Thursday, January 28, 2016

Recommended viewing: CTTalks on Worldwide Nature - Our Theology

As previously reported, the Connectional Table has been posting a series of videos on various topics in preparation for General Conference. The topic for the four videos posted in January is "Worldwide Nature - Our Theology." The videos, which can be accessed through the preceding link, are worth a watch, though they're unlikely to contain much surprising to those who have followed discussions about the global nature of the UMC.

The best aspect of the Connectional Table's focus on this topic may be in the discussion guide prepared to go with the video. The discussion guide has a very short list of questions for discussion, but two of the three really get at the heart of some of the challenges and opportunities involved in the UMC's rethinking itself as a global denomination. They are as follows:

1. How do we make our discussions of a worldwide church about more than just geography?

2. Discuss as a delegation what you feel we have to gain by living more fully into a worldwide connection. What do you fear we have to lose in this endeavor?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Recommended readings on Pre-General Conference Briefing

United Methodists from around the world met in Portland last week to learn about issues that will come up at this May's General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The three-day Pre-General Conference Briefing, sponsored by United Methodist Communications, was intended as a chance for delegates and others to receive information about General Conference-related matters, not as a time for United Methodists to engage in debate and discussion of those matters.

While many have and will write about this event, here are a collection of stories from the United Methodist News Service and independent United Methodist news sources UM Insight and UM Reporter. For additional information, search #umcgc on Twitter or review the Twitter feed for UM & Global.

Overviews of the briefing:
From UMNS
From UM Insight

Articles about holy conferencing and the proposed Rule 44:
From UMNS on Christian Conferencing
From UM Reporter on Christian Conferencing/Rule 44
From UM Insight on Rule 44

About sexuality debate at GC:
Article from UMNS
Editorial from UM Insight

Friday, January 22, 2016

African voices, votes, and agendas

In a recent piece for Good News Magazine entitled "A Voice, Not an Echo," Rev. Rob Renfroe argues against the Northeast Jurisdiction's proposal to create a US Central Conference for a surprising reason: a desire to respect the voice of African delegates. In making this argument, Renfroe is echoing similar arguments by John Lomperis and others.

Renfroe begins by making a worthy point: American United Methodists need to be willing to listen to African United Methodists' opinions on topics, including human sexuality, even when those Americans do not agree with the views Africans put forth. Of course, there are a diversity of views within both the United States and Africa, let along Europe and Philippines, but the point remains: being a global community means listening to each other.

Then, however, Renfroe takes this concern for African voices to argue against the idea of placing the United States Annual Conferences in a US Central Conference, similar to the Central Conferences in Africa and elsewhere. Presumably, by doing so, Renfroe is arguing for preserving the status quo in denominational structure.

The current structure, however, is US-centric, based off of old, colonialist models of the church. Few would say that the current model is set up to project African voices. Indeed, the problems of the current model are extensive enough to bring into question whether Renfroe, Lomperis, and others truly care about African voices or whether they only care about those voices on certain issues.

Even assuming, as I will, that Renfroe is being sincere in his concern for African voices in the UMC, he makes an important logical error in his argument. He assumes that voice equals vote. If Africans get to vote on more issues, including those related to primarily American issues of polity (and I'm not saying that sexuality is necessarily one of those), then they have more voice. Yet true voice extends beyond the ability to vote on issues to include the ability to set the agenda and determine which issues come up for vote.

African bishops and other African leaders have made it clear that sexuality is an issue they'd like to speak to, so for that issue, Renfroe's point holds. Yet, African GC delegates have also indicated that there are a variety of other issues including pensions and educational standards for American pastors that they'd rather not have to spend their time discussing, since these issues do not impact them. To truly respect African voices would also mean finding a way to remove these items from General Conference's agenda and deal with them elsewhere.

The creation of a Central Conference for the United States seems like a good candidate for a way to accomplish this shift in agenda. That need not be done through the Northeast Jurisdiction's plan. The North Texas and Central Texas Annual Conferences have also put forward a plan entitled "A Place of Reason UMC" that also creates a US Central Conference. Proposals for the creation of a global Book of Discipline are another (not necessarily mutually exclusive) means by which this shift could occur.

Whatever the mechanism, change needs to occur. To do otherwise, to applaud African voices on sexuality but then ignore those voices when it comes to agenda setting is to try to have one's cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Recommended reading: Unfinished Business of a Worldwide Nature

In this recent post on fellow United Methodist blog UM Insight, Rev. Dr. Darryl W. Stephens writes about the decision to make the Methodist Protestant Church of Cote d'Ivoire an Annual Conference of the UMC. He describes this change as a merger, though he acknowledges that it is usually described as an acquisition. Stephens then contrasts this merger of 2008 with the Methodist Church/EUB merger of 1968 and finds that the 2008 merger was done without any of the forethought of the '68 merger, aggravating lingering questions about global polity in the church. It's a good and provocative piece and recommended reading in advance of General Conference this year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Recommended reading: Titus Pressler and Hunter Farrell on mission networks

Titus Pressler recently wrote this blog post in which he commented on Hunter Farrell's blog post about mission networks. Both are worth reading for some reflections on the growth and character of networks that unite congregations and other organizations related to mission but are separate from the formal mission organizations that have historically characterized mainline mission. Thanks to Dana Robert for passing along Titus' post.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Top topics for 2015 and a prediction for 2016

Today we conclude our two-part series looking back at the big stories of 2015 on UM & Global. Last week, I listed our most-viewed posts of 2015. This week, I'll identify our top four themes from 2015 and make a prediction about what a fifth theme for 2016 might be. For comparison, you can check out UMNS's top news stories from 2015.

Theme 1: Migration
Spurred in large part by the migration crisis in Europe, migration was the top theme for posts on UM & Global in 2015. Posts on migration have emphasized that this issue is not only a political or humanitarian one, but a missiological and theological one. You can view related posts here. I fully expect migration to be an important theme in 2016 as well, whether or not it's the top story again.

Theme 2: Church structure and General Conference
Since this blog is "dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church," posts about global church structure are a recurring feature. That has been even more the case as the UMC gears up for General Conference 2016. Here are posts related to General Conference and the broader category of posts related to global ecclesiology. With GC2016 happening in five months, it's fair to say this theme will remain important through 2106.

Theme 3: Race
A series of events in the US, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the Charleston shooting made race an important topic in the US for 2015. This blog has commented on that set of issues but also made the connection between race and global structure, the theme above. Here are posts on race. I hope that race will continue to be an important topic of discussion for 2016 and that the conversation can continue to broaden from an American to an international context.

Theme 4: The environment
The environment did not have the same sort of catalyzing story for 2105 as did migration or race, but a variety of stories, including the COP21 summit, have ensured that attention to the environment and climate change has been steady and coming from a variety of places throughout the church. Here are stories on the environment. I expect this trend to continue for 2016.

A prediction for 2016: Global health
While global health was a less important theme for 2015, it is my top prediction for a fifth important theme for 2016. I am hoping to publish a couple of health-related guest posts in February or March. Moreover, as the UMC nears the end of its Imagine No Malaria campaign, I hope that will encourage missiological conversations on the church's future direction related to global health.