Thursday, July 17, 2014

Globally aware, but of what? - David Scott on Grace Upon Grace: A Church Formed by Grace

Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College. Dr. Scott is commenting on paragraph 53 on "global awareness," from the ninth section of the document, "A Church Formed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.

Paragraph 53 of "Grace Upon Grace" calls the UMC to global awareness.  Global awareness, yes, but awareness of what?  The paragraph doesn't make it clear.  Is the document seeking for UMC members to be aware of the global nature of this church formed by grace and the diversity of expressions of mission contained therein?  Perhaps, but if so, to what end should that global awareness lead us?  It is reasonable to guess that if this is the global awareness for which "Grace Upon Grace" calls, then it is for the sake of recognizing the potential to be in mission with others throughout the connection, since the document notes the "global connections" each local UMC church has.  One could interpret these "global connections" as connections that exist among various parts of the UMC.

Yet is is possible to interpret "global awareness" in other ways as well.  Maybe "Grace Upon Grace" would like to see the UMC be aware of the global issues which present themselves as opportunities for mission, such as the child immigration crisis currently going on in the US, a national political and moral issue, but one with undeniable global origins in international networks of violence in Central America and transnational migration to the US.  Such "global connections" to issues that originate outside the church are also critical in shaping the mission of the church and may be those connections of which the document speaks.

A third possibility is that "Grace Upon Grace" would have us be aware of the vast cultural and religious diversity that exists in our world.  If so, then the call to "global awareness" could be read as a call for culturally- and religiously-sensitive mission in the complex, global world in which we live.  Since, as others have noted, "Grace Upon Grace" often assumes modernity and Western-ness as normative, such an interpretation, while reflecting good mission practices, might be somewhat against the grain of the rest of the document.

"Grace Upon Grace" does not make it clear which of these versions of global awareness it would like to see, but each of these interpretations is potentially important in guiding the UMC's mission, and each can be grounded in a deeper ecclesiology focused on God's role in forming the church for mission. Since the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12), God is certainly aware of the global variety within the church, and would likely have us be too, as the 1 Corinthians passage suggests.  The image of the church as the body of Christ also suggests that this awareness of each other is not just for its own sake, but for the sake of working together to execute God's gracious mission in the world, just as the hand and eye must coordinate for a body to do its work.

"Grace Upon Grace" combines this Body of Christ metaphor with an emphasis on the rest of the world that seems to fit well with the second and third possible interpretations of "global awareness."  The document's statement that "the full ministry and mission is that of the whole Body for the world world" implies that if we as the church are to be the whole Body of Christ, we must be prepared to meet the whole world, including the global issues driven by forces outside the church and the cultural and religious differences that must be accommodated in addressing them.

A revision or update of "Grace Upon Grace" would do well not to choose one of these interpretations of "global awareness," but to emphasize the importance of being aware of both the global diversity within the denomination and the global issues and diversity outside of the denomination as well.  The old adage about praying with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in another seems apropos here, but we should add an element to that image - we should pray with the Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and a speakerphone connecting us to other UMC members elsewhere around the world.  Then, what we have prayed about, we should go out and do.

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