Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Listening to African wisdom

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.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner of the Indiana Conference wrote a recent article in the United Methodist Reporter entitled "Wisdom from Africa."  In this article, Coyner describes things he has learned from his African episcopal colleagues about what makes churches grow.  Coyner mentions prayer, love, and indigenous worship.  I think such an article, which makes it clear that American United Methodists have things to learn from United Methodists in Africa (and elsewhere around the world) is a good first step toward conceiving of a more reciprocal relationship between the various national branches of The United Methodist Church.  If the UMC is to be a global church, we must not think that Americans are always the ones with the knowledge or wisdom that must be sharing with the rest of the world.  The exchange of ideas must go both ways.

Yet, while Coyner's article is a good first step, I would suggest there is a necessary second step that must happen for relationships between different nationalities of United Methodists to be truly reciprocal.  Coyner's article is about what African wisdom might contribute to the conversation on a very American United Methodist concern: the decline in church membership.  Thus, the article describes African answers to American questions.  While it's good to look to Africans for their wisdom and their answers, if we are to get to true reciprocity, we must not only listen to African wisdom as it relates to American questions, but to listen when Africans tell us their answers to their own questions.  A truly reciprocal relationship lets both parties share what's on their hearts without either party doing all the talking or setting all of the agenda.  Coyner's article is a good step in that direction.  Let the rest of us keeping stepping toward that goal of reciprocity.

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