Thursday, September 10, 2015

Immigrants in the (mostly white) American UMC

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.

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?

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