Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Charleston, SC, shootings as an international tragedy

The shootings last week in Charleston, SC, at Mother Emanuel AME Church were a horrible tragedy, and I join others in condemning the racially-motivated terrorism that was committed. I have been pleased to see so many other United Methodists from around the country, from individual churches to annual conferences to boards and agencies to the head of the Council of Bishops, join in expressions of grief and sympathy and calls for racial justice in the wake of these deaths.

I have also been pleased, though a bit surprised, to see European United Methodists doing the same, from official statements by the bishops of Germany and the Nordic-Baltic area, to Twitter support from the Bulgarian UMC.

My surprise at these responses comes not from any doubt in the Christian love of our European UMC sisters and brothers. Instead, I was a bit surprised because of how very American this tragedy seemed, in the racial factors driving the shooting and in the type of gun violence committed. While this may be a very American tragedy, it is also a tragedy felt around the world.

We Americans have some serious work to do around issues of race, and last week's shooting made that deadly clear. The response by the European United Methodists reminds us, though, that while Americans must ultimately do the work ourselves, we do so under the scrutiny of but with the support of others around the world. That should increase our motivation to and increase our hope in making progress on our country's long, troubled history of race relations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Will impetus for United Methodists to address environmental issues come from the Central Conferences?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two United Methodist news stories from the last week: the first about a litter clean-up project undertaken by a Zimbabwean church and the second about a coastal cleanup project undertaken by United Methodists in the Philippines. Both projects earned praise from local environmental organizations, and while the environmental connection was stronger in the Philippines cleanup, both projects seemed to stem at least in part from motivation to care for the environment.

Nor is this the first time that Filipino United Methodists have shown concern for the environment. Within the last year, Filipino United Methodists have participated in a climate walk, and students at UM-affiliated Wesleyan University-Philippines have launched a climate change movement. Moreover, some of the environmental initiatives of Filipino United Methodists have had clergy and episcopal support, as the articles demonstrate.

In the United States, support for environmental causes has waxed and waned over the years, but recently, the United States has been behind other developed nations and even many developing nations in terms of concern over climate change specifically, as this article and this article show.

While there are certainly many faithful American United Methodists who are working to mitigate negative human effects on the environment (such as United Methodist Bill McKibben), these articles raised a question for me: Is it possible that real impetus for United Methodists to address climate change and other environmental issues will come from the Central Conferences, not the US?

There are reasons to think so beyond just the survey data linked to above. For reasons of geography and level of economic development, it is likely that other countries around the world will be negatively impacted by climate change before the United States is, making these issues more pressing for them. Moreover, since other countries lack the set of political factors that make climate change and environmentalism controversial in the United States, a United Methodist climate initiative from the Philippines or elsewhere could face less domestic opposition. While only time will tell, I think the Central Conferences are a good place to look for United Methodist energy around addressing climate change and other environmental issues.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The global and the local at Annual Conferences

It's Annual Conference time again in The United Methodist Church. For many, this is a much-anticipated (or much-dreaded) time to reunite with, confer with, and sometimes fight with other pastors and laity from within the geographic bounds of the conference. For us here at UM & Global, though, it means slow news days. Now that I've been moderating this blog for a few years, I can confidently proclaim a trend: during the first few weeks of June, there are fewer stories from around the global connection circulating through United Methodist news media.

That's not to say there are none, as proved by these two great stories from this week about the work Africa University grads are doing throughout Africa. But after a spring when there were almost more stories from outside the US or on transnational issues than I could read, let alone analyze for the blog, the hopper is currently a bit empty as United Methodists focus inward during this time of conferencing.

Yet because of the connectional nature of the UMC, this focus inward during Annual Conference season is not entirely separate from a focus on the global church. While it may not generate stories through UMNS, the global is present at Annual Conference meetings in a variety of ways:

1. Many Annual Conferences are going to be taking up further collections as part of their drive toward denominational goals for the Imagine No Malaria global health initiative.

2. Bishops, pastors, professors, and others from around the UMC and even from non-UMC sister Methodist churches will be preaching and presenting at Annual Conferences other than their own.

3. Many Annual Conferences will consider supporting (or opposing) resolutions related to the various plans for global reorganization of the denomination that will be debated at General Conference 2016.

4. Annual Conferences will be hearing from mission partners located and missionaries serving around the world.

So, as you're coming home from or heading off to your Annual Conference, ask yourself: Where is the global in the local in this year's meeting?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Status of Bishop Wandabula case

This blog has previously covered the case of Bishop Daniel Wandabula, bishop of the East Africa Annual Conference of the UMC, and his dispute with various UM groups over his use of funds and financial auditing. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Judicial Council decision affecting Bishop Wandabula's case. As noted at that time, though, this is an ongoing issue. This UMNS story, which appeared after my article, gives a useful rundown on where the case is currently, including the continued call by GCFA for withholding funds from the East Africa Annual Conference. For more on the origins of this case, this article provides a helpful back story. UM & Global will continue to update readers as new developments occur in the case.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

David N. Field: The world is coming to our parish

Today's post is by regular contributor Dr. David N. Field.  Dr. Field is the Academic Coordinator of the Methodist e-Academy in Europe.
 
I am a migrant and the descendant of migrants - a South African living in Europe. The majority of my ancestors left Europe to make a new life on the Southern tip of Africa; they fled wars, political uncertainty, poverty, and persecution for their religion. A few were shipwrecked off the coast of the Cape. At least one was fleeing from the law. Another was brought as a slave.

Yet until recently this migrant identity has not been part of my theological reflection. Being involved in planning and teaching a course dealing with the church and migration stimulated me to begin to reflect on the theological challenge posed by the movement of people across the world as an integral and pervasive feature of globalization. The recent sinking of a ship drowning over 800 refugees in the Mediterranean, the outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa, and reports of refugee boats being turned away from Malaysia and Indonesia have sharpened this challenge for me.

To rephrase Wesley’s famous quote from a European perspective: “The world is coming to our parish.” What does this mean for the church? In a recent Blog Michael Nausner discussed some aspects of this challenge. I plan to continue the discussion in a few blogs reflecting theologically on different aspects of this challenge.

The presence of “the world in our parish” provides an often ignored but profoundly radical challenge to the way we think about what it means to be the church. It is radical because it confronts us with a long forgotten understanding of the identity of the church that is ironically hidden in the word “parish”. In contemporary English parish refers to a small bounded local area. The related word “parochial” refers to being focused on a local area to the exclusion of the broader world.

The irony is that the word parish comes from the Greek word parokia which means a stranger or a sojourner. It was a word used by the early church to describe itself (see I Peter 2:11) as communities of foreigners who were never fully at home in the societies in which they lived. They were strangers because they owed an ultimate loyalty to the One who was rejected by the religious and political establishment and then tortured and executed as an enemy of the empire.

The presence of the world in our parish is a call to remind us that our primary identity and loyalty can never be defined by citizenship of a particular nation state. The church can never be “at home” in any country or socio-political system, for we are citizens of the dominion of the Crucified One. The church is always to be a restless community of foreigners looking for and embodying in a partial way the coming dominion of the Jesus. It is from this identity that we should address the ethical challenge posed by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (a topic for a later blog).

The presence of the world in our parish reminds us that the community of the Crucified transcends national and geographic. Significant numbers of the migrants coming to Europe and North America are Christians – many are Methodists; in fact, many are United Methodists. To be a Christian, to be a Methodist, to be a United Methodist, is to be part of an international community of communities. We are part of the “catholic” church, in the words of the Apostles creed, or to use a more contemporary word, “ecumenical” church; that is, the church that is present across the whole inhabited world.

The presence is a summons to break out of a “parochial” mindset (in its contemporary English meaning) and discovers our spiritual siblings in other countries and continents, people who live in such situations of need that they engage in long, potentially deadly journeys in search of a new life. Many of us are ignorant of the lives of these fellow members of the church – these strangers who come and those strangers who die on the way.

It is a particular challenge to the UMC as a church that affirms its identity as an international or even global church. To be an international or global church is not merely about participating in mission trips, nor about sending finances and resources to people in need, nor about the logistic and theological complications of having people from other countries at General Conference; it is about the challenge to recognize these people as our spiritual siblings, fellow members of the body of Christ whose lives, sufferings and joys ought to be part of our primary concern. The question is how can we embody this in the structures of the UMC, in the lives of our local congregations, and in the programs of our General Boards, agencies and other institutions, not as an extra concern, but as integral to our identity?