Friday, July 31, 2020

Recommended Listening: Global Conversations on Discipleship Podcast

Over the past two months, Might Rasing, Director of Central Conference Relationships for Discipleship Ministries, has begun a new podcast entitled "Global Conversations on Discipleship." Using Discipleship Ministries' world-wide network, Rasing interviews pastors from around the UMC connection on a wide variety of topics having to do with the contours of United Methodist life in those particular contexts. The episodes, which run from 45 minutes to an hour, provide an interesting glimpse into the life of United Methodists in various spots around the world. As of this post, there are five episodes in the series:

Discipleship and Church Life in the Time of COVID-19: Responses from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines with Rev. Alan Masima Gurupira from Zimbabwe, Rev. Ande Emmanuel from Nigeria,  Mr. Phileas Jusu from Sierra Leone, Rev. Anne Detjen from Germany, and Ms. Earlie Pasion-Bautista from the Philippines

Evangelism, Discipleship, and Publishing in Zimbabwe with Rev. Gift Kudakwashe Machinga, Pastor-in-Charge of Cranborne UMC in Zimbabwe, Chair of the Board of Discipleship in the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference, and leader of the Discipleship Resources International (DRI) - Publishing Team in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area

Discipleship and Community Engagement in Germany with Rev. Dr. Barry Sloan, director of evangelism of the Germany Central Conference and co-founder of Inspire Chemnitz

Young People's Ministry in Sierra Leone with Senesie Timothy Aruna Rogers, a United Methodist youth leader in Sierra Leone

Ministry with Children and Parents in Denmark with Rev. Maria Thaarup from Aarhus and Rev. Anne K. Thompson from Vejle

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Doctors Without Borders, Christian Mission, and White Supremacy

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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 position of Global Ministries.

A couple of weeks ago, NPR ran a story entitled "Doctors Without Borders Responds To Charges Of 'Racism' From Its Staff." The article detailed microaggressions against and the marginalization of staff of color, especially non-Western staff of color, by white Western staff of the international secular aid group. The article also noted that Doctors Without Borders is aware of some of its challenges with regards to race and colonialism and has been taking steps to address them.

What was most interesting to me about the article, though, were remarks by Christos Christou, president of the international board of Doctors Without Borders. The article says of Christou, "[H]e says there is no question the organization is built on a problematic model." Christou referenced the notion of the white savior as a problematic aspect of the current model of humanitarianism. The article goes on to directly quite Christou saying, "Being clearly anti-racist in this organization is not just about dismantling and overcoming all these barriers that may have been created over all these years. It's about rethinking the humanitarian model: The whole way of distributing the decision-making power and also the resources."

What made these remarks so interesting to me is that they could equally apply to many Christian mission organizations. There has been a critique of how the white savior complex applies to Western missionaries and mission agencies, and discussions about how best to incorporate all relevant voices and distribute power and resources among all partners are a basic feature of missiological conversations, as indicated by this blog.

Like Doctors Without Borders, many mission organizations are aware of their issues and seeking to do better. For instance, over the past ten years, Global Ministries has significantly diversified its staff and missionary corps and has adopted a structure with regional offices to address just these concerns about decision-making power. The organization has by no means "solved racism," internally or externally, but it is making some progress in practicing equity.

Yet if the professionals who spend significant amounts of time thinking about such issues are still wrestling with them, one might imagine that one-time or occasional volunteers, which do not have the luxury of extensive learning or reflection, may not always even be aware of the issues. And Western mission is currently predicated on the participation of just such volunteers as short-term missioners. Stories of microaggressions toward and marginalization of local mission partners by white American short-term mission practitioners abound.

This is why it is so important that those of us who do have the opportunity to study and reflect on mission and mission practice to commit to anti-racism as part of that practice. Racism may be a distinctively American problem with particular negative impacts on American society, but racism does not stop at the country's borders. White supremacy is a global phenomenon, and practices and beliefs that originate in white supremacy, even when white supremacy itself is consciously rejected, perpetuate inequalities among mission partners.

I find that I myself (as a white American man) frequently have to stop and reflect on my language choices in my writing to see whether they portray the equality among believers that I desire for God's church or whether they unthinkingly draw on racist tropes that I have absorbed from the American cultural milieu. I know that I do not always get these choices right, either.

There can be no true progress toward some of the ideals of mission (mutuality, partnership, reciprocity, friendship, etc.) without progress in mission anti-racism. And as the Doctors Without Borders story shows, that work towards anti-racist practice and language needs to be undertaken by a wide range of partners. This work is not something that one organization or even just Christians can do alone, because the system of white supremacy applies across all organizations and to Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians may have unique contributions to make to anti-racism, but those contributions must be offered along with others' contributions, which we as Christians must be willing to in turn receive. White supremacy may be a strong spiritual force of wickedness, but it is possible to make progress in dismantling it, together.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Resource: Map of the UMC and affiliated denominations

Anyone looking at a map of the global presence of The United Methodist Church will notice some significant grey areas, especially in Latin America and Asia. The UMC does not have annual conferences in these areas. Instead, it has connections to affiliated Methodist denominations here and elsewhere throughout the world. The UMC maintains ongoing relationships with these other denominations, especially through Global Ministries and the Council of Bishops.

In most cases, these denominations have historical ties to the UMC and its predecessors but became autonomous, mostly in the 1960s. In some instances, formerly Methodist or EUB churches have merged with other denominations to form united or uniting churches. Four of these affiliated Methodist denominations have a special status as concordat churches. There are also many Methodist churches who are members of the World Methodist Council but are not affiliated denominations of the UMC.

What follows is a map of the UMC presence (including current mission initiatives), concordat denominations, other affiliated Methodist denominations, and affiliated united denominations. It offers another perspective on the global extent of the UMC.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Recommended Readings: The Methodist Church in Great Britain Restructures for Evangelism

At the beginning of this month, the Methodist Church in Great Britain made a significant decision at its yearly Conference meeting. The church voted (online) for a dramatic, ambitious, and sweeping set of changes to the church for the sake of freeing and focusing the church on evangelism and mission. The votes, prompted by a report entitled God for All: The Connexional strategy for evangelism and growth, will simplify church structures to ease decision-making and allow significant resources to be shifted to support a focus on five areas of new initiatives: New Places for New People: Church at the Margins; Every Church a Growing Church; Young Evangelists, Pioneers, and Leaders; and Digital Presence: Mission for the digital age.

Readers can find out more about these shifts from the UK-based Church Times, from two stories from the MCGB itself, and from a write-up (in German) by the Swiss UMC.

For readers in the United States, one interesting feature of the MCGB's move is that it comes in the middle of, but is mostly unconnected to, a process of discerning the church's stance on same-sex marriages and LGBTQ ordination. In the US, it is common for Methodists on both sides of those issues to see their resolution as critical to the church's evangelistic success, but the MCGB apparently does not regard clarity on those issues as intrinsic to the process of reorienting the denomination toward mission, evangelism, and membership growth. It has, however, prioritized work with those at the margins, including the economically poor.

The MCGB has indicated that they expect this initiative to take at least five years to begin to bear fruit. While we may have to wait to see the results, I (David) pray that God may bless the MCGB as they strive to be faithful to the call to share the gospel.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Robert Harman: Lowering the Wall of Separation - The UMC Response to the Paycheck Protection Program

Today's post is by Robert J. Harman. Rev. Harman is a mission executive retired from the General Board of Global Ministries.

The wall of separation between church and state was lowered this year in a significant way. The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the Small Businesses Administration made sizable loans/grants available to religious organizations to bridge anticipated shortfalls in revenue from the collapse of the pandemic economy.

 

The General Council on Finance and Administration gave the green light to broad church participation in this program aimed at alleviating a crisis, and the UMC took advantage of the opportunity big time. According to UMNS, 751 United Methodist entities, including churches, annual conferences, seminaries, episcopal offices, and general agencies, have received $0.5 billion.

 

Pragmatically speaking, United Methodists should take satisfaction in the promised results of a program aimed at alleviating the loss of key salaried personnel and preserving program continuity in this time of severe economic crisis.

 

But where is the evidence of dialogue within the communion about the wisdom of accepting this historic diversion from the separation of church and state by accepting government funds for the performance of strictly religious functions? Despite the GCFA go-ahead, there was no General Conference approval or international conversation. Yet the paucity of dissent on this issue suggests the UMC is OK with this latest manifestation of the trend in policies lowering the wall between church and state.

 

While the PPP episode offers evidence that enforcement of the separation principle has gone the same direction as Sunday blue laws, there are additional issues of policy, polity, practice, politics, and ethics deserving of examination.

 

First, the impact of this program is short lived, with an effective life of only eight weeks. What are the church’s plans for longer-term survival, personnel retention, and institutional continuity after federal intervention? The economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will persist for a long time. Yet to be answered is what long-term impacts upon the voluntary stewardship of the church’s membership lie ahead.

 

Second, association with government policies and programs assures a higher level of interest and controversy. Such scrutiny is becoming apparent as public media focuses upon some of the unflattering aspects of the PPP legislation and its approval process. We learn now that Roman Catholic Church lobbyists were unleashed to ensure church inclusion in the PPP legislation. Catholic churches have hauled in over $3 billion already, many in dioceses that have chosen bankruptcy to avoid funding, or have already found sufficient reserves to fund millions of dollars of obligations in sexual abuse cases. What other mixed motives for engaging in the PPP will be disclosed?

 

Scrutiny of the use of government funds is always arbitrary as well as public. Auditors will be hard at work analyzing grants and interviewing recipients for possible non-compliance. Among the early publicized findings in the Washington Post is the unexplained discrepancy in the proposal made by Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston for receiving PPP funds to secure 500 jobs, when the church roster lists a staff of only twelve. Some issues of local animus are also likely to surface, such as taxpayer grievances pointing to churches’ enjoyment of tax-free properties and revenues while competing with highly taxed small businesses for PPP dollars. There is no denial of a legitimate fairness issue here.

 

Third, in the current context of stark partisan political division, the impact of the promotion of PPP deserves special consideration in this election year. In their PPP press release, President Trump and Vice President Pence did not miss the opportunity to appeal directly to their ardent religious supporters and the vocal advocates for government funding of religion among their political base by taking credit for the successful inclusion of church participation in PPP. Will participation risk being interpreted as endorsement?

 

The political agenda of the evangelical right wants unfettered access to federal funds for their programs and agencies without regard to, or in defiance of, the implications for the establishment clause of the first amendment to the constitution. Their success in litigating cases in the courts has resulted from a polished legal argument that redefines the right to religious liberty as not only a protection from government interference but a robust defense of a right to equal access to government resources by religious groups. That rationale, however, includes a self-serving waiver from the enforcement of federal regulations guaranteeing non-discriminatory employment opportunities, a policy of inclusion that many evangelical groups aggressively resist on religious grounds. Both equal access to money and waivers from non-discrimination are found in the Paycheck Protection Program legislation. United Methodists have historically supported non-discrimination policies. Will accepting PPP funds be seen as dropping those objections?

 

Finally, there are issues of precedence and consistency within the global UMC. Global Ministries missionary personnel policies prohibit contracts with government agencies. History offers well-documented evidence of the Central Intelligent Agency soliciting missionary assistance to access high-priority intelligence for the US Government’s subversive purposes. That abuse was addressed by General Conference legislation writing admonishments into the Book of Discipline. Nor is that the only place in which United Methodist polity supports the separation of church and state. Should this experience of lowering the wall of separation prompt a change in the statement on religious liberty in the Social Principles that resists government dominance over religion and vice versa?

 

The financial policies for managing and protecting United Methodist mission funds prohibit the co-mingling of church and government monies when program support requires government assistance. Welcoming applications for government PPP funds in the spontaneity of a crisis moment without precaution sends mixed policy messages to our global partners in mission. Their service is too often rendered under conditions of unrelenting hardship, often in contexts of political instability where the absence of due diligence risks exposure to consequences that can include physical harm. Solidarity in a global partnership between churches always requires a critical appraisal of governmental interventions to assure a continuing and effective witness.

 

In conclusion, opening the church door to government funding of a basic function like salaries can only compromise the integrity of the church and mute a valid prophetic voice on other questionable government policies and practices.

 

The only option left to the fading voices of support for the separation of church and state is to appeal to those remaining conscience-stricken entities within the UMC to return the moneys received under PPP terms. Then we as a denomination need to have a full discussion of the pros and cons of the issue in policy-making arenas that reflect the global nature of the church and protect the integrity of the whole body.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Lectura recomendada: "El Metodismo como alternativa al fundamentalismo evangelico en Argentina."

La Iglesia Metodista Evangélica Argentina ha publicado un reciente artículo académico titulado "El Metodismo como Alternativa al Fundamentalismo Evangélico en Argentina" por Lautaro L. García Alonso. En él, Alonso analiza el Metodismo argentino como "una alternativa evangélica al fundamentalismo" que prioriza "la ampliación de derechos y con posturas sociopolíticas de carácter progresista" en contraste con la tendencia de los fundamentalistas hacia "posicionamientos sociales y políticos alineados a sectores ideológicamente conservadores, y por acompañar el avance de la "nueva derecha" en la región ". El artículo será de interés para aquellos lectores que deseen obtener más información sobre la historia de América metodismo americano, su misión, y su ubicación social.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Thomas Kemper: Mesas Redondas para la Visión y Práctica Misionera Metodista Unida, Parte II

La publicación de blog de hoy está escrita por Thomas Kemper y traducida por Pedro Zavala Chaparro. El Sr. Thomas Kemper actualmente se desempeña como Secretario General de la Junta General de Ministerios Globales de la Iglesia Metodista Unida (GBGM). Esta es la segunda de dos partes. Puedes encontrar la primera parte aquí.

Las Mesas Redondas para la Misión responden a la necesidad de una asociación misionera, de colaboración, con un sentido de mutualidad. La Conferencia Mundial de Misiones de 1947 en Whitby, Ontario, Canadá, tuvo especial importancia en sentar las bases para una nueva comprensión de la colaboración y la planificación de la misión representada por las Mesas Redondas para la Misión.

El lento compromiso Metodista Norteamericano
Las iglesias más antiguas que enviaban misioneros respondieron con diversos grados de entusiasmo y comprensión al mensaje de Whitby. Si bien, el Metodismo estadounidense estuvo bien representado en la conferencia, fue poco afectado por el concepto o la posibilidad práctica de una asociación misionera. Whitby no despertó un sentido de reciprocidad en la misión, entre la Junta de Misiones Metodistas y sus entidades extranjeras fundadas en la misión, agrupadas principalmente en "conferencias centrales" en África, Europa y América Latina.

De hecho, la Iglesia Metodista, formada en 1939, prestó relativamente, poca atención formal a sus componentes en el extranjero hasta la década de 1960. Aunque en 1948 se lanzó un proceso de estudio de estructuras fuera de los Estados Unidos: la Comisión de Estudio del Metodismo en el Extranjero (COSMOS). Después de permanecer durante años en modo de estudio, la Conferencia General de 1964 le pidió a COSMOS que presentara recomendaciones, sobre el futuro de las relaciones con sus iglesias más jóvenes en la próxima Conferencia General. La comisión hizo caso al mandato, pero sus recomendaciones se perdieron en la fusión Metodista-Evangélica con los Hermanos Unidos (EUB, en adelante) de 1968 y COSMOS pasó a la historia, en silencio, en el año de 1972. De allí surgieron muchas Iglesias Metodistas autónomas, en su mayoría nacionales, rediseñadas a partir de conferencias centrales en América Latina y Asia, y las conferencias centrales actuales en África, Europa y Filipinas. Las Conferencias Centrales, las Iglesias Metodistas autónomas y varias Iglesias Unidas forman una reserva más grande de socios misioneros para los Ministerios Globales.

Si los metodistas de América del Norte tardaron en llegar a la misión como asociación, incluso fueron más lentos en adoptar a las mesas redondas como medio de trabajo para la estrategia de la misión, como sucesoras del viejo modelo bilateral, descendente, de arriba hacia abajo. Como director de la Junta General de Ministerios Globales a fines de la década de 1990 y principios de la década de 2000, intenté con poco éxito avanzar en el enfoque de las mesas redondas.

Cuando regresé a Alemania después de ocho años en Brasil, había trabajado en entornos colaborativos; primero ecuménicamente y luego como secretario de misión de la Conferencia Central de Alemania. Nuestra oficina de la misión Metodista Unida Alemana tenía amplios vínculos con socios de misiones globales. Esta apertura a la mutualidad fue el resultado de los antecedentes de la Conferencia Central de Alemania, que surgió (como lo hizo) desde el lado de la EUB y su fusión en 1968. La denominación EUB, relativamente pequeña, estaba más inclinada a que la Iglesia Metodista “más grande” tratara a sus descendientes “más jóvenes” como socios; que cultivaran deliberadamente líderes indígenas que pudieran tomar su lugar en la mesa de la misión. Las iglesias misioneras fundadas por la EUB a menudo también fueron alentadas a unir fuerzas ecuménicamente con otras denominaciones protestantes, como en el caso de las iglesias unidas en Filipinas y la República Dominicana.

Cuando me convertí en Secretario General de Ministerios Globales a principios de 2010, me emocionó encontrar varios colegas del personal que valoraban las mesas redondas y, de hecho, encontrar algunas que ya estaban en marcha. Una, que data de 2007, estaba en Argentina y se reunía cada dos años. Los participantes en ese momento eran la Iglesia Metodista Evangélica de Argentina, la Iglesia Unida de Canadá, Ministerios Globales, la Iglesia Metodista Británica, la Iglesia Metodista Unida de Francia y Suiza, y el Consejo de Iglesias Metodistas Evangélicas de América Latina y el Caribe (CIEMAL). El objetivo no era controlar la misión metodista en Argentina, sino compartir, coordinar y multiplicar resultados positivos.

Los socios en las mesas redondas son claros al expresar sus propios intereses especiales, expectativas y capacidad financiera. En el caso de las iglesias misioneras nacionales o geográficamente definidas, esto significa establecer necesidades realistas, que los socios pueden abordar de manera colectiva o individual. Una anécdota de la Mesa Redonda Argentina de 2010 muestra los aspectos generales y específicos del proceso:

“Una cuestión sobre la mesa se refería a la financiación. Es probable que las subvenciones en bloque a la Iglesia argentina, por parte de las iglesias canadiense y francesa / suiza se puedan reducir o eliminar. Otras preocupaciones apremiantes incluyen el creciente pluralismo dentro de las iglesias, ministerios con estudiantes universitarios, entrenamiento del clero en estudios wesleyanos (...) Los metodistas en la Patagonia están preocupados por la seguridad de la minería, que causó gran interés entre los canadienses. Se llegó a un consenso sobre nuevas propuestas de financiación a través de The Advance (El Avance), el canal de misiones de segunda milla de Ministerios Globales. Uno de esos proyectos es la congregación de Cristo Rey en el lado norte de Buenos Aires. Otros nuevos comienzos de iglesias se encuentran en las provincias de Jujuy y San Louis”.[1]

Tomando impulso
Han seguido decenas de mesas redondas, con un enfoque en el cuatrienio 2013-2016, en conferencias centrales en África e iglesias metodistas autónomas en América Latina y el Caribe. Las mesas redondas centradas en lugares o temas asiáticos fueron frecuentes en el cuadrienio 2017-2020, y una en 2018 resultó en planes para una mayor colaboración misionera pan-metodista en la región.

Como se informó a la Conferencia General de 2016, el valor del proceso se ilustra con referencia en las mesas redondas en Malawi en 2013 y en los eventos de Costa de Marfil en el año de 2015. Las actas de esos eventos identifican a los participantes y sus afiliaciones. Esto incluye metodistas de base, misioneros, personal de agencias, socios ecuménicos y representantes de conferencias e instituciones anuales, todos comprometidos como socios. “Luego, las minutas detallan las metas acordadas, los desafíos y las respuestas consideradas, y los objetivos de los próximos pasos a seguir, incluidos los compromisos específicos. En muchos casos, las mesas redondas resultan en memorandos formales de entendimiento relacionados con objetivos específicos de la misión. La mesa redonda en Malawi y otra en Eurasia estaban preocupadas en parte por el movimiento y estado de la "iniciativa misionera", para una mayor participación en la estructura de la conferencia de la iglesia".[2]

Los temas de la mesa redonda a lo largo de los años se han expandido para incluir las cuatro áreas de enfoque de la iglesia: desarrollo de nuevos líderes, desarrollo congregacional, salud global y ministerio con los pobres. Estos temas son útiles en las mesas redondas de base amplia o en lugares de misiones particulares.

Empoderamiento
El proceso de la Mesa Redonda para la Misión es el reemplazo apropiado para el antiguo modelo bilateral de estructura y operación de la misión cristiana, aunque una modificación de ese estilo ha ganado algunos seguidores. Esto reemplazaría las juntas de misiones tradicionales con vínculos directos entre las conferencias y congregaciones estadounidenses y las unidades y programas de misiones en el extranjero. Si bien esto podría sugerir una participación más directa en la misión, dejaría en su lugar el mismo sistema de poder centrado en EE.UU. Así como la estructura de dependencia económica asociada con la era colonialista. También invita a la confusión en el establecimiento de la misión e invita a la competencia entre los "partidarios". Una estructura de misión multinacional y conexional es necesaria en una denominación diversa.

El enfoque de la mesa redonda empodera a todos los socios. Es más que un instrumento de misión: es más que “ayudar” solamente a nuevas comunidades cristianas. Las Mesas Redondas para la Misión incluyen componentes teológicos y de política que llegan al corazón de lo que significa seguir a Jesucristo y lo que significa ser su iglesia. Y empodera a los socios a través de un sentido de participación inclusiva.

[1] Elliott Wright, "Mesas redondas para la misión", New World Outlook, enero-febrero de 2012, p. 38).
[2] Informe de la Junta General de Ministerios Globales, a la Conferencia General de 2016, Advance Daily Christin Advocate, vol. 2, pp, 812-813.