Thursday, February 26, 2015

Glory Dharmaraj: Transformative Learning and Transformative Spirituality

Today's piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, a consultant for United Methodist Women. It is the third of a three-part series.  Dr. Dharmaraj contributed this piece as part of our reflections on the WCC's new document on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.  You can find more posts in this series by clicking on the "Together towards Life" tag at the bottom.

“Transformative Spirituality” is one of the key concepts in the new ecumenical affirmation on mission and evangelism by the World Council of Churches, Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Times. In this series of articles, I would like to share how I have adapted and applied this concept as a pedagogical practice in facilitating the annual United Methodist mission studies.[i] This final blog piece explains the connection between transformative learning, described in the previous piece, and transformative spirituality.

Equally important as the intersectional oppressions of mission study participants I described previously is the spiritual identity of the adult learner as a child of God. Recalling one’s baptism, naming one’s baptismal identity as a child of God, and claiming it as a call for all the baptized believers to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves …,” as the United Methodist Service of Baptism articulates it.[ii]

Transformative spirituality includes addressing personal sins as well as corporate sins and systemic evil. The hall mark of transformative spirituality is addressing sin as well as sinned againstness, the systems that perpetuate poverty, war, conflict, and that constantly push people to the margins of society and living.[iii] A key characteristic of transformative spirituality, as stated in Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, is “Disturbed by the asymmetries and imbalances of power that divide and trouble the church and world, we are called to repentance, to critical reflection on systems of power, and to accountable use of power structures.” This is the only sentence taken from Edinburgh 2010 Common Call, and used in Together Towards Life in its specific treatment of transformative spirituality.[iv] Interestingly enough, in formulating the final version of this particular sentence in the Common Call, Harriett Olson, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Women, spoke from among the audience, emphasizing “critical reflection” and the “accountable use of power and structure” at the 2010 Edinburgh Missionary Conference in Scotland.

Transformative spirituality undergirds transformative learning in addressing the cry of the needy, the sinned against people here and elsewhere. Creating the environment for the Holy Spirit to renew the participants through prayer and learning is an opportunity intentionally created in the facilitating of the mission studies. The pedagogical core intentionally promoted in facilitating mission studies is that teaching is learner-centered, and learners themselves are agents of change and interveners in places of injustice to transform them. Study leaders are not unquestioned authorities; they examine their own presuppositions and social locations; they are enablers and creators of environments for transformation.

Mission educational settings prepare the way for the church to be in the world in new ways, facilitating a conversation between the center and the margins. The center creates and facilitates spaces for multiple voices and the margins shape and influence the center. Facilitating mission study is more than the act of studying; it is study that leads to action in order to make a difference. A story in the Babylonian Talmud captures this timeless truth. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon debate the question, “Which is greater, study or action?” Rabbi Tarfon answered saying that action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered saying that study is greater. The listening elders agreed with Rabbi Akiva that study is greater than action because it leads to action.[v]


[i] A fuller version of this article was presented as a paper in the 2014 American Society of Missiology, Association of Professors of Mission. See Glory Dharmaraj, "Transformative Learning versus Informative Learning in Facilitating Mission Studies." http://place.asburyseminary.edu/firstfruitspapers/37
[ii] “The Baptismal Covenant I” and “The Baptismal Covenant II” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 34 and 40.
[iii] Raymond Fung, “Human Sinned-Againstness “ in International Review of Mission, vol. LXIX, no. 275 (July 1980): 332-333.
[iv] Jooseop Keum, ed. Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes (Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 2013), 14. The document was approved earlier in 2012.
[v] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40 B. http://on1foot.org/text/babyloniantalmud-kiddushin-

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Will sexuality debate again derail UMC's efforts to become a more global denomination?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

Last week, I listed a run-down of the various systemic changes that are underway in The United Methodist Church related to becoming a more global denomination.  These include a set of global Social Principles, a global Book of Discipline, and adding more bishops to Africa.  I also mentioned the debate on human sexuality, which has potential implications for global polity.

In examining the timeline for these various plans for the denomination, one can see a potential problem.  The first three proposals, related to the Social Principles, Book of Discipline, and bishops, are intending to collect information at General Conference 2016 but not take final action until General Conference 2020.  The debate over sexuality is likely to come to a head in 2016, and most proposals surrounding that debate are focused on 2016 only.

Thus, these conflicting timelines present a danger: that the UMC could make dramatic changes in polity in 2016 to resolve debates about human sexuality that would derail longer-term, more deliberate efforts to develop a more globally-even and less US-centric polity in 2020.  Of course, not all proposals to resolve the sexuality debates significantly alter UMC polity, and the proposal from the official Connectional Table does not do so.  Nevertheless, a larger number of the other proposals do call for significantly altering how the UMC is structured in the US and abroad.

In pointing out this potential problem, I am not arguing against all changes in UMC polity, nor am I arguing against resolving debates over human sexuality.  What I am arguing is that changes in polity hastily made to resolve one issue are likely to cause a large number of other problems.  I think the processes in place to develop global Social Principles and a global Book of Discipline are promising processes and must be allowed to play out without being short-circuited by American Methodists' need to resolve their issues regarding sexuality.  That is an important issue needing resolution, but the Central Conferences' need to see changes in polity for the sake of greater local flexibility and greater equality with the US must not be sacrificed for the sake of primarily American concerns.

Many readers will remember that at General Conference 2008, a series of resolutions were passed that significantly changed UMC polity to make the denomination less thoroughly US-centric.  These resolutions, though passed by General Conference, were voted down in the Annual Conferences, in large part over fears that they would have opened the door to greater acceptance of homosexuality.  At that time, the sexuality debate derailed the UMC's efforts to become a more global denomination.  We must not let the same thing happen again in 2016.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Glory Dharmaraj: Transformative learning as an educational model

Today's piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, a consultant for United Methodist Women.  It is the second of a three-part series.  Dr. Dharmaraj contributed this piece as part of our reflections on the WCC's new document on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.  You can find more posts in this series by clicking on the "Together towards Life" tag at the bottom.

“Transformative Spirituality” is one of the key concepts in the new ecumenical affirmation on mission and evangelism by the World Council of Churches, Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Times. In this series of articles, I would like to share how I have adapted and applied this concept as a pedagogical practice in facilitating the annual United Methodist mission studies.[i] Last week’s article explained the history of United Methodist mission studies as a site of struggle. This week, I will look at the approach to transformative learning used used in facilitating the Mission Studies sponsored by the United Methodist Women.

Transformative learning is a key process outlined in the adult education aimed at emancipatory knowledge in the late mid-twentieth century in Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire where he emphasizes education as a process which centers around critical reflection on one’s personal and collective reality that leads to engagement in actions. Critical reflection is a component integral to transformative learning methods used in facilitating United Methodist mission education.

Using the spiritual growth study for 2012, Immigration and the Bible by Joan M. Maruskin, as an example, let me examine some of the ways in which the study leaders were trained to facilitate at the regional levels.

The pedagogical strategy we have used is to reading the bible through the eyes of the migrant, immigrant, and refugee in this particular study. In fact, Maruskin’s central thesis is that the “Bible is the ultimate immigration handbook. It was written by, for, and about migrants, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.”[ii] Enabling reading through the perspectives of people at the margins offers a range of insights into the pain and cry of the least of these. Reading the stories from the Bible, as a community of people from different cultural backgrounds inside a class setting, and reflecting on what God is saying in specific contexts is both an individual and collective learning process.

Braiding the stories of immigrants, along with the insights from reading the biblical stories, the adult learners are led to further reflection. As reflections unfold, the participants identify patterns, similarities, differences in the stories they hear from each other. The facilitator makes sure that while reflection takes place voices of those not present at the table are included, since in analyzing the relations of power in the interconnected structures of class, race, gender etc., it is vital to include a diversity of voices. This part of the learning process is often known as critical reflection or critical thinking.

Diagrammatically, the process of critical reflection can be represented by a spiral, starting with sharing one’s experiences relating to the issue, reading the Bible through the eyes of the migrant and immigrant, locating patterns of similarity and dissimilarity, naming the barriers and resistance to change, discerning God’s voice in the readings and at work in the world, looking for clues of transformation, and coming up with actions. The process is repeated again with the cycle of experience, reflection, and action. The spiral image captures the flow of the transformative method as it involves experience, reflection on experience, social analysis, strategies for transformation and action. The spiral is not a closed one.



In the critical reflection, a key component is social identity and location of the person doing the analysis. Often social identities are connected to each other, and they are not isolated entities. The term “intersectionality” is both a revealer of the layered and complex nature of issue at hand, and also a tool available to address the issue. The term intersectionality was first coined by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw in 1989. A lawyer by profession who worked among battered women, Crenshaw named an experience which several of the women whom she encountered embodied. These women underwent multiple layers of oppression due to their race, class, sexuality, language, locality etc. In their daily lived existence, these multiple oppressions intersected.

Crenshaw has identified the site of multiple oppressions and named the place of such an experience. A woman of color, with no education, and who has difficulty living above the poverty line embodies the impact of many strikes against her.[iii] It is important to address the convergence of these knotted oppressions as a whole using the lens of intersectionality. Intersectionality is both a revealer of the complexity of the issue at hand, as well as a tool for addressing it.

Intersectional oppressions and God’s shalom are mutually exclusive. In order to engage in the work of shalom, fullness of life for everyone, it is helpful to shape our tools for greater engagement in God’s mission by naming the intersectional and fluid nature of identities, and not compartmentalize the various categories. Gayatri Spivak’s post-colonialist query, “Can the subaltern speak?”[iv] is still a powerful one in the context of intersectional oppressions. Amplifying the vocal silence of those at the margins is done by walking in solidarity with them, creating an environment for them to speak, and holding the microphone to them.


[i] A fuller version of this article was presented as a paper in the 2014 American Society of Missiology, Association of Professors of Mission. See Glory Dharmaraj, "Transformative Learning versus Informative Learning in Facilitating Mission Studies." http://place.asburyseminary.edu/firstfruitspapers/37
[ii] Joan Maruskin, Immigration and the Bible: A Guide for Radical Welcome (New York: Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 2012), 3.
[iii] KimberlĂ© Crenshaw in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review, 43.6 (1989):1241-1299.
[iv] Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in its updated version in Reflections on the History of an Idea: Can the Subaltern Speak? Ed. Rosalind C. Morris (New York: Columbia University, 2010): 21-80.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Change is afoot as UMC looks toward more global future at GC2016, GC2020

The past several weeks have been significant ones for The United Methodist Church in its efforts to move toward a more global footing as a denomination that does not privilege American Methodism as the standard for the denomination.  The church has seen developments in several areas related to this broader shift with implications for the General Conferences in both 2016 and 2020.  Here's a rundown:

First, as previously report on this blog, the General Board of Church and Society wrapped up its series of seven consultations on the development of a global Social Principles with two consultations in Washington, DC.  These consultations will lead to a proposal to GC2016 to authorize a series of public hearings in the next quadrennium, which could ultimately lead to approval at GC2020 of a reorganization of Social Principles into globally-applicable and locally-specific lists.  The Social Principles constitute Part V of the Book of Discipline, the denomination-wide set of guidelines for United Methodists.

On a parallel track to the development of global Social Principles is the effort to develop a global Book of Discipline.  This project would involve separating the Book of Discipline into portions which are binding on all United Methodists and portions which may be altered according to context.  The problem of defining that context intersects with questions about the current structure of the UMC in which the church outside the US is divided into Central Conferences and the church within the US is divided into Jurisdictions.  Presumably, a plan for a global Book of Discipline could change that structure.  At its recent meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters discussed possible alterations to Part VI of the Discipline, the section on "Organization and Administration" of the church.  The plan here is to seek input on proposed changes at GC2016 but not ask for a vote until GC2020.  This was also an issue of discussion for the Council of Bishops at their recent meeting in Dallas, TX, and will again appear on their agenda when they next meet in Berlin, Germany, in May.

Speaking of bishops, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has also recommended the creation of five next bishoprics in Africa.  The committee is preparing legislation for GC2016 that would authorize a study during the next quadrennium to develop proposals for GC2020 that would authorize changes to the number and boundaries of episcopal areas in Africa.  Such a proposal would obviously benefit ministry in Africa, but it would also continue to change the composition of the Council of Bishops to more reflect the global nature of the church and could also become connected to any proposals to change the Central Conferences structure as it currently exists.

Finally, also in Maputo, Mozambique, the Connectional Table held their third and final panel on human sexuality, focusing on views from outside the United States.  This panel was followed by a proposal from the Connectional Table to amend church law that prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings and prohibits the ordination of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and otherwise queer clergy.  Instead, clergy would be able to determine for themselves whom to marry, and conferences would be able to decide whom to ordain.  While the debate on human sexuality has been most heated in the United States, this development is globally relevant because of the difference in views on sexuality between the United States and Africa and because many American United Methodists have linked the issue of human sexuality with the debate about a possible restructuring of the Central Conferences and Jurisdictions.  Blogger Jeremy Smith has compiled a list of proposals related to human sexuality and church structure that give a sense of the various ways in which the two issues are being connected.  Whereas the above three issues involve action at both GC2016 and GC2020, most proposals on this front are directed at GC2016 alone.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Glory Dharmaraj: Mission Studies as a Site for Transformative Learning

Today's piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, a consultant for United Methodist Women.  It is the first of a three-part series.  Dr. Dharmaraj contributed this piece as part of our reflections on the WCC's new document on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.  You can find more posts in this series by clicking on the "Together towards Life" tag at the bottom.

“Transformative Spirituality” is one of the key concepts in the new ecumenical affirmation on mission and evangelism by the World Council of Churches, Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Times. In this series of articles, I would like to share how I have adapted and applied this concept as a pedagogical practice in facilitating the annual United Methodist mission studies.[i] I begin this week with a history of mission studies as a site for transformative struggle and learning.

Story of mission studies

The story of mission studies, originating as an ecumenical women’s venture, has found its parochial home now in the United Methodist Women. The ecumenical roots of the current mission studies go back to the Central Committee on United Study in 1900. Beginning in 1901, the committee published a mission study annually for the use of women interested in mission in the local churches.[ii] Ecumenical Schools of Christian Mission, with an emphasis on the preparation for teaching, began in 1904, thanks to the efforts of the Federation of Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions. The Federation and the Council of Women for Home Missions started a National School for the training of trainers in the spring for two weeks for the summer schools of mission.[iii]

As with all the women’s mission boards, due to overall structural changes and mergers, the work of the annual mission studies came to be housed within the Federal Council of Churches, and its later version, the National Council of Churches in the U.S., till 1999. With the disbanding of the Friendship Press which published the annual mission studies, the ecumenical endeavor became a United Methodist shared endeavor by the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries and GBGM. In 2006, the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries took on the major responsibility for the work. The story of mission studies is a story of survival, though it may look like a regressive journey, seen through ecumenical eyes.

However, in the educational pedagogy used by the United Methodist Women, critical analysis plays a key role: a legacy of ecumenical learning. Critical analysis is conceived by Paulo Freire in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and serves as an educational concept “aimed at freeing the parochial mentality from its limitations and at participation and change.”[iv]

Struggles and Sites

A transformative learning experience which precedes the use of critical analysis is the collective resistance of Methodist women in the teaching of mission studies in the wake of the creation of the Central Jurisdiction in 1939. This Central Jurisdiction was created as a segregated structure for the black Methodists during the unification of the Methodist Church, South and North. While five of the jurisdictions across the U.S. were geographically structured, the sixth one was racially based exclusively for black Methodists.

This was a challenge to the teaching of mission studies. The Methodist women leadership insisted that the then Schools of Christian Mission be held on a regional basis and not on a racially segregated jurisdictional basis. Hence the Regional Schools of Christian Mission (emphasis mine) were conducted in five places subverting the segregated structure of the larger Church.[v]

Until 2012, the Regional Schools of Christian Mission were held in the five geographically divided regions, long after the Central Jurisdiction was abolished in 1968. The name, Regional Schools of Mission, however, remains in memory as an act of subversion of and resistance to the unjust structure imposed on the African American Methodist members. Now due to strategic investment of time and personnel, the regional level training is offered in three places across the country, with a name change Mission u, while keeping the component of “how-to-teach” as a core component. The Mission educational settings for the mission studies are often known as university without walls.


[i] A fuller version of this article was presented as a paper in the 2014 American Society of Missiology, Association of Professors of Mission. See Glory Dharmaraj, "Transformative Learning versus Informative Learning in Facilitating Mission Studies." http://place.asburyseminary.edu/firstfruitspapers/37
[ii] See pages 156-157 in R. Pierce Beaver, American Protestant Women in World Mission: A History of the First Feminist Movement in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980). First ed., published in 1968 under title, All Loves Excelling.
[iii] Beaver, 157.
[iv] Konrad Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition: A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 1994), 21.
[v] See To a Higher Glory: The Growth and Development of Black Women Organized for Mission in the Methodist Church, 1940-1968 by the Women’s Division and the Task Force on the History of the Central Jurisdiction Women’s Organization (Cincinnati, OH: Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 1978), 55.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Asia-Pacific Association of Methodist-related Educational Institutions (APAMEI) as a model of global Methodism

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

The Asia-Pacific Association of Methodist-related Educational Institutions (APAMEI) recently concluded a conference in Incheon, South Korea.  Articles on the announcement of the conference and summarizing the activities of the conference are available on the GBHEM website.  From the descriptions, the conference seems to have been a success.

That success suggests that the APAMEI itself, founded in 2012, is proving to be a success.  The APAMEI unites representatives from institutions of higher education with Methodist roots from 16 countries across Asia and the Pacific, including China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Vietnam.  The group also includes participants from GBHEM and Methodist educational institutions in the United States.

It's good to see the APAMEI be successful because it represents a promising model for what it means for the UMC to be part of a global church.  It's a promising model for several reasons:

1.  It includes not only historic off-shoots of American Methodism that are still connected to the UMC (such as the Philippines), but also those that have become autonomous (such as Korea and Singapore).  As such, it represents a model for collaboration between American Methodists, the Central Conferences, and autonomous Methodist churches.

2. It is mission-focused.  The purpose of the group is very clear: higher education.  Higher education has traditionally been one of the ways in which Methodism has been in mission to the world.  This group, then, is focused on carrying forward a long-standing form of Methodist mission in contemporary times.

3. An American-based board is involved as a partner and co-convener, but does not dominate the coversation.  GBHEM General Secretary Kim Cape addressed the conference, but the majority of the speakers were from the Asia-Pacific region, and thus concerns arising from Asian and Pacific contexts could be heard.  This was not another instance of either Americans talking and not listening or Americans setting the agenda even when others also speak.

APAMEI is only one of several regional education-related endeavors that GBHEM is involved in, so it is not the only example of such collaborative ministry in the church today.  I hope this model, though, continues to catch on as a way for the various strands of global Methodism to work together.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The changing times of Minnesotan Methodist mission support for Southeast Asia

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

The Minnesota Conference of the UMC recently signed an In Mission Together 50/50 Partnership Covenant with the United Methodist Mission in Vietnam.  This is not the first time that Minnesotan Methodists have made pledges to missions in Southeast Asia.  130 years ago, Mary Clarke Nind, WFMS leader from the Minnesota Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, pledged that her branch of the WFMS would financially support Sophia Blackmore as a WFMS missionary in Singapore.  Nind famously exclaimed, "Frozen Minnesota will send the gospel to the Equator!"

In both of these cases, Minnesotan Methodists pledged financial support of mission work.  In both of these cases, they pledged to support a mission that was already underway.  In both cases, their support helped underwrite care for children - through an orphan ministry in Vietnam and through girls' education in Singapore.

Yet there is a significant difference in these two stories.  When Minnesotan Methodists recently signed their pledge of support for mission in Vietnam, it was as part of a "50/50 Partnership."  When Minnesotan Methodists sent Sophia Blackmore to Singapore, it was a decision made by Western missionaries and Western mission supporters.  Mark Clarke Nind and Sophia Blackmore are founding heroes to the Methodist Church in Singapore and the Methodist Church in Malaysia, and there were locals who were involved in supporting the mission in Singapore financially and programmatically.  Yet that instance of mission was not seen as an equal partnership.  It was seen as Westerners coming over to impart something that benighted Easterners did not have but needed.

How Methodists think about mission has changed over the past 100 years, and Minnesotans have been part of that change no less than others.  Ways of approaching mission have become less imperialistic and less Western-dominated.  Locals now have more voice, more initiative, more involvement in determining how mission should be shaped and what forms of mission would be most life-giving to them.  The In Mission Together team has worked hard to promote this "paradigm shift" in thinking about mission.

Hence, in some ways history repeats itself -- but not quite.  Vietnam is not Singapore.  2015 is not 1885.  And partnership is not making decisions on behalf of others, but with others.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Recommended Reading: Washington DC consultation on global social principles

As previously reported on this blog, The United Methodist Church is currently in the process of trying to figure out how to revise its Social Principles, the official denominational statement of church stances on various social issues, to make them more globally relevant.  To that end, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) organized a series of consultations around the world to discuss the Social Principles.  The last two of these consultations were held in January in Washington, DC.  Previous consultations occurred in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Maputo, Mozambique; Abuja, Nigeria; and Prague, Czech Republic.

Video from the Washington, DC consultations is available online here.  This link includes videos from the consultations on both Jan. 17th and Jan. 23rd.  Unfortunately, video is not available from the consultations held in the Central Conferences.

In addition to the video, Rev. Becca Girrell, an elder in the New England Conference who participated in the Jan. 17th consultation in DC, wrote a summary of her experiences at the consultation on her blog.  Rev. Girrell succinctly summarizes the consensus of the group on the goals of global Social Principles:
  • "Be shorter– less is more
  • "Name values (principles), not behaviors (positions)
  • "Be positively worded– state what we believe, not what we oppose or fear
  • "Be statements that incorporate theology and human dignity we can’t just re-state a universal statement of human rights, but say something unique to us as people of faith
  • "Contain only that which is applicable cross-culturally or world-wide"
The process of revising the Social Principles leads on to General Conference 2016, so by watching the videos and reflecting on Rev. Girrell's words, you can still prepare yourself to be part of this denominational discussion.