Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Learning to receive from the margins in the UMC

In case you missed them, there were two great articles/blogs recently about reversals in how white American United Methodists often think about mission.  The first of these is an article by Heather Hahn entitled "What can ethnic caucuses teach the church?"  In the article, Hahn reports and comments on the first-ever joint meeting of the denominations five ethnic caucuses from the United States.  Central to the opening sermon by Bishop Linda Lee and repeated in Hahn's article is the important notion that the church as a whole can learn from the ethnic caucuses, that they have unique gifts and insights not present in the rest of the church but from which the church can benefit.  Especially when race is combined with socio-economic standing, even well-intentioned white Americans can see racial minorities as people to be helped, not people to learn from.  That's one of the challenges of being the dominant culture: remembering that just because you have the power does not mean you have all of the answers.

The other article is about a group of Costa Rican Methodist pastors and spouses that went on a mission trip to help a Lumbee Native American community in North Carolina by doing some building and repair work.  Normally, when Americans think about international mission trips, they are extremely more likely to think about trips from the US to Costa Rica than the other way around.  Yet this is actually the second time that Costa Rican Methodists have come on a mission trip to the US, having previously traveled to Kansas City.  Perhaps it's not surprising that a Native American community would host the Costa Ricans, since many Native Americans know, as indicated in the first paragraph, that those on the margins still have something to offer.  Yet many white UM churches in the US would do well to consider too what they could receive from a mission trip from elsewhere.

There are at least three important reasons for white American United Methodists to be more open to learning and receiving from others, especially others who are often on the margins in the church, whether than be domestic minorities or Methodists from elsewhere around the world.  The first reason is that it helps create a more equitable United Methodist Church, where the gifts God has given all of God's people can be offered up for the building of the kingdom.  The second is that in receiving, white American UMs affirm the worth and value of those from whom they receive, affirm that they are graced by God with gifts.  That can be an important message for the spiritual well-being of fellow United Methodists around the world.  Third, it is essential for white American UMs to receive for their own spiritual health.  As we approach Easter, we are reminded of the gracious sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ to his church.  Wesleyan theology teaches us that we must receive this gift.  If we cannot receive from each other, how then will we receive from Christ?

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