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.