Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top UM & Global posts from 2015

This year, UM & Global is joining in a venerable news tradition - end of the year retrospectives. In this post, I'll list the top nine stories of 2015, as measured by page views. Next week, I'll look back on 2015 and look forward to 2016 by giving my own summary of the top themes the blog addressed in 2015 and is likely to address in 2016. But first, the top stories of 2015, as chosen by you, the readers:

1. UMC Communications in East Congo and Central and Southern Europe
2. White American UMC, Non-white global UMC
3. News rundown from Africa University
4. Plan Now: Eurasia Mission Initiative 50/50 Partnership Summit
5. A more global Connectional Table?
6. Should all annual conferences submit news reports about their meetings?
7. What United Methodist content would you put in humanity's digital library?
8. Michael Nausner: Methodism's Migratory DNA as Resource for a Global Theology
9. Westerners solving problems they cause

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Liberia UMC commercial building and African UMC church finances

Last week, E. Julu Swen wrote a UMNS article about how The United Methodist Church in Liberia is constructing a commercial office and retail building. The rents collected from tenants of the building once it is complete and occupied will help support the budget of the Liberia UMC. This new venture is part of an attempt to become less dependent on funds from the United States UMC and comes after the failure (only $325,000 out of a $10 million goal raised after 15 years) of a fund-raising campaign to establish an Episcopal Fund whose interest would help in the shift from American to Liberian resources.

While it may not initially seem so, this story is significant for the future of the UMC as a global denomination for three reasons:

1. It reflects the desire on the part of Liberian United Methodists to become (more) independent of American funds for the operation of their church. As the UMC comes to terms with its new reality as a global denomination, some of the tough questions it will have to grapple with will be about financial relations between the relatively well-off but shrinking American branch of the church and the poorer but growing African branch of the church. I'm sure there are Americans who want the Liberians to move toward financial independence because they think that Americans cannot afford to underwrite the church in Liberian forever. These questions about money will be especially complicated because money often equals control. I'm sure Liberian United Methodists recognize this relation and want to move toward financial independence themselves because that will give them greater voice in other regards as well. This shift will challenge some Americans who currently have power, but most significantly, the shift in funding is an important step in developing a robust, indigenous UMC in Liberia. The same will be true of other annual conferences elsewhere in Africa.

2. It acknowledges the failure of massive fund-raising campaigns as a means of achieving financial independence in Liberia. There are a variety of potential explanations for the utter failure of the Liberia United Methodist Episcopal Fund. Moreover, one could ask questions about what, if anything, this particular failure means for other capital campaigns, either in Liberia or elsewhere in Africa, and what it means about Liberian (and other African) churches' ability and willingness to give annually toward budgets. This post is not the place to sift through the complicated answers to this slew of questions. Suffice it to say, that this failure is at least an indication of the challenges in conducting successful capital campaigns in annual conferences in rising economies.

3. It demonstrates a willingness to experiment with entrepreneurial solutions to revenue problems. The Liberian UMC is solving the financial problem created by a desire to move toward financial independence coupled with the failure of their capital campaign by starting a money-making endeavor. This instance is far from the first time that Methodists have sought to use business-making efforts to bolster church revenues. Thus, the significance of this decision is not in its novelty but in its departure from standard Western ways of thinking about church budgets. This approach is potentially an innovative solution to funding shortfalls, but it comes with risks too. What happens if the Liberian economy falters and there are no tenants for the commercial building? Nevertheless, this approach to finances may become more common as annual conferences in rising economies find themselves in the same bind as Liberia - desirous to be less reliant on American dollars but having difficulty raising donations of their own.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recommended readings: United Methodists and #COP21

One of the major international news stories from the past month has been the climate change talks held in Paris, referred to by the abbreviation COP21. While the negotiators at these talks represented governments, there was active participation in the talks by a range of people and organizations, including The United Methodist Church.

For a sense of what United Methodists were doing at the talk, you can watch this series of videos from the General Board of Church and Society, showing a day-by-day recounting of UM activities at the summit. This article from UMNS also gives a sense of the religious dimension to the summit.

The agreement that came out of COP21 has been widely hailed, including by United Methodists and other religious leaders. This UMNS article and this press release from the World Council of Churches give a sense of that range of positive responses.

Among the reasons the COP21 summit is of particular interest to this blog is that not only is the Earth's climate by definition a global matter, much of the United Methodist interest and advocacy around climate change has come from beyond the United States. The UMC in the Philippines has been especially active around climate change, as evidenced by this recent story. European United Methodists participated in a pilgrimage to COP21 and were then among the participants there, as were United Methodists from Africa and the Philippines. The UMC in Liberia has set up a Climate Change Task Force following the conclusion of the summit. As I have suggested before, the Central Conferences may prove to be the most important impetus for the UMC to remain engaged with issues surrounding climate change.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Recommended interaction: #CTTalks

If you've not already seen them, the UMC's Connectional Table has been releasing a series of videos about important topics in the UMC as part of the run-up to General Conference 2016. You can do two things regarding these videos as a United Methodist interested in global questions about the church:

1. Tweet now your questions related to January and February's topics: Worldwide Nature - Our Theology and Worldwide Nature - Our Organization/Structure. Include the hashtag #CTTalks so that the Connectional Table can find your tweets. You can also tag the Connectional Table by including @CTUMC in your post.

2. Watch the videos as they come out. Videos from October (General Conference Culture), October (Christian Conferencing), and December (Vital Congregations) are already available.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Plan now: global Methodist get-togethers in 2016

For United Methodists, 2016 is significant as the year of the upcoming General Conference, to be held in Portland, OR, from May 10-20. 850 official delegates from around the world plus many other on-lookers will gather for two weeks of fellowship, worship, prayer, holy conferencing, and voting.

But the UMC General Conference is not the only significant global get-together of Methodists and Wesleyans in 2016. The 21st World Methodist Conference, organized by the World Methodist Council, will take place in Houston, TX, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3rd. Since the WMC is not a governing body, this conference will focus on fellowship, worship, and faith development.

And if that's not enough, there are several associated conferences happening just before or at the same time as the World Methodist Conference. For youth and young adult leaders aged 18-35, the International Methodist Young Leaders Seminar will happen in Houston just before the WMC on Aug. 29-30. For (clergy)women, there's both the 13th World Assembly of Methodist and Uniting Church Women and the Global UM Clergywomen Gathering, both of which run concurrently with the WMC in Houston.

All told, 2016 is a good year to be Methodist. Those with the means and ability are highly encouraged to participate in one of these opportunity for transnational Methodist fellowship.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jacob Dharmaraj: Advocacy as a Christian Witness in Diasporic Mission

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. It extends remarks Rev. Dr. Dharmaraj made in a previous post from October.

In one of Norman Rockwell’s drawings, an overwhelmed mother holds her little boy face down in her lap. At her feet lies a hammer, along with evidence of a destructive spree: a broken mirror, a shattered vase, and an eviscerated clock under her chair. Not being sure of how to discipline her child, the mother grips a hairbrush in one hand, and a book on child psychology in the other: To spank or not to spank? She doesn’t know the answer.

Many in the church in global north are confused and lost over the missional issues of immigrant concerns and global diaspora, particularly about millions who are forced to flee from their native lands because of political instability, religious, racial, ethnic persecutions. What is our missional response to them? At times the multiplicity of responses given by experts threatens to devolve into cacophony.

Embodying the Gospel
Most of us are well aware that the church cannot carry on a monologue detached from the marginalized world with mere relief offerings but must stand in solidarity with them to address this huge human crisis. Pope John Paul aptly said, “Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.” Being in solidarity with the weak and vulnerable is more than extending compassionate and charitable services. Human charity is a hard emotion to sustain; over the long run, it cloys.

True solidarity breaks down the illusion of disconnectedness and works for kinship, which is a cherished conviction. In the final analysis, being in solidarity with the broken and bruised, and gaining their trust and confidence will offer better opportunities to share the love of Jesus Christ.

We need to be aware that there is a major difference between global diasporic mission and mission with the immigrants who have moved into our neighborhoods. Diasporic mission is primarily a global phenomenon set in motion by voluntary or involuntary conditions. Research professor Enoch Wan avows it as glo-cal in nature. It is border-less, pluralistic, transnational, multi-directional rather than homogenous. It is comprised primarily of people who were involuntarily or coerced to move.

In diasporic mission, the focus is on holistic mission and contextualization that integrate evangelism and social concern. We cannot just proclaim the Gospel among refugees without also addressing their physical needs and becoming their advocate. The workers work best when they learn the languages, understand cultural nuances and are mindful of the practices of the faiths of others who are rootless refugees, while keeping one’s core faith identity. Mere proclamation with an intention to start church during human vulnerability will spawn only “exploitative-Christians.” Mission is contextual as well as comprehensive, and should never employ humanitarian aid for religious proselytization.

Diaspora missiology does not replace “traditional missiology,” which is primarily evangelistic; rather, it supplements traditional methods with those that are geared to the new demographic realities of the 21st century. It is not a case of “either/or” in a mutually exclusive way as some tend to assume. In diasporic mission, participants are invited to stretch their imagination and look beyond the narrow perspectives of the present and to set themselves in the context of world realities on the one hand, and on the other hand, the analytics of root causes, power relations, and knowledges provided by the victims.

Mission with the “sinned-against” people
Historically, mission movements in the global north have rarely engaged questions of immigration and global diaspora as missional issues. If we hack through the opaque theological thicket and saunter through mission archives, we still find ourselves in the same old corridors of starting place. At times, we are narrowly guided by favorite scripture passages and past practices in order to discover missional comfort and seek ecclesial refuge. During the Christendom period everything seemed to be fixed and stable, but now the topography of the mission site is changed.

The demise of colonization, end of Christendom and waning of denominational ecumenism on the one hand, and the emergence of globalization and instant communication on the other have transformed missional participation from the predictable to the adaptive, from the mono-directional and anticipated to multi-directional and flexible ways of engagement.

In diasporic mission, witness to the Gospel comes mainly through advocacy work on behalf of the “sinned-against” and giving witness to the structures of power that create this sub-human condition. The agency of the diasporic communities is a key. In other words, we need to take the marginalized and repressed voices from the periphery and help amplify and facilitate these voices to be heard. This would mark a significant change in the way we do mission in a traditional sense. We cannot merely dispense throat lozenges that makes people feel better when the patients themselves know what they need is a serious medical treatment.

When I say our witness should be characterized by love and advocacy, I am not downplaying the reality of sin nor the need for transformation. However, it may be that hurting, disillusioned people need to find kindness through our caring action. During biblical times, when our Hebrew ancestors migrated from impoverished agrarian region to the advanced, urbanized Egypt, they had the invaluable advantage of having Joseph, who happened to be a blood relative, in the country’s top public office. Joseph’s advocacy and timely interference made this vulnerable diasporic community’s transition relatively easier. When problems arose for that community a few centuries later, it was Moses who stepped into the role of advocate.

Biblical history also documents people from all walks of life who witnessed against the structures of power on behalf of the poor, oppressed and voiceless. We can cite only a few towering figures such as Daniel, Nehemiah, Esther, Paul, and Apollos who did the ministry of advocacy on a larger scale and cross-cultural context. There are a number of so-called “minor” role players. Suffice it to say that a vital key to the health and viability of diasporic communities lay in the availability and the power of advocacy to represent their needs.

What is clear is that advocacy is a key ingredient in diaspora issues both past and present, and is increasingly being recognized in governmental structures as an important dynamic in the process of diaspora engagement. Wherever diasporas have appeared, their ability to cope and thrive has been in large part due to the willingness of those who carry influence and inspiration to serve as advocates and campaigners for vulnerable and scattered peoples. Wangari Muta Maathai, a Nobel Laureate, aptly said, “Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t  done a thing. You are just talking.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Recommended Readings: UMC opposes Lumad killings in the Philippines

The phrase "religion and politics" connotes certain issues, attitudes, and fault lines within American society. It is a useful reminder to Americans, then, that religion and politics can relate in much different ways in different national settings. The issues, attitudes, and cleavages within the political realm vary by context, even when related to the same religious tradition.

This observation is one reason I highly recommend the following readings on the response by the UMC in the Philippines to the extra-judicial killings and persecution of the Lumad ethnic minority. I also recommend these readings because there are important but little-known issues of injustice surrounding this issue, and it is encouraging to see the UMC courageously speak out against such injustice.

UMNS story on  UMC protest of anti-Lumad violence
Statement on Lumad killings by the College of Bishops of the Philippines Central Conference of the UMC
Further information on the Lumad issue can be found on the Philippines Central Conference Facebook page

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Arun Jones: How Pentecostals can be a global church

This blog post is the second in a two-part series by Arun Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism at Candler School of Theology. In these two pieces, Dr. Jones examines how other Christian traditions function as global churches for the sake of making comparisons with The United Methodist Church.

Several months ago I offered some suggestions about how Roman Catholicism is able to hold together as a global Christian body in today’s world, and said that the other Christian tradition (perhaps “stream” is a better word) that accomplishes this well is Pentecostalism.  As in the case of Roman Catholicism, my observations do not come from an in-depth study of Pentecostals, but from personal experiences in various parts of Asia, Africa and North America.

To be clear, I do not think Catholics and Pentecostals understand “church” in the same way (they have very different ecclesiologies). The contrast between Catholicism and Pentecostalism is instructive, and shows us that there is no one sure way to be a global church. Paradoxically however, I think that often their different ways of being “church” accomplish similar ends when it comes to being global.

First of all, what is it that unites Pentecostals? I would venture to say that whereas the Roman Catholic Church is held together by an organization and regularized liturgies, Pentecostalism is held together by personal relationships. Certainly there are important international Pentecostal denominational bodies, such as the Assemblies of God, but personal relationships are the real glue that binds together Pentecostals worldwide. Networking is what makes for the global nature of Pentecostalism. So Pentecostals who are part of a world-wide connections get along with each other, and are generally of the same theological/ecclesial disposition. If things don’t work out on a personal level, they leave the network and join/form another one. Roman Catholicism, held together by organization and liturgy, can embrace people who really don’t agree (or at times even like!) each other.

Secondly, both Catholics and Pentecostals have a counterweight to the authority of Scripture, and this counterweight can provide for much needed flexibility. For Catholics, it is Christian tradition; for Pentecostals, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who can lead us into new and uncharted territory (as the scriptures attest). So Pentecostals can improvise as they form new global connective bonds. This is not to say that Scripture is unimportant for Pentecostals: quite the opposite is true. Yet Scripture always needs to be interpreted, and Pentecostals can quite rapidly give fresh interpretations of Scripture, based on their understanding of what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do in new situations.

Thirdly, I have been surprised at the amount of English used in Pentecostal services (both in the singing and speaking) I have attended in non-English speaking parts of the world. I think that many (certainly not all) Pentecostals who are part of thriving global networks do not simply use English for convenience sake, but the language is a sign of connection to American evangelical Christianity. In other words, contemporary American evangelicalism is a mythic vision of church that helps to bind together Pentecostals around the world. This binding occurs first at the level of ideas (“that vision is what we aspire to”) and then at personal and material levels (“let us meet others who aspire to that vision, let us imitate the American evangelical lifestyle in some way”). The worldwide popularity of the prosperity gospel is, I believe, another manifestation of the connection that the mythic vision of American evangelicalism provides. It seems to me that this mythic vision functions like the idea of “Rome” for Roman Catholics – the vast majority of whom have never been to that city, but revere it all the same.

Finally, Pentecostalism takes seriously the claim that spiritual forces are not merely existing but are active all around us, and within us. This give Pentecostals a theological language and certain religious practices that are simultaneously easily understood and shared around the world, but also are open to thoroughly local interpretation. In ways that are analogous to Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism has developed language and gestures that are common and shared, but can mean very different things in different places and cultures.

For at least these four reasons, it seems to me, Pentecostals are at the forefront of creating worldwide Christianity, albeit through a multiplicity of organizations and fellowships. Pentecostalism provides a radically different alternative to Roman Catholicism to be a global church. (The Catholic charismatic movement, interestingly, draws on both traditions.) However, the different alternatives respond in their own way to some common requirements, which I have hinted at above, for a truly global Christianity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Other Models of Global Church

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the second of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.

As I mentioned in the first two parts of this blog series, the United Methodist Church can no longer ignore the growing non-US sector of the UMC, but there is an increasing cost associated with bringing together delegates from around the world for an often ineffective meeting at General Conference. While I enjoy being part of a global church, I have come to the realization that it is not the most cost-effective way to organize an international body.

One proposal to address this problem is for a Global Book of Discipline that will move all the binding polity for the global church into one section that can be addressed at GC. This is important because the UMC functions in a variety of languages, cultures and under several governments with different laws that affect how the church must relate to the state. The remaining sections of the Book of Discipline will allow for changes by the Central Conferences for the church to function within the local context. The Global Book of Discipline will be available for review and discussion at the 2016 GC, but will not be eligible for adoption until 2020.

While these are positive incremental changes, I feel that they do not go far enough. Before joining the UMC, the EUB Church facilitated the independence of its former mission churches around the world. The PC(USA) and the Episcopal Churches have done the same; the latter maintains a connection to those churches through the worldwide body of the Anglican Communion.

The current configuration of the global United Methodist Church is still a holdover from the traditional mission model with the U.S. at the center, and former mission churches at the periphery. As I mentioned in my first blog, some of those Methodist Churches in Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Latin America and the Caribbean became autonomous, while those in Africa, Europe and the Philippines did not. This would be tantamount to some of the 13 American colonies choosing independence and some remaining part of England.

I would like to propose picking up the work of the COSMOS commission in the 1960s to have conversations with the Central Conference churches, while also retaining a commitment to connectionalism. This would be a model more in line with other Protestant churches as well as the Wesley spirit of equality and appreciation of diversity.

Here are two real examples of how this might look. The first is the Sol Africa project. Recently I had the privilege of attending the 10-year anniversary of the Sol Africa project that brings together the Portuguese-speaking Methodist Churches in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and Portugal to share resources. This project joins both autonomous and United Methodist churches, as well as human and monetary resources to carry out the mission of the church.

These churches share publications, as well as human and material resources, to train future leaders, produce Sunday School materials and rebuild Methodist training institutions that were damaged during civil strife in Mozambique and Angola under the guidance of the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry and Discipleship Ministries. Part of this project is distributing E-readers uploaded with Bible commentaries and theology books, many published by Methodist authors, to pastors and seminary students.

The Cuba-Florida Covenant is another example of a ministry that goes beyond the United Methodist Church, yet honors past relationships. Historically the Methodist Church in Florida has played an intricate role in the growth of Cuban Methodism. Many mission churches in Cuba were started and built by Florida churches in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. After the Cuban revolution in 1959 and the beginning of the embargo in 1961, the two countries (and churches) went their own way. The Methodist Church in Cuba gained its autonomy in 1968 and went through three very difficult decades of tense church-state relations under a Socialist government.

Beginning in the 1990s the church underwent a charismatic revival, which transformed its theology and practice according to its ministry context. Gone were the formalities of bulletins, hymnals, and organ music, and in were extemporaneous prayers, praise music, guitars and maracas. I lived through six years of this charismatic renewal as a missionary in Cuba (1991-97) and observed many positive attributes, such as adapting to current realities and contexts, that we can all learn from our Cuban brothers and sisters.[1]

The Cuba-Florida covenant was signed in 1997 by the Florida Annual Conference and the autonomous affiliated Methodist Church in Cuba, and since then has facilitated 198 partnerships between local churches and districts.These are two ecclesial bodies that could not be more different culturally, liturgically and theologically. I cannot imagine these two churches having to function under the umbrella of one General Conference or one Book of Discipline--which is fine. Neither should the Cubans impose their beliefs and practices on the American church, nor should the Americans impose their beliefs and practices on the Cuban church. Both are in ministry in their distinctive contexts and cultures. The Cuba-Florida Covenant operates despite the obvious differences, respecting each others’ autonomy, yet allowing districts and churches to covenant to pray, visit and even support one another in more concrete ways.

If the Wesleyan connection between Cuba and Florida is still strong after 55-years with no diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, then certainly the connection between Methodist churches around the world can retain their historical relationships while we move away from a neocolonial mission model to one that is more adaptable to local contexts and cultures. The current model is a leftover configuration without a sound biblical or theological justification. It is frozen in time when the work of the COSMOS commission was interrupted by the unification talks between the former Methodist and EUB churches.

Rather than having an unequal and arbitrary division with some former mission churches being autonomous affiliated and others as United Methodist, I call on the church to consider a more equal model that encourages all churches to create culturally appropriate ecclesial structures, while remaining connectional, for the greater mission to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

[1] Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Cuba Methodism: The Untold Story of Survival and Revival, 2nd edition, Atlanta, GA: Dolphins and Orchids, 2006.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recommended viewing: Beyond Bethlehem video on refugee crisis

The General Board of Global Ministries has put together this informative and moving video about the situation of Middle Eastern refugees not just in the US or Europe but in the Middle East, where most Syrian and Palestinian refugees live. It's about 8 mins. long, but worth a watch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Recommended reading: Paris attacks and refugee crisis

The world has been rocked in the last week by the ISIS-led terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, the political aftermath, and the implications for the on-going refugee crisis of people fleeing ISIS-led violence in Syria. United Methodists have been among the many responding to and commenting on these issues in the last week. Below is a partial run-down of United Methodist responses. If you know of others, please post them in the comments section.

On the Paris attacks:
A UMC.org story summarizing United Methodist responses
From Bishop Patrick Streiff of the France, Switzerland, and North Africa Annual Conference
From Bishop Warner Brown, head of the UMC Council of Bishops
From Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of GBGM
From Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary of GBCS
From Moses Kumar, General Secretary of GCFA
News article on interfaith service about terrorism involving the UMC in Germany
A summary of reactions in the Holston Annual Conference
From Mary Elizabeth Moore, Dean of the Boston University School of Theology

On the Syrian refugee crisis:
From Moyoliving.org, 7 Facts About the Current Refugee Crisis and a piece on How Do We See Migrants?
A UMNS story summarizing United Methodist statements on refugees
From GBCS
From Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference
From Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference
From Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Conference
From Rev. Dalton Rushing of the North Georgia Conference
From Rev. Wes Magruder of the North Texas Conference
From Rev. Drew McIntyre of the Western North Carolina Conference

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The Cost of Being a Global Church

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the second of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.

As I mentioned in Part I of my blog, when the current governance structure of the United Methodist Church was established in 1968, the global nature of the church was not a major concern. At that time, only 7.5% of General Conference delegates came from the Central Conferences. Moreover, the new union between the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) created a monster denomination of more than 11 million members, and negotiations revolved around how to honor these traditions in the new structure.

However, over the past few quadrennia membership has decreased by four million to just over 7 million in the US, while church membership in the Central Conferences has increased. Given the representative formula for electing delegates to General Conference, the resulting percentages of General Conference delegates in 2016 will look very different from those of 1968.

While we celebrate the growth of the UMC outside the United States, the increase in international delegates to General Conference does not come without a cost. The expense of running the 2012 General Conference was $8.8 million, which was up from $7.1 million for 2008 and $5.3 million in 2004. Translation alone cost $920,000. Even though several interpreters were volunteers, GC still covered their travel, hotel and per diem.[1] Delegates received up to $125 per diem for meals and housing. The rental of the Tampa Convention Center was $160,000, and GC spent $408,000 for a computer tracking system. Some of the increase from 2008 to 2012 is obviously inflation and the rising costs of organizing a major convention of this size; however, we also recognize that travel costs for delegates are a major expense. Of the $8.8 million cost for General Conference, $1.7 million was paid for domestic and international delegate travel.[2]

In an effort to cut expenses, in October of 2013, the Commission on General Conference decided to cap the number of delegates to 850 for the upcoming 2016 General Conference in Portland. This will temporarily cut down on some of the travel and per diem expenses for delegates; however, this is only a stopgap measure as the trend is for the percentage of international delegates to continue to grow.

I rejoice in the growth of the church in the global south. As I mentioned in my first blog, my parents served as missionaries with the Methodist Church in Singapore (where I was born), and I also served as a missionary for 15 years in Latin America and helped to plant new faith communities, train leaders and build churches. Now that the church is growing in the global south, it is a blessing to hear stories of full churches and see new leaders rising up. I rejoice in these lives being transformed by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I also enjoy being part of a global church and knowing brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world.

My concern is with the stewardship of the smaller pool of resources of the United Methodist Church. For the price of $8.8 million that it costs to unite 850 delegates at a convention center for 10 days, one would hope for a very effective communication and decision-making process. Often, it is not.

One of the problems is that the overwhelming majority of petitions introduced at General Conference have to do with the life of the church in the United States. If one looks through the index of the UM Book of Resolutions, one can see the emphasis on social issues in the U.S. context. So international delegates attend General Conference to deal with matters of the general church; however, the petitions deal primarily with the U.S. context. This is not the most efficient use of the international delegates’ time, nor financial resources.

How long can this current structure be sustained given the membership trends in the UMC? Is there a better way to make decisions that still is representative of the various conferences that is more efficient and cost effective?

In the third part of this blog series, I will make some proposals for how the United Methodist Church might address these questions by reconsidering the model of relations with autonomous churches.


[1] Email correspondence with the United Methodist General Commission on Finance and Administration on February 19, 2015.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Recommended Reading: African UMC Bishops' Statement

In a significant piece of United Methodist news, American United Methodists learned last week about a statement put forward by 11 out of the 12 active African United Methodist bishops and one retired African United Methodist bishop. Although news reached the US only last week, the statement was crafted and adopted two months ago at the bishops' September 7-11 meeting in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The statement tackles three issues: global terrorism, marriage and sexuality, and the unity of the church. It calls for greater church attention to issues of global terrorism. It condemns gay and lesbian marriage and advocates for sexuality to be expressed only within monogamous heterosexual marriages. It calls for continued unity of The United Methodist Church, even in the face of disagreements over marriage and sexuality. It also calls for daily prayer at General Conference 2016.

The statement elicited significant response upon its release. In particular, American conservatives and liberals interested in LGBT issues predictably lauded or condemned the statement, respectively. Pieces such as those written by Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy praised the statement's anti-gay marriage stance, while on the other side, pieces such as those written by Reconciling Ministries and Hacking Christianity took issue with this aspect of the statement. The official UMNS story eschewed either path and instead stressed the call for unity of the church. Most commentators affirmed the anti-terrorist stance without devoting significant attention to it.

The most significant aspect of this statement, though, may not be any of the issues it contains but the mere fact that it exists. The statement may prove the first step in a trend toward African United Methodist bishops speaking out with a unified voice on a whole host of topics. If that proves to be true, then whether Americans agree or disagree with it, such advocacy on the part of African bishops will certainly shift the way dialogue happens in the UMC.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The UMC as a Global Church, 1968 to the present

Today's piece is written by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It is the first of a three-part series on General Conference and the global structure of the UMC.
 
This fall I received an email out of the blue from Foochow Methodist Church in Singapore. It said, “Dear Prof, I am a member of Foochow Methodist Church, Singapore. My sincere apology for intruding this way. Our Church’s kindergarten is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year on 14th Nov. Mrs Carol Wingeier was the first Principal of the kindergarten 50 years ago. We wish to invite her to Singapore as our honored guest to grace the celebrate on 14th Nov 2015. Hope to hear from you soon. Regards, CL Tong.”

Fifty years ago this month my parents, like many Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) missionaries, were building up mission churches around the world. At the same time, however, conversations between the Methodist Church, the (African American) Central Jurisdiction, and the EUB led to the formation of the United Methodist Church.

When this union occurred in 1968, 92.5% of the General Conference delegates were from the United States and the remaining 7.5% came from the Central Conferences outside the U.S. Before the merger, the Methodist General Conference (GC) authorized the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) to conduct a study of the Methodist overseas structures during the 1964-1968 quadrennium and bring recommendations.

As part of this mandate COSMOS held a consultation in Green Lake, Wisconsin in 1966 where they invited missiologists from the former Methodist and EUB churches to examine the relationship to mission churches. The former EUB mission churches outside the United States had become autonomous, while most Methodist mission churches had not. The general trend in the ecumenical mission movement beginning with the International Mission Conference in Whitby, Canada, in 1947 was to encourage more partnerships, mutuality and autonomy for the “younger churches” that had reached “advanced stages of development.”

Leading up to the 1968 union, two dozen Methodist mission churches, such as the churches in Singapore, Malaysia, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Cuba, among others, requested and were granted their autonomy. However, Methodist Churches in Africa, Europe and the Philippines did not, and as a result, they were carried into the new United Methodist denomination without much consideration for how these mission churches would participate in the life of the UMC.

At the 1972 General Conference (GC) in Atlanta, there was little attention to the global nature of the church. For example, all the proceedings were in English without provisions for non-English speaking delegates. A Global Ministries staff person noted, “The non-English speakers were just left out of the process.”[1] A few staff members from Global Ministries (GM) offered translation for international delegates at the Portland GC in 1976. Staff person Joyce Hills recalls that there were no formal arrangements or equipment. In an effort to be hospitable to the guests, the GM staff just whispered an informal translation into the ears of the international delegates.[2]

With each successive GC, the United Methodist Church has become more attentive to the global nature of the church. The 1984 GC issued a directive to all general boards and agencies to have representation on their board of directors from the Central Conferences. In 1988 the Council of Bishops gave a global nature report, and in 1992 the General Council on Ministries was given several tasks related to global issues.

The first General Conference that I attended was in 1992, and the number of international delegates was still relatively small. I remember a local church in downtown Louisville that provided a resting place and meals funded by Global Ministries for international delegates. Moreover, the area churches invited international delegates, many of whom were bishops and distinguished leaders in world Methodism, to preach on the Sunday in area congregations. However, this had the feeling of a “dog and pony show” with the main event still being the legislative process at the convention center. Aside from the formal introductions on the floor of GC, the international delegates were largely ignored, and the majority of the petitions and discussions on the floor were not relevant to international delegates.

By the 2012 GC in Tampa, not only had the awareness of the growth of world Methodism increased, so had the sophistication of preparing for a larger number of international delegates. GC had mushroomed into a full-fledged international convention—with a price tag to match. All of the petitions were translated into nine languages before the start of GC for the delegates to consider.

Proceedings at GC were simultaneously interpreted into the languages of the delegates, including American Sign Language, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili.[3] Whenever a written proposal or amendment was on the floor for a vote, the presiding bishop asked the maker of the proposal to write it down and give it to a page, who would take it to the chair to be translated into the aforementioned languages. When the floor language is English and an increasing percentage of delegates are non-English speakers, it is difficult to have full participation in parliamentary procedure.

In October of 2013, GC secretary Rev. Fitzgerald L. Reist made an announcement that was of no surprise to anyone: the percentage of Central Conference delegates will rise; thirty percent of delegates in 2016 will be from Africa, 58.3 percent from the U.S., 4.6 percent from Europe and 5.8 percent from the Philippines. In a stopgap measure to decrease costs, the secretary also announced that the cap for delegates was lowered from 1000 to 850.

The non-US sector of the UMC can no longer be ignored or treated as a sideshow. We have reached a critical tipping point as a denomination where we either need to embrace the global nature of the church or reform the structure. As membership declines in the US and increases in the Central Conferences, the percentage of international delegates will continue to grow.

Ever since COSMOS completed its mandate in 1972, there has been no movement toward autonomy for former mission churches. The current structure is not really global, because many Methodist Churches around the world are not included. Also, the overwhelming majority of the petitions discussed at GC deal with the U.S.-based church. There is not a good biblical or theological explanation as to why some Methodist Churches around the world are autonomous and others belong to the Central Conferences.

Nor have we gone back and reflected with the autonomous churches on their well-being. Some of these churches, such as the Methodist Church in Singapore, have thrived on their own and have grown to be self-supporting. Others, such as those in Latin America, have a rich Wesleyan heritage yet have struggled to be self-supporting. Yet because they are autonomous, they do not have access to many denominational funds. We have come to a critical point where the UMC either needs to fully embrace the global nature of the church and invite all to the table or continue the work that COSMOS was doing before 1968 to encourage autonomy.

In part II of this blog, I will address the effectiveness of the General Conference as a decision-making process and the cost of being a global church. I will also discuss proposed changes and how they can make the UMC structure more efficient in Part III.

[1] Bloom, Linda. “Global Delegates Mean Multiple Languages,” UMNS, accessed February 28, 2015, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/global-delegates-mean-multiple-languages
[2] Ibid.
[3] UMTV: “Interpreters Raise Church Voices,” posted July 5, 2012, accessed February 28, 2015, http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/umtv-interpreters-raise-church-voices

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Recommended reading: Thomas Kemper on Extending the Global Mission Conversation

General Secretary of GBGM Thomas Kemper, in this month's New World Outlook magazine, has published a piece about some of the new missiological directions in which his organization has been going. Kemper touches on three themes in particular: the structure of GBGM, which includes people from all over the world serving in many ways and places; the practice of mission roundtables that encourage mutuality and listening; and partnerships with autonomous Methodist churches and other ecumenical partners, especially in Latin America. The piece is well worth a read for those interested in the latest in United Methodist missiology.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Recommended reading: Update on UMC & refugees in Germany

While the media buzz over the refugee crisis in Europe has died down, the crisis itself has not. While the most dramatic situations of tens of thousands detained in Southeast Europe are past, refugees continue to arrive in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere on a daily basis. Moreover, the hard work of helping refugees settled down into a new life in Germany or elsewhere has truly begun. In that regard, we offer these three glimpses of how The United Methodist Church in Germany is participating in that work of welcoming refugees.

A report from Anne Detjen, the Bishop’s Secretary for Missional Congregation Development in Germany, courtesy of the Dakotas Conference: http://www.dakotasumc.org/news/german-clergy-member-givies-insight-what-is-the-refugee-crisis-like-in-germany/

A video of Rolf Held, UMC pastor in Messstetten, Germany, courtesy of UMCOR: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvB0gbm7M2w

A report on the efforts of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen in Deutschland, to which the UMC belongs, courtesy of the German UMC: http://www.emk.de/meldungen-2015/stellungnahme-der-ack-zu-fluechtlingssituation.html

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Chicago Training School as harbinger of the future of US theological education

I had the pleasure of talking yesterday to Rev. Benjamin Reynolds, an admissions representative of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary who was visiting my college. During a lunch meeting and a class discussion, he, a current Garrett student, my colleague in the religion department, students from my college, and I were talking about the changing nature of seminary education in the US.

In particular, we were discussing how seminary education is no longer just for those who want to become pastors. Instead, there are an increasing number of seminary programs for those who want to go into nonprofit work, community organizing, or other forms of non-congregational ministry.

In part, this shift reflects the demographic trends of mainline ministers and the institutional needs of seminaries. Especially in the UMC, there are fewer ordained elders and more licensed local pastors, who have not necessarily attended seminary, than there were 25 years ago. In order to preserve institutional viability, seminaries have had to find new pools of students outside those considering ordained church ministry in mainline congregations.

Yet I was also reflecting on how this broadened sense of what it means to prepare students for ministry does demonstrate a profitable rethinking of what it means to be in Christian ministry. And in this regard, today's seminaries are not forging new ground but rather re-learning lessons from a century ago.

In particular, I was thinking about the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions. This school, actually one of the predecessors of Garrett-Evangelical, was founded by Lucy Rider Meyer and her husband to train women for Christian ministry and service. Since women were at the time not allowed to be ordained in most denominations, it was by necessity Christian ministry that took place outside the context of leading a congregation.

The Chicago Training School was a huge force in preparing Methodist and other Christian women for a whole range of important and effective ministries that helped transform the church's relationship with societies around the world. It produced the founders of the deaconess movement, many significant women missionaries with the WFMS, and leaders who were active in developing a host of church-run social and religious programs.

While the early 21st century is, of course, a different time than the early 20th, it is a useful exercise to look back at the good work done by the Chicago Training School as a model for seminaries that seek to develop new programs to train Christian leaders. Our mission-minded foremothers understood ministry broadly, and they also understood the importance of theological and other training to prepare themselves for that ministry. We can hope for no less for the theological leaders of today.

Friday, October 23, 2015

William Payne: Response to Jacob Dharmaraj

Today's post is by regular contributor Dr. William Payne. Dr. Payne is the Harlan & Wilma Hollewell Professor of Evangelism and World Missions and Director of Chaplaincy Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary.

I read Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj’s recent blog on diaspora missiology with great interest. His careful prodding is timely and much needed. Great population shifts are taking place as vast numbers of vulnerable people relocate for a variety of reasons. War, genocide, sexual abuse, economic disaster, religious persecution, destruction of social systems, and disease continue to foment dislocation. The exodus from northern Africa and the Middle East is staggering.

Matthew reminds us that Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of an evil king. God provided a sanctuary for the holy family in a foreign land. Certainly, God wants the church to provide sanctuary to the modern immigrants.

Still, I struggle with Dr. Dharmaraj’s one dimensional approach to the diaspora mission because it pulls apart what God holds together. In light of the current global situation, he advocates putting physical needs ahead of spiritual needs, and advocacy ahead of evangelism. He also argues that the world wants the church to move beyond mission as usual. He says that the church must partner with the ecumenical community and secular prophets (environmentalists and human rights advocates) to pursue a social justice advocacy that strikes at the root of the human disruption. I assume that “ecumenical partners” includes practitioners of non-Christian faith traditions.

In the blog, it appears that social justice advocacy is the great calling of the church in this era and that evangelistic mission is less important or unwelcomed. Frequently, such thinking influences the hierarchy of mainline denominations. Often it assumes a theocentric ideology that makes common cause with all who desire to purse a particular formulation of social justice. One denominational leader put it this way: “Since all are saved, we need to get on with social justice and the great task of loving each other.”

Instead, I believe that UM missional priorities should align with biblical priorities. A bifurcated mission that neglects evangelism is not a biblically sustainable model for engaging the world with God’s mission. When Jesus advocated for the poor or challenged unjust religious orders, he did so from the perspective of a personal relationship. For example, the Rich Young Ruler wanted to be saved. Jesus told him to divest of his riches, give to the poor, and become his disciple.
John the Baptist preached a similar message as he invited soldiers, tax collectors, religious leaders and the crowds to flee from the wrath to come by joining a just community that gave voice to the righteousness of God and pointed to the coming kingdom of God. Point being, justice is not a standalone category in the gospels. It takes on form when seen in light of the in-breaking kingdom that calls all people and institutions to align with God and God’s righteousness.

For that reason, the church should not ignore the evangelistic mandate or minimize the spiritual needs of those for whom it advocate even when engaging in crisis mission. We must remind ourselves that we share a gospel that incarnates Jesus in word and deed. Suffering people deserve to know about Jesus’ love for them. They need to know that Jesus offers them hope. They need to realize that Jesus offers real solutions to real problems. Through the church, Jesus advocates for his kingdom agenda.

Additionally, no matter how tempted the UMC is to prioritize social justice ministries, it should remind itself that social justice is not the primary mission of the church. The gospels model the kingdom of God. Jesus preached it as he brought it to bear on the suffering people he encountered. He is the gateway into God’s kingdom. He invites the rich and the dispossessed to enjoy God’s shalom by aligning with him. Those who align with Jesus become kingdom people who carry forth God’s kingdom agenda in this world. Jesus commissioned the church to give witness to this mission in the world in word and deed.

In truth, Jesus is Lord of all things. That includes the social order. Any attempt to fix the social order by by-passing Jesus and his kingdom is bound to fail. More importantly, such efforts compromise the gospel and hurt the holistic mission of the church in the world.

Additionally, in terms of our biblical faith, the term "secular prophet" is an oxymoron. Activists who minimize the name of Jesus and disavow his lordship may partner with the church in social justice witness to the extent that it aligns with God’s purposes. However, such people are not prophets. Biblical prophets give witness to the reign and righteousness of God as they invite people to align themselves with God's rule.

When the Jerusalem Church was scattered due to persecution, the members went in all directions evangelizing and church planting (Acts 8:4). To a lesser extent, the Jewish diaspora witnessed to the world when it scattered. These are biblical examples that the UMC should remember when considering diaspora mission.

Immigrants to Europe and America often see themselves as missionaries. Many have a strong desire to reach their people and the larger community for Christ. I wish that all could see how the African Diaspora in Columbus, Ohio is planting churches everywhere. They are reaching thousands of African immigrants for Christ. They are also reaching secular Americans who are drawn to their spiritual vitality and their clear witness of faith. They are partners in mission; not mere recipients of western hospitality. They have much to teach the western church about faith sharing.

When pastoring in a southern state from 1998-2001, I partnered with a Hispanic immigrant to form an outreach ministry that evangelized and discipled hundreds of Latino immigrants who did not speak English. Not only did we outgrow our facilities and plant external ministries in the surrounding urban areas and rural migrant camps, we also fed the hungry, worked with a healthcare clinic, provided transportation, and taught them English. All of it was done in partnership with the immigrants. Evangelism and advocacy do not need to be separated.

Like it or not, Christian immigrants plant churches and talk about Jesus even when the official churches are fixated on political advocacy and material needs. The UMC should remember that many immigrants were not allowed to witness openly in the places from which they have fled or immigrated. The hordes of Christians escaping from Syria and Iraq can vouch for this. A holistic mission strategy should seek to form partnerships that enable the immigrants to evangelize their people. Such a strategy would allow the immigrants to set their priorities, and would honor and utilize their gifting. In the end, it would balance word and deed mission.

Last night, my family read Acts 3 during our devotional time. In that chapter, a lame man is carried to the Temple every day to beg for alms. Pilgrim Jews to the Temple may have felt an urge to fulfill the commandments by giving to the poor. Quite possibly, the beggar received a lot of cash on a typical day. His family would have managed his alms.

One day, John and Peter went to the Temple to pray. As they approached the Temple, the beggar fixed on them. He expected to receive money. However, Peter looked past his economic need and saw the deeper need. In the end, he offered him the name of Jesus and God healed his lame legs.

Post-colonial interpretations of this passage may seek to couch the encounter in terms of unjust economic systems that dehumanize those on the margins. However, those readings are read onto the passage. They do not flow from it. In fact, at that moment, Peter knew that the man needed Jesus more than he needed social advocacy or money. The beggar’s live was forever changed by his encounter with Jesus. Shouldn’t the church in mission seek to do the same as Jesus and the apostles?

In conclusion, the biblical Jesus manifested a relational gospel that met people at the point of their needs and gave them a radically new orientation. That is why he set the captives free by healing the sick, purifying the lepers, welcoming the outcasts, casting out the demons, feeding the hungry crowds that desired to know him, raising the dead, and preaching kingdom justice. Jesus’ mission is Christocentric. It reveals God’s love as it calls people into an alignment with God and God’s work. Ultimately, the light that shines in the darkness will displace the evil when the church advocates for Christ’s lordship and for his righteousness. A mission that avoids evangelism is only half a mission.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Compassion in seeing our own and others' problems

I've enjoyed reading several stories recently about the good work that the UMC is doing in Western and Southern Africa in the realms of education and healthcare, but these stories have me thinking about the dangers for American Christians of such stories. They can reinforce a distinction Americans make between themselves as people who have money and therefore access to education, healthcare, and other resources and services and "those poor other people" elsewhere that don't have such things. At best, this view leads into a reflection on one's own privilege that leads to sacrificial service. At worst, though, this distinction becomes entwined with racial stereotypes and a host of colonial assumptions that perpetuate such distinctions and inequalities.

To move past such a dangerous distinction, I think American United Methodists need to carefully balance three realizations:

1. Everyone in the world has problems.
Africa has problems with access to healthcare and education, but the United States has problems too. Certainly there is poverty in parts of the US, which can also involve lack of access to healthcare and education, but even in affluent areas of the US, there are problems such as mental illness, substance addiction, dysfunctional families, and alienation from God. None of us yet live in the fully realized kingdom of God.

2. Comparative suffering is usually an unhelpful exercise.
There is a danger both in seeing others' problems as worse than our own and in seeing our own problems as just as bad as others'. If we see others' problems as worse, this may motivate us to compassion, which is good, but it may also tinge that compassion with pity and condescension, which is bad. If we see our own problems as just as bad as others, it may make us less empathetic or concerned with others' problems. Compassion for ourselves and for others should be the goal (Mark 12:31), but that doesn't depend on determining whose problems are worse.

3. We are called to help each other with (but not necessarily solve) each other's problems.
You've probably heard someone say something along the lines of the following: "Why is that church group going abroad? There are poor/hungry/needy people right here in our own country!" Not only do such statements fail to recognize that those who go are in some ways needy, they set geographic or national limits to our compassion. Our compassion should have no limits. Yet if/when we go abroad to help others, we must not think that we are there to solve others' problems. Others will continue to have problems, despite our help. Moreover, if we see ourselves as the solvers, we will see the others only as their problems. We need to be honest about our problems so that we will be open to help from others, affording them the opportunity to give as well as to receive.

Thus, we should seek to mutually show love to each other in the midst of our problems. We will not entirely solve each others' problems, but showing love to each other and, just as importantly, receiving love from each other elevates us from the problems of this world and gives us a foretaste of the kingdom of God. That kingdom is not yet fully here, but when we love, we bring it closer.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Jacob Dharmaraj: Global Diaspora and Christian Mission Today

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists.

Having a conversation about the current global diaspora in order to find a speedy solution is like trying to nail JELL-O on a tree, as everything about human diaspora is fluid and flowing. That was how I felt recently when I was in Washington D.C., for the denomination’s Immigration Task Force meeting.

There is much complexity in the cause, process, and consequence of the phenomena of global diaspora, and no single discipline can enable us to explain the cause or offer solutions.  Diaspora mission is interdisciplinary, vast and varied. It involves national geography, cultural anthropology, political demography, mass communication, globalization, urbanization, ethnic and race relations, and active participation of multi-religious groups and communal agents at all levels. Most importantly, diaspora mission is multi-directional and it demands multilevel coordination and collaboration. 

Now that the global community has come to realize that the governments around the world must act immediately to alleviate the sufferings of the immigrants, refugees and asylum speakers, The United Methodist Church, along with its ecumenical partners and connectional components, is also determined to step in and take an active role in this vital ministry.

Diaspora and Migration
Migration is a phenomenon that has accompanied humanity since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But the recent forced migration has been accelerated by modern day globalization, wars, natural disasters, and intense persecution of vulnerable minorities on account of their religious convictions and racial or ethnic identities. Today a little over three percent the world's population live in a country other than where they were born. That is estimated at 250 million, up from 195 million in 2005. Females account for 49 percent of the total. Six out of every ten international migrants reside today in developed countries, and the majority of those originated in developing countries. This reality has deep implications not only for interactions among peoples and their religious beliefs but on Christian mission as well.

Diasporic mission is relatively a new area of mission engagement for the church, as it defies conventional modes of mission engagement which is lineal and mono-directional; sending rather than receiving, absorption rather than incorporation, assimilation rather than amalgamation. Unlike traditional mission, diaspora mission puts human physical needs ahead of spiritual needs; advocacy ahead of evangelism, and contextualization ahead of church planting.

Diaspora mission operates from a non-spatial, transnational, global, and "de-territorialized” zone. The missional approach, therefore, is mobile and flexible. In other words, the site of mission engagement in diasporic context is without social, cultural and religious boundaries, which are normative in traditional mission activities. 

Believers Being In-Betweeners
The current cultural, social, linguistic and religious divides are a formidable and complicated ball of wax. They call for people who have both skill and will to transcend culture, language, and other barriers; those who can serve as “in-betweeners,” to build bridges of understanding, mediate relationships, and negotiate partnerships in ministry,” as Paul Hiebert, a missionary and a mission theologian says.

What our changed world expects from the church today is to focus its attention from mere relief work to justice and advocacy ministries beginning from addressing the root causes of the problem. 

The changed world demands a changed methodology. Just like the government agencies alert and prepare people and nations from around the world long before tsunami, tornado, earthquake, and all forms of natural disasters occur, or even before medical epidemic and human health crises break out, Christian mission groups can set up one or more research centers and prepare an ongoing data-base to alert the appropriate mission agencies and groups about the looming or emerging problems. It can be accomplished easily in collaboration with our ecumenical partners and secular prophets like environmentalists, human-rights activists and others. I am not saying that this is a utopian project but at least, it will help those who are interested in the future of the church.

In the final analysis, diasporic mission is not about doing the same thing in a better way. Better is a mirage. It keeps us tethered to the same way of doing like others do. Better is temporary. It is a flimsy edge that can be tumbled. Diasporic mission is all about avoiding the crises to take epic proportions. Addressing the root causes of the problem is to strive for long term solutions and avoid band-aid relief.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Local pastors and the challenge of a missional ecclesiology

A recently-published series of articles on UMC.org describes how the use of local pastors in the denomination has been on the rise over the past five years. This increased reliance by the church on local pastors demonstrates some of the tensions between the UMC's nature as a missional movement and its nature as an established institution.

As the articles make clear, the use of local pastors has been very important especially in missional settings that involves reaching new or marginalized populations - in Hispanic outreach in the US, in growing areas of the Central Conferences, in new church starts among all groups in the US, and in small, rural churches that lack resources, but which the church is committed to serving. Local pastors can be developed and deployed more quickly and more cheaply than elders, which make them ideal in these settings.

Nevertheless, the expanded use of local pastors also creates or enlarges problems in terms of the UMC's institutional structure. It raises questions about our theology of ordination, especially when local pastors itinerate in the same way as elders. What exactly does ordination mean if non-ordained local pastors fill most of the same roles as ordained elders? These questions can be particularly thorny when it comes to ecumenical relations with church bodies that have stronger theologies of ordination. The distinctions between local pastors and elders also create questions surrounding equity in terms of pay and representation in church decision-making. Do the distinctions between local pastors and elders in effect privilege those with the financial wherewithal to obtain a seminary degree? Do they privilege conferences with the means to pay the higher salaries of elders?

There are no ready solutions to these problems. Indeed, it is probably best to think of these not necessarily as problems, but as tensions - tensions between the need of the church to maintain flexibility for the sake of missional outreach and the need of the church to develop fair, consistent, and theologically-grounded systems and structures. We as United Methodists need to learn to live with these tensions. Fortunately, living with tensions should be part of our Wesleyan heritage - the tension between movement and institution, between divine and human initiative, between head and heart. It may not be easy, but it may also be necessary for our future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Recommended reading (or viewing): Early Methodist mission photos

For those of you who have not yet seen them, the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH) has a terrific collection of digitalized photographs from Methodist mission work, many of them from the late 19th/early 20th centuries. These photos cover most of the areas of the world in which UMC predecessor bodies were doing mission work. Some are sorted geographically, and some are sorted thematically. The photos are a good resource for both teaching and research.

To access the photos, visit this page of GCAH.

For a fuller article about the photos, read this story from UMNS.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review of Moyoliving.org

Upper Room Ministries, a division of Discipleship Ministries (formerly the General Board of Discipleship) has recently launched a new website called Moyoliving.org. Moyo is designed as an interactive tool for young adults interested in connecting spirituality and social justice.

The main component of Moyo is a series of "guided paths" that incorporate a short video, a written spiritual reflection, and a series of suggested action steps around a central theme. The themes revolve around global social justice issues and associated aspects of spirituality. Currently there are three  themes: "Race & Image of the Divine," "Water & Restoration of Life," and "Disaster & Human Dignity." More themes will be added as the site progresses.

In addition to the guided paths, there are also a series of blog posts categorized under "The Feed." Most of these posts relate to one of the themes as well. There are also a series of "Resources," which appear to be guided spiritual reflections not necessarily related to one of the themes.

Here are some quick take-aways after an initial exploration of Moyoliving.org:

Strengths:
1. Upper Room is to be commended for trying a new format to encourage young people to engage spiritually. Technology is always a risky business, so there's certainly no guarantee that Moyoliving.org will catch on, but that's no excuse to stick to business as usual. Upper Room is trying to adapt to new technology to continue to connect with evolving audiences.
2. The combination of global social issues and spirituality is both potentially a very attractive one to young adults, who are interested in an engaged faith, and a distinctively Wesleyan approach to faith and the world. I think this is a great approach to developing a mission-oriented spirituality.
3. The specific topics Moyo has chosen are important and relevant.

Limitations:
1. Moyo claims it is a "global organization," but it also appears to have been developed with American young adults and the associated challenge of secularization in mind. This dual audience (global and American youth) may prevent Moyo from reaching one or both segments of its audience.
2. The site is a bit busy for my taste, and it is not immediately apparent how one is supposed to interact with it, though that can easily be discovered with a bit of exploring.

Ways in which readers might want to use the site:
1. As a collection of resources for students, mission groups, or others looking to learn about specific justice topics related to mission. While these resources are designed to be used individually, there's really no reason why they couldn't be used by groups as well.
2. By submitting materials. Moyo is looking for submissions, and this can be a good opportunity for UM Professors of Mission and other mission leaders to help shape the conversation and spirituality surrounding justice topics for young United Methodists and others.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Recommended readings on European migration crisis, part 2

Last week, I shared a number of links related to the migration crisis developing as Syrian and other refugees try to enter Europe. This week, as events have continued to unfold, I have additional sources about Methodist responses to this social issue.

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the GBGM, wrote this piece about the importance of welcoming the stranger, including refugees.

Linda Bloom of UMNS has been filling reports on Methodist responses to the crisis, including this one from Sept. 10 and this one from Sept. 15.

Stefan Schrockenfuchs, the UMC pastor in Wien-Funhaus, wrote this piece about his congregation's experience caring for refugees newly arrived in Germany.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Immigrants in the (mostly white) American UMC

About a month ago, I published a piece about how the American branch of the UMC is one of the whitest denominations in the US and how that is a problem for the UMC as a whole as it tries to restructure itself into a more globally-equitable church. Since then, I've come across a corollary piece of information: the UMC is also one of the American denominations with the lowest percentage of immigrants among its members.

Religion News Service published a chart of religious groups by percentage of immigrants based on 2007 Pew Forum data. It shows the UMC in the US near the very bottom of the list, though in the company of other Methodists and Baptists.

Some people, noting the prevalence of Korean-Americans in the American UMC, might be surprised by the findings. Nevertheless, Korean-American make up a larger percentage of pastors than they do of congregants in the American UMC. There are many Korean-American pastors, not so many Korean-American churches or congregants.

Others might ask about Methodist immigrants from all the many countries in the world where Methodists are found. For a variety of reasons related both to American restrictions on the countries from which we will accept immigrants (not African countries where United Methodists are prevalent) and the percentage of Methodists in the countries from which we will accept immigrants (which is low), we're not getting a lot of already United Methodist immigrants to the US.

Moreover, and more significantly, this statistic points to the failure of the UMC in the US to effectively reach out to immigrant groups that are coming to the US, especially (though not exclusively) Hispanics, the largest immigrant group in recent years. The UMC in the US has been committed to its white, mostly middle-class ways, and that has prevented it from being a welcoming home to immigrants.

This news is disappointed and discomforting for the same reasons that the findings about the whiteness of the American UMC are. The UMC is a global denomination, but few American United Methodists have any experience relating to those from other countries and cultures in their pews. If American United Methodists have no practice doing this in their local congregations and annual conferences, how can they successfully do this in their wider church structures?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Recommended readings on European migration crisis

One of the biggest international news stories of the past week has been the developing crisis of Europe's response to an influx of mostly Syrian refugees fleeing war and devastation in their home country. This story has been slowly developing over the past several years but with new influxes of migrants, the recent deaths of a number of migrants, and a variety of responses by European governments and leaders, the pattern of migration has intensified and produced renewed calls for appropriate European responses.

To help faithful United Methodists understand this issue, UM & Global offers these recommended readings:

A recent UMNS news story about United Methodist responses to the refugee crisis
UMC.org's topic page on Immigration, including excerpts from our Social Principles on immigration
A webpage of Book of Resolutions language about migration
The UMC in Germany's recent statement on refugees and asylum
UM & Global posts by contributors David N. Field and Michael Nausner about migration, especially in the European context
All UM & Global posts on the topics of migration and immigration

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ben Hartley: “They Never Resolved the Chord!”: On Using Art to Teach Mission

This post is written by Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley, Associate Professor of Christian Mission and Director of United Methodist Studies at Palmer Theological Seminary. You can read more of his writings at his personal blog, "Mission and Methodism."

A recent experience at the movies with my musician son, Luke, provides a good – albeit humbling – example of a challenge all professors of mission face. At the end of the film Interstellar, as we watched the credits roll on the screen, my seventeen-year-old son exclaimed – rather loudly – “they never resolved the chord!” “What chord?” I asked. “The one that has been playing for the last ten minutes,” my son remarked somewhat incredulously. I was dumbfounded. I had not heard it. As I walked out of the theatre into the light I had the sneaking suspicion that I was still “in the dark” on at least some dimensions of that film. Luke’s musical awareness and training had given him a different framework or set of interpretive lenses from which to evaluate this movie. They are lenses I don’t share. My musical awareness has never been what his is, and what little I possessed in the past has atrophied from lack of musical muscle-building.

I think all professors of mission struggle to get students to think differently and more deeply about God’s mission. We try to help students to see things which are clearly there, but which are obscured from our students’ view just as the unresolved chord was “hidden” from me in that movie theatre. We use cross-cultural simulation exercises – my favorite is Heelotia – to help reveal the cultural differences in our world and the power of ethnocentrism to unconsciously shape our feelings and behaviors toward others. We tell stories about amazing missionaries in the colonial period to displace attitudes about “missionary villains” which have been formed by less than helpful fictional caricatures of missionaries in a Barbara Kingsolver or James Michener novel. (Graham Greene, Shusako Endo, or Robert Stone provide good alternatives in fiction.)

For a number of years I have been using artwork by Christian artists from outside the West to help me displace some “images of mission” which remain too firmly ensconced in my students’ minds. I do this also to give them new images from which to draw as they craft a theology of mission that works.

My favorite image that my students and I reflect upon at the start of every semester is entitled simply “The Great Commission” by Nalini Jayasuriya, an artist from Sri Lanka who was an artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center some years ago. She passed away one year ago on September 5, 2014.

We not only begin our Christian World Mission course together reflecting on this painting but my students see it every week on my “course banner” in the learning management software my university uses. I ask my students two simple questions about this image (which has been cropped below).


What is the artist trying to say here about the so-called “Great Commission” Scripture text in Matthew? What do you think the artist is trying to say about mission in general? We have never failed to have at least a fifteen minute conversation about this work of art, and almost every year a student will see something in the painting which I have not seen. (Because I’m ready for it this usually results in less embarrassment than my experience in the theatre with my son.) Sometimes I disagree with an interpretation, but that, in itself, is generative for further conversation in class.

Little fireworks of insight emerge in the class like this: “The disciples seem to respond to the “Great Commission” differently. What does this suggest about the church’s different responses to God’s mission?” “People are praying in this painting. How are mission and prayer related to one another? Is there something distinctive about a mission spirituality?” “The Jesus figure – who looks like a woman by the way– is not really looking at the crowd of disciples. Who is Jesus looking at?” Here, in a burst of Trinitarian enthusiasm, I sometimes suggest that Jesus is looking to God the Father and then switch excitedly to Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity for a moment.


Most of my students are Baptists, nondenominational Pentecostals, and Methodists so teaching with icons like this requires some work, but when the icon is viewed and discussed in light of Jayasuriya’s painting it is a bit easier to understand. Questions about the role of the Holy Spirit in mission and the Eucharist also come up as students ponder the dove and chalice in the painting. The vivid red, orange, and yellow colors in this painting provides the opportune moment for us to also interrogate Emil Brunner’s famous quotation: “The church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning.”

Discussing Nalini Jayasuriya’s painting is a beautiful introductory exercise in my class. By the time my class takes a break during our first class session together most students have a sense that mission is far more than strategic decision-making for their local congregation. They also recognize that mission is not so neatly defined as the line-item on their church’s budget spreadsheet labeled “mission” might otherwise suggest. I have Nalini Jayasuriya’s artwork to thank for that, and on this first anniversary of her death I celebrate her life for the life she has helped me to infuse in my teaching.