Tuesday, November 5, 2013

United Methodist unity and the WCC assembly

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.

In case you've missed it, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is meeting last week and this week in Busan, Korea.  The meeting, billed as the most diverse assemblage of Christians ever, involves 1,000 delegates from 345 member denominations all around the world.  There are ten United Methodist delegates including six from the US, two from Africa, one from the Philippines, and one from Europe.  UMC Communications has been writing a series of articles about the assembly, including the following: "WCC assembly hopes to break barriers in divided Korea," "WCC 10th Assembly opens in Busan, Korea," and "WCC assembly includes 21 ecumenical conversations."

The WCC assembly is an important event in world Christianity, but it also highlights one of the difficulties in the conversation about global Methodism.  United Methodism's internal conversation about global UMC connections does not happen in a vacuum.  Rather, it is occurring simultaneously with United Methodist participation in an external conversation about global Christian connections.  It can prove a difficult balancing act to attempt internal self-definition and strategy setting within a larger system that's in flux at the same time.

Yet such juggling of internal and external debates about communal identities are an extremely common feature of human group life.  In particular, minority groups must often handle internal debates about identity while simultaneously navigating the challenges of existing as a minority within a larger society. Such balancing of internal and external concerns about group identity and activity can impose some serious burdens on a minority group, especially if that group is oppressed in some way.  Yet, that's not really the case with United Methodism - we are certainly not oppressed within the global Christian community, nor are we within most national communities where United Methodism exists.

Indeed, it may be possible that the two discussions (the internal and the external) about global identity and connection in which United Methodists are participating may be able to inform one another in helpful ways.  It may be difficult for United Methodism to finesse the intricacies of global interdenominational cooperation when there are a diversity of understandings of what it means to be United Methodists or how that cooperation should proceed.  Yet, conversations about the nature of global Christian unity may be a fertile source of ideas about the nature of global United Methodist unity.

I'm sure there will be a variety of views within United Methodism about the takeaway moments of the WCC gathering and what they mean for the UMC.  Hopefully, though, some of what United Methodists will take away from the WCC will be what it means to seek for Christian unity, even in the midst of our disagreements, differences, and diversity, and thus what it can mean to seek for Methodist unity as well.


  1. Interesting that folks are complaining that UMC's will now have fewer members on the Central Committee of the WCC than ever before. Yes it is true that the UMC has always supported the WCC. It is also true that United Methodist "market share" of the world church continues to drop. New churches are emerging around the world. Perhaps being a "global" church requires that United Methodists cultivate new forms of humility within the Body of Christ.

    1. Thanks Dana. Your insight is a sobering reminder that the UMC is a small fish in a large sea. Even though the US connection continues to decline, we can celebrate the growth of the global connection. Still, even the Central Conferences in Africa and the Philippines are not growing as rapidly as many of the other Christian communities in the same areas. The UMC needs to understand that global voice requires a substantial global presence.