As reported by the United Methodist News Service, results from a recent survey of United Methodist bishops in the church's Central Conferences indicate a good deal of ecumenical and interfaith work going on in the UMC outside of the US. This work takes on a wide variety of forms, though peace building is particularly important, as are community development projects. While there are always dangers of losing our distinctive theological witness to God in ecumenical and interfaith work, I think these findings are both good news for The United Methodist Church as a whole and another way in which American United Methodists can learn from their brothers and sisters abroad.
First, it is good news because it shows that United Methodists are living out their faith in the world beyond the walls of the church. The world is filled with people who are not United Methodists, so if we are to be engaged in the world, we must be engaged with non-Methodists. Moreover, the world is filled with needs, and as retired Bishop Walter Klaiber pointed out on this blog recently, in many areas of the world, in order for United Methodists to successfully witness to the world and work for its betterment, we must do so in concert with other people of faith traditions. United Methodism does not possess the resources, numbers, or prestige in most places that can allow it to transform societies on its own. Instead, Methodists around the world recognize that if they are to live out the gospel, they must do so in cooperation with other Christians and even people of other religions, not by going solo.
That attitude is perhaps one of the ways in which American United Methodists can learn from our sisters and brothers around the world. In the United States, United Methodism did once upon a time have the resources, numbers, and prestige to have a significant social and political impact by itself. Those days are long past, but many in the denomination pine for their return. United Methodists in other countries are uninhibited by such a past, and it leaves them freer to engage in ecumenical and interfaith efforts that are productive for both the church and society as a whole. If American United Methodists could catch that spirit of cooperation on behalf of peace, on behalf of Christian cooperation, on behalf of caring for the poor, imagine what might be possible in the United States as well.