Thursday, March 31, 2016

Recommended reading: Darryl Stephens on who really has a say at General Conference

I recommend reading Darryl W. Stephens' recent commentary in response to an earlier UMNS article describing criticisms of the minimum two delegate per Annual Conference rule for allocating delegates to General Conference. In his piece, Rev. Stephens helpfully draws a distinction between votes and voice at General Conference, a distinction I have drawn on this blog with regard to another polity debate. While voting is a fundamental form of exercising power within a democracy, we would do well to remember that it is not the only form, and we must be mindful of other forms.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Recommended reading: From Imagine No Malaria to Abundant Health for All

Among other business, General Conference 2016 will herald a success and a transition in The United Methodist Church's mission work related to global health, one of the denomination's Four Areas of Focus. GC2016 will celebrate the success of the Imagine No Malaria campaign and introduce the pivot of global health work to the new Abundant Health for All campaign. Three news stories below share more details:

This UMNS story recounts the history and success of the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

This UMNS story introduces the new Abundant Health for All campaign.

This New World Outlook story provides a more in-depth description of Abundant Health for All.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Michael Nausner: The Need of a New Cultural Imagination in Times of Migration

Today's post is by regular contributor Dr. Michael Nausner, Professor of Theology, Prorektor, and Dean of International Affairs at the Reutlingen School of Theology.

Changing Conditions

We live in times of global migration. Migration of course has always been a basic human condition, but the visibility of migrating and fleeing people has increased dramatically since the summer of 2015 in Germany and in many other places in Europe. By the end of the year roughly a million refugees had made their way into Germany alone. I interpret this situation not so much as a sudden crisis that has erupted due to a war, but as an expression of years, decades, and centuries of colonial rule, unjust economic relations, and cultural imperialism.

Whatever our analysis of the reasons of this sudden presence of many refugees may be, we have now reached a stage in which not only the media is full of reports and stories about refugees all over Europe, but we are encountering them on a daily basis on the streets, in the supermarkets, and in public buildings. This means that we are now experiencing with new intensity the inequalities in our global community that have been a reality for a long time.

My hope is that this new visibility eventually turns into a realization that a change of lifestyle in the global west is needed, and into an awareness that we more than ever live in a global and planetary community in which we are mutually dependent of each other. At certain instances such a change of mindset can be noticed already, not least in Methodist congregations in Austria and Germany. Also students and faculty at Reutlingen School of Theology – a United Methodist related institution – are actively involved in having table fellowship with and teaching German to refugees from Eritrea and Syria. Regular eye contact is an effective medicine against stereotypical imagination of the others.

As time is passing I also notice in media and in everyday life an increasing anxiety and aggressiveness aimed at refugees. The horrors at the borders of Macedonia are only one symptom of such anxiety. They are signs of toughening attitudes that win out over human dignity and human rights. But crimes against refugees exceed the crimes committed by refugees both in terms of numbers and severity. Nevertheless the terminology used in the media to describe such large numbers of human beings on the move has been increasingly inflammatory.  Downfall of the occident is just one of these allegedly descriptive terms. The result in the imagination of the general public often is a generalization of “the refugees” and what they are about as well as a tendency toward polarizing asylum seekers and the sedentary population, or even worse: asylum seekers and disadvantaged citizens as necessarily in competition with each other.

Under such conditions I believe that the Christian community is called to contribute to a re-imagination of cultural identity. And the global Methodist connection can play a pivotal role in such a re-imagination. Standing in the Jewish-Christian tradition, it has decisive resources to offer in situations of quickly changing cultural conditions. It can help in the struggle for new narratives in order to develop new strategies of encountering our new “others” with dignity.

The Need of New Narratives

Europe in the last decade or so has developed a very worrisome re-nationalization, in part due to the steady influx of refugees (both inner- and outer-European) and the increasing number of asylum seekers. Old stereotypes about “pure heritage” and the possibility (and alleged necessity) of clear cut distinction lines between cultural spheres are en vogue again. The symbolism we surround ourselves with in the European countries (and in a kind of mutual mirror effect in neighboring countries as well) oftentimes is one of old dreams of superiority. Such symbolism triggers narratives in Europe that are detrimental to a constructive view of current social and cultural conditions.

The warrior on the horse is a case in point. Especially since the sudden rise of Muslim refugees coming to the EU in late 2015 the message of the old visual representations becomes problematic. When a new Europe tries to emerge, falling back on old imaginations is counterproductive. In times of rising tensions between Turkey and the EU the prominence of equestrian statues such as the one of pasha Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople in 1453, and king Ian Sobieski III, the “liberator of Europe” from the Turks in 1683, becomes increasingly problematic. They mirror each other in terms of exclusive territorial and cultural claims in times when the cultural realms are as intimately intertwined as never before.

The constructed nature of such imaginations is easily forgotten when conflicts arise. Do we not risk these days to fall back into the simplifying narratives of the past in which one cultural sphere militantly opposes another one?

Instead a theologically rooted conviction that belonging to different cultures/worlds is part of what it means to be human may be one of the ways in which Methodists around the world could contribute to a more constructive view of the coexistence between human beings on the move and human beings in sheltered conditions. After all a rapidly increasing number of people know themselves to belong to different worlds. But do we have the imagination; do we have good narratives to accommodate such double or multiple belonging?

Belonging to Different Worlds

A theological view of the human being and of human community shows a certain analogy to cultural multiple belonging in as much as Christians through the ages have understood themselves not only to belong to the societal community of everyday life but simultaneously also to a spiritual community that exceeds tangible social connections. There is in other words a certain metaphorical doubleness of Christian existence. Christians are not only members of a certain social group, but always also members of the household of God. Christians are not only citizens of a certain nation, but always also citizens of God’s kingdom. A rethinking of Christian identity as a double identity in the deepest existential sense may help toward a re-imagination of our migratory situation, and it may facilitate new forms of participation with migrants who painfully experience a certain doubleness on a daily basis.

The Second Century Letter to Diognetus is an early Christian document describing such existential double belonging of Christians in very concrete terms: “They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. […] They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”

The tension between being citizen and foreigner simultaneously – metaphorically speaking – needs to be maintained in the life of Christians. I believe a rethinking of such theological understanding of belonging to two worlds can stir our imagination in positive ways in a social situation in which migrants are denied a double belonging.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Peter Bellini: Global Mental Health and the Church, Part III

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President's Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the third in a three-part series.

In the first part of this series, I provided an overview of the global scope of depression and other mental disorders. In the second part, I shared examples of how The United Methodist Church is responding to this problem. In my conclusion to this brief discussion on global mental health and the church, I share 10 insights on healing that can be contexualized and implemented in most settings as more United Methodists seek to minister with those impacted by mental disorders:

1. RESURRECTION - Build your healing ministry on a robust and comprehensive theology of the resurrection. The resurrection is the origin, source, power, authority, and goal of our healing. Thus, God works from and to resurrection. Resurrection is the foundational evidence of the Kingdom of God, and the restoration of all things in heaven and earth, here and now. Restoration includes our health and wholeness. God desires to restore all things to their original purpose including our bodies and our minds. Healing is God’s gift to us both now and for the future. Our healing, and the healing of all things, begins now and culminates with the resurrection and redemption of our bodies, as well as a new heaven and a new earth (the new creation). All healing is a foreshadowing of this ultimate healing and prefigures it.

2. GOD HEALS - Since the resurrection is the complete picture of our healing, our faith and expectations should be based on the power of the resurrection and in the God of the resurrection. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Although repentance, faith, wisdom and proper medical treatment are essential to the process of healing, we rely ultimately on God who raises us from the dead. It does no service to the ministry of healing or the integrity of persons to judge, stigmatize, condemn or blame persons for sin or a lack of faith when we do not see or receive our expectation or  our version of healing.

3. EDUCATION - Educate the community of faith concerning divine healing. Prepare the community by utilizing the teaching ministry. Instruct on healing from the pulpit, Sunday School, small groups, seminars, webinars, health fairs and by other means. People are able to process change and adopt new practices more easily once they are informed about the subject. Education clarifies and diminishes the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a complex subject such as healing or mental health. Work to create a culture of nurturing and healing.

4. COMMON LANGUAGE – Since healing, health, and wholeness can be complex, seek to communicate and operate out of a common language. For example, if you are to officiate a healing service, do it in the liturgical language with which your congregation or participants are familiar. For United Methodists, which is my tradition, I use the healing service in the UM Book of Worship. People are more apt to participate and receive in an ecclesial culture that is familiar, especially something as sensitive and complex as healing.

5. TRAIN & CERTIFY - Train, certify and install (publicly in a service) workers for a healing ministry. For example, if your local church has persons gifted to pray for the sick in the church, the community, or throughout the world, set them apart for proper training, and then recognize and commit their gifts and leadership in a public service. Those asked to pray for healing should feel equipped and confident for the task, and the people should feel confident to receive ministry from such persons. The community of faith needs to affirm and confirm such a ministry and its workers.

6. COMPREHENSIVE - A healing ministry should be comprehensive, encompassing physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational and other types of healing. Local churches and ministries should partner with other persons and institutions that are better trained at ministering healing in a certain area. Partnering with nurses, therapists, nutritionists, clinics, or 12 step groups adds to the bandwidth and effectiveness of the healing ministry. A good holistic health network, in-house training, and a thorough referral system are essential to an effective healing ministry.

7. INTEGRATIVE APPROACH - A healing ministry is most effective when it takes on an integrative approach. Theology and science, at their best, should work hand in hand. Do not be afraid to take an approach that identifies multiple causes and solutions to problems. For example, counseling, medications, intercessory prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oil can work together effectively to combat mental health issues. Not every problem is an ‘either/or’ issue of faith or science.

8. NETWORK OF MINISTRIES- Contrary to popular opinion or even stereotype, there are many types of healing ministries that one can have in and from the local church: healing services, an altar team, a visitation team, 12 step groups, health fairs, an in-church clinic, a medical missions team, deliverance and exorcism ministries (Yes, I said that), a Zumba class, a weight training room or gym, Stephen ministries or similar grief recovery ministries, various support groups like NAMI, nutrition classes, suicide awareness seminars, classes for Christian forms of yoga and or intentional deep breathing (may not be acceptable to all local churches), confessional and accountability groups (i.e. Wesleyan band meetings), Theophostic, Sozo, and other types of more “charismatic” inner healing prayer ministries, healing prayer teams, food pantries, free community meals, cooking classes, along with a host of other courses, events, ministries and teams. Think of creating an environment or culture of wholeness that nurtures and fosters health rather than merely relying on crisis intervention that addresses the problem after it occurs. Think of creating a healthy environment that fosters wholeness as a lifestyle: prevention as well as intervention.

9. EXPECTATION - Expect healing to come at any time, any place or in any way. If you are a leader, teach the people under your care likewise. Many are disappointed because they do not receive the healing they wanted or in the way or time they wanted it. Resurrection comes in many ways and at different times, and at all times death and resurrection become the greatest healing. Teach people to look for and expect resurrection every day and in every way. Give God the space and time to work God’s will and expect miracles.

10. OUR PART- Educate people to be responsible in terms of doing their part in the process. In Philippians, Paul instructs us that it is God who works within us the desire and the will to carry out his purposes. Healing is in God’s hands, but some things God has providentially given to our care and responsibility. Through prevenient grace, God chooses to use the practice of medicine, proper diet, sleep, exercise, wisdom, repentance, faith and other means of grace to work healing. Teach responsibility and education for our health.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

UMC budgets: Doing better with less, not more with less

As General Conference approaches, one of the important agenda items for the body is setting the budget for the denomination for the next quadrennium. As this UMNS article from two weeks ago indicates, there has been debate about what the budget should be. Economic projections have shifted (as they have a tendency to do) since the first round of budget proposals, and new data has come in about membership loss in the US, which together have made previous spending levels seem overly optimistic. In response, the general secretaries of the church's boards and agencies have called to reduce their allocations and thereby craft a lower budget, as indicated in this UMNS article from yesterday. General Conference has the final decision, but it seems (for now) like the budget for the next quadrennium is headed in a downward direction.

Such news might engender a variety of responses, ranging from the unhelpful to the helpful. Perhaps the least helpful response is for the denomination to once again collectively wring its hands about US decline and get worked up into a frenzied state of anxiety before General Conference. US decline is a serious problem and will probably be with us for a while, but states of frenzied anxiety do not make for good decision making. We should maintain our trust in God, even in times of tightened budgets.

A more well-intentioned but ultimately misguided response would be to say, "Well, the boards and agencies will just have to do more with less." On the one hand, such a statement can be read as an affirmation of the importance of the church's continued mission and ministry through its boards and agencies. In this read, it is important we keep doing good work and not cut back on it. On the other hand, such a statement reflects the harsh logic of capitalism more than it does the abundant love of God. Capitalism always demands more, more, more. It will not let us be content, as God calls us to be. One of the ways to produce that more is to wring ever greater efficiencies from producer and consumer, no matter what the consequences on either are. We should be mindful of being good stewards, but we should not prize efficiency above all other spiritual, moral, or ethical values.

Finally, we could respond to this era of reduced budgets by resolving to do better with less, not more with less. Doing better with less will involve stopping some of the things that we are currently doing--those that are not working or are no longer suited to their situations or are not the best and most important reflections of who we are as United Methodists. Yet making the hard decisions to stop doing some of the things we are currently doing will free us up to better do those things we continue to do, the things that are really central to who we are and what God has called us to do in the world. In other words, if we're willing to have hard conversations, it can help us focus on what really matters among what we do.

Identifying and focusing on such things may or may not make a difference to membership trends. But it will definitely make a difference to our spiritual lives and our participation in the missio Dei.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Peter Bellini: Global Mental Health and the Church, Part II

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President's Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the second in a three-part series.

In my previous post, I described the global scope of the problem of depression and other mental disorders. The problem of mental disorders is wide-spread and, especially in developing nations, often untreated. Yet the church can play a role in responding to this problem.

WHO claims the misconception is that many believe that amelioration of such mental health conditions requires sophisticated, highly specialized or expensive responses, which is not the case. The WHO goal is to increase the development of non-specialist healthcare providers through training, support, and supervision. The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) is part of the WHO’s comprehensive plan and strategy, which was adopted by the 66th World Health Assembly, for each country to develop non-specialist healthcare to supplement any existing specialized health care.[1] The plan seeks to create “more effective leadership and governance for mental health; the provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings; the implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention; and strengthened information systems, evidence and research.”[2]

The WHO along with other organizations are planning and executing strategies to tackle the global challenge of mental disorders. The church is also in the midst of the fray. The United Methodist Church has clear statements about the nature of the problem and has also strategized through its Boards (i.e. GBGM) and Agencies (i.e UMCOR) to address the crisis. The Book of Resolutions cites a lack of knowledge as a chief contributor to the problem. I would encourage our churches to become familiar with the statements on mental health from The Book of Discipline 2012, The Social Principles, and the Book of Resolutions 2012. These resources provide informed theological responses for the church to minister comprehensive healing to a broken world. These resources draw from the ministry of Jesus Christ, the model of John Wesley and the early Methodists, and the scientific and medical communities to shape a United Methodist theology and practice of healing.[3]

One such example is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of "Caring Communities” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to Mental Health Ministries, #3303, Book of Resolutions 2012, global United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program that unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues.[4] Caring Communities “Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering. Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness & their families. Welcome persons and their families into the faith community. Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect. Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.”[5]

The theological statement on mental illness from the Book of Resolution 2012 stresses education as the key to opening the door to healing and wholeness, and the Caring Communities program models this type of education. The statement also specifically calls our seminaries to train clergy to educate and equip congregations and communities to minister with those impacted by mental disorders.[6] At United Theological Seminary where I teach, I designed a course entitled “Renewal Ministry and Practice” that focuses on a comprehensive theology and practice of healing and wholeness. Students learn to construct theologies of healing and wholeness as modeled in Scripture and the history of the church. Students also engage in “labs” that challenge them to put their theology to practice in situation in their local contexts.

In my final post on this topic, I will offer 10 insights on healing from that course that can be contexualized and implemented in most settings, insights that can help guide United Methodists around the world who are seeking to develop their own responses to the problem of depression and other mental disorders.


[1] WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), http://www.who.int/mental_health/mhgap/en/

[2] WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020. http://www.who.int/mental_health/action_plan_2013/en/.

[3] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness The United Methodist Church website offers the entire theological statement of the church on ministries in mental illness from the Book of Resolutions 2012.

[5] Faith and Mental Health Bulletin Insert, 2013. http://umc-gbcs.org/resources-websites/creating-caring-congregations

[6] Book of Resolutions 2012, Theological Statement on Ministries in Mental Illness from United Methodist Church website. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Glory Dharmaraj: Gender and General Conference

Today's piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, retired Director of Mission Theology for United Methodist Women.

History was without women for a long time. The history of our General Conference has not been exempt from this blind spot and irony. We have made gains in the recent election of delegates to the General Conference. But still there is a lack of gender parity.

Openings and Closings
While approving the category of deaconesses, the 1888 General Conference refused to seat elected female lay delegates. Another contradiction is the approval of the full-time lay vocation for women as deaconesses, while warding off ordination of women with rights to administer sacraments. In the midst of these contradictions, women had to live out their vocations within the church. The 1880 Methodist Episcopal General Conference not only voted against the ordination of women but also decided to revoke all the local preachers’ licenses granted to women since 1869.[1] Women had to wait till 1956 to gain full rights of ordination.

With reference to offices such as class leaders, stewards, and Sunday School Superintendents at the local church level, the challenge of inclusive language was addressed by the1880 General Conference. Its decision removed the exclusive use of pronouns such as “he, his, and him” for such offices.[2] While the question of lay women and gender was addressed in the General Conference 1880, it took a century to officially include inclusive language for God! In 1980, the Task force on Language Guidelines (inclusive language) was set up.

General Conference 2016
The recently released results of the monitoring done by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women reveals lack of gender equity, as evident in the article on “Women by the Numbers: Statistics and Research about Women in the United Methodist Church” at www.gcsrw.org. From among the 865 delegates elected to the General Conference, the break up details, as shown by the GCSRW research, are below:

In her recent presentation to the Interethnic Strategic Development Group in Baltimore, Washington, Leigh Goodrich, staff of GCSRW, pointed out that of the total 431 lay delegates, 192 (44.5%) are female and 237 (55%) are male. Out of 434 clergy delegates, 119 (27.4%) are female and 313 (72%) are male.

Among the total 865 delegates to the 2016 General Conference, 360 are from the Central Conferences. Out of the 360 Central Conference delegates, 267 (74%) are male and 90 (25%) are female with 3 delegates not listing gender. From among the 180 lay delegates from the Central Conferences, 116 (64%) are male and 63 (35%) are female; male clergy constitute 151 delegates (84%) and female clergy 27 (15%).

Since the break-up details of race and ethnicity are not available yet, my reflection does not deal with the “intersectionality” of women.

The Face of Women in Structure and Movement
The membership percentage of women in the United States UMC is 58%.

As for the southern hemisphere, the phenomenal growth of Christianity, especially, Africa, Asia, and Latin America is unprecedented. The emerging, burgeoning, and living forms of Christianity are mostly indigenous, and their agency primarily non-Western. They embody what is known as World Christianity today.

Today, two-thirds of all Christian are women, as Professor Dana Robert of Boston University points out. Robert asks, “What would the study of Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America look like if scholars put women into the center of their research?”[3] In the growing grassroots movement of Christianity, the role of women is a key factor.

In the feminization of Christianity, do women occupy key positions, along with men, in their respective church structures in World Christianity? Until church systems and structures are open enough for women to gain positions at the structural level, women’s voices may not be converted into perspectives and mainstreamed.

Movement and structure need not necessarily be oppositional. Any movement which merely ends up as a structure loses its grassroots vitality. Any structure that is not rooted in the praxis of a life-giving movement is a mere skeleton without the embodiment of flesh and blood. A mere movement that does not structurally ensure power for its women is likely to be co-opted, and its power relegated to those who are at the top rungs of the structures. Movement and structure ought to form a life-giving hybridity.

Women stand to lose if they are not vigilant enough. As opinion-makers and decision-makers, men have a great role to play in the emerging Christianity, assuring that women get shared power in the growing movement.


[1] General Conference Journal, (25 May 1880), 316. The Christian Advocate 55/24 (June 10, 1880): 377.
[2] The Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1880. Appendix 22. Pages 409-10.
[3] Dana Robert, “World Christianity as a Women’s Movement,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, vol. 30, no. 4 (October 2006), 180.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Peter Bellini: Global Mental Health and the Church, Part I

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President's Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the first in a three-part series.

The United Methodist Church has a theological statement in the Book of Resolutions 2012 on ministries in mental health that opens:

We believe that faithful Christians are called to be in ministry to individuals and their families challenged by disorders causing disturbances of thinking, feeling and acting categorized as "mental illness." We acknowledge that throughout history and today, our ministries in this area have been hampered by lack of knowledge, fear and misunderstanding. Even so, we believe that those so challenged, their families and their communities are to be embraced by the church in its ministry of compassion and love.[1]

According to a World Health Organization report in 2012 entitled “Depression: a Global Public Health Concern,” one in four persons suffers from a mental disorder, and among mental disorders, depression is the most prevalent. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide in terms of total years lost due to disability.[2] Depression, as well as other mental disorders, adversely impacts the ability of affected persons to perform at work, school, and in the family.

The World Health Organization (hereafter referred to as WHO) estimates 350 million people of all ages around the world suffer from depression, contributing significantly to the overall global burden of disease.[3] Lack of treatment compounds the problem. Less than half of the persons afflicted with depression, and in some countries less than 10%, receive any kind of treatment.[4] Lack of treatment is due to a lack of resources, including education, diagnostic tools, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, medication and support systems. Lack of resources is directly connected to the poverty and underdevelopment of such countries. Misdiagnosis is also another contributor to improper treatment. Untreated or improper treatment of depression can lead to other more dangerous mental disorders and often to suicide. The WHO cites that over 800,000 persons commit suicide every year, and it is the second leading cause of death globally in 15-29 year olds.[5]

Depression is not the only mental disorder that afflicts persons globally. Anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, autism spectrum disorder and other mental and developmental disorders are on the rise as well, and countries face the similar challenges in treating these disorders. There are many individual and social factors that determine risk: genetics, perinatal infections, nutrition, stress, environment and environmental hazards, individual cognitive-behavioral coping skills, trauma, life crises, national policies, social protection, standards of living, work conditions and community support among others.[6]

Many of these factors are part of the larger systemic issue of poverty and underdevelopment. The WHO has identified a mental health care gap between high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries. In low- and middle-income countries, 76%-85% of persons with mental disorders receive no treatment, while in high-income countries the figure is 35%-50%.[7] When it comes to treatment of mental disorders, substance abuse, and neurological conditions four out of five persons in low-and middle-income countries do not receive them. The resources are often not available, and when some resources are available, many of these countries allocate less than 2% of their overall health budgets for mental health.[8]

For example in Sierra Leone where I have ministered, the WHO cites that there is no mental health policy or national mental health program and thus no allocated funds in the budget beyond taxation as the primary source for funding. There are also no benefits paid for persons with disability due to mental disorders. However, a mental health policy and programming are currently being developed.[9] The Mental Health Atlas put out by the WHO also cites that in Sierra Leone “Regular training of primary care professionals is not carried out in the field of mental health. There are no community care facilities for patients with mental disorders. Some traditional healers and general practitioners provide mental health care in the community setting.”[10] Much of the lack of treatment is due to the poor socio-economic conditions in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone ranks 181 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index.[11] Poverty is clearly a factor in their ability to minister mental health care.

Having detailed the scope of the problem in this post, I will turn to how the church can respond in my next post.


[1] “Ministries in Mental Health, Theological Statement” from the Book of Resolutions 2012. Accessed January 20, 2016, http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness.

[2] “Depression: a Global Public Health Concern,” World Health Organization, 2012. Accessed January 20, 2016, http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/en.

[3] “Depression, Fact Sheet No. 369,” World Health Organization, October 2015. Accessed January 20, 2016, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/

[4] WHO, “Depression, Fact Sheet No. 369.”

[5] WHO, “Depression, Fact Sheet No 369.”

[6] “Mental Disorders, Fact Sheet No. 396,” World Health Organization, October 2015, Accessed January, 20, 2016, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs396/en/

[7] WHO, “Mental Disorders, Fact Sheet NO. 396.”

[8] WHO, “Mental Disorders, Fact Sheet NO. 396.”

[10] World Mental Health Atlas, 2005, WHO.

[11] United Nations Development Program: Human Development Reports, Human Development Index, 2015,  http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/SLE

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Conferences as about geography, mission, and/or administration and control

I want to thank Rev. Meredith Hoxie Schol for recently inviting me to be part of a conversation for a class on General Conference she is teaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The thoughts in this post evolved out of that conversation.

One of the significant questions that General Conference will address in May is whether to revamp United Methodist organizational polity, in which annual conference in the United States are grouped into five regionally-defined Jurisdictional Conferences and annual conferences outside the United States are grouped into one of seven regionally-defined Central Conferences.

While it is easy to think of Jurisdictions and Central Conferences as cognate structures that are primarily about geography, a brief consideration of the evolution of both types of conference will reveal some important differences between the two, differences that also highlight some of the possible benefits to United Methodists in the United States of becoming a Central Conference.

Central Conferences evolved during the Western missionary expansion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the UMC's predecessor bodies. Initially, they were a way to bring together missionaries working in separate annual or missionary conferences but serving similar populations within a geographic region (at first in India in 1885, but then replicated elsewhere). Central Conferences were formed primarily for the purpose of mission. Indeed, until 1920, they had limited administrative powers.

Jurisdictional Conferences were formed at the 1939 merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC), Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS), and Methodist Protestant Church. Originally, there was a sixth, racially rather than geographically defined Central Jurisdiction, which included all African-American churches. Jurisdictions were thus formed as a way to segregate African-Americans and preserve some of the regional control that the MEC and MECS had held. The purpose of jurisdictions was not mission, but administration and control. Indeed, the functions of Jurisdictions have continued to be primarily administrative and power-related (election of bishops, e.g.). Mission has been an after thought, if a thought at all.

Thus, when United Methodists around the world come together to discuss how we should geographically structure our common life, it is important to note that Americans and non-Americans may be coming to the table with different understandings of the implications of geography. For many non-Americans, geography = mission. For many Americans, geography = administration and control. Administration is a necessary function in organizational life, so Americans are not entirely wrong.

Nevertheless, I think there is much to be gained by Americans from learning from the history of the Central Conferences and the importance of mission in understanding geography. The American context has been changing rapidly and significantly in the last sixty years. If we can make our plans for conferencing American geography (whatever those end up being) about mission and not just administration and control, it will significantly help us make disciples within the American context and transform the American portion of the world.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Recommended readings on Liberia Annual Conference divorce rule

The impending retirement of Bishop Innis of the Liberia Annual Conference has ignited debate over the past two years about a long-standing rule in the Liberian UMC that prohibits divorced candidates from being considered for the position of bishop. I present the following summary of the events not to comment on the morality of divorce or validity of the rule but as a interesting case for those thinking about localism, connectionalism, and the role of Book of Discipline in church polity.

James Armah Massaquoi and Cletus A. Sieh initially raised questions about the validity of this role two years ago, citing in part concerns that the rule was not in the Book of Discipline and therefore went against about global United Methodist governance, concerns expressed in this editorial.

At the Liberian Annual Conference last year, the rule was overwhelmingly affirmed by both clergy and laity, as Julu Swen reported on.

Thus, the conference lay leader confirmed that the rule banning divorced clergy from the episcopacy would be in effect during the 2016 Annual Conference, as Swen reports here.

This rule then was used to disqualify Rev. Julius Nelson from consideration during annual conference voting, though he did receive write-in nominations and the issue may arise at the West Africa Central Conference, as this UMNS story indicates.

While there are many ways to view this debate, Darryl Stephens looks at the issue through the lens of connectionalism in this commentary.