Friday, January 21, 2022

Juan Gattinoni: Methodism and Democracy

Today's post is written by Rev. Juan Gattanoni, pastor of la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (the Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina).

The themes of Methodism and democracy have sailed together in harmony since ancient times. I belong to a family with a long history of Methodism in Argentina. In fact, hymns and the Wesleyan spirit accompanied me from the cradle. For more than 180 years, the Evangelical Methodist Church has been accompanying the history of Argentina with its presence, being one of the first Protestant Churches to develop a missionary task.

My intention is to speak from a testimonial perspective and from the facts that show the commitment of the Methodists in Argentina to democracy.

I would like to make a preliminary distinction. We talk about "politics" and "the political." Politics is the set of activities that people associated with a group (political party) do to accumulate power that allows them to govern, make decisions, and direct the destinies of a society. The political is what "happens in the polis" and therefore is of concern, interest, or need to the people in their daily lives. I understand that the church is not called to govern and get into the tug-of-war of politics. But she is called to get into the political, that is, with what happens to the people.

We speak of democracy when we say that the populace (demos), the people, have participation in the decisions that govern them. Elect and be elected. Delegate authority to exercise on your behalf.

The Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church) (as well as others in the world) is conceptually democratic and it has been since its inception. We would say that we value democracy as a system of government "in its own flesh."

The Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), already autonomous since 1969, takes for its own government a broadly democratic system, where its representatives (bishops, superintendents, work commissions, etc.) are elected by the representatives of the churches gathered in General Assembly.

Argentina since 1816 (its Independence) has had different governments, some with "a certain level" of democracy (only in 1950 was the female vote and its participation approved), and a large number of coups d'état, softer or harsher dictatorships, but nothing democratic. Probably the most ferocious dictatorship in Argentina was during the years 1976 to 1983, with more than 30,000 people kidnapped and disappeared, and that came to an end involving us in war with Great Britain for the recovery of our Malvinas Islands, which, as was supposed, was lost, leaving a balance of 650 Argentine troops dead.

That said, it is worth affirming that democracy in Argentina really begins in December 1983. And uninterruptedly since that date, not without various crises, we have lived under a democratic government regime for 39 years! This means that democracy as a way of life, for Argentines, is something very desired, valued, and necessary.

I keep a clipping from the conference journal of 1938, where the Methodist Episcopal Church South America Conference, gathered in the 46th annual conference, tells us through its Bishop Juan E. Gattinoni (my grandfather): "The Methodist Church must fight to maintain democracy and therefore will resist dictatorships, as they decapitate the opposition. On the contrary, the former dignifies the latter. Creative minds are destroyed by dictatorships, and the entire nation marches under such regimes to the most absolute mental sterility. On the contrary, in democracy, the creative mind is protected and preserved, because it wants freedom, equality and fraternity to be a fact of life consciously enjoyed by all." ... "We must fight for democracy, so that within this regime of coexistence, men can use their freedom to obtain economic justice for all" ... "The Methodist Episcopal Church does not endorse, sustain, or participate in war. Its components are convinced that good understanding and goodwill can bear better fruit and can save precious lives." It is worth mentioning that this statement of the MEC arose in a context in which, in Europe, Communism and Nazism were firmly and violently questioning democracy as a system of government.

Each Assembly of the IEMA since autonomy has spoken in favor of democracy, the participation of the people, and the inclusion of those most in need in the objectives of government in the country.

But it is not only a question of pronouncing oneself in favor of democracy, but of having an action/mission that has to do with the needs of the people. It is in this sense that the Missionary Strategy outlined and approved in the General Assembly in 1973 by the IEMA pointed out that it is the state that must meet the needs of its people and that the church is called to cover in a supplementary way what the state would not be able to attend to, that is, education, health, social problems, etc.

The coup d'état and dictatorship of March 1976 in Argentina was one of the many that spread throughout Latin America. In Argentina, it was really tragic as we mentioned above. The IEMA not only did not support that dictatorship (it is worth mentioning that other churches did, including the official Roman Catholic Church), but also committed several of its leaders in the struggle for human rights, as a form of struggle for the restitution of the democratic system.

The coup d'état in Chile in September 1973, which ended democratic life, was also bloody and immediately generated thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. Most found their way out more accessible in Argentina, mainly in Mendoza, but also other cities in Argentina.

The IEMA was inevitably compelled to get involved in the political and risk organizing refugee care committees together with other churches (not many). Bishop Federico J. Pagura (elected in 1977) tells us what that experience was, being a pastor in the city of Mendoza. "In view of the reality of thousands of Chilean refugees who crossed the mountain range claiming refuge in our country, with the risks involved[1] at that time to receive, accompany, and defend them against the dictatorship that was already beginning to show its teeth and claws, I asked my Bishop Carlos Gattinoni (first bishop of the autonomous IM) for an urgent visit to Mendoza, and in a more than secret conversation, I asked him if he and our Methodist Church would be willing to support us and accompany us in this dangerous adventure to which we were challenged. And he answered me, 'Go ahead Frederick, with those who are willing to commit out of love for Christ and the people. We will accompany them to the end, whatever the consequences.'"

The IEMA, with the firm decision of its bishop, not only understood that the cause of human rights and political refuge has to do with the democratic conception of life, but also encouraged the formation of different human rights organizations that played a very important role in politics in our country. The church understood it this way, in her fidelity to the Lord and other Protestant churches accompanied this position as well. Resonating behind this firm decision is that "the world is my parish." This was the way to get involved in "the political." Other evangelical churches did NOT understand it that way and continued to worry about "heavenly things."

One of the things that distinguish Argentina from other countries that went through oppressive dictatorships is that, once democracy returned, the genocide perpetrated by the dictatorship was judged in national courts (76-83). The genocidal dictators were found guilty and convicted under Argentine law. The Methodist Church also has something to do with this process. It happened that, with the advent of the new democratic government, on December 10, 1983, President Alfonsín made an important decision just 5 days after his inauguration (December 15, 1983). By Decree of Necessity and Urgency, he created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), whose objective was to investigate the issue of disappeared persons and violations of human rights that occurred in the period 1976-1983.

It was composed of a group of 10 people, known for their honesty, among whom were three religious leaders: a rabbi, a Catholic bishop, and Methodist Bishop Carlos Gattinoni. CONADEP was based in Buenos Aires, but several subcommissions were created in different cities of the country, in which there were Methodist pastors serving as well. The importance of CONADEP's investigative work lies in the fact that its report was a fundamental input for the Civil Court that tried the dictators months later.

The concern for the decline of democracy in recent times fundamentally goes through the judicial power.[2] With the advent of the "low fare” widely practiced in judicial venues and the power of media corporations that shamelessly practice "fake news," confusing and manipulating the thinking of the people, the role of the judicial branch (one of the three branches of the democratic system) has effectively taken preeminence over the other two powers. This shakes the democratic system in our country. If justice is not there to protect the right of the weak, it is not justice.

As Psalm 85:10-13 says:

"Mercy and truth meet; justice and peace kiss. Truth will spring from the earth and justice will look out from the heavens. Jehovah will also give good and our land will bear its fruit. Justice will go before him, and his steps will set us on the road."

[1] On September 5, 1975, at 3 am, a bomb was placed in the Methodist Temple of Espejo 423, in the heart of Mendoza, destroying five doors and all the glass in front of the building.

[2] When the military dictatorship was established (1976-83), all the judges were forced to sign fidelity to the "Acts of the National Reorganization Process," led by the military junta, and that was the way they made sure to commit all the abuses they wanted.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Juan Gattinoni: Metodismo y Democracia

La publicación de blog de hoy está escrita por Juan Gattanoni, pastor de la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina.

La temática Metodismo y Democracia navega en armonía desde tiempos lejanos. Pertenezco a una familia de larga trayectoria en el Metodismo en Argentina. De hecho, himnos y espíritu wesleyano, me acompañan desde la cuna. Hace más de 180 años la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista viene acompañando la historia de Argentina con su presencia, siendo de las primeras Iglesias protestantes que desarrolla una tarea misionera.

Mi intención es hablar desde una perspectiva testimonial, y a partir de los hechos que muestran el compromiso de los metodistas en Argentina con la Democracia.

Quisiera hacer una distinción previa. Hablamos de “LA política” y de “LO político”. La política es el conjunto de actividades que hacen las personas asociadas en grupo (partidos políticos), para acumular poder que les permita gobernar, tomar decisiones e ir dirigiendo los destinos de una sociedad. LO político es aquello que “sucede en la polis” y por ello resulta lo que es de preocupación, interés o necesidad de la gente en su diario vivir. Entiendo que la Iglesia no está llamada a gobernar y meterse en los tires y aflojes de LA política. Pero sí es llamada a meterse en LO político, o sea con lo que le sucede a la gente.

Hablamos de Democracia, cuando decimos que el pueblo (demos), la gente, tiene participación en las decisiones que le gobiernan. Elegir y ser elegido. Delegar autoridad para ejercicio en su representación.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (así como otras en el mundo) es conceptualmente democrática. Diríamos que valoramos la democracia como sistema de gobierno “en carne propia” Y así lo ha sido desde sus inicios.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), ya autónoma desde 1969, toma para su propio gobierno un sistema ampliamente democrático, en donde sus representantes (obispos, superintendentes, comisiones de trabajo, etc.) son elegidos por los representantes de las iglesias reunidos en Asamblea General.

La Argentina desde 1816 (su Independencia) hasta la fecha ha tenido distintos gobiernos, alguno que otro con “cierto nivel” de democracia (recién en 1950 se aprobó el voto femenino y su participación), y una gran cantidad de golpes de Estado, dictaduras más blandas o más duras, pero nada democráticas. Probablemente la más feroz dictadura en Argentina fue durante los años 1976 a 1983, con más de 30,000 personas secuestradas y desaparecidas, y que llega a su fin involucrándonos en Guerra con Gran Bretaña por la recuperación de nuestras Islas Malvinas, la cual, como era de presuponer, se perdió dejando un saldo de 650 fallecidos de las fuerzas argentinas.

Dicho esto vale afirmar que la Democracia en la Argentina en rigor de verdad comienza en Diciembre de 1983. Y hasta la fecha ininterrumpidamente, no sin diversas crisis, hemos vivido bajo un régimen de gobierno democrático por 39 años! Esto quiere decir que la Democracia como forma de vida, para los argentinos, es algo muy deseado, valorado y necesario.

Conservamos un recorte del Diario Crítica del año 1938, donde la Iglesia Metodista Episcopal del Este de Sud América, reunida en la 46va. Conferencia Anual, nos dice a través de su Obispo Juan E. Gattinoni (mi abuelo): “La Iglesia Metodista debe luchar para mantener la democracia y por lo tanto, resistirá a las dictaduras, pues éstas decapitan a la oposición. En cambio aquella, dignifica la última. Las mentes creadoras son destruidas por las dictaduras y la nación entera marcha bajo tales regímenes a la más absoluta esterilidad mental. Por el contrario, en la democracia, la mente creadora es protegida y conservada, porque ella quiere que sea un hecho en la vida, la libertad, la igualdad y fraternidad conscientemente gozadas por todos.” … “Debemos luchar por la democracia, a fin de que dentro de dicho régimen de convivencia, los hombres puedan usar su libertad para obtener justicia económica para todos” … “La Iglesia Metodista Episcopal no endosa, no sostiene ni participa en la guerra. Sus componentes estamos convencidos que el buen entendimiento y la buena voluntad pueden dar mejores frutos y pueden ahorrar vidas preciosas”. Vale mencionar que esta afirmación de la IME, surge en el contexto en que en Europa, Comunismo y Nazismo estaban cuestionando firme y violentamente la Democracia como sistema de gobierno.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), ya autónoma desde 1969, toma para su propio gobierno un sistema ampliamente democrático, en donde sus representantes (obispos, superintendentes, comisiones de trabajo, etc.) son elegidos por los representantes de las iglesias reunidos en Asamblea General.

Cada Asamblea de la IEMA desde la autónoma ha pronunciado a favor de la democracia, de la participación del pueblo y de la inclusión de los más necesitados en los objetivos de gobierno del país. Pero no se trata sólo de pronunciarse a favor de la democracia, sino de tener una acción/misión que tenga que ver con las necesidades del pueblo. Es en ese sentido que la Estrategia Misionera delineada y aprobada en Asamblea General en 1973 por la IEMA apuntaba a que es el Estado que debe atender las necesidades de su pueblo y que la Iglesia está llamada a cubrir de manera supletoria lo que el Estado no estuviera pudiendo atender, esto es educación, salud, problemáticas sociales, etc.

El golpe de Estado y Dictadura de marzo de 1976 en Argentina, fue uno de los tantos que se esparcieron por toda Latinoamérica. En Argentina, fue realmente trágica como mencionáramos más arriba. La IEMA no sólo no apoyó esa Dictadura (vale mencionar que otras Iglesias sí lo hicieron, incluyendo la Iglesia Oficial, Católica Romana), sino que comprometió a varios de sus dirigentes en la lucha por los Derechos Humanos, como forma de lucha para la restitución del sistema democrático.

El golpe de Estado en Chile, en septiembre de 1973, que acabó con la vida democrática, fue sangriento también y generó de inmediato miles de refugiados que huían para salvar sus vidas. La mayoría encontraban su salida más accesible en Argentina, principalmente en Mendoza, pero también otras ciudades de Argentina.

La IEMA se vio inevitablemente compelida a involucrarse en LO político, y arriesgarse a organizar junto con otras Iglesias (no muchas) Comités de Atención a Refugiados. El Obispo Federico J. Pagura (elegido en 1977) nos relata lo que fue esa experiencia, siendo él pastor en la ciudad de Mendoza. “Ante la realidad de miles de refugiados chilenos que cruzaban la cordillera clamando refugio en nuestro país, con los riesgos[1] que entrañaba en ese tiempo el recibirlos, acompañarlos y defenderlos ante la dictadura que ya empezaba a mostrar sus dientes y garras, yo le pedí a mi Obispo Carlos Gattinoni (primer obispo de la IM autónoma), una urgente visita a Mendoza, y en una conversación más que secreta le pregunté si él y nuestra Iglesia Metodista estarían dispuestos a respaldarnos y acompañarnos en esa peligrosa aventura a que se nos desafiaba. Y él me respondió: “sigan adelante Federico, con los que estén dispuestos a comprometerse por amor a Cristo y al pueblo. Nosotros les acompañaremos hasta el fin, cualesquiera sean las consecuencias”.

La IEMA, con la decisión firme de su obispo, no sólo entendió que la causa de los Derechos Humanos y el refugio político tiene que ver con la concepción democrática de la vida, sino que además animó la formación de distintos Organismos de Derechos Humanos que jugaron un rol muy importante en lo político en nuestro país. La Iglesia lo entendió así, en su fidelidad al Señor y otras iglesias protestantes acompañaron esta posición también. Resuena por detrás de esta firme decisión aquello de que “el mundo es mi parroquia”. Esta fue la manera de involucrarse en “lo político”. Otras iglesias evangélicas NO lo entendieron así y siguieron preocupándose por las “cosas celestiales”.

Una de las cosas que distinguen a Argentina en cuanto a otros países que pasaron por dictaduras opresivas es que, una vez vuelta la Democracia, se juzgó en tribunales nacionales el genocidio perpetrado por la Dictadura (76-83). Los dictadores genocidas fueron encontrados culpables y condenados según la ley Argentina. También la Iglesia Metodista tiene algo que ver con este proceso. Sucede que, con el advenimiento del nuevo gobierno democrático, el 10 de diciembre de 1983, el Presidente Alfonsín toma una decisión trascendente a solo 5 días de su asunción (15 de diciembre de 1983). Por Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia crea la Comisión Nacional sobre Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP) cuyo objetivo fue investigar el tema desaparecidos y violaciones a los DDHH acaecidas en el período 1976-1983. Estaba compuesta por un grupo de 10 personas, conocidas por su honestidad, entre los que había tres religiosos: un rabino, un obispo Católico y el Obispo Metodista Carlos Gattinoni. La CONADEP tenía su sede en Buenos Aires, pero se crearon varias subcomisiones en distintas ciudades del país, en las cuales hubo pastores metodistas sirviendo también. La importancia del trabajo de investigación de la CONADEP radica en que su informe fue un insumo fundamental para el Tribunal Civil que juzgó a los dictadores meses más tarde.

La preocupación por el decrecimiento de la democracia en estos últimos tiempos fundamentalmente pasa por el Poder Judicial[2]. Con el advenimiento del “Low Fare” ampliamente practicado en sedes judiciales y el poder de las corporaciones de medios de comunicación que practican sin pudor las “fake news”, confundiendo y manipulando el pensamiento de la gente, el rol del Poder Judicial (uno de los tres poderes del sistema democrático) ha tomado en la práctica preeminencia sobre los otros dos poderes. Esto hace tambalear el sistema democrático en nuestro país. Si la justicia no está para proteger el derecho del débil, no es justicia.

Como bien dice el Salmo 85: 10-13

"La misericordia y la verdad se encontraron; la justicia y la paz se besaron. La verdad brotará de la tierra y la justicia mirará desde los cielos. Jehová dará también el bien y nuestra tierra dará su fruto. La justicia irá delante de él y sus pasos nos pondrá por camino."

[1] El 5 de septiembre de 1975 a las 3 am, una bomba fue puesta en el Templo Metodista de Espejo 423, en pleno centro de Mendoza, destruyendo cinco puertas y todos los vidrios del frente del edificio.

[2] Cuando se instaura la Dictadura Militar (1976-83), todos los jueces fueron obligados a firmar fidelidad a las “Actas del Proceso de Reorganización Nacional” liderado por la Junta Militar y esa fue la manera que se aseguraron cometer todos los atropellos que quisieron.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sung Il Lee: The Unspoken Questions of Religious Pluralism in Korea

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee. Rev. Dr. Lee is a missionary of Global Ministries and Missionary Practitioner in Residence at Candler School of Theology. It is the first of a four-part series.

In this series of posts, I will first share my wrestling with unspoken questions of Korean Christians in the religious and historical context of Korea. Next, I will contrast Korean and Western experiences of pluralism. Then after sharing Wesley's understanding of religion, I, as a Korean missiologist, will continue to examine how Wesley understood mission and testified to the gospel from a multicultural and religious background.

As in any Asian country “culture and religion or culture and ideology are intertwined,”[1] Korea has been a religiously pluralistic society that has seen a history of conflict between national spirituality and foreign religion or cultures. Korean religious culture was formed through the union of these elements, including Shamanism (BC 5th century), Buddhism (6-14th centuries), Confucianism (15-19th centuries), and Christianity (19-20th centuries). In other words, “there is no strong line of demarcation, and each of these religions has borrowed much from the others.”[2]

This means that Koreans, including myself, are living a religiously pluralistic society. Let me start with my personal experience of religious pluralism. I entered a seminary with my parents’ conviction that God has called me to be God’s servant. During my second year of seminary education, I was exposed to religious pluralism, which challenged the foundations of my faith. I almost lost sight of why I had come to seminary and became very discouraged. It was during this struggle that I encountered the One who called me by my name. He was Jesus. This spiritual encounter with Jesus led me to confess that Jesus was my Lord and Savior and to commit my life to Christ.

In a pluralistic world of religions, all Koreans, including myself, who encountered the gospel and became a Christian, have unspoken questions in their minds. These are questions that no one is willing to answer and are reluctant to ask: My father, who accepted Jesus on the day I was born, always held a memorial service on the anniversary of my great-grandparents and grandparents. I still remember his prayer, which he said while shedding tears after the sermon. It was a plea to “have mercy on our ancestors who would be in a place (hell) they did not want now because they could not have heard the gospel.” He was not ignorant of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, but I knew that it was an earnest prayer that came out of the mouth of a child to an ancestor who did not believe in Jesus.

There are many heroic and altruistic people that Koreans respect. Among them, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), who saved my country by preventing Japanese invasion, and Sejong the Great (1397-1450), who created Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) to help poor people protect their rights. If you are preaching the gospel outside the church or preaching on “salvation through faith in Jesus” within the church, there is a question you are always asked. “You mean they went to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus?” “I do not know. Only God knows. I'll find out more about it in the future.” If you answer honestly, you'll pass, but if you say, “They must have gone to hell because they didn't believe in Jesus,” the situation will get worse for a moment.

Before the missionaries came to Korea, I thought that there was no God but only idols and demons in Korea and God had tailgated the missionary who came to Korea. However, I was very surprised when I found out that Koreans were using the word “Hana-nim” for the only and one God before the Scottish missionary John Ross, who made a Korean translation of the New Testament in 1887, walked around the borders of Korea to spread the gospel, and before the American missionaries Allen (1884) and Appenzeller and Underwood (1885) set foot on Korean soil. Before the missionaries came, God already existed in Korea. That is why God is called “Jehovah Shammah” (Ezekiel 48:30-35).

In high school, I was once surprised to watch Hudson Taylor's documentary film preaching the gospel to the Chinese with the Chinese character Ui (義) for “righteousness or justification” that comes from the death of the lamb of God. Then, through C. H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson’s The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979) and other books,[3] I came to confirm the meaning of the gospel contained in the pictograms called Chinese characters through the Chinese characters created by Korean ancestors.[4] I became convinced that Korean people were not people who did not know God and the Gospel without a constant supply of God's revealed word.

During this time, a new spiritual change took place. While studying the history of Christian missions in Asia, I found much evidence that showed that the Apostle Thomas' visits to India, China, and even Korea and Japan is not a theory but a reality.[5] Among them, evidence was also confirmed that Hwang-ok Heo (32-189), an Indian princess who came to the kingdom of Gaya (42-542) after hearing the Apostle Thomas' visit to India and became the queen of King Kim Suro (42-199), testified to the gospel of Christianity in Korea. After a few centuries, there is no denying that Buddhism in Silla was influenced by Nestorian Christianity of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). After a brief intermission, the Christian gospel was heard again through the Mongol Empire and the Great Yuan (1271-1368). However, it disappeared from the stage of East Asian history again with the collapse of the Yuan dynasty.

I want to say that God was illuminating all Korean people through Christ, who came as the true light to our Korean ancestors in various ways (John 1:9). Despite this historical evidence, the questions and answers about the salvation of so-called “good people” who have not yet heard the gospel are like hot potatoes. Of course, were there good people in Adam's descendants? As our inner self testifies, it is true that we are all “a brood of evildoers” (Isa.1:4) who must hear the Gospel.

[1] Donald L. Stults, Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology (Manila: OMF Literature, 1989), 106.

[2] Roy E. Shearer, Wildfire: church growth in Korea (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1966), 31.

[3] Ethel R. Nelson & Richard E. Broadberry, Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve (Concordia, 1994). Ethel R. Nelson, God's Promise to The Chinese (Read, 2014).

[4] Regarding the origin of Chinese characters, the Chinese academic community also acknowledges the historical fact that Chinese characters were not made by the Han Chinese ancestors, but by the Korean ancestors Dongi people (東夷族). Dongi is a term used by Chinese people to refer to Koreans.

[5] Jeong Hak-bong, The Story of Apostle Thomas (Dongseonambuk, 2009). Lee Yong-bong, The Apostle Thomas and the Asian Church (Visionsa, 2017). Dongwook Yeom, Silla and Gaya-the New Kingdom of Israel. (Shinil Choolphansa, 2017).

Friday, January 14, 2022

Recommended Reading: Wespath CEO's introductory blog

As of January 1st, Wespath, the retirement investments and benefits agency of The United Methodist Church, has a new General Secretary and CEO, Andy Hendren. Hendren replaces Barbara Boigegrain, who retired after 27 years as General Secretary. While Wespath often receives less attention than other boards and agencies, the amount of resources it holds makes it a significant means for United Methodists to carry out connectional ministry, and the transition from Boigegrain to Hendren is a major transition for this important institution. Therefore, Hendren's introductory blog post as CEO is well worth reading.

Hendren's blog post contains two piece of particular interest. First, he explains his philosophy of investing:

"I think of our sustainable investments approach as a 'yes and.' We focus always on our core fiduciary obligation to our participants and investors to maximize returns—seeking alpha, or excess returns compared to our performance benchmarks, wherever we can. And we seek to 'raise the beta'—a strategy to reduce the systemic risks of financial markets and improve market-wide returns—in hopes of lifting all boats in a way that reaps the additional returns needed to care for those we serve."

Within the investment-speak of "alpha" and "beta" in these sentences, Hendren indicates that he sees good investment returns for investors and a positive impact on the broader society not as competing goals but as compatible goals. Given that the relationship between these two goals has periodically been a debate within the UMC, this is a significant statement.

Second, Hendren connects that belief in the compatibility between what's right for investors and what's right for the broader society with John Wesley's teachings. He writes, "To me, our commitment to sustainable investment embodies John Wesley’s general rules: first to 'do no harm' and second to 'do good of every sort, and, as far as possible to all.' In this sense, I think of sustainable investing as our brand of stewardship evangelism."

While it's not necessary for the CEO of Wespath to be a theologian, it is a very positive sign to see the CEO being able to speak the language of the church and to make connections between the church's theological articulation of values and Wespath's investment philosophy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Great Resignation, the Great Retirement, and the Great Reconsideration among Clergy

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.

Many commentators have written about how the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed clergy in the United States to think about resigning from ministry, including a previous post on this blog. While much of the evidence for this trend is anecdotal, there has also been survey research to back it up. A Barna Group study released in November found that 38% of all clergy, including 46% of pastors under 45 and 51% of mainline clergy have considered leaving ministry in the past year. This commentary about clergy resignations comes on top of news from the Lewis Center that the number of young United Methodist elders in the U.S. is lower than ever.

What has not been much emphasized in the reporting on clergy resignations or on United Methodist clergy age trends is trends among older clergy. The Lewis Center report acknowledged that after decades of a growing number of older clergy, that trend has reversed over the past two years, with the number of older clergy now falling. A Washington Post article looking at the labor shortage across job sectors found that the largest declines in labor force participation from pre-pandemic to the present were among older workers, many of whom opted for earlier retirement. Both these data points suggest there may be an increased retirement rate among clergy, though more specific data is needed to prove that.

Thinking about the dynamics of age and career stage leads to a more complex understanding of the multiple crises facing denominations trying to supply congregations with enough clergy. We can think of three related but distinct crises: the Great Resignation, the Great Retirement, and the Great Reconsideration.

The Great Resignation is one of several terms that have been used to describe a trend across job sectors over the course of the pandemic for people to quit their jobs. In some instances, people have not taken new jobs, but the Washington Post evidence suggests that most people under 55 have found other work. Applied to clergy, the Great Resignation describes the trend of clergy to leave ministry before the end of their careers. While this trend applies across age brackets, the Barna and Lewis Center data suggests this trend is most pronounced among clergy in the first half of their career lives, who have more time to build a career in an alternate field. Late middle aged clergy may feel a greater compulsion to stay in their current occupation, rather than attempt to switch careers in their 50s.

The Great Retirement describes people who, because of the pandemic, denominational uncertainty, or other reasons, are leaving ministry to retire earlier than they would have otherwise. Rather than continuing to pastor until they are at the UMC mandatory clergy retirement age of 72, they retire earlier, perhaps at 62 when Social Security benefits become available. Not all may be retiring a full decade early, but this category captures all whose retirement schedules are moved up because of larger systemic (rather than entirely personal) issues. While losing an older clergyperson with 5 years of service left to early retirement is not the same as losing a young clergyperson with 35 years of service left to another career, given the number of older clergy in the UMC, a trend towards earlier retirement nonetheless has the potential to be significant.

The Great Reconsideration, then, describes people who are considering or might have considered a career in ministry but decide not to pursue that sense of calling because of the same set of COVID-related, denominational, and other external factors negatively impacting clergy work for existing clergy. They reconsider their sense of calling. While the Great Reconsideration impacts people across age brackets, it is likely a significant factor impacting the decline in the number of younger clergy. Faithful young people are finding means to serve God with their careers other than as clergy.

Again, more data would be helpful to establish the scope and extent of each of these three clergy challenges, but the existing data suggests it is fair to think of there being three related but distinct clergy crises.

Thinking of these crises as related but distinct helps clarify the sorts of responses required by denominational leaders to address these crises and ensure an adequate supply of clergy for existing and new congregations. Some of the drivers of these crises are common across categories: the ways in which the pandemic, denominational conflict, and societal polarization have made the experience of ministry more difficult and decreased clergy well-being. But the contexts that shape how these external factors impact individual's sense of vocation, career, and alternative options are distinct according to stage of life and ministry.

Thus, efforts to increase clergy well-being are likely to make a positive impact on each of these three clergy crises. But denominational leaders should also be mindful of the unique needs of clergy at different stages of their lives and careers and seek to provide stage-appropriate resources as well.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Recommended Reading: Prayers for Kazakhstan

Bishop Eduard Khegay has issued a prayer for Kazakhstan on his Facebook page (in Russian; translation available through Facebook). Kazakhstan has experienced a week of instability, including protests, riots and government crackdowns, set off by a rise in gas prices and underlying concerns about corruption and domination of the country by elites. NPR offers a brief summary of the situation, and the UMC in Germany offers background information for the bishop's remarks (in German). Much of the unrest has occurred in Almaty, the country's largest city and former capitol and Bishop Khegay's hometown. Today, Jan. 10th, has been designated as a special day of mourning for those who have died in the recent events.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Recommended Reading: Doug Wingeier biography

The Michigan Annual Conference has published a lovely biography of Douglas E. Wingeier, a retired United Methodist missionary to Southeast Asia and professor of Christian education and practical theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The thorough biography gives testimony to one who has served faithfully "as a teacher, mentor, peacemaker, advocate for justice, for the health of the planet, as a witness for the love and grace of Jesus, as a relationship builder between cultures around the world." This summary of the life and work of a great mission thinker is well worth a read.