Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Discussion: Global Social Principles?

The United Methodist Church is in the process of revising its Social Principles to make them "more global" - "globally relevant" that is.  (UMNS news story here.)  The process comes out of resolutions put forward at General Conference 2012 by the European Central Conferences.  The idea is that many of the Social Principles currently speak primarily (or even solely) to a U.S. context.  Thus, the Social Principles become another way in which The UMC remains a primarily U.S.-focused denomination rather than a truly global church.  Yet, thanks to action on the part of General Conference and a recent plan put forward by the Connectional Table, work is underway to reduce or eliminate the American bias in the Social Principles.  The plan will begin with a series of symposia around the world with possible suggestions for General Conference 2016 growing out of these.

In addition to the opportunity to make the Social Principles more globally relevant to all national branches of The UMC, this re-examination process seems to be the perfect time for the church to consider its transnational Social Principles.  As more and more social problems are no longer confined within national borders, it is necessary for churches to speak out on global social issues.  The opportunity to do so in an informed and credible way may be one of the true forms of service that The UMC can render to the global community because of its nature as a global church.

What do you think?  What in the Social Principles should be changed to be more globally relevant?  What should be added to address new transnational, global social issues?  Comment below.


  1. Our future as a global church will depend upon an unending, open, dialogue in which provisional agreements will guide shorter or longer term cooperation.

    I'm about to worship here in Vienna, Austria, after a week of lectures for Macedonian Methodists and others in Sturmica, Macedonia. I expect that relevant transnational social principles will difficult, if not impossible, to come by. Social principles are constructed out of the engagement between our understandings of humanity, society, and the gospel. And what we as United Methodists, and indeed Christians, do not have is a shared understanding of these basic foundations for social principles.

    Our great mistake is thinking that the gospel somehow provides the basis for thinking about social principles. We imagine that our theological anthropology can be formulated across cultural lines from a common source when in fact the Bible itself bears witness to a number of inconsistent and sometimes wholly incompatible understandings of what it means to be a human in society. Only the totalizing tendencies of modern, western, theologizing have hidden this from Western Christians.

    If we are to even begin to think about relevant social principles for a global church it will not come about through anything "transnational." Transnational religion is in fact the enemy of the gospel and another name for an attempt to resuscitate the unlamented empire of the spirit that is our past.

    Our future as a global church will depend upon an unending, open, dialogue in which provisional agreements will guide shorter or longer term cooperation. Anything so permanent as "principles" will almost certainly need to wait until God returns to speak for God's self.

  2. I appreciate your comments, but they seem to suggest to me that our social principles and thus our social concerns must be local in nature. I think that all churches, including Methodist churches, must and should be engaged in their local communities, responding to the unique cultural, geographic, economic, and political factors in each location.

    My question, though, is where that leaves the church's witness on issues that are not just local in nature, international human trafficking or climate change, for instance. The United States is not the only country where people are concerned about such issues; indeed, in many countries, more people are concerned about climate change than in the United States. These issues are transnational issues.

    Is it possible for the church to respond to these transnational issues without reviving imperialist modes of operation, or does responding to these issues inevitably lead to the transnational religion that you see as the enemy of the gospel? Certainly, any approach to such issues must be determined by genuine dialogue between a range of United Methodist partners. Nevertheless, if the church is unable to respond to such issues (whether or not that includes the formulation of codified "social principles"), it seems we are ceding our ability to speak to some of the world's most pressing moral and ethical issues and not just as seen from an American perspective.