Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Malaria nets and John Wesley's three rules

On Saturday, the New York Times posted an article entitled "Meant to Keep Malaria Out, Mosquito Nets are Used to Haul Fish In."  This article described instances in which mosquito nets had been used by very poor fishing villages in Africa for the sake of fishing, not preventing malaria.  The article expressed concern that not only were the nets not serving their intended purpose of stopping mosquitos, their use as fishing supplies was having detrimental ecological effects on fish stocks.

The United Methodist Church has been very involved in the anti-malaria campaign and the distribution of mosquito nets through the Imagine No Malaria campaign, and yesterday General Secretary of United Methodist Communications Larry Hollon responded to the New York Times piece with a piece of his own entitled, "Campaign anticipates misuse of bed nets."  In it, Hollen explained that the UMC and its partners had done their due diligence and had put plans in place to avoid the use of mosquito nets for other pieces as described in the New York Times piece.  Donors to Imagine No Malaria can be reassured that their contributions are going to good ends.

This controversy got me thinking about John Wesley's three general rules for Christian living: "do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God."  The anti-malaria campaign was seeking to follow the second rule of doing good, but the New York Times piece essentially challenged that they were violating the first rule of doing no harm.  Yet the situation is more complicated, as the Times piece acknowledged.  For while the misuse of mosquito nets as fishing nets may have done harm to the environment, the alternative may have been the harm of starvation for the poor fishing communities.

The situation reminded me that while Wesley's rules may appear simple, they are often not simple to practice.  We are often caught in the paradox of choosing between doing good and avoiding harm or in the paradox of avoiding one type of harm only to cause another.  It seems at times that there is no escape from violating the first rule.  Perhaps we should not worry about trying to do good so as to avoid doing harm?

I don't think that's the appropriate response, nor the one that John Wesley would encourage us to take.  Instead, I think the answer lies in the third rule: stay in love with God.  If we stay in love with God, we will be filled with God's love and thus be unable to resist sharing that love by doing good to others.  We will thus overcome the temptation to inaction.

But if we stay in love with God, we will also know that God is a God of grace.  We may unintentionally (or even intentionally) violate the rule to do no harm in favor of the rule to do good.  Yet because God forgives us, that gives us the strength and humility to admit where we've gone wrong, do what we can to correct our mistakes, and then keep on going in our attempts to do good.  We may not ever be perfect in the consequences of our efforts, but we can seek the perfection of the love that motivates us in our efforts.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Plan Now: Eurasia Mission Initiative 50/50 Partnership Summit

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the re-introduction of Methodism into Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, the UMC has encouraged partnership relationships between United Methodist churches in the United States and new United Methodist congregations in the Russia and Eurasia region.  These partner church relationships reflect an understanding of mission that focuses more on relationship-building and mutual exchange than on Westerners sending resources and expertise overseas.

Through these partnerships, American churches have by and large tried to foster mutual relationships that will contribute to the long-term growth of the church in Eurasia and not create dependence, but there are still challenges.  Old ways of thinking about mission persist, and the economic disparities between the US and Eurasia make completely equal partnership a goal more than a reality.

It is interesting, therefore, to see that the Eurasia Mission Initiative's next meeting, to be held May 15-17, 2015, entitled the "50/50 Partnership Summit."  I think that title indicates a clear commitment to the goal of true equality but also perhaps a tacit recognition that it remains a goal.  In one step towards a 50/50 partnership, though, the summit is being held in Russia for the first time.

I hope American churches who have been involved in the various mission partnerships related to the Russia and Eurasia region will still consider attending this meeting, despite the travel involved.  The Eurasia Mission Initiative has been an important forum in which the UMC has grappled with what it means to create true, equal partnerships between older American churches and new churches elsewhere.  I am sure this conference will be a rich opportunity to continue that learning process.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Congolese, French Methodist History

Most Methodists know the stories of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement.  Many American Methodists also know about Francis Asbury and the circuit riders who spread Methodism across the United States.  How many Methodists, though, know about the exploits of William Taylor, missionary bishop responsible for founding Methodism in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spreading Methodism elsewhere around the world?

Most Methodists are familiar with the split and eventual reunification between the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church in the United States.  Yet how many Methodists are familiar with the multiple beginnings of Methodism in France or in Congo, the latter due in part to the split between the MEC and the MECS?

Here's a chance to brush up on some of your Methodist history outside the United States.  Christie R. House, editor of the New World Outlook magazine published by the General Board of Global Ministries, has published a nice article on the history of Methodism in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The Society for the Study of French Methodism (Société d’Étude du Méthodisme Français) recently posted notes related to their most recent conference to student the history of French Methodism.  Both are worth a look as part of expanding our concepts of the history of Methodism beyond its usual British and American roots.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Global Migration Consultation and the UMC

On Tuesday, I published an blog article about the UMC in Germany's statement on immigration and its relevance given current debates about especially Muslim immigration in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  Immigration has been a focus for the UMC in Germany beyond that statement mentioned on Tuesday.  Back in December, the UMC in Germany and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) co-sponsored an event called the Global Migration Consultation.

The Global Migration Consultation brought together about forty church leaders (including four bishops) representing migrant congregations across Europe and beyond.  The five-day long event produced rich discussion about the challenges and opportunities involved in ministry with migrants.

Fortunately, Rev. Dr. Arthur McClanahan, Director of Communications for the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church, covered the Global Migration Consultation extensively.  I highly recommend reading his series of five articles about the event as a way of getting to know more how the UMC is addressing migration as a context of ministry.

'Migration will revitalize the church': Global Migration Consultation convenes in Germany
Care for the migrant to focus on 'action of hope'
Bishop Trimble 'inspired' by United Methodist Church in Mexico
Global Migration Consultation - Day Two
Global Migration Consultation concludes

And if you're looking for more resources on Methodists and migration, the Methodist Church in Britain has released this podcast about their efforts to minister in the context of global migration.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

German UMC statement on immigration

The recent attacks on French newspaper Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices have ignited a debate over the role of Islam and Muslim immigrants not only in France but in Germany as well.  Protests against and condemnation of Muslim immigrants is not new in Germany.  The country has a long and conflictual history of Muslim immigration, especially from Turkey, and mixed reception by native Germans.  The current debate, which includes both anti-Muslim protests and counter-protests in support of the Muslim immigrant community, has, however, increased the volume of the debate.

It is worth noting, then, that the Germany Central Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a statement last year, before the recent attacks and protests, about immigration in Germany.  The statement does not address Muslim immigration in particular, but rather talks in general terms about immigrants.  The statement reviews biblical affirmations about the value God places on immigrants and the instructions God issued to the Israelites to welcome and care for immigrants.  The statement uses these biblical injunctions to lay out the case that the UMC in Germany must, like the ancient Israelites, welcome and care for immigrants.  The statement then lays out specific ways in which local congregations are invited to ministry with immigrants.

Given the UMC's small numbers in Germany, this statement is probably not likely to register in the current debate about immigration in Germany.  Nevertheless, it is important.  It is important in giving Germany Christians a way to faithfully think through the current debates.  It is important, too, for helping United Methodists in other contexts faithfully think through the immigration debates in their own communities.  While the specifics of immigration vary from country to country, it is a social issue with relevance all around the globe.  For that reason, I will follow up this post with a post on Thursday about the United Methodist Church's recent Global Migration Consultation, also held in Germany.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

UMC Communications in East Congo and Central and Southern Europe

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about whether or not all annual conferences, all around the world, should submit news reports of the proceedings of their annual conferences, as you can find here for most 2014 annual conference meetings in the United States and the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.  I noted the challenges that face many annual conferences in the central conferences in terms of resources to produce such reports.

In a coincidence of timing, GBGM posted an article the next day that had originally appeared in the November-December issue of the New World Outlook magainze.  This article detailed the communication challenges facing the Congo East Episcopal Area.  These challenges, which include lack of internet connectivity, lack of equipment, and lack of infrastructure, are exactly the sort of challenges I had in mind when I wrote my piece on Tuesday.  It's nice to see them confirmed in a official news article.

The good news from the article is that Bishop Gabriel Unda has pledged to improve and develop the communications department of the Congo East Episcopal Area.  Much of that effort is focused on internal communication (including via radio broadcast), but perhaps with God's blessing on the bishop's efforts, we will see reports from the annual conferences in Congo East on the 2015 roll call of annual conference news.

The UMC in Germany also just published another relevant article, an interview with Bishop Patrick Streif of the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.  The interview (in German) covers, among other things, the difficulties involved in supervising an area that stretches from North Africa and France to the Balkans and Poland.  Bishop Streif mentions the importance of central conference meetings and partner churches, but we may also presume that good communication is an important ingredient.  Perhaps that is why his episcopal area was the sole one outside the US to submit reports about their annual conferences - They know that sharing news and communicating is what allows the church to stay together across national and cultural borders.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Should all annual conferences submit news reports about their meetings?

We are now in a new year and soon a new season of annual conferences.  For any of you interested in seeing news reports from last year's annual conferences, you can find many of them posted online on this page of umc.org.  If you peruse the list of annual conference news stories, you'll notice something: almost all of them are from the United States.  The Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area also has almost all of their reports on the website, but there are no reports from any other central conference, including those in Africa, the Philippines, and the rest of Europe.  Thus, it seems that the information available on annual conference proceedings is geographically uneven.  This raises a question then: Should all annual conferences submit news reports about their meetings to be posted on the umc.org website?

First, a note on what we're talking about here.  The reports available on umc.org are news stories written, generally by conference staff or clergy, about what went on during the annual conference meetings.  They're not the official listings of appointments, resolutions, ordinations, and the like that are required by discipline.  To my knowledge, all annual conferences submit those.

The main argument for submitting such reports is spreading the knowledge and information that are essential for promoting connectionalism between the various branches of the UMC.  We may legitimately wonder how many people would read the annual report for the Malawi Provisional Annual Conference, for instance, outside of Malawi, but the number is probably much greater than you would think.  I believe there is such an appetite for stories about what's going on around the church globally among partner churches and annual conferences, among nearby annual conferences, and among United Methodists seeking to be generally educated about their church.  Moreover, the number of people outside of Malawi who can learn about the Malawi Provisional Annual Conference's proceedings without such a news story is few to none.

There are, however, some hurdles to collecting and posting such news stories.  Technology may be a hurdle is some places, though not in all areas of the world that aren't submitting reports.  More of a hurdle would be the staff and time to write and submit such reports.  In small annual conferences, annual conferences without much administrative structure, or annual conferences in which educated clergy capable of writing articles are already stretched thin, such a task may seem not worth the resources.  Language could be an issue, too, though I don't see why umc.org couldn't post news stories about annual conferences in French, Portuguese, Spanish, or other languages, if those are the prime languages for communication in the respective annual conferences.  Organizational culture may play a role as well, with some annual conferences focused primarily inward without a sense that their story matters to the wider church.

Despite these obstacles, though, I think the goal of news reports from all annual conferences is a good one to work towards.  We cannot function as a global church if we know a great deal about what's going on in the US and very little about what's going on anywhere else in the world.  UM Communications, UMNS, GBGM, GBHEM, this blog, and others are working to change that, but having news reports from each annual conference would be an important step toward greater awareness, understanding, and sense of connection between conferences around the world.