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 Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. Dr. Dharmaraj is commenting on the tenth section of the document, "A World Transformed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.
Mapping the struggle:
Our world today is relentlessly threatened by ruthless tyranny, soulless greed, exploitative human trafficking, wide economic disparity, and environmental degradation. In the religious front, old models of ecclesial life and traditional forms of spiritual practices have been reduced to and deemed as antiquated and inadequate observances. Systemic barriers relating to race, class, gender, and other discriminations have created impoverished communities worldwide.
By 2050, global population will balloon to 9 billion. In coming decades, mass consumption, economic transition and limited natural resources will intensify competition for basic human necessities such as water, housing and food. It will create tension in multiple levels. It will also defy nature’s sustainability, accelerate global warming, and further endanger the fragile ecosystem.
The United States is rapidly changing. The nation will morph into a majority-minority country in a couple of generations. Our potential church membership base will change. Further, the traditional map of the aged church has become archaic and obsolete; the functional compass of our historic mission is warped and broken. The spiritual navigation system of our congregational gathering and worship has radically been altered. The religious topography has become pluralistic and new-fangled.
Contrary to the conventional notion that modernization and globalization would usher in the decline and demise of religious beliefs and practices, we watch and observe endemic resurgence of radical forms of religions in world affairs.
As a faith community, we have a great stake in preserving God’s creation for future generations, preventing any form of global disaster, and work for shalom.
Grace for grappling with the issues of our times:
We need to move beyond being mere wearers of faith badges. We must be ready to reach beyond denominational boundaries and religious fault-lines to connect with those around us – partners and allies -who are engaged in the transformation of the world. We need to be in “the womb of mutuality and we need to be swimming in the same water as everybody else” engaged in bringing about transformation.
Since the task before us is immense and monumental, our ecclesiology must have room to accommodate “secular prophets” such as environmentalists and human rights organizers who are already active in the kingdom of God.
Therefore, we need to work for the transformation of structures of injustices by critically analyzing social realities through lenses of race, class, gender, and ethnicity, and identifying the interconnected web of oppressive forces, and finally, honoring the agency of the marginalized, and working with the beleaguered in seeking a just solution. This progression involves building alliances and coalitions with secular and other faith-based agencies, collaborating on strategies for transformation, and walking in solidarity with those at the margins.
We also need to remind ourselves that change is inevitable and transformation is a choice. The path to transformation runs straight through action. This is the right time to put our knowledge into practice. Action is a kind of everyday miracle. Knowledge certainly helps, but transformation occurs only when we enact our ideas and implement our visions. We must bear in mind, If we want to save the drowners, we need to be swimmers.
Witnessing to Christ in times such as this:
The United Methodist Church has been called to witness to the Gospel and invite persons to experience the fullness of life Jesus Christ offers. As a first order of business, the church’s mission and ministry today is to be relevant and become effective.
I submit the following recommendations for consideration as we strive to be authentic witnesses to the Gospel:
While we, as a denomination, are determined to stay the course, we also need to create a meta-mission-theology which takes the mosaic landscape of changing migration patterns which impacts the global nature of the church, plurality of cultures, and resurgence of world religions into serious consideration. This theology also ought to interact between the global and local, intercultural and transcultural, monolingual and polyphonic, mission and evangelism, proclamation and social justice, and Christianity and other living faiths.
Since the connectivity and engagement of a vast majority of members of the UMC are un-tethered, we are to create a UM Christology that clearly defines and distinguishes our belief in Christ from other competing allegiances. A theology or a set of guidelines that blithely confess “all religions are the same” would undercut the very foundation of the church and the new and abundant life offered in Jesus Christ.
Creating and fostering synchronous collaboration between the diasporic community that is readily available in the pews and pulpits of our denomination and the denomination’s leadership at various levels, and crossing borders to employ these rich but much neglected U.M. diasporic communities would yield positive and lasting results. It would richly enhance our interactions with people of other religious faiths and in witnessing to the neo-immigrants who move into our neighborhoods as well.
Receiving the gifts from the margins of the growing church at the global south helps us, as we strive to “update” and “recalibrate” our missional engagements, I strongly believe that mutuality in mission as a designed mission theology will fill in the gap, serve as a catalyst, and enable us to confront the current storm; for mutuality doesn’t just react to crises, but proactively prevents them.
In the final analysis, we should never hesitate to migrate from the spirit of scarcity to the spirit of abundance, from the spirit of defeat to the spirit of opportunity, from the spirit of abandonment to the spirit of empowerment, and from the spirit of helplessness to the spirit of confidence and come up with contextual theological paradigms for mission today. I am convinced that the iterative theology of mission in the 21st century is the theology of mutuality.
We are not alone in this journey. The God of the Bible is with us. This is not the first time we have gone this way before. Just as T.S.Eliot has said in his poem, The Rock, “And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.” We are reminded to break the shackles of the past and emphasize newness, openness, innovation in order to be transformed and be transforming. God’s abundant grace and assured presence is with us: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65: 17). In times such as this, may we unapologetically “account for the hope that is in us,” the grace we received in Christ (I Peter 3: 15).