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.
At its recent meeting, the Connectional Table (CT) submitted legislation to General Conference to restructure itself to achieve greater representation on the CT from United Methodists from outside the United States. Currently, seven out of the 47 members are from outside the US, a far smaller percentage than the number of United Methodists from outside the US.
Thomas Kemper has posted a concept paper
laying out one model for a way in which the CT could be revised to be
more globally representative. I do not know how similar the CT's own
plan is, but Kemper's proposal is worth reading for the sake of discussion.
While the CT's proposal on global representation was overshadowed by the news of another CT proposal to General Conference on homosexuality, the proposed restructuring is, arguably, more significant for the future of the denomination. Although some American United Methodists have threatened schism over the issue of homosexuality, polls show that it is a vocal minority at either end of the American United Methodist spectrum that is interested in such a schism. Better representation of Africans, Filipinos, and Europeans and conversations about what it means for the denomination to be a international body probably affect more United Methodists.
The issue of global representation in the denomination, whether through the CT or other means, takes on even greater significance given another recent proposal to GC2016. The General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) has submitted legislation that would allow it to, for the first time, set apportionment giving goals for Annual Conferences outside of the United States. This would significantly increase the amount of money collected from Africa and the Philippines that goes toward support of bishops' salaries and the operation of general agencies. (The proposal does not increase the amount collected from Europe and actually provides for a reduction, though European church leaders have said they intend to increase their giving instead.) If the denomination is expecting more in terms of financial contributions from its members around the world, it is only fair to give increased voice to members around the world.
Economist Don House recently made dire predictions about the collapse of the denomination's structures because of inability of Americans to continue to pay for those structures given projected continued decreases in American membership in the UMC. He calls for turn-around plans in the US. The UMC should certainly continue to evangelize and develop members in the US, but a shift toward more global funding and decision-making also means that the future of the denomination would not rest so firmly on American funding. Thus, greater funding from and representation of United Methodists from outside the US may be a necessity from an institutional standpoint. It is also an opportunity for the denomination to continue to open itself to the moving of the Spirit.
Of course, to allow this to happen, American United Methodists must be willing to relinquish some of their control over the denomination, its money, its programs, and its foci for discussion. That will certainly not be an easy process for a group that has long dominated the institution. Nevertheless, we pray that through the leading of the Spirit, American United Methodists may model the humility necessary to open themselves up to new work of the Spirit, whether that is through a revised CT, a new model of apportionments, and/or other changes to our global structure.