Today’s post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott’s own and do not reflect in any way the official posit…
This recent UMNS article outlines ways in which Wespath, The United Methodist Church’s pension and benefits organization, in making efforts to encourage and invest in initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is seen by scientists …
Why do we place the work of the people behind a paywall?
UM & Global is continuing a news tradition we joined in last year – end of the year retrospectives. In this post, I’ll list the top stories of 2016, as measured by page views. Next week, I’ll look back on 2016 and look forward to 2017 by giving my …
Trump’s election helps The UMC understand the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s base of support and potential for disruption of the institution.
The latest figures about UMC membership in the US have been released and, to no one’s surprise, they show a continued decline in overall membership. While these results may be unsurprising, they can prompt us to ask deeper questions about United Method…
The Council of Bishops made plans to call a special General Conference in February or March of 2019, as described in this UMNS article released yesterday. The actual call will not be issued until a location, dates, and exact wording of the call have be…
Who should we stand with at the World Series? The underdogs or the truly oppressed?
United Methodists are already speculating about what might happen at a proposed called General Conference in 2018. There has been much commentary online about what positions and strategies American conservatives and progressives will take.
A lot of this commentary overlooks an important point, however: No matter what American progressives and conservatives do, African United Methodists, at 30% of the total General Conference votes, will have a deciding block of votes.
Any constitutional changes would need 96% approval among other geographic regions to pass without substantial African support. Imagine getting 96% of extreme progressives and extreme conservatives to agree on something in the UMC. Now you understand why Africans will be the deciding bloc.
Moreover, it would be ethically questionable of the church to move forward with a plan that was not supported by such a substantial minority within the church. Developing a plan that will ensure African support is critical for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward.
Hence, I’m going to list several things that I think many African delegates will care about in a GC2018 (and two I think they won’t), but first a few caveats: 1. Africans are a diverse group, so not all Africans will want the same things out of a plan or find the same things acceptable. 2. I’m not an expert on African United Methodism, so I could be wrong on some of these. 3. While many Africans certainly share some theological concerns with American conservatives, their goals, objectives, and motivations should not be seen as a mere echo of American conservatives. 4. Just because Africans may care about all these issues doesn’t mean they will need to get their way on all of them to support a plan. They will, however, need to get their way on some of them.
Things I think Africans will care about:
1. Affirmation of the supreme role of the Bible in the life of the church. This was the overwhelming point of the recent statement put out by the UMC Africa Initiative. The UMC Africa Initiative doesn’t speak for all African GC delegates, but it does have substantial influence with them. Whether or not one agrees with the UMC Africa Initiative’s approach to biblical exegesis, the very high value they place on the Bible is clear.
2. Continuation of the current denominational stance opposing homosexuality. While American progressives see an accepting stance toward homosexuality as consistent with the Bible, Africans by and large do not. Both because of the type of biblical exegesis common and because of prevailing cultural mores, most Africans want to hold the line on homosexuality.
3. Bishops. American United Methodists might take the existence of bishops for granted, but African United Methodists don’t. The opportunity to have bishops is, after all, one of the main reasons Cote d’Ivoire Methodists joined the denomination. At GC2016, Africans were promised five new bishops in 2020, and they will want to ensure that there is a UMC or a successor denomination willing to honor that promise.
4. Funding. Currently, African annual conferences are not self-sustaining. There are overwhelming economic disparities between the United States and most African countries (e.g., DRC’s per capita GDP is less than 1% of the US’s), and these are wedded to long-term patterns of financial dependency. While GC2016 approved a first-ever apportionment plan for the central conferences, it is unrealistic to expect African annual conferences to become self-sustaining within the next four years while continuing to follow current denominational organizational patterns. Either these patterns will need to change dramatically, or funding will need to continue to come from the US to support them.
5. Programmatic assistance from general boards and agencies. Some of this assistance comes in the form of funding, but this is a broad category which also includes expertise, educational resources and opportunities, and personnel. Such forms of assistance from partners around the connection make a significant impact on the life of the UMC in Africa. Africans will be reluctant to cut these ties.
6. International connections. Such connections can be useful for purposes of domestic political advocacy and domestic political protections. International connections, especially to a powerful country like the United States, can legitimize and advance the work of the UMC in contexts where it is a minority or facing oppression.
7. More voice and votes in UMC decisions. Africans know that their percentages of members and General Conference representatives have been on the rise within the UMC. They are likely to want to receive greater recognition of their voices and more votes on boards as they seek to assert their legitimate desire for influence in their own denomination.
Things I think Africans will not care about (at least as much as Americans):
1. American church decline. Africans are certainly sympathetic to the fate of their coreligionists, and American decline could interfere with long-term funding, but African churches are growing, and there is no coming “death tsunami” in Africa. Indeed, continued American decline and African growth leads to more African voice and votes in UMC decisions. Moreover, American decline and African growth provides rhetorical strength for casting Africa as the champion of the gospel the West has abandoned and thus provides Africans with moral as well as political capital.
2. Polarization. Many American United Methodists bemoan polarization in the church and the way it reflects polarization in the wider American society. It is important to remember that African churches and annual conferences aren’t polarized around LGBT issues the same way some American annual conferences are. Africans experience polarization at General Conference and in their engagement with the life of the broader denomination, but this debate is not a symptom of pervasive and deeply felt polarization at all church levels for Africans in the same way that it is for Americans. Moreover, even though there are significant political and other cleavages within African countries, they do not map onto United Methodist arguments in the same way American political and cultural divides do. Thus, United Methodist polarization is not a reflection of a wider societal problem for African delegates the same way it is for Americans.
I cannot pretend to be able to predict what Africans will do with this range of concerns as part of the Commission on a Way Forward or at a called General Conference 2018. Nevertheless, it will behoove all in the denomination to be listening to the unique concerns of our African brothers and sisters.
The past few days I have come across this post about Rev. Moore’s excitement over the upcoming Wesleyan Covenant Association initial gathering (happening on 10/7/16). A friend of mine, named Ethan Gregory, read Rev. Moore’s post and, feeling like he had something to say, he asked if I would be willing to allow for a guest post.
While Ethan was working on his post, I reached out to mutual friend, Ryan Kiblinger. I asked Ryan to consider writing a response to Rev. Moore’s post as well. Ryan was kind enough to do so.
Neither of these two guest authors (Ethan and Ryan) have read what the other has written and I have not influenced them in anyway. What follows are two different perspectives of the same blog posting. I offer this platform to my friends to share their thoughts in mutual respect. I hope that you will join me in giving thanks for both of these voices trying to follow Christ in the most faithful ways they know.
And Also with You – by Ethan Gregory
We know it’s happening. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is meeting at the end of this week in Chicago. There has been an article shared on social media this week by one of the participants, discussing her excitement about the gathering. Excitement is understandable (though, I want to be clear, I think the entire idea behind the WCA is at best questionable); I get excited about being in groups with persons, particularly other Methodists, who are in similar places theologically as I am.
However, as I read this article, I found myself somewhat concerned. There was one line that stood out in particular:
“While we wait, the WCA will provide a voice and a place to land for faithful United Methodists.”
The author is referring to this interim time while we wait for the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward to convene. What concerns me within this sentence is that she says while we wait, the WCA will be a place for “faithful United Methodists” to be.
I have some questions for the author. Are the roughly 1700 United Methodists and the churches and ministries they represent really the only “faithful United Methodists” that there are? Are those in favor of LGBTQ inclusion then unfaithful Methodists? Are we any less committed to the work of doing no harm, doing good, and attending to the ordinances of God? Are we receiving or participating any less in a life of grace that is prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying? Are we not also joining each of those persons attending this gathering on the Way of salvation as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
I don’t think so. Regardless of which caucus group we align ourselves with, or if we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, I think each person who at their baptism or confirmation said yes to the questions of will you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, will you resist evil, injustice, and oppression in all the forms they present themselves, and will you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; and each person who has joined a United Methodist Church and said yes to the question, will you uphold this church through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness remains a faithful United Methodist.
No group: not progressives, traditionalists, or moderates, has a monopoly on faithfulness.
It is my understanding that the WCA event will conclude its time by celebrating Holy Communion. Gathering around the table is an important means of grace in our tradition. This ritual has the ability to fill and renew us, but it also has the ability to break down walls, allowing strangers or even persons we are in complete disagreement with to become friends.
I remember the Sunday in July right after Jurisdictional Conference. News had of course spread about the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction, the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. After one of the services at my church, during the ritual of shaking the pastors’ hands, a woman who knew I was a delegate at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference told me that she was praying for the Western Jurisdiction—that they would repent of their sin. I had no other words or actions except to simply smile and say thank you. She had no idea about the sense of pain I felt on the Friday night before when moments after Bishop Oliveto’s election—a moment I wanted to be celebrating—a delegate in the SCJ got up to the mic to present a motion that would ask for a judicial council ruling on Bishop Oliveto’s election.
A few weeks later I found myself seated at a table during a luncheon with the woman who had approached me the Sunday after Jurisdictional Conference. It was a beautiful time to learn some more about her, particularly how proud she was of her grandchildren. The luncheon was during the week, and the following Sunday was a Communion Sunday. It just so happened that she ended up kneeling in my section of the communion rail. We partook in the meal together. I served her the bread, saying, “The body of Christ, the bread of life, given for you.”
Clearly this member of my church and I understand the scriptures differently when it comes to LGBTQ persons. But this does not mean that either of us are any less in need of God’s grace—that only one of us has a seat at the table—or that either of us are any less faithful.
And so, I hope that when members of the WCA gather at the table of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of their time together that when it comes time for the Great Thanksgiving, and the beginning when the congregation responds “And also with you,” that they will remember the grace of our God is present in the lives of faithful United Methodists all over the world—even those in favor of LGBTQ inclusion in the life of our church.
Because, I could be wrong, but I think “When Christ comes in final victory and we feast at the heavenly banquet,” whether we like it or not, all of us—gay and straight, queer, black, white, and brown, WCA members or not—will be seated across and next to one another with plenty of Welch’s to go around.
I was asked to guest blog my thoughts on this posting by Carolyn Moore. First, a few words about who I am and from where I am coming. I do not know Carolyn Moore. I do know the person who is commenting about her post from a different perspective. I am attending the Wesleyan Covenant Gathering in Chicago this Friday October 7, but I have am not a dues paying member of the WCA (I don’t really know that anyone is yet). I am not an insider. I do not belong to any groups in the UMC that might be considered renewal groups or otherwise are affiliated outside local church and annual conference ties. I am not the WCA planning team, nor do I personally know anyone who is. I do know a few participants but mainly through social media. Finally, my views are only my views. So now to my thoughts on Carolyn Moore’s post.
I don’t see this week as a ‘big week’. Quite honestly, I am saddened by this week. I never thought that I or we as a church denomination would be in this position. You see, I grew up a United Methodist, but never thought I would be a UMC pastor. In fact, during high school even when I thought God was calling me to ordained ministry, I boldly pronounced to my father that if I were to ever become a pastor, I would never be a Methodist pastor. I am in the United Methodist Church, not because I grew up in it, but because I studied, learned, and fell in love with it. I find myself believing in Wesleyanism. I grew in love towards the marriage of personal piety and holiness, and that piety and holiness making a difference in the broken world around us. So even as a WCA event attender, I am not filled with excitement, I am filled with sadness.
My sadness is not a commentary on the leadership of the WCA or any other group in the UMC for that matter. It is a sadness born out the brokenness of a denomination and a particular way of being in Christ in the world that I hold dear. I have read over most of the statements that have come out of the WCA, and I find myself in broad theological agreement with them. I am not surprised by this, nor should any UMCer be surprised by finding theological ground in common with the WCA. The WCA seems to theologically simply hold to what Wesley taught, and what most any of alive today and ordained promised or covenanted together to do when we were ordained. I have studied the theology, doctrines, and polity of the UMC and I pledged to support them. I still hold to that pledge, so I see no real issues with the WCA theologically.
I will offer one word though about the future and speculations. I am one who is sincerely both concerned and interested in the future of the UMC. As an ordained elder, I have a great deal of my call and my earthly ministry tied up or vested in the UMC. There are many who do from all different theological perspectives, and I would urge we be gracious, sensitive, and merciful to people who both agree and disagree with us. None of us knows the future, and to put too much speculation, based on fear, into what the WCA is or is not trying to accomplish as far as the future, I believe is unfair. Many of us have fertile imaginations and we can image all types of non-realities into being. That being said, I too, need to express that personally I am approaching the ends of the WCA with some healthy caution even though I agree theologically. I will rejoice in faithfulness of covenant and in theology that is orthodox and lines up with the ordination vows I have taken. I will not rejoice in the realities that have gotten us to the place so many think the formation of the WCA is necessary.
P. S. I want to offer a short post script with regards to A Way Forward. It is an elephant in the room and should be addressed. First, I was opposed to its passage at GC2016. I think that the work of the General Conference should be done by the General Conference, and as much as I see bishops in the UMC as leaders, I don’t think their primary function is to lead in doctrine or polity changes, but rather to lead spiritually and lead as executors of the General Conference. My disagreement is then not with any findings of the Bishops, but rather with what I see a breach of proper placement of authourity (sic). But A Way Forward has passed, and I pray for the work of the commission to be named by the Bishops. I will say that the clear and even more pronounced will of the General Conference is to not change our historic positions on matters like Biblical authourity (sic), marriage definition, and prescriptions in how clergy may or may not bless. Any shift in position on these matters that is substantive, if recommended by the commission will not be passed by a General Conference in 2018 or in 2020. I believe that any hope for common ground on these matters has passed us by. I do not think that any major theological changes will be recommended by the commission and if they are they will not pass. The authourity (sic) still lies not with the work of the commission, but with the vote of the General Conference. I believe this, hopefully, not based on my personal positions on any of these matters, but based on looking at the demographics, and clear voting patterns of the General Conferences over the years.
Lastly, I want to thank Jason Valendy for even considering me to write on these matters. Jason and I do not always see eye to eye, but we always, always see and hold each other in love. My greatest prayer is that we would find perfection in loving one another. Love covers over a multitude of sins, and as a great sinner in need of grace, may we extend that hand of grace and forgiveness rooting in Christ’s love to each other no matter where we stand or what positions our consciences constrain us to take.