Monday, March 18, 2019

Recommended Reading: WCC Ecological Justice Roadmap for Churches

The World Council of Churches has released a "Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice," a short, practical guide of steps that churches can take to practice ecological justice in their economic habits. Tragically, its main author, Rev. Norman Tendis, was killed in the recent plane crash in Ethiopia, making its release poignant.

One significant point raised at the "Creation and the City of God" theological consultation hosted by Global Ministries recently was that there is a need for more resources for congregations, conferences, and other United Methodist entities as they seek to make decisions about property in ways that take into consideration the impact on our environment and the inclusion of all people. This WCC resources is therefore a welcome arrival.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The UMC in Denmark considers "a better way forward"

Ole Birch, a pastor in the Denmark Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has suggested that body appoint a commission to recommend "a better way forward" for the UMC in Denmark. While Birch's suggestion is just that - a suggestion - it reveals the range of options that may be under consideration in Denmark following the adoption of the Traditional Plan by the special General Conference 2019. A translation by David Scott of an interview with Birch by the official website of the UMC in Denmark is below.

Proposal for a Better Way Forward (Forslag om en bedre vej fremad)
After the conclusion of the extraordinary General Conference last week, Ole Birch, pastor of the Jerusalem Church, posted a proposal to Facebook that he will present to the Methodist Church's National Meeting [Annual Conference]. Ole Birch calls the proposal "A better way forward," and it is about establishing a commission that will have the task to prepare a report for the 2021 annual conference on a future for the United Methodist Church in Denmark where gays and lesbians enjoy the same opportunities to have their relationships blessed and to serve in the church as all others.

You can read the proposal here. [Link in Danish.]

Proposals are made to the National Meeting and are handled by the delegates that the local congregations elect to represent them.

Metodistkirken.de has asked Ole Birch to explain the background for his proposal:

Ole Birch writes:

I have sent a proposal to the [United] Methodist Church in Denmark's annual conference about a commission for a better way forward. Moderator Anne Thompson has asked if I would shortly explain my thoughts in this regard, and I will do that gladly.

Like many others, I have experienced repeated disappointments that our more conservative brothers and sisters are not willing to allow room for different theologies on the question of human sexuality. I had dared to hope a little bit that our bishops initiative and support for the One Church Plan at the now concluded General Conference could have helped us into a new situation. As all who followed along saw, it went very differently. It is difficult to see how it would possibly go differently in the foreseeable future. It is my experience that many Danish Methodists experience discouragement and a feeling of powerlessness over this.

I make my proposal on two grounds. First, to point out that we are not powerless. We can, with God's help, take the situation into our own hands and form our future as we think it should be shaped. We must not give in to discouragement, which is a great temptation in this situation. Discouragement will lead us to give up and take us away from our fellowship in the church. I cannot think of any that feel discouraged, namely not the LGBTQ people that have held fast to their church, which has condemned and discriminated against them, but I will say that there is hope for a better way forward, if we stay together to form the way.

Second, I think we need to investigate what possibilities we have to come to a situation where we do not condemn and do not discriminate. Many have asked if one or another solution could not work? The commission I suggest should investigate to answer this question. Can we work together with European Methodists on a new church? Can we find ecumenical partners in Denmark to be church together with? Can we be autonomous? Can we ever leave the United Methodist Church? Can we become an affiliate church to the United Methodist Church, and thereby open more freedom? There are many such questions, but we lack answers. It is my hope that the commission can help us to find a better way forward.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Convening "Creation and the City of God"

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 position of Global Ministries.

The last two days, Global Ministries hosted “Creation and the City of God,” a theological consultation that considered how the built environment can exemplify the flourishing of God’s creation through the ways in which development integrates with and enhances the places where it exists, ensures physical, economic and emotional safety for people in the community, and contributes to the sustainability of all of creation.

The consultation brought together a unique mix of scholars, pastors, agency executives, financial decision-makers, and creation care advocates from across The United Methodist Church and beyond. Five panels fostered interactions among those gathered around the topics of the theological significance of the built environment, how the built environment can promote inclusion and belonging, how we respond to vulnerability and living in liminal spaces, stewardship of finances and property, and creation care witness and advocacy.

I had the good fortune, along with Rev. Jenny Phillips and Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, to be one of the people convening this event. Thus, I know as well as any why Global Ministries hosted this event. I share here a version of my remarks from Monday morning to the participants on that question.

In my role as Director of Mission Theology at Global Ministries, I see one of my main jobs as fostering conversations. In fact, I’ve argued that mission is conversation – conversation in the context of relationships across boundaries about God’s good news. That focus on conversation is spelled out in the purpose of this blog (“Dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church”), and it’s present in much of the rest of the work I do as well.

Thus, when Rev. Malcolm Frazier, at the time the United States Regional Office Representative for Global Ministries, approached me and my colleague Jerome Sahabandhu about the possibility of convening a theological consultation for mission partners from around the US, I was intrigued.

When Jerome and I agreed to take Malcolm’s idea and run with it, we had to decide: On what area of missional work should we focus? What topic would be significant enough to warrant our time and attention, while not duplicating existing resources and conversations?

On the question of significance, it was clear to me that creation care is one of the most pressing political, social, cultural, and religious issues of our time. Recent scientific findings released in the past six months have only heightened that sense.

I have been deeply encouraged to see missiologists paying increasing attention to creation care as an area of mission work over the last decade or so. For instance, it is included as one of the Five Marks of Mission, J. Andrew Kirk lists it as one of four main areas of mission work in his seminal book What Is Mission?, and recent ecumenical documents on mission such as Together Towards Life have emphasized the importance of creation care as a realm of mission work.

Yet while there has been important work done in the area of creation care within The United Methodist Church by the bishops and by our sister agencies such as UMW and Church and Society, and by some of Global Ministries’ own global missionaries, it seemed like there was room to do more. Indeed, until we see dramatic changes in the ways our economy and society are structured for the sake of reducing our impact on the created world, I don’t think any amount of effort related to or attention on this issue can really be too much or unnecessarily duplicative.

At the same time, Global Ministries was deepening its creation care efforts, including naming the creation care dimension to long-standing work. In addition to a growing attention to creation care, Global Ministries has a large and diverse network and a reputation as a trusted partner to many in the denomination. Therefore, we thought that Global Ministries had the possibility of bringing together people around this issue in a way that had not been done before by including a wider array of partners in the conversation.

Thus, Jerome and I agreed to focus on creation care. Yet, although creation care is something I care very deeply about as an individual and think is quite important as a missiologist, it is not my area of primary academic expertise. Fortunately, it was at just this time that Global Ministries hired Rev. Jenny Phillips as our first-ever Creation Care Program Manager. Jenny brought a wealth of experience, knowledge, and networks that have really made this event possible.

Together, Jenny, Jerome, and I identified urban areas and the built environment as an aspect of creation care that would benefit from more attention from the church. Moreover, we felt there was often a disconnect between conversations among those involved in creation care, those involved in property stewardship, and those involved in efforts to increase inclusion. Therefore, it seemed a good topic around which to build this consultation. Jenny was much influenced here by the work of Barbara Rossing, one of our panelists this morning, on ecology and eschatology. Hence, we arrived at the theme of “Creation and the City of God.” The rest of the program flowed from there as we asked questions about what the City of God would look like, for people and the rest of God’s creation.

I expect some interesting insights to come from these two days of conversation, especially around this focus on urban and built environments. But beyond these specific insights, I pray that this event serves to encourage further conversations, conversations in which we all have a role to play, about our relationship as humans with the rest of God’s creation and our responsibility to discern together God’s good news, not just for humanity, but for all that God has made.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Recommended Reading: German United Methodists Strive to Preserve Unity, Say No to Traditional Plan

The United Methodist Church in Germany has released a "Message from the Executive Committee to the congregations of the United Methodist Church in Germany." (Linked text is in English.) In the message, the Executive Committee states that while they are not of one mind about homosexuality, they will not abide by the provisions of the Traditional Plan. They indicate that they do not anticipate their differences of opinion to disappear anytime soon, but nonetheless they want to remain in unity, and they see the Traditional Plan as threatening that unity. The message also announces a series of roundtable discussions and promised that the 2020 Germany Central Conference will adopt "trendsetting resolutions."

A translation of the accompanying article by UM & Global's David W. Scott is below.

The Struggle for a Way to Preserve Unity (Das Ringen um einen Weg zur Bewahrung der Einheit)
By Klaus Ulrich Ruof

As a reaction to the passage of the "Traditional Plan," the Executive Committee ("Kirchenvorstand") of the United Methodist Church in Germany (EmK - Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche) responded with a message on the unity of the EmK/UMC in Germany.

The Executive Committee ("Kirchenvorstand") of the United Methodist Church (UMC / "EmK- Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche") in Germany had its regular spring session on Friday and Saturday (8 and 9 March) of last week. Almost the whole meeting, which met in the Hessian city of Fulda, was occupied with the decision of the recently-concluded general conference in St. Louis. The Executive Committee addresses the EmK congregations in Germany with a message to preserve unity and at the same time lay out the way to do so.

Consternation and concern for the unity of the EmK
"There is hardly a region of the United Methodist world where fragmentation, fractures, and deep chasms did not arise after the decision of the General Conference," Harald Rückert, the bishop responsible for Germany, opened the meeting of the Church Council by saying. These are the first impacts of the decision of the General Conference, which adopted the so-called "Traditional Plan," which reinforced the previous provisions of the church rules on homosexuality. In addition, the resolution calls for the consistent application of all relevant regulations and intensifies them through control and punishment. Deeply concerned, the members of the board of directors heard Rückert's information from numerous episcopal colleagues from northern, central and southern Europe, the USA, Africa and the Philippines. Deep consternation and great concern for the unity of the UMC is heard from all regions. With quotes from letters to the bishop, the members of the Executive Committee for the EmK in Germany also received insight into the turmoil and emotional dismay that the decision triggered in people with very different attitudes in congregations of the EmK in Germany.

"Not acceptable"
The Executive Committee had to deal with the decision of General Conference, because the framework of the decision expressly required a statement from all Annual Conferences of the UMC worldwide. With two essential statements, the Executive Committee addressed its advice to the people in the German EmK congregations. On the one hand, the message of the Executive Committee states: "Independent of the contents of our commitments, we are unanimously of the opinion, that these provisions of the Traditional Plan are not acceptable." That is why the United Methodist Church in Germany is not going down "the adopted way of thought control and intensified punishments." The members of the Executive Committee emphasized that "democratically-made decisions" must be respected. However, the wide-reaching consequences of the decision in this case make the adoption and implementation of the decision in United Methodist bodies in Germany impossible.

A united way "that demands much from all of us"
The second main statement of the message of the Executive Committee is an invitation to all groups of the EmK in Germany, to take part in a way to preserve unity. On this way, the church can only remain together if it succeeds in "liv[ing] in proximity and acknowledgement even without agreeing on important questions. We therefore want to be a church where people with homosexual sensibilities can be ordained and blessed in a marriage ceremony, and also where traditionally minded people can uphold their ideas and lifestyles. The “Kirchenvorstand” has reached agreement on this objective." This path will be pursued in the awareness "that the endeavour to uphold community will make great demands of us all in future too," if people of different convictions are to find security and a home in the church. The plea was made "to stay in our church and join us in our search for this way."

Roundtables
The Executive Council decided, for the search for a way to preserve unity, to form "roundtables," to which "people  from  different  groups  and  directions  in  our  church  will  be  invited." These will begin their work before the middle of May. Bishop Rückert will call and spiritually lead a group that will initiate the process for roundtables. In November 2020, the Central Conference will adopt "trendsetting resolutions," because only there can decisions affecting church rules for all three German Annual Conference be adopted.

Sign in an increasingly torn and divided society
The members of the Executive Committee expressly point out that the decision came about after intensive deliberations. The superintendents of the nine districts of the EmK in Germany (one woman and eight men) as well as the further 21 voting and advisory members of the Executive Committee "have  spent  several  days  struggling  intensively,  emotionally and honestly with this resolution and all its consequences." Despite widely diverging opinions, they came to this unanimous decision. If this way succeeds, as it says at the conclusion of the letter, it could be "an  important  sign  in  an  increasingly  torn  and  divided  society."

Friday, March 8, 2019

Jerome Sahabandhu: The Faith of My Zoroastrian Neighbor

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

On September 19, 2018, Global Ministries, through its Mission Theology Desk, invited one of the eminent Zoroastrian teachers in Atlanta to teach in a Mission Dialogue Forum. Mrs. Nairika Kotwal Cornett, the President of Atlanta Zarathushti Association (AZA), presented an introductory session for the staff of Global Ministries on Zoroastrianism as a living faith in the world and in the US. Mrs. Cornett made a very comprehensive and interactive presentation, and the following is a synopsis of the presentation from my notes and reflections.

Some may remember the historical documentary film “Iran: The Forgotten Glory,” directed by Makan Karandish, which was released in Los Angeles, California in October 2008 at the Bogota Film Festival. According to Karandish, “This film has been in production for more than five years and was shot in over 60 locations throughout the province of FARS. It is an attempt to re-capture the glory of the ancient Persian empires and their influence on world history, art, and culture”. Persian culture is essentially and symbiotically connected with Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism, sometimes referred to by its adherents as “the Good Religion,” is one of the world’s oldest living religious faiths, already well-established by the time of the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire. It is also one of the most innovative faiths in human history, pioneering concepts of monotheism and moral dualism that have influenced the development of the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

According to the Parliament of World Religions, the number of Zoroastrians in the world today is about 200,000, with the highest concentrations in the 'homelands' of Iran (then Persia) (24,000 - 90,000) and India (70,000). In the past half century, Zarathushtis have emigrated around the world. They are currently in USA (11,000), Canada (6,000), Great Britain (5,000), Australia and New Zealand (3,500), the Persian Gulf (2,200), Pakistan (2,200), continental Europe (1,000), the Far East (400) and elsewhere.

Genesis and Diaspora
The very roots of the Zoroastrians go back to Central Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE. According to their own tradition, the ‘Mazda-worshipping religion’ was revealed to Prophet Zarathustra. Later, the Greeks turned his Persian/Iranian name into Zoroaster, from which the name Zoroastrian derives, denoting a follower of the religion of Zoroaster.

Zoroastrianism flourished for over a thousand years as the state religion of the three great Iranian Empires: the Achaemenids, the Parthians and the Sasanians. In its heyday, it was the dominant religion of imperial Persia and was practiced throughout central Asia and the Middle-east until it was supplanted by Islam during the Arab conquest of Iran in 651 CE. The Islamisation of Iran was a slow but persistent process and led to the eventual erosion of Zoroastrianism in its birthplace.

Emigration proved vital for the survival of the religion. Following the Arab conquest, Zoroastrians migrated to India in search of religious freedom and better living conditions and, coming from Persia, they became known there as Parsis. The presence of a current small yet important Parsi community in Sri Lanka is evidence to the fact that there was Zoroastrian movement in early stages to Serendib (Sri Lanka) as well.

One God
Zoroastrians believe in one God, called Ahura Mazda (meaning 'Wise Lord'). God is compassionate, just, and is the creator of the entire universe. Ahura Mazda is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, impossible for humans to conceive and unchanging. God is the Creator of life and source of all goodness, happiness and joy.

God is worshiped as supreme. Zoroastrians believe that everything God created is pure and should be treated with love and respect. This includes the natural environment, so Zoroastrians by virtue of their religious faith do not pollute the rivers, land or atmosphere. Thus, Zoroastrianism is an ecological religion.

Dualism
Dualism is central to Zoroastrian teachings. Dualism at the cosmic level refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe. It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God's equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God's creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this. With cosmic dualism we have life and death, day and night, good and evil. One cannot be understood without the other. Life is a mixture of these two opposing forces.

When it comes to humanity there is moral dualism that refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of humankind. God's gift to humans is free will; therefore, humans have the choice to follow the path of evil (druj - deceit) or the path of righteousness (asha - truth). The path of evil leads to misery and ultimately hell. The path of righteousness and justice leads to peace and everlasting blessedness in heaven. However, in Zoroastrianism, because there is no concept of ‘original sin,’ misery and negativity are short-lived. The power of righteousness always wins over negative forces. In Zoroastrianism, the concept of heaven is not a physical location but rather a state of blissful and complete wisdom.

The Relationship of God and Humans
Unlike some religions where humans are God's children or servants, in Zoroastrianism men and women are considered more as God's helpers. Through positive choices and actions of humanity, evil will be eradicated and removed, and finally God's Paradise on Earth will be established. Men and women, rich and poor, and young and old are all seen as equal. One only surpasses the other through their righteousness.

Symbolism of Fire
Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some people wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure, and that fire represents God's light, wisdom and justice. Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary. Prayer is often done in front of a fire, and consecrated fires are kept perpetually burning in the major temples.

The Avesta
The Zoroastrian book of holy scriptures is called The Avesta. The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
  • The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
  • The Younger Avesta contains commentaries on the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.

Daily Prayers and Daily Life
Zoroastrian beliefs in a nutshell can be synthesized up by the maxim: Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. Zoroastrians try to live their daily lives by this creed. Before puberty, Zoroastrians are given a sudreh (muslin shirt) and kusti (cord) as part of an initiation ceremony (Navjote ceremony). These garments are considered sacred. They tie the kusti around the sudreh three times to remind themselves of 'Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds'.

Family and Community
Zoroastrianism is a family and community-oriented religion. Zoroaster himself was a family man and most worship happens in the family. There is no tradition of monasticism or celibacy. Zoroastrianism is also about social action. Zoroastrians work towards improving the local community and society in general and work for peace and harmony. They tend to give generously to charities and are often focused on educational, environmental and social initiatives.

Zoroastrian-Christian Relationships
According to the Hebrew Bible, evincing God’s sovereignty over all nations, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please” (Isaiah 44:28). Cyrus was instrumental in the returning of the exiled Jews and letting them build their Temple. Dr. Mary Boyce of London University, who is regarded as the living authority on Zoroastrianism in our times, has to say regarding King Cyrus freeing the Jews from the Babylonian captivity: “This was only one of many liberal acts recorded of Cyrus, but it was of particular moment for the religious history of humankind.” (Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, 1984, p. 51).

Scholars have studied how Zoroastrianism has influenced later Jewish thought, Christian thought and Islamic thought as one of the oldest significant spiritual forces in the central Asia; some have given special attention on its influence on Biblical apocalypticism and eschatology of early pre-Christian and Christian teachings and writings.

I believe if Christians are serious of interfaith friendships, that will lead to a positive engagement and dialogue with our Zoroastrian neighbors and friends everywhere for building a better word of peace, love, joy and harmony and integrity of creation.

"Happiness comes to them who bring happiness to others. Abiding happiness and peace are theirs who choose goodness for its own sake - without expectation of any reward.” - Gathas

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Nancy Ammerman: How denominations split: Lessons for Methodists from Baptist battles of the ’80s

Today's post is by Dr. Nancy Ammerman. Dr. Ammerman is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University School of Theology. This piece originally appeared on Religion News Service and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Talk of schism in the United Methodist Church has prompted me to revisit the research I did in the 1980s as the Southern Baptist Convention was being transformed into the monolithically conservative body it is today. I wanted to know: How does a denomination arrive at and move through a split?

What I wrote about in my 1990 book, Baptist Battles, may just have some enduring lessons for what we are seeing now.

Nearly a century ago, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote “The Social Sources of Denominationalism,” and my research confirmed his contention that differences over theology or practice are rarely enough to split a denomination. The argument has to tap deeper social divisions.

It’s not that theology doesn’t matter. The Southern Baptist argument was begun by conservatives who claimed an inerrantist view of the Bible. They also definitely disapproved of the growing number of ordained women in progressive SBC churches. These were real theological differences between the parties, just as there are today between the traditional and progressive Methodists.

Those groups’ differences were also social and political, however. Southern Baptist progressives — they called themselves moderates — were more likely to come from cities, to value seminary-educated clergy and to favor women’s and minority rights. Conservatives opposed abortion and welfare and were strongly anti-communist (remember, this was the ’80s). They were more likely to have moved from rural to urban areas and to be somewhat less well-off.

In a very large denomination, spread out across the country, even such socially different groups can coexist for a long time without a split. A split also requires an organized movement to “call the question.” That’s what happened to Baptists in the 1980s, and that is what has happened to Methodists over the last decade.

Now that the Methodists have reached the precipice, the very complicated organizational work of division has to get underway, and one thing is sure: Nothing will happen quickly. Whatever division happens will unfold at multiple levels over at least a decade. Denominations aren’t just individuals who share (or formerly share) a theology. They are complex organizations with national bureaucracies, regional branch offices, local congregations and individual members. Each of those parts of the whole will come apart in different ways.

How that happens is determined by the denomination’s “polity,” that is, the way it governs itself. Baptists don’t have bishops, but Methodists do. That means that it is harder for Methodist congregations or clergy members simply to do what they individually think is right. Most critically, Methodist connectional polity means that the congregation doesn’t own its property — although this recent conference seems to have opened the way for churches to leave without giving up their buildings.

Even denominations without bishops, however, have extensive national organizations with lots of influence over what happens in local churches. They develop programs, publish literature, organize mission efforts and educate clergy.

The conservatives who took over the SBC knew that this connective tissue was their real target. They replaced members of the governing boards, then replaced the staff and eventually transformed all the national institutions into supporters of conservative theological (and political) causes. If traditionalist Methodists prevail and progressive ones leave, we can expect to see just such a slow but inevitable transformation of their national bodies.

We may also expect to see a few Methodist organizations declare independence. Among Baptists, Baylor University’s cutting of its official Baptist ties was the most noted such move. For Methodists, some of the theological schools – especially those lodged in universities – may follow that path. It means developing new funding streams, of course, but it also means “rebranding” so as to keep a claim on one’s historic identity even as the organizational link is severed.

The most visible splitting among Methodists is likely to happen at the local church level. Individual congregations will have to decide whether to stay, and if not, where to go. In some cases, that decision may divide the congregation itself, with one faction leaving to start something new. Jimmy Carter’s Maranatha Baptist is one of the more visible Baptist examples.

Some progressive congregations will choose to stay and force the fight. My old church, Oakhurst Baptist, in Atlanta, stayed, forcing each of its Baptist associations to officially vote it out (which they eventually did). Other congregations may simply exit quietly. There are about 800 United Methodist churches that have identified with the movement to accept LGBTQ members and clergy. They are the ones to watch, but others may join them.

When a church leaves, it can either join with others to form something new or join up with an existing denomination. Departing Southern Baptists formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists, which are still going strong, but a few churches also aligned themselves with the American Baptist Churches, effectively mending the North-South rift that was created in the 1840s by slavery. The Reconciling Ministries Network may be the nucleus of a progressive Methodist alternative, but there are also overtures emerging from Episcopal and other denominations.

But what about individual Methodists? If they are like the Baptists in the 1980s, most haven’t been paying much attention to all the sound and fury. It is likely that they already attend a church that mostly matches their theological and political views, so most won’t notice much change, at least initially.

But there are sometimes crises that change that. When the issue of accepting LGBTQ persons becomes personal — a son or daughter, perhaps — individual Methodists may seek a new place to worship, and it may or may not be Methodist.

Perhaps more critically, young adults brought up Methodist are overwhelmingly on the progressive side of this issue. Their failure to pursue a clergy career — or even to stay in the church — is likely to further solidify a traditionalist future for the UMC.

The answer to how you split a denomination, then, is slowly, in hundreds of painful decisions. These will almost certainly result in multiple new, more polarized religious bodies with less diverse middle ground.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Recommended Reading: Inter-Ethnic Strategy & Development Group Statement at Special Called General Conference 2019

Last week, Dana Robert raised the issue of women leaders as "collateral damage" in the current fights over LGBTQ ministry and marriage in The United Methodist Church. Yet women leaders are not the only potential collateral damage in this fight.

The Inter-Ethnic Strategy & Development Group, which represents the five racial ethnic caucuses in the United States, including over twenty distinct racial ethnic groups, issued a statement on the last day of General Conference. While the statement is worth reading in its entirety, one of the last points speaks directly to the issue of collateral damage in this fight:

"We celebrate a narrative of church growth within The UMC in the United States. As you deliberate, please remember that your decisions will have lasting fiscal ramifications for racial ethnic ministries, where membership is growing. Despite our struggle to overcome racism, nationalism, and effects of unjust systems such as immigration, poverty, and other social issue, racial ethnic membership has grown during the decades from 1996 to 2016." The statement then cites statistics first published on this blog.

The statement is clear: racial ethnic congregations in the US are growing, but church-dividing debates that drain necessary support money away from new ministries will hurt that growth. Many of the racial ethnic groups did not take positions on the plans before General Conference because of the diversity of opinion among their membership and because they recognized that unity was important for fashioning their shared future. While it should not detract from the primary damage done to LGBTQ+ people, people of color also stand to lose in this coming Methodist civil war.