Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.
United Methodist News Service recently published an article on the UMC Connections blog about a ministry planning session conducted by the Central Congo Episcopal Area. The content of the article reports good, collaborative planning for mission by the Central Congo Episcopal Area and other denominational entities. I do have a question about a term used in the article, though. The article refers to collaborative planning between two Congolese Annual Conferences and their "overseas partners." Yet, when one looks at the list of partners involved, the majority are denominational boards and agencies: the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, and the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. Only one partner is another Annual Conference located overseas from the Congo Annual Conferences: the Peninsula-Delaware Annual (regional) Conference in the United States.
I raise this point because, in my mind, the language used implies an inequality between how we view Annual Conferences in the United States and how we view those overseas. If an article was written about an American Annual Conference making ministry plans in cooperation with GBGM, UMCOR, UMW, and GBOD, we wouldn't refer to them as "national partners." We would refer to them as "denominational agencies" or something similar. Even if another Annual Conference were involved, I think the term we would use would still be something like "denominational partners." Referring to GBGM, UMCOR, UMW, and GBOD as "overseas partners" of Annual Conferences in Africa implies a linguistic and conceptual separation between these African Conferences and the denomination-wide ministries. It implies that African Annual Conferences are less than fully entitled to receive from the resources of our connectional, denomination-wide boards and agencies. It implies that they are Other, "over there," and that the act of partnering with connectional boards and agencies, which is natural for American Annual Conferences, is instead remarkable for African Annual Conferences.
Again, I'm glad that these two Congolese Annual Conferences are working with a variety of boards and agencies as well as the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference. I'm just suggesting that we need to pay attention to how we refer to such partnerships and consider what the language we use implies about our understanding of the connectional life of our denomination.