while also retaining a commitment to connectionalism. This would be a model more in line with other Protestant churches as well as the Wesley spirit of equality and appreciation of diversity.
Here are two real examples of how this might look. The first is the Sol Africa project. Recently I had the privilege of attending the 10-year anniversary of the Sol Africa project that brings together the Portuguese-speaking Methodist Churches in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and Portugal to share resources. This project joins both autonomous and United Methodist churches, as well as human and monetary resources to carry out the mission of the church.
These churches share publications, as well as human and material resources, to train future leaders, produce Sunday School materials and rebuild Methodist training institutions that were damaged during civil strife in Mozambique and Angola under the guidance of the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and Discipleship Ministries. Part of this project is distributing E-readers uploaded with Bible commentaries and theology books, many published by Methodist authors, to pastors and seminary students.
The Cuba-Florida Covenant is another example of a ministry that goes beyond the United Methodist Church, yet honors past relationships. Historically the Methodist Church in Florida has played an intricate role in the growth of Cuban Methodism. Many mission churches in Cuba were started and built by Florida churches in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. After the Cuban revolution in 1959 and the beginning of the embargo in 1961, the two countries (and churches) went their own way. The Methodist Church in Cuba gained its autonomy in 1968 and went through three very difficult decades of tense church-state relations under a Socialist government.
Beginning in the 1990s the church underwent a charismatic revival, which transformed its theology and practice according to its ministry context. Gone were the formalities of bulletins, hymnals, and organ music, and in were extemporaneous prayers, praise music, guitars and maracas. I lived through six years of this charismatic renewal as a missionary in Cuba (1991-97) and observed many positive attributes, such as adapting to current realities and contexts, that we can all learn from our Cuban brothers and sisters.
The Cuba-Florida covenant was signed in 1997 by the Florida Annual Conference and the autonomous affiliated Methodist Church in Cuba, and since then has facilitated 198 partnerships between local churches and districts.These are two ecclesial bodies that could not be more different culturally, liturgically and theologically. I cannot imagine these two churches having to function under the umbrella of one General Conference or one Book of Discipline–which is fine. Neither should the Cubans impose their beliefs and practices on the American church, nor should the Americans impose their beliefs and practices on the Cuban church. Both are in ministry in their distinctive contexts and cultures. The Cuba-Florida Covenant operates despite the obvious differences, respecting each others’ autonomy, yet allowing districts and churches to covenant to pray, visit and even support one another in more concrete ways.
If the Wesleyan connection between Cuba and Florida is still strong after 55-years with no diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, then certainly the connection between Methodist churches around the world can retain their historical relationships while we move away from a neocolonial mission model to one that is more adaptable to local contexts and cultures. The current model is a leftover configuration without a sound biblical or theological justification. It is frozen in time when the work of the COSMOS commission was interrupted by the unification talks between the former Methodist and EUB churches.
Rather than having an unequal and arbitrary division with some former mission churches being autonomous affiliated and others as United Methodist, I call on the church to consider a more equal model that encourages all churches to create culturally appropriate ecclesial structures, while remaining connectional, for the greater mission to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”