Thursday, September 26, 2013

Robert Hunt: Emerging Languages (Part II)

Today's post is by guest blogger Dr. Robert A. Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.  This post is the final of four by Dr. Hunt over the month of September and a continuation of his post last week. 

As I explained in the first part of this post, United Methodist unity will not be based on either existing commonalities of commitment to justice or historical roots.  Rather, I would suggest, it will be based on a commitment to an emerging understanding of the work of the Spirit that doesn't privilege any Methodist community or presuppose the direction in which the Spirit blows us. In short it will be a unity based on the presupposition that God desires unity for God's people, but has not yet revealed the shape of that unity.

Is that a justifiable theological presupposition? Is it a practical possibility? 

The second question is easier to answer than the first. One of the most universally observed human phenomena is the way in which new languages emerge out of the encounter of different cultures and language groups. (It is observable, but it is only by being universally observed that it becomes the basis of any unifying discourse.) Through dialogue - often simple but growing in depth and complexity - people with different worldviews and cultural experiences find a common language that allows them to articulate their differences and similarities and in particular name the latter with more and more precision. 

English happens to exhibit a remarkable flexibility in this regard, both borrowing and loaning words and expressions with shocking promiscuity. But the history of any language demonstrates the degree to which it has been the result of mutual transformations that make it better and better able to account for the wide variety of human experiences of its speakers and communicate in the widest possible public forum. 

I believe that dialogue, call it “holy conferencing” if you will, is capable of generating an emerging language able to express a not-yet-discovered unity of Methodist experience. 

However, if at a practical level, dialogue can create a common language for the experience of being United Methodist, is such an approach to seeking unity theologically justified? 

I suggest that Christian unity, and specifically Methodist unity, is not something scandalously lost after the age of the apostles or Wesley. Instead unity is something that is inevitably emergent because the essential encounter with the Christ is finding him in the crossing of cultural and experiential boundaries. The New Testament is in fact a record of disunity among the followers of Christ. They are moving toward unity but always, impelled by their own personal encounters with Christ, reaching into difference-creating realms of human experience. The apostles could never be unified because Christ himself, in their own record of faith, compelled them to break any tenuous uniformity of belief and practice and discover his Spirit in places where those who name him as savior compose their experience with different beliefs and reiterate those beliefs in different practices. 

There is also a deeper theological rationale for a commitment to present diversity accompanied by a dialogue toward an emergent unity. God has created a universe whose future is open because (at the basic earthly level) God's creatures are free. The presumption that unity can be achieved at this or that General Conference through this or that legislative process and these or those unifying beliefs and practices is a presumption against God's intent that humans be both free and that this freedom extend as far as the human imagination can cast itself into the future.

For freedom in the Biblical witness creates diversity, and this freedom, which diversifies rather than unifying, must sometimes be forced upon a humanity willing to enslave itself for the sake of unity and its consequent promise of security and power (see Genesis 11). God will not let us drag the unity we find only in God into the idolatrous structures that we create. We cannot live at Sinai or Jerusalem any more than we can live in Babel or Egypt, for each finally enslaves whether our intentions are holy or mundane. 

In short, it is not God's will that we be unified except in our love one for the other. Rather, we should be ever seeking unity. A perpetual dialogue appears to be what God has in mind when we read across the scripture toward an end in which the peoples of the earth unceasingly bring their varied gifts to God's Holy City. And that dialogue is not between partners fixed in their language and positions and negotiating a middle ground, but rather between partners themselves being transformed and diversified by the process of "going to all nations to make disciples."

Of course my assertions in the paragraphs above must themselves be mere beginning points in dialogue, in this case a dialogue around a Bible we all accept, in some way, as foundational to our experience of Christ. Worship might be another such starting point.

I do not believe that global United Methodism is either possible or desirable. But United Methodists should seek through loving dialogue to learn an ever renewed and renewing language of Christian experience. That process will lead us toward, but never closer to, the Holy City where in God's presence alone exists our unity; a unity seen fleetingly at moments, but never grasped, and never seen again unless we turn away to speak with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recommended Reading: Norway-Sierra Leone Partnerships

A bit belatedly, I'd like to pass along this news story posted by UMConnections last week.  It's about rural development projects in Sierra Leone sponsored by the United Methodist Church in Norway and the Norwegian government, working with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference as a local partner.

I think this story is worth noting for a couple of reasons.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, stories about how non-US branches of the UMC are engaged in mission remind us that mission doesn't only flow from the US out to the rest of the world.  Mission is a many-directional phenomenon in the present world.  That's true of Christianity in general, and it's true of the UMC as well, as US-centric as the church remains.  This story should challenge our US-centric understandings of mission even more so than previous stories I've shared because no US-based Annual Conferences or agencies are part of this project.  It's just Norwegians and people of Sierra Leone connecting directly.

Second, it's important to note that this project isn't just a fly-by project for the UMC of Norway.  It's part of an on-going relationship with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference that dates back from before 2008.  The project comes out of a history of cooperation and partnership that makes this an example of Norwegians engaged in ministry with people from Sierra Leone, not ministry to them.

Finally, it's interesting to note that it's not just branches of the UMC that are involved in this project, but the Norwegian government.  In the United States, we have certain deeply-held notions about the relationship between churches and government, but as we think about The United Methodist Church, we have to understand that not all countries will share these same assumptions.  While the church must always be wary of submitting itself to too great of government influence, it is possible that government may be a positive partner in other countries in ways that are not conceivable in the United States.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Robert Hunt: Emerging Languages (Part I)

Today's post is by guest blogger Dr. Robert A. Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.  This post is the third of four by Dr. Hunt over the month of September.

Christian unity, and in particular the unity of a global United Methodist church, will emerge through relationships that are unknown and probably unimagined because the Spirit blows where it will. 

In a previous blog I warned against a tendency to try to achieve unity through political and economic structures that may obscure real differences in the understanding of what it means to be a Christian. One might add that liturgical forms can be equally superficial since a common language can mask real differences in meaning - particularly across the difference between what Taylor calls a porous and a buffered self

Two other approaches to unity are equally problematic. The first looks for a common core of theological affirmations that define United Methodism and around which all Methodists might be expected to gather. The United Methodist 1996 General Conference (mistakenly) attributed to Wesley the quote, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity," to sum up a spirit as absent in our Conferences as the correct attribution of the quote is to our Methodist history. Identifying essentials turns out to be as difficult in UM history as demonstrating any degree of real charity and love is in our political encounters. We read our history and Wesleyan heritage differently in different parts of the UM church. That is a tribute to the richness of both, but also tends away from agreement on essentials.

Also, our typically Methodist approach to identifying essentials is genealogical. That genealogical approach is itself a characteristically modern way of seeking to identify the unifying experiences of a society or culture. It is quite different from those approaches found in non-modern societies. (For who is to say that they are "pre-modern?”) In such societies the unifying essentials are not understood to exist as historically distant beliefs and rituals, now measured by evolutionary (or devolutionary) change. They are understood as foundations laid in the past, but continually present at no historical distance whatsoever in sacred experience. Genealogy isn't necessary when your deep past is also present.

For a modern person, the term "anachronistic" is virtually a curse. For non-modern persons, it may well represent the purest form of spiritual insight.

It is common in the modern and post-modern West to read Wesley as a man of his time whose views have been rightly adapted to emerging cultural situations and which (the post-modern view) are but one part of one of many possible narratives. What bishop today, for example, takes seriously Wesley's sharp criticism of the American founding of the American Methodist episcopacy? But, as I have personally experienced in teaching outside the West, there are many who read Wesley, as they do Luther and Calvin and Paul, as contemporaries. Wesley isn't a "historic" figure whose ideas have been appropriately transformed across historical distances. He is an immediate source of guidance, as is the Bible. The fact that modern people who claim him also easily dismiss aspects of his clear teaching seems strange to those to whom his words speak directly, un-buffered by historical distance.

So at the very least we need to recognize that finding a Wesleyan core around which we might unite may not itself be a unifying experience.

And what of unity outside a core of belief and practice, perhaps around some commonly agreed need to establish human justice or more broadly human flourishing? This also proves to be problematic. Beyond the theoretical difference between a buffered and porous self there exist different conceptions of what achieving full humanity means. We have already seen in UM General Conferences the stark difference between U.S. and African United Methodists regarding justice in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons; a difference rooted in basically different understandings of what constitutes human fulfillment and flourishing. 

So, for these reasons and those sketched in the previous blog, I want to suggest that unity will not be based on either existing commonalities in terms of a commitment to justice nor the recovery of supposedly shared historical roots.

This blog post will be continued in another installment next week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The World Methodist Council, global United Methodists, and the search for oneness

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.

The World Methodist Council just unveiled their 2016 Conference logo and theme.  As the organization's website announced, "The theme, “One”, is used to both reflect the Council’s goal of being a body that unites the 80 member churches from the Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, United and Uniting Church traditions as well as recalling John Wesley’s quote that “Methodists are one people in all the world”."

While I think the World Methodist Council does important and valuable work, I think the theme for 2016 highlights the challenge of the council's work.  As recent posts by Robert Hunt on this blog have indicated, oneness is an elusive quality in The United Methodist Church.  Moreover, it is elusive not just for issues of language or theology but of deep-seated elements of culture and worldview.

If oneness is a struggle for the UMC in its efforts to be a global church, how much more of a struggle must it be for the World Methodist Council?  Many of its constituent denominations face similar challenges as the UMC in bridging national and/or cultural divides within their own bodies.  Then when eighty different such denominations are brought together, the problems of achieving oneness are compounded by an order of magnitude or two.  Those problems are highlighted by the fact that the council cannot use a single word to describe its members but must instead refer to the five labels of "Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, United and Uniting Churches."

Yet we can view the theme of the 2016 Conference as something other than a naive or unrealistic calling for unity across such theological, denominational, cultural, and national variation.  We can also see it as an eschatological calling.  Perhaps the World Methodist Council has chosen this theme not to assert that they have made or are capable of making so many into one.  Perhaps they have chosen this theme to remind the many of the goal of oneness and of the One who calls us to that goal of oneness with himself and with others.

We may never achieve the goal of oneness, within The United Methodist Church, within the World Methodist Council, or within the broader body of Christ.  But we will certainly never reach that goal if we are not pressing on towards it, ever striving to be made more perfect in love.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Robert Hunt: Chickens talking to ducks (Part II)

Today's post is by guest blogger Dr. Robert A. Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.  This post is the second of four by Dr. Hunt over the month of September.  You can read the first part of his post "Chickens talking to ducks" here.

In contrast to the West, much of the rest of the world possesses what Taylor calls "the porous self." This self, when it hears a voice, or feels a swelling of joy or sorrow, or loses control (physically and emotionally) understands itself reflexively as being interpenetrated with hidden spiritual realities. It knows itself possessed by a spirit; whether the Spirit of God or otherwise. The linguistic framework within which the person expresses that experience will be determined by culturally based-assumptions. Moreover, exactly which spirit is at play may be a matter for reflection. But whatever reflection there is will be based on the unquestioned assumption of the unity of self and body interpenetrated with the invisible forces of the spirit world.

This porous self understands that it is caught up in purposes and conflicts beyond the human or natural realm. The self is, in a sense, a victim of these invisible conflicts and wishes to be liberated from them - a reason that many turn to Christ. But it does not locate the origin or end of the experience entirely in immanence, but in a relationship with God and God's transcendent purposes. 

In this world of porous selves humans certainly wish to flourish in their persons, family, and society. But this is secondary to and dependent upon a close relationship with God whose Spirit works against and displaces all the other spirits that interpenetrate the self. Thus people value highly the time of being swept up by God's spirit in worship for itself, and not merely as an instrument for motivating and guiding mission.

Perhaps a personal story will make the distinction and problem clearer. When I was teaching in the theological school in Malaysia, our students began to have repeated and unsettling experiences. They were troubled by terrible dreams. We had instances of poisonous snakes entering the dormitories. Things went missing. The students interpreted these experiences as direct manifestations of evil spirits, and attributed them to a curse put on the school by a Hindu woman. She had previously overseen a variety of shrines under a banyan tree on the seminary grounds. When she and the shrines were evicted (exorcised really) she cursed the school. Now it was assumed that the variety of malevolent spirits she invoked were manifesting themselves. 

Thus we did what needed to be done. With the support of local clergy and bishops we had a day long ritual to purify the school of demonic spirits. Students uncomfortable with the ritual itself (some came from anti-liturgical backgrounds) prayed all day in the chapel. Everyone else circumambulated the school grounds, pausing to pray and sprinkle holy water on the building. Special attention was given to the banyan tree. 

Now as we did this, a group of officials from the General Board of Global Ministries arrived unexpectedly for a visit. And at the end of the day they made it clear to me that they were shocked and appalled that a school which they funded and a missionary (myself) that they sent would participate in such unadulterated superstitious nonsense. "Christ sets us free from this kind of thing." 

In this they missed the point. The very concept of "superstition" depends on understanding one's self as a "buffered self" that rises above the immediacy of human experience to reflect on its meaning - AND assumes that meaning is found entirely within the immanent world of material and psychological interrelationships. 

The mission board officials could only interpret what they saw in their own terms. In those modern Western terms it was a fallback into pre-modern foolishness and a waste of time better spent studying theology. Yet for the students and faculty, Christ was concretely setting us free - by evicting the evil spirits that inhabited our school. A day spent removing the impediments to a fuller relationship to God was certainly a day well spent.

From the perspective of our guests what occurred (and here Taylor's work is illuminating) could only represent a more primitive and thus lesser human self-understanding. The moral superiority of modernity was completely assumed. What the Malaysians saw on the other hand was a reality to which the mission board officials seemed strangely blind and therefore incapable of confronting. 

One might hope that some 40 years later Americans engaged in cross-cultural inter-relationships are more cognizant of the way their minds have been colonized by modernity, and can at least recognize that others have a fundamentally different understanding of the self that cannot be dismissed as "primitive" or "undeveloped" or "naive." But even that recognition is a far cry from actually seeking to find a shared theological language for expressing what it means to be a self, or community, in relation to God. 

And this brings us back to the global church. Finding a shared theology of "holy conferencing" across the fundamentally different concepts of self found in the West and the rest of the world is an important part of developing a uniting ecclesiology. Yet thus far United Methodists, in our rush to incorporate the growing churches of the global south, appear focused entirely on political and economic issues. We do not appear to have considered the more fundamental problem of how to do theological reflection across different ways of seeing the self in the world in all its dimensions. 

The danger is thus that our unity will all be on the surface, with essentially Western institutions and western modes of theological reflection laid over non-Western cultures with little consideration as to what they mean from within. We will be global like Apple and Toyota, united in the immanent matters of economic and political relationships and not even cognizant that our languages of self and spirit are different, and thus our supposed unity is an illusion. We will sing "we are one in the Spirit" without recognizing that the meanings we attach to "we" and "one" and "Spirit" are quite different. 

The Malays have an expression for the cacophony of the barnyard, "ayam cakap itik," "chickens talking to ducks." Alas, that may be the true character of our emerging United Methodist global church.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Prayer for immigration reform as a means to growing in love

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.

The General Board of Church and Society (along with other American churches) has recently launched a "40 Days of Prayer for Immigration Reform" program.  The program includes weekly themes for congregational prayer each Sunday, along with scripture readings, other readings, fasting, and lobbying activities.  The weekly readings include personal stories from immigrants.  While the first Sunday was, I believe, last Sunday, it's not too late to get involved.

As this blog has pointed out before, immigration is an important global issue for United Methodists in the United States.  The increase in migration around the world is often cited as one aspect of globalization in recent decades.  Immigration determines in part how Americans relate to people from around the world, primarily but by no means exclusively Latin America.

Praying for the issue of immigration reform, especially when we do so after hearing the personal stories of immigrants, has the opportunity to change how we think about and feel toward immigrants.  Praying for not just immigration (as an issue) but immigrants (as people) can help us better recognize their community humanity with us and therefore help us cultivate love for them.  Prayer has the power to transform our hearts, growing us toward perfect love, as God desires for us as part of the process of our sanctification.

Yet if we further cultivate divine love of others in our prayers, we can be led to love not just those from other countries who have come here, but those who have stayed in their home countries as well.  If we can recognize our common humanity with Guatemalan-Americans and Korean-Americans and Nigerian-Americans, then perhaps we can also recognize our community humanity with and divine call to love Guatemalans and Koreans and Nigerians.

If we can start praying for the issue of immigration to the United States and end up praying for the well-being of God's people across the globe, then we will indeed have been transformed through prayer in ways that will make us closer to God and freer to share God's love with the world.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Robert Hunt: Chickens Talking to Ducks (Part I)

Today's post is by guest blogger Dr. Robert A. Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations, and Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins School of Theology at SMU.  This post will be the first of four by Dr. Hunt over the month of September. 

The United Methodist Church increasingly wishes to imagine itself as a global church. I'm not sure we understand the depth of that challenge theologically.

Christian unity has always been understood as essentially unity in God's Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. And therein is the problem. Globally, we have fundamentally different ways of understanding how that Spirit is experienced in human lives and societies. And it is the experience of the Spirit in the life of the church that makes visible unity possible. 

For the Catholic and Orthodox churches there is an understanding of a clear, uniting charism or outpouring of the Spirit that apportions itself among the bishops and thus unites them and their clergy and churches in Christ. Related to this is a clear theology of the Spirit's presence in the sacraments, making them universal.

Could we use this ecclesial model or sacramental model to ground our structural unity? It seems doubtful. Our bishops are, by design, general superintendents set apart from the clergy only by a temporary job assignment and united only by possession of a common task carried out in different geographical regions. They possess no special charism. They are not "bishops" in the Catholic and Orthodox sense. Nor do we have an actual theological unity around the meaning of the Spirit's presence in the Sacraments. Although we at least arguably have a starting point in the Anglican theology of Wesley's day, my experience with Methodists outside the United States is of a variety of sacramental theologies. 

We might also begin a process of global theological reflection on how our unity in the Spirit is experienced through the concept of "Holy Conferencing," which for now is more a slogan than an ecclesiology. But even then we still face a problem, one articulated most clearly by Charles Taylor in his book "A Secular Age." 

On Taylor's analysis, there exist in our world at least two different understandings of what it means to be a human being in relationship to transcendent reality. It is this difference, sometimes attributed to specific cultures but actually running much deeper, that we have yet to confront in our discussions of how to be a global church. 

Taylor makes three critical points. 

1. Personhood in the West is characterized by what he calls "the buffered self." For those of us in the West, there is always a buffer between the self and the world of the spirit. The primary form of this buffer is the intellectual reflection that we place between the immediacy of our experiences and our interpretations of them. We don't naively attribute an upwelling of emotion, or a loss of self-control, or even consciousness to a spiritual presence. Even if we reach that conclusion it is a conclusion based on a process of reflection. It is characteristic of the West that we place our thoughts between ourselves and not only the world, but our own bodily experiences. We assume that the self exists independently of the body and can thus judge (and even control) what is happening to it. 

2. Taylor points out that in the West we reflexively locate the meaning of our experiences in the immanent world. When we reflect on what our experiences mean we discover both their origin and their end in the human and natural world. Thus a horrifying dream is more likely to be interpreted as a reaction to bad food or a troubling conscious experience than a message from God. And even if we attribute the origin of our experiences to God, typically their end is in the immanent world of human society and action. 

3. This presupposition relates to the consensus emerging in the 19th century that the primary and possibly only purpose of religious life is human flourishing, which is assumed to be God's sole desire for humanity. At the extreme, worship in this mode of thought isn't undertaken because what God desires most for us is to live in relationship with the divine.  It is undertaken in order to therapeutically heal our psychological deficiencies and motivate us to engage in the mission of making the world a better place. 

(For an example of worship in an immanent frame versus that oriented toward transcendence, compare two hymns adjacent to each other in the Methodist hymnal, numbers 660 and 661. Fred Pratt Green writes, "here the servants of the Servant seek in worship to explore what it means in daily living to believe and to adore." A.T. Olajide Olude of Nigeria writes, "Jesus, we want to meet on this thy holy day. We gather round thy throne on this thy holy day. Thou are our heavenly friend; hear our prayers as they ascend; look into our hearts and minds today, on this thy holy day.")

One can see the how this consensus affects religious self-understanding by looking at the difference between the present purpose statement of United Methodism and its predecessor statements from 300 years ago: Currently the UM church defines its purpose as "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Compare this to the definition of the first Methodist societies: "a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation." 

Even when contemporary American Methodist worship moves beyond preparing people to be good so that they can do good in the world, it does so primarily through aesthetics: seeking to be "uplifting" through grand music, ritual, and oratory. And that aesthetic appeal will be through a consciously mediated experience of transcendence based on a personal "appreciation" of Western art prepared for presentation by highly trained liturgists, musicians, and preachers. (This idea of uplift can, of course, move "down market" to popular music forms and motivational speaking, but the conscious mediation - generally through expertise in marketing rather than high art - is still key.)

This blog post will be continued in another installment next week.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The most important UMC news story you won't hear about this week

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.

Yesterday, the United Methodist News Service published an article entitled, "Council lists steps for resolving East Africa issues."  It explains a set of conditions that the General Council on Finance and Administration has set in order to resolve an on-going dispute about financial matters in East Africa.  Those conditions were set forth in response to a request by Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa on behalf of the Africa Central Conference.  This article is likely to be the most significant piece of UMC news this week, but it is also likely to be overlooked by most American United Methodists.  Here's the reasons why on both accounts.

Reasons why this story is the most significant piece of news this week:

1. It includes a call for a bishop to resign.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula of  East Africa has been asked to resign due to financial mismanagement.  That a UMC bishop has been asked to resign for financial misdeeds should be huge news.  The story of Texas-based Bishop Early Bledsoe and his requested resignation has garnered significant attention and raised questions of race and authority.  The requested resignation of Bishop Wandabula should receive equal attention in the United Methodist blogosphere.

2. It involves $3/4 million in unaccounted funds.
Bishop Wandabula is being asked to make restitution for $757,275 in unaccounted funds from the East Africa Annual Conference. If there was an allegation that an American bishop had possibly embezzled or diverted three quarters of a million dollars, that would be huge news, not just for United Methodists, but for the secular press as well.

3. It raises a thicket of questions about power relationships between (especially non-U.S.) annual conferences and denominational agencies.
Another condition for settling the financial dispute is that the East Africa Conference turn over administration of its finances to an outside administrator responsible only to GCFA and GBGM.  Whether or not that plan is warranted, the idea that an Annual Conference should have one of its main administrative functions essentially taken over by denominational agencies raises a whole host of legal, ecclesiological, racial, and other issues.  United Methodist bloggers should be weighing in on these issues, because this plan has significant implications for our connectional covenants with each other, especially but not limited to the status of non-US Annual Conferences in the denomination.

Reasons why this story will be overlooked:

1. A news story about another UMC minister being tried for performing a gay marriage broke at the same time.
Nothing catches the attention of United Methodists in the US as much as stories related to the on-going debate about the status of LGBT people in the church.  That is certainly a very important issue and has implications for the theology and structure of the UMC, both in the United States and globally, but this story represents an incremental development - four ministers are on trial instead of three.  Nevertheless, this story will call forth a series of blog posts and comments that will soak up much of American United Methodists' attention for the next several days.

2. A news story about the United Methodist Publishing House selling its property broke at the same time.
If there's anything that captivates American United Methodists almost as much as stories about LGBT issues, it's stories about the decline of the UMC in the United States.  The sale of property by the UMPH, one of the denomination's flagship agencies, will undoubtedly provoke another wave of hand-wringing at how the church no longer has the same position in society (figuratively and literally in this case) as it did in 1965.  While the sale of the property is new, this story line is not new, but it will still absorb most of the rest of American United Methodists' attention this week.

3. It happened on Labor Day weekend.
This means two things: One, people are away from their computers.  Two, there's a raft of blogs and stories circulating about the history of the involvement of the church with labor movements in the United States.  That makes it harder for the story about East Africa to get through the crowd of other stories.

Ultimately, though, the most important reason this story will be overlooked is because it happened in Africa, and American United Methodists are too focused on their own concerns and too ignorant of the church abroad to pay much attention to news out of Africa.  I'm not saying that LGBT issues, the decline of the UMC in the US, or Christian concern for labor issues are unimportant.  I am saying that if we allow all of our attention to be focused on US-specific issues, we'll overlook some of the most significant developments in the UMC right now.  This story deserves debate and discussion.  Sadly, it is unlikely to get either.