Friday, June 15, 2018

The American Society of Missiology & Mission Friendship

I (David Scott) will be attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology (ASM) starting today. The ASM is the major academic/practical society for those studying mission in North America.

The theme for this year's conference is "Interfaith Friendship as Incarnational Mission Practice." As this theme indicates, friendship is becoming an increasingly important focus for mission research and practice. Mission friendship includes interfaith friendship, as this conference highlights, but also international, intercultural, and interracial friendship. Therefore, I wanted to share a bit about this theme and this conference for those unaware of the conference or unable to attend.

Conference organizers give the following explanation of the importance of friendship as a theme:

"In an article in the IBMR honoring the life work of Jonathan Bonk, Dana Robert began her essay with these words: "Friendship is a foundational practice in Christian mission" (IBMR (October 2015), 180). In this era of rising tribalism, tension and fear toward those who are different, Christians are called to live out the Gospel in the way of Jesus: through loving God and loving neighbor. When vitriolic political rhetoric inflames hostility and distrust, especially toward those of other faith commitments, interfaith friendships become crucial avenues of incarnational mission practice. There are many ways to do this, as even a brief history of mission illustrates. The oft-cited friendship of Frances of Assisi with Sultan Malek al-Kamil of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade is, perhaps, one of the most illustrious (see Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context, 143).

"There are many today who witness to the power of friendship as a bridge to interfaith understanding and cooperation. Muslim founder of Interfaith Youth Corps, Eboo Patel, draws college students together to improve "interfaith literacy" and provide the means to shatter stereotypes and fears of those who "orient around religion differently" through friendship (see Patel, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer). Amazon, while seeking to sell us on Amazon Prime at Christmas, offered a poignant tale of interfaith friendship between a priest and an imam over a cup of tea. Their care for one another prompted them to unwittingly buy each other the gift of knee-pads for enabling greater comfort during prayer (see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cllWl1u1fj0 and Muslim Saimma Dyer's insightful commentary on the ad at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingtradition/2016/11/interfaith-friendships-not-just-for-christmas/).

"As Christians, friendship within the Godhead - the three-in-One - is both our model and means for offering the hospitality and creating the space where "the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy" (Nouwen, Reaching Out, 51). Making room for the God who, in the outstretched arms of Christ, loves and forgives us, enables us to also love and forgive, welcome and embrace, and befriend those God has already "friended" (Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 126). In what he calls a pneumatological theology of hospitality, Amos Yong posits that the power of the Holy Spirit is not only what allows us to love the neighbor, but allows God to love us through the neighbor. Interfaith friendships make possible this mutual transformation crucial to the work of God in the world (Yong, Hospitality and the Other, 158). Friendship with God enables friendship with others.

"Voices from within the ASM, have long offered insight into the power of friendship to open doors to those of other faiths, not only for the sake of world peace, but for the sake of faithful witness to the love of God in Christ. Kosuke Koyama called it "neighborology:" loving and living in solidarity with one's neighbor, exegeting both the Word and the neighbor's culture, and found it became the "best vessel to convey Christ" (Water Buffalo Theology, 67). Steve Bevans and Roger Schroeder called it the dance of "prophetic dialogue:" a style of living in relationship with our neighbors that holds in tension proclamation and dialogue, boldness and humility, and builds empathy and trust through friendship modeled on the image of "entering someone else's garden" (Prophetic Dialogue, 152, 33). Terry Muck and Frances Adeney called it "giftive mission" in which we enter into relationships with those of other religions (or no religion) as bearers and receivers of gifts, observing ways in which God is already at work and the gospel is truly a gift in that context (Christianity Encountering World Religions, 373). All of these, and many others, point to the importance of interfaith friendship, not only to bring peace to our world, but because loving and being loved by neighbors of other faiths, being both guests and hosts, enables us to express and receive God's love (Yong, 153)."

To get a further idea of how this concept of friendship is playing out in the study of mission, check out the listing of session and paper titles on the conference schedule.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What's going on in the Congo?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

As someone who is dedicated to counteracting stereotypes Americans have about foreign countries, this piece is difficult to write. There are long-standing tropes of news coverage about Africa that portray the continent as just a series of wars, natural disasters, and poverty. It’s not. There are a lot of good things happening on the continent of Africa, including innovation, economic growth, and successful peace and reconciliation processes. Africans are engaging in their own mission and charity endeavors, as Monday's post indicated.

At the same time, there are a number of serious problems facing one African country in particular: the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC or the Congo for short. The DRC also happens to be the country with the second-highest number of United Methodists, behind the United States. If United Methodists from elsewhere are to understand our sisters and brothers in the Congo, then it’s important to move beyond vague and stereotyped notions of “problems in Africa” to a more specific understanding of the challenges the DRC faces and how those challenges impact the church.

This post summarizes several of the largest challenges facing the country, and a subsequent post will examine the perhaps surprising ways these challenges are affecting the UMC.

Kivu conflict
One of the longest running armed conflicts in the Congo has been going on in Kivu, an eastern area bordering Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi with a substantial number of United Methodists. This conflict has its roots in the Rwandan Genocide and was the central theater for the First and Second Congo Wars, major conflicts involving numerous African countries. Conflict has continued since the end of the Second Congo War with a varied, shifting, and complicated set of government, militia, and foreign forces. Current conflict between the government and rebel groups have been deemed a “war” by the country’s defense minister. UN Peacekeepers sent to reduce fighting have themselves been the targets of recent attacks.

Hema-Lendu conflict/Ituri conflict
There is a long-standing ethnic conflict between the herding Hema ethnic group and the farming Lendu ethnic group. Like the Kivu conflict, it was exacerbated by international forces during the Second Congo War, leading to a period of intense fighting known as the Ituri conflict, after the region in northwest Congo in which the Hema and Lendu live (an area with relatively few United Methodists). While that intense conflict abated in 2003, low-level conflict continued, and there has been a recent increase in fighting that has left dozens dead and 100,000 displaced.

Bantu-Pygmy conflict
Conflict between the Pygmies, a minority ethnic group in the Congo, and the Bantus, the dominant overarching ethnic group in the Congo that includes numerous specific ethnicities, has been happening at least since colonial times. A recent flare-up of conflict began in 2014 and led to numerous deaths. This violence happened in the southeastern Katanga region of the Congo, a heavily Methodist area. The two sides signed a peace treaty in 2017, but given the long-standing nature of that conflict, the possibility for further conflict still exists.

Elections
DRC President Joseph Kabila’s term of office ended in 2016, but he has not stepped down and has delayed calling new elections despite international pressure to hold elections. Elections are now scheduled for December 2018. There are signs that Kabila will run again despite being constitutionally barred from a third term. Opposition to Kabila and uncertainty surrounded elections has been a major factor increasing the country’s conflicts, especially the Kasai conflict described below.

Kasai conflict
Opposition to Kabila has led to a new anti-government movement in the Kasai area of central Congo, an area with relatively few United Methodists. Conflict between the anti-government Kamuina Nsapu movement and government forces has left thousands dead and over a million displaced. While this conflict has emerged within the last two years, it is closely tied to the long-term saga of presidential succession in the Congo.

Resource extraction
The fuel driving these political and military crises – presidential misbehavior, armed opposition, incursion by foreign countries – is the Congo’s vast mineral wealth. The Congo has extensive resources of copper, gold, diamonds, rare elements essential for components of modern electronics, and other minerals. Yet these resources have never served to enrich the people of the Congo. Instead, they have been siphoned off, first by European colonial rulers and then by Western multinational corporations and a “kleptocracy” of corrupt Congolese politicians. Control of mining resources continues to be a major motive for and funding source of armed groups in the country today.

Ebola
One of the more recent problems in the Congo is an outbreak of Ebola. There have been several dozen cases including numerous deaths, in the northwest area of the country (an area where there are relatively few United Methodists). Ebola has been discovered in the large city of Bikoro. At this point, this outbreak is nowhere near as severe as the outbreak in West Africa in 2015-16. The Congolese government and international agencies are taking steps to prevent the outbreak from spreading and becoming more severe, including vaccinating health workers.

Natural disasters
The Congo is not unique in having natural disasters. All countries have significant natural disasters, including highly developed countries such as the United States. Among the natural disasters affecting the Congo in the last year are landslides and flooding. If the Congo is unique in its natural disasters, its in having a more limited internal capacity to respond to those natural disasters because of a low level of economic development and a high level of political disfunction.

These challenges combined have made the DRC one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world right now. The German United Methodist disaster relief agency, Diakonie, has called it “the largest humanitarian crisis that the world has not noticed.”

Yet, as this post began by saying, it is oversimplifying and stereotyping to say that all is doom and gloom. Much of the country is peaceful. There are good things happening in the Congo, and UMC is one of them. I’ll explain why and how next week.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Recommended readings: African charity

There is a tendency in the West to see Africa as merely a place of poverty, a place that needs Western donations. This view is stereotypical and harmful for a variety of reasons and does not do justice to the many positive things happening in Africa.

In particular, when Westerners view Africa as a place of need, they can overlook the assets that Africans themselves possess. Moreover, such a view overlooks the differences in distribution of economic assets within African societies.

To get a better sense of the assets that Africans have, how those assets are distributed, and how Africans are using their own assets to help other Africans, read the following UMNS stories about African charity to other Africans. This is not an endorsement of all of the charity models followed. These stories are offered instead as counterexamples to the "Western donor-African recipient" stories that we hear all too often.

Liberia UMC schools help Ebola survivors

Urban Congolese congregation helps rural congregation

Zimbabwe UMW donates to orphanage

Women's entrepreneurship project of East Congo UMC

Liberia UMW give scholarship to rural students

Women's entrepreneurship project of Zimbabwe UMC

Zimbabwe UMC schools give access to computers

Liberia UMW gives out personal transportation devices to disabled persons

Liberia UMC clinic cares for persons with leprosy

Liberia UMC provides medical help for seniors

Zimbabwe UMC helps prisoners learn to grow food

Zimbabwe UMC donates food to prisoners

Nigeria UMC schools conduct adult education program

This list in not comprehensive. Moreover, it doesn't even include the extensive evangelistic, peacemaking, or women's rights work that African United Methodists undertake on their own initiative and with their own assets. Nor does it include any of the work wherein African United Methodists are active, contributing partners with United Methodists from elsewhere in the world.

Clearly, United Methodists everywhere need to take seriously African United Methodists' assets and abilities for impacting their societies.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Meeting our Hindu Neighbor

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

I had the privilege of welcoming a Hindu friend and teacher of Hinduism to Global Ministries of the UMC on April 18, 2018 for our Mission Dialogue Forum-the staff educational programme initiated by the Mission Theology Desk of Global Ministries. Mr. Manhar Valand is originally from South Africa, and he refers to his ancestral connections in India. Mr. Valand serves as a teacher at the Chinmaya Niketan Ashram – Atlanta Mission, in Norcross, Georgia. He also serves as a general chaplain to the Hindu community in Atlanta and instructor for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Emory University. He has been very well connected with the wider interfaith movement in Georgia.

It was absolutely a fresh experience for Global Ministries staff to hear from Mr. Valand and to gain some basic teachings of the Hindu faith and our Hindu neighbors. This visit also enhanced our cross-cultural intelligence as an agency that is located in a predominantly Methodist context.

Who Are Hindus?
During the forum, we discovered that the term 'Hindu' was derived from the river or river complex of northwest India, the Sindhu. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word used by the inhabitants of the region, the Aryans in the second millennium BCE. The 'ism' was added to 'Hindu' only in the 19th century in the context of British colonialism and missionary activity. In some ways, Hinduism is perhaps the oldest living religion in the world, or at least elements within it stretch back many thousands of years. Yet Hinduism resists easy definition partly because of the vast array of practices and beliefs found within it. It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

Most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Vedas. Maybe the most popular Vedic collection globally would be the Bhagavat Gita. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. Hindus believe that this supreme spirit is Brahman. Brahman has many forms, pervades the whole universe, and is symbolized by the sacred syllable Om (or Aum). Most Hindus believe that Brahman is present in every person as the eternal spirit or soul, called the atman. Brahman contains everything: creation and destruction, masculine and feminine, good and evil, movement and stillness. Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma.

Understanding the fundamentals
If you ask an average person what he/she knows of Hinduism, he/she would probably say, “Oh, I know about Yoga!” This is a very reductionist understanding of Hindu practices. Their fundamentals are much broader and lager than most think. Mr. Valand, our teacher of the day, synthesized them as follows.

The core concept in Hinduism is Sanatana dharma, and that is the term used to offer the meaning the “eternal teachings” or absolute set of duties or religiously ordained practices incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect. Dharma is the Sanskrit word for teaching, which is much closer to the Christian teaching on the Word of God – Dabar/Logos. This may be one of the reasons many Hindus find a very close mystical affiliation to John’s Gospel. In general, sanatana dharma consists of virtues such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, service and asceticism.

The most powerful Hindu teachings that have attracted Christians and people of other faiths are searching the divine through Bhakthi – the way of devotion to God/gods/goddesses – and Ahimsa – non-violent tradition and compassionate service to all beings.

Demographics
Religious demographics matters. Christianity in the western world is in a general decline but other faiths are not or at least not at a same scale of Christian decline. Hinduism is the religion of most people in India and Nepal. It also exists among significant populations outside of the Indian sub-continent. According to pew research Worldwide, the number of Hindus is projected to rise by 27%, from 1.1 billion to 1.4 billion.

Regarding the US context, there are estimated 1.2 million Hindus in the United States (http://religions.pewforum.org/affiliations). Wherever there are south Asian communities it is very likely that majority of them are Hindus or have some affiliation to any of the Hindu movements. We might encounter them in market places, businesses, work places and during our church-related activities too.

Hinduism in the US context
Hinduism was introduced to America through the nineteenth-century translations of religious texts, most notably the Bhagavad Gita, much admired by the Transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1893, the famous World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago, and the charismatic Hindu leader Swami Vivekananda was a leading personality of the World Parliament. Vivekananda would also be the catalyst for the founding of the first Hindu group in America—the Vedanta Societies, which early on developed centers in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Hinduism in the US has gone through various periods of up and downs. As the Hindu population in America has emerged, it has not been evenly distributed across the country. Clusters of Indian-Americans have formed in relative proximity to their entry points, America’s international airports in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Approximately a third of all Hindus in the United States are found in a mere three states, California, New York and New Jersey.

Mission together
Let me raise three questions for us to grapple with missiologically as Christians and Hindus journey together:
  • Can we develop the mission of ahimsa (non-violence) in the context of the global need for peace, reconciliation and justice? We all know that Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King Jr., in his vision of racial justice and non-violent action. This may be a greater missional point of renewed interest if we see this from the point of view of missional friendships.
  • Given the missional friendships, can we openly engage on the issues of caste and race, engage in soul searching within and share our honest appraisals as friends from Hindu and Christian faiths?
  • Can we share more openly and have mutual exposure and leaning by visiting and partaking in the prayers, mediations and spiritual practices of each other’s faith traditions? Would that generate renewed energy for global peace and global missions?

Om, Shanthi, Shalom!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Institutional rigidity and church denominations

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In previous posts, I have argued both that the choice between being a movement and being an institution is one in which both options have pros and cons and that institutions tend toward standardization, bureaucratization, and rigidity. Why, though, do institutions tend toward rigidity? Does that tendency mean rigidity is an inevitable con of being an institution? And what can the answers to these questions tell us about denominations in modern America?

First, a definition: Institutional rigidity is characterized by a well-elaborated set of formal structures, fairly tight centralized control, a commitment to existing ways of doing things, and a reluctance to change. Institutional rigidity is thus manifested in structure, practice, and attitude.

While those frustrated with rigid institutions often portray that rigidity as the result of uncaring or sinister leaders or a prevailing legalism, the roots of institutional rigidity stem much more from the incentives of institutional success and the values of modernity than they do from the personal failings of leaders (though those can also play a part).

Non-rigid institutions, by contrast, are characterized by a diversity of practices, policies, and attitudes. Decision making is not well-coordinated, and individual actors often have a large degree of leeway to make their own decisions (for good or ill). There are upsides of such a system: It encourages or at least allows for a lot of experimentation. Many of these experiments will fail, but frequent experimentation also ensures that there will be successes as well.

Rigidity originates when organizations try to capitalize on these successes. Generally speaking, once an organization has identified a pathway to success, it has an incentive to try to build on that model. Success attracts followers, funding, and other resources. Success allows an organization to continue and to grow. Therefore, there are natural incentives for organizations to focus on its successes.

Institutions generally try to build on their successes in a few ways: by implementing the model for those successes throughout the organization, by trying to produce those successes in an increasingly efficient manner, and therefore by trying to produce more of that success.

Note that the value of maximizing organizational success, especially through increased efficiency, reflects some of the values of modernity, which is focused on bureaucratic efficiency, and capitalism, which is focused on continual growth. While the attraction of success may be a universal human experience, modern institutions are conditioned by modernity to respond to that universal desire in particular ways.

Broad, efficient, and increasing implementation of a model for success has certain effects on organizations. In order to ensure broad implementation of the model, organizations centralize control and use that centralized control to standardize their policies and procedures. Such centralization and standardization keeps local units from doing their own thing, thus seeking to promote success and avoid failures (of whatever sort) by those local units.

Centralization and formal structures also result from a desire for efficiency. Formalized structures can facilitate communication and decision-making, thus increasing efficiency. Centralization allows for more streamlined decision-making as well.

In this way, standardization and centralization leads to well-evolved formal structures, but they also lead to marginalization of those who are not part of the newly created (or newly emphasized) center. Those who previously had latitude to make their own decisions (for good or ill) now have some of that decision-making power taken away from them.

Generally, this approach to organization does allow an institution significant power to do more of whatever it defines as success. This success allows the organization to thrive. In the process, the organization becomes dependent upon and committed to this particular model of success.

Yet what is successful for one time or in one place is never successful for all times and places. Eventually, the environment of an organization will change and its efficient, extensive focus on a particular pathway to success will no longer produce success in the way it once did.

When this happens, organizations then have a challenge: can they adapt and adopt a different path to success, or will they decline? Often the rigidity that an institution has developed to ensure its success prevents it from changing strategies once its initial strategy no longer leads to success.

An institution that has not committed itself to a single model of success can avoid the problem of fundamental change to its model necessitated by a changing environment, but the great majority of modern institutions are designed to focus on a single model of success.

How does this very abstract discussion of organizational dynamics apply to denominations? Denominations are, among other things, modern organizations. Therefore, most modern denominations have an operative model of success that was designed to produce organizational continuity and growth. Those models have increasingly been refined through a process of centralization, bureaucratization, and increased efficiency. These processes resulted in increased denominational power but also increased rigidity.

The problem most denominations are facing in contemporary America is that the models of success they adopted were developed for life in the first half of the twentieth century and then refined over the course of the second half of the twentieth century.

Yet American society has undergone tremendous change since the middle of the twentieth century in a variety of ways: dominant economic model (agrarian-industrial-postindustrial), a decline in intergenerational interactions, shifts from rural to urban to suburban, changes in cultural values (including those for sex and gender), an increased sense of individualism, the decline of the middle class, political polarization, etc. The list could go on.

These changes have put significant stresses on all institutions and organizations developed for a different world, from AT&T to religious colleges to the Post Office to Kiwanis clubs to the American auto industry.

Some organizations have been able to adapt and shift their core model of success. Some have not and have ceased to exist. The challenge is substantial, though, since it involves a willingness to let go of what has led to organizational health, which can feel like a dangerous proposition, even when there is some recognition that old strategies are no longer working.

In many ways, organized religion has been on the decline since the 1960s because of changes in its environment. Those analyzing such trends frequently point to theological and cultural reasons why. There may be some truth to such answers, but we cannot fully understand this trend unless we recognize the hazards that American Christians accepted when they decided to adopt a denominational approach to being church that was predicated on the assumptions of modern institutions. Denominations gained great power at the time they made the decision to embrace this model of being church, but they also set themselves up for long-term challenges when their models of success no longer fit the world in which they were living.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Recommended Readings: Norwegian and Swiss-French UMC Mission Documents

Most American United Methodists may be familiar with Global Ministries and United Methodist Women as mission agencies of the church. Yet the UMC also has mission agencies in Norway, Germany, and Switzerland-France. While their range may be smaller than Global Ministries, these European agencies work collaboratively with Methodist and non-Methodist partners around the world on evangelism, development, and poverty relief projects.

Due in part to the focused nature of its work and following broader Norwegian conversations about development work, The Norwegian Board of Global Ministry (Metodistkirkens Misjonselskap) in particular has made partnership an important focus of their work.

That focus on partnership is evident in two documents of that Board, both worth reading:

The Board's "Vision, value, and strategy document" (in Norwegian and English). The third page of this document lays out a clear philosophy of partnership.

An example "Reciprocal Friendship Agreement" between Oslo Central UMC and Garjay Memorial UMC in Sonniewen, Liberia (in English). The Reciprocal Friendship Agreement is a great example of the connection between friendship and mission and is also quite clear about the types of mutual exchange necessary to build such a friendship. It may be used as a model for other agreements, including those between American churches and their overseas partners.

Connexio, the "Network for Mission and Service" of the UMC in Switzerland and France has likewise made partnership and relationship a central feature of the mission work that it undertakes or facilitates for others.

That focus on partnership and relationship is evident in Connexio's "Objectives and Tasks" document (in English). The document also highlights awareness of the global connection of the UMC.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Recommended Readings: UMW Assembly

United Methodist Women (UMW), the women's mission organization for The United Methodist Church in the US, held their quadrennial Assembly meeting May 18-20 in Columbus, OH. The event highlighted the foci for UMW's current mission work and celebrated their 150th anniversary, coming up in March 2019. A rundown of various news stories and videos related to the event are below:

Both this UMNS story and this UMW story provide a recap of Assembly

Both this UMNS story and this UMW story reported on the pre-conference day of service and action

The first day's events are covered in response magazine daily edition #1

The second day's events are covered in response magazine daily edition #2

The third day's events are covered in response magazine daily edition #3

UMW shared a story of the deaconesses consecrated at Assembly

UMW shared a story of the involvement of women bishops at Assembly

Video interviews with speakers from Assembly are available on UMW's Facebook page

Images from Assembly are available on UMW's Flickr account

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Movement vs. Institution - Choices and Tradeoffs

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In previous posts, I have suggested that one means to greater financial self-sufficiency for the church in developing countries would be to reduce the required institutional framework and that calls for a return to the vitality of early Methodism are misguided if they do not take into consideration the differences in institutional complexity and financial model between present and early Methodisms.

Both posts could be read as critiques of modern, institutional understandings of the church, local and global. I am not, however, trying to paint church institutions in a universally negative light. I am trying to point out that, while modern organizations present themselves as self-evident and inevitable modes of collective life, they are not. They are options we choose. My intent through these posts has been to highlight the tradeoffs involved in adopting a more expensive, more organizationally complex model of the church.

Simpler and less expensive is easier to reproduce. It can spread more quickly because the start up and operation costs (in money and effort) are much lower. It is easier to sustain in a self-sufficient manner even among people with limited financial resources (or time resources, as many in the West experience). These are all advantages of a simple, less expensive approach to church, and these advantages should lead United Methodists to consider such approaches to an extent they usually don’t.

I am not, however, arguing in these posts that all churches everywhere should go back to a very simple, non-programmatic model with minimal buildings and minimal paid workers. I have suggested that such a move might be a good idea in some situations, but I do not mean to suggest that should be how the church should operate always in all situations.

There are some very good things that can come out of a more institutionally complex and more expensive model of church. Mission and education are high on that list. A house church with only a couple of lay leaders and a very occasionally present, minimally paid minister is unlikely to start a school or open a medical clinic. They might be able to send one of their members as a missionary elsewhere, but that missionary might face significant challenges without a support network.

In order to start colleges, operate hospitals, send missionaries, or coordinate disaster relief, one needs a certain level of organizational complexity and financial resources. Moreover, such activities are not bad or un-Christian activities. They connect to central features of Christianity. Education, literacy, and healing have been significant attractions to Christianity for centuries. UMCOR is one of the most universally popular parts of The United Methodist Church, and you can’t have UMCOR without some organizational structure for collecting, dispersing, and monitoring donations.

Hence, there are tradeoffs between simplicity and scope of ministry. Calling these tradeoffs implies that there are benefits and disadvantages to each choice. Neither is clearly better in all situations.

Yet if we recognize that church need not involve an expensive, organizationally complex system and that there are tradeoffs between simplicity and scope, then we can be more mindful about navigating those tradeoffs.

To begin with, we can determine to what extent the organizational and financial model of our church is something that should be standard everywhere and to what extent it is something that should be open to contextualization and adaption. While contextualization is a contentious word in The United Methodist Church currently because of its role in the debate over sexuality, as a general practice not tied to this one issue, contextualization is a natural and healthy part of how Christianity is practiced around the world and across denominations.

Beyond the issue of contextuality, if we recognize the choices and tradeoffs involved in financial and structural models of the church, we can then have honest conversations about how God is calling us to be in ministry. Is God calling us to be a lightweight and easily spread movement, or is God calling us to undertake significant and complex missional tasks? Where do our gifts and graces fall in this spectrum? What do such choices mean about our future? If we recognize these questions as questions, then we can do the difficult work of sorting through them in a way that will hopefully make us clearer about how we intend to serve God faithfully.

Whatever choices we make about finances and structure, recognizing these choices as involving tradeoffs can also help us appreciate that faithful people may have differing answers. The Bible is silent on the issue of finance secretaries, staff-parish relations committees, denominational agencies, and universities. Their existence is not biblically endorsed or prohibited.

Of course, it is possible to present answers about structure and finance that stem from bad motives – fear of the other, fear of change, desire for control, etc. Yet the answer one arrives at is not itself an indicator of faithfulness or faithlessness.

Instead, we must seek to understand each other’s motives, aspirations, and senses of calling that inform our views on structure. To do this, we must get to know each other’s hearts and the heart of God, which is a very Wesleyan undertaking. Indeed, any conversation, even difficult conversations about money and structure, that brings us closer to each other’s hearts and the heart of God is a good one.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Hendrik Pieterse: My Hope for Methodism

Today's post is part of a series that features United Methodist scholars and leaders from around the world reflecting on their hope for the future of The United Methodist Church as a global movement within the larger context of worldwide Methodism as a whole. Today's post is written by Dr. Hendrik R. Pieterse, Associate Professor of Global Christianity and World Religions at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

When United Methodists seek to cast a vision of our “nature” as a church, we routinely employ the terms global and worldwide. Paragraph 123 of the Book of Discipline reminds us of the “global nature of our mission” as a denomination, while ¶125 speaks eloquently of our “connectional covenant” as a set of “interdependent worldwide partnerships in prayer, mission, and worship.”

This is a powerful vision, and I affirm it. In fact, it expresses my hope for United Methodism. It is a genuine hope, but a chastened one, for these claims we make about ourselves remain largely unaddressed and unfulfilled.

And so I think it is more truthful to say we stand at the threshold of becoming a “worldwide connectional covenant.” Our vision describes a United Methodist Church we can become but are not yet. The fact is crossing that threshold requires that we become a worldwide connection in conviction and practice and not just in sentiment and name. Paragraph 125 puts the point provocatively: Our “worldwide nature,” it says, must become a “living practice” in our congregations, woven deeply into their daily being and doing. In other words, our worldwide covenant must take on concrete life in our churches, shaping congregational mission, discipleship, and witness.

This is an audacious suggestion, but difficult to visualize. What would such a living practice look like in our congregations, our conferences, our general church? What needs to happen for it to take form? What values and habits need correcting or abandoning? Which need adopting, retrieving, or renewing? And perhaps most important: Is such an idea even worth considering right now? After all, we find ourselves in a worldwide United Methodist connection fractured by factional standoffs, distrust, divisions, and brinkmanship. For many of us, the idea of a connectional covenant-as-living-practice feels like a pipe dream at best and cynical propaganda at worst. I too share these misgivings, more or less intensely, depending on the day.

So yes, the idea is counterintuitive, to put it mildly. And yet, I believe the vision of a worldwide connectional covenant as living practice might just provide us with a pathway through our current brokenness toward the church we can become but are not yet.

Unlike the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward, I have no plans to recommend for traversing this pathway. But then, I don’t think plans are where we need to start. Better to start at the level of presupposition, value, habit, and practice. After all, more often than not, fueling our intractable conflicts are unexamined presuppositions, unquestioned beliefs, default habits, and taken-for-granted practices. Let me suggest a couple such habits and practices we would do we to examine as we consider this pathway.

In reflecting on our “worldwide connectional covenant,” let’s focus on “covenant” more than “worldwide.” We seem enamored with geography: where we are located around the globe, where we are growing and declining, which areas need additional or fewer bishops, and the like. These are important concerns. However, in the process we can easily neglect the theological center of the phrase, namely, “covenant.”

As I understand this rich biblical concept, covenantal relationships exist in two modes: Some are symmetrical (the human partnerships) and some are asymmetrical (the divine-human partnership). Paragraph 125 uses phrases like “web of interactive relationships,” “interdependent worldwide partnerships in prayer, mission, and worship,” and “a covenant of mutual commitment based on shared mission, equity, and hospitality” to describe the symmetrical dimension.

What is virtually missing in the paragraph (and in our churchly discourse) is the asymmetrical dimension: We are equal partners with one another, but not with God. The covenant exists because of God’s initiative. Without it, there is no covenant, no “connection.” And that divine initiative—that divine mission—forever transcends our plans and our prognostications, as a grace that always “goes before.” This lends the covenant an eschatological character—open, pliable, expectant. If we believe that God’s mission grounds our “connectional covenant,” too, should we not then be a bit less ready right now to design our own undoing? Shall we not at least hold open the possibility that there is a connection we can become but are not yet?

Let’s resist the temptation to substitute affinity for unity. Against our better instincts, United Methodists tend to think of unity as conformity and compliance and diversity as autonomy and freedom. Paragraph 125 encourages this view by juxtaposing “connectional unity” with “local freedom.” On this view, the freedom to be different must be wrested from the sameness of unity. (Even a cursory reading of the Commission’s deliberations reveals the same understanding at work.)

The very real danger is that such a view of unity can easily justify a move to unity as affinity, as conformity by self-selection. This is particularly tempting when an issue—at the moment, sexuality—becomes the criterion for how, why, and with whom we belong. Such a moribund understanding of unity and diversity puts paid to the possibility of a worldwide connectional covenant. Perhaps it is time to ponder the idea of “connectional freedom”—a freedom found and lived precisely as a connection. Perhaps we discover our unity in and not despite our diversity.

Let’s not use “contextualization” as a strategy for resolving conflict. “Contextualization” and “contextual freedom” have become popular terms in our current discourse, notably in the Commission’s deliberations. The problem is that contextualization is employed as a tool for ameliorating discord, negotiating compromises, and forestalling division.

In fact, contextualization is not a tool or a strategy. It is the church’s obedience to a profound theological truth, namely, that God has chosen to dwell with us as one of us, in the cultural particularity of our cultural forms, our language, our context. That is, contextualization is the church’s acknowledgment of the Incarnation. Unless United Methodists see this truth, we will remain stuck at the threshold of the worldwide connection we can become—or abandon it altogether.

My chastened (at times, anguished) hope is that we will choose to surrender to a connectional covenant yet to be—in which “worldwide” and “global” depict a living practice, a form of discipleship, a spirituality, more than a location on a map.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Structure, Financing, and Early Methodism

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Many are the voices who call for United Methodists to return to the ways of the early Methodism movement, either in England and/or in the United States.

These voices usually present some theological conviction or devotional practice associated with Methodism’s first several decades, when it was a rapidly growing movement. These arguments assert that if only we modern United Methodists could again believe as the early Methodists believed or practice our devotional lives as they practiced theirs, then we, too, could see the same some dramatic membership growth and spiritual revival that the early Methodists experienced.

While such arguments are not necessarily wrong, they often tend to be overly simplistic and ignore important differences in culture and worldview between people living in the eighteenth century and people living in the twenty first. Devotional practices, therefore, are perhaps easier to reclaim than theological systems, tied as those are to views of the self and society which have shifted dramatically, especially under the impact of modernity.

Yet there is another set of potential problems with such calls to return to the salad days of early Methodism. While a focus on theology and devotion are important and should be central to any truly faithful approach to Christianity, we cannot ignore issues of organizational structure or financing as an important scaffolding for theology and devotion. Yet calls to return to early Methodism routinely do so.

Early Methodism had intense and emotional religious convictions. It had a well-developed system of devotion built around small groups. It was also amazingly unstructured by the standards of the twenty-first century, owned few buildings, and relied on ministers who were paid largely in kind.

Scholars often talk about Wesley’s organizational genius as one of the aspects that made Methodism work. That is true; Wesley’s approach to classes, bands, and itinerant preachers was the stroke of genius that ensured Methodism’s growth. Yet, while early Methodism may have been well-organized relative to other evangelical movements of the eighteenth century, that does not mean it had anywhere near the level of organizational complexity that local congregations or the denomination as a whole had developed by the mid-twentieth century.

Early Methodism had class leaders, who functioned perhaps like lay leaders, but it also lacked finance committees, Sunday School Superintendents, children’s coordinators, office assistants, SPRCs, church archivists, VBS coordinators, choir directors, someone to handle church mailings, nursery staff, outreach coordinators, mission committees, administrative councils, sound board operators, finance secretaries, and in many cases, trustees.

And that’s just at the local congregation level. We could make similar lists for annual conferences and the general church.

Many Methodists would be willing to jettison several of the above-mentioned groups and positions, but I know of no one who would like to do away with the entire lot. It would be impossible to carry on all of the programming or functions that we’ve come to expect of our churches without them. In some cases (trustees and treasurer), it might not even be legal to do without them.

Then there’s the issue of buildings. Many, even most, early Methodist groups either met in people’s homes or in other public venues like courthouses and the forest. While there were some early Methodist chapels, these were the exception rather than the rule, and the buildings were pretty crude in many cases – just large halls. No kitchen, no Sunday School wing, no office space. This made them cheaper, but again they provided no where near the level of amenities that we think of as basic to a church building in modern America.

Finally, there’s the issue of pastoral salaries. While Methodist ministers, most of them itinerant, were always theoretically paid some level of salary, practically they were often unable to collect it from their congregations. They were frequently paid in kind, through food, a place to stay, and perhaps some clothes. They could supplement their incomes through selling books to their parishioners. They had no health insurance and no pension.

While many would like United Methodists to regain their bygone theological fervor and reimplement our disused devotional systems, few if any want us to scrap all of our committees and leadership positions, sell most of our buildings, and be served by itinerant pastors we see once a month whom we are then responsible for feeding, housing, and clothing while they are in town. Few pastors want to give up their health insurance, pension, and paycheck to oversee such a system.

Yet it is at least possible that the theology and devotional system won’t work in the same way without the structural and financial strategies that went along with them. If we want Methodism to grow exponentially, but then we require that growth to include all the expenses and volunteer time associated with 21st century approaches to doing churches, then we may have set for ourselves an impossible task.

I am not saying that organizational complexity, pension systems, or buildings with electricity, plumbing, and air conditioning are always bad things. I am, however, saying that they come at a price and we do ourselves and others a disservice by pretending they don’t.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Recommended Readings on Staunen! European Methodist Festival

European Methodists assemble every three years for a festival titled "Staunen!" ("Amazement"). As the event's website states, "It's not a training course, not a church retreat and also not a group holiday: it's a bit of everything and yet something completely different."

Staunen! 2018 ran May 9-13 in Cuxhaven, Germany. The UMC/EmK in Germany carried several stories reporting on the festival. Reading through the stories gives a sense of the flavor of European Methodism across many countries.

The stories (all in German) are as follows (with English translations of their titles and description):

Traumhafter Auftakt - Dreamlike Start: Pure sunshine and a great festival area frame the beginning of the "Staunen!" Festival.Bishop Rückert invites attendees to "dream."

Schlaglichter der Vielfalt - Highlights of Diversity: The diversity of life is reflected in the program of the European Methodist Festival in Cuxhaven

Eine große Familie - A Big Family: An international festival thrives on encounters and a special flair. Visitors to the "Staunen!" Festival talk about their experiences.

Schritte Wagen - Dare to Step Out: The penultimate day of the European Methodist Festival had two highlights: the open-air worship service and the music evening.

Runter vom Berg! - Down from the Mountain!:The "Staunen!" festival in Cuxhaven ended with a sending church service. The accent on this Sunday was the return to everyday life.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Journeying Compassionately with Our Buddhist Neighbor

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

On March 21st, 2018, Global Ministries’ Mission Dialogue Forum invited Ven. Panamwela Wajirabuddhi Thero, the Abbot of Georgia Buddhist Vihara in Lithonia, to offer an educational session for our staff on the basic teachings and expansion of Buddhism.

He was born in Sri Lanka and wanted to engage in mission work in the US. After completing his education in Sri Lanka and Thailand, Wajirabudhhi Thero came to the United States of America in 1994 and stayed with the Cambodian community in Los Angeles for a few years. He learned Cambodian culture and language.

In 1999 Ven. P. Wajirabuddhi moved to Atlanta, Georgia and in June 2000 established the Georgia Buddhist Vihara. He is currently a regular visiting instructor to the Emory Buddhist Club, Emory University. He impressed Global Ministries as a well-read teacher in global issues and as a promoter of the teachings of the Buddha for world peace, global compassion and community harmony. He has engaged in this work while also taking care of his Sri Lankan Buddhist community in metro Atlanta, which is primarily of the Theravada tradition. The monk said all religions should engage in dialogue with the other religious traditions for peace and common good.

There are about 500 million Buddhists in the world today belonging to the three major branches of contemporary Buddhism. These branches are Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism. Some consider Vajrayana part of Mahayana.

Unlike in Christianity there are no baptismal membership rolls maintained in Buddhism, though it is estimated that the Buddhist population in the America reaches as high as 3.5 to 4 million. ("Reflections on Buddhist Demographics in America: An Initial Report on the First American Buddhist Census," by J. Gordon Melton and Constance Jones. A paper presented at the conference of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture meeting in Washington, DC, April 2-4, 2009). California stands out as a state that has the most Buddhist centers, with approximately 650.

Compassion – The Heart of Buddhism
Ven. Wajirabuddhi Thero highlighted the core aspects in the Buddha’s teachings: Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Upekkha (in Pali language). Metta is understood as “Loving Kindness”, Karuna is “Compassion”, Mudita is “Sympathetic Joy” (or vicarious joy, the opposite of jealousy), and Upekkha is “Equanimity”. Together, these are called the “Brahma vihara bhavana” which occupy a central position in the field of personal heart-mind formation in Buddhism.

Karuna (Compassion) is characterized as promoting the removal of others' suffering. Its function is manifested as kindness. Its proximate cause is seeing helplessness in those overwhelmed by suffering. It succeeds when it makes cruelty subside, and it fails when it gives rise to sorrow.

We could engage in a comparative exploration of ‘compassion’ (Metta and Karuna) in Buddhism with Christian teaching of ‘love’ (Agape). This learning is of critical contemporary importance and might help us engage in a common struggle for Peace in the world today. Christians can most certainly work with Buddhists in developing interfaith friendships for a more compassionate world.

Four Noble Truths
Ven. Wajirabuddhi Thero also summarized The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism in the simplest terms as:
1. The truth of the existence of suffering/dissatisfaction in life (Dukkha Sathya)
2. The truth of the origin for suffering/dissatisfaction in life (Dukka Samudaya Sathya)
3. The truth of the cessation of suffering/dissatisfaction in life (Dukka Nirodha Sathya)
4. The truth of the path to cessation of the origin to suffering/dissatisfaction in life (Dukka nirodha gamini patipada Magga Sathya)

Given that suffering is a core concern in Christian mission, there is a fine opportunity for Christians to engage in comparative reflection here. Christians often reflect on two basic issues related to suffering: why do righteous people suffer, and how are we to reduce suffering in the world (including things like hunger, poverty, victims of violence and injustice, refugees etc.). Buddhist concern for extending loving kindness to all living beings posts a real and relevant challenge to Christians in the missional context of today’s environmental crisis.

My Buddhist Pilgrimage
As a Methodist, my journey of learning about Buddhism started with having a wonderful relationship with my Buddhist friends in my childhood school. It was a dialogue of life - meeting people from sister faiths in the market place, on the playground, on train and bus, and in the city. But my real educational encounter as an adult started through my ministerial formation at the Theological College of Lanka, Sri Lanka, where a Buddhist monk from a nearby temple served as a visiting faculty member.

It was in 1990 that I first met Ven. Bullumulle Sumanarathana Thero as my guru in Buddhist philosophy at the Theological College of Lanka. He had a very broad understanding of Christianity and the Bible and so was able to communicate with the young seminarians who were preparing for the ministry and mission in Sri Lanka and beyond. Ven. Sumanarathana Thero was honored for his long-standing service to the ecumenical Theological College of Lanka for fulfilling 30 years of ministry in 2014. At that time, I was blessed to be the Principal of the college.

Students who studied Buddhism in the seminary also had the opportunity to visit the temple very often, and to build long lasting missional friendships not only with the monks but also with the Buddhists who live in villages around the college.

As a Methodist who grew up in a primarily Buddhist cultural context, I have experienced growth in my own faith through these encounters, which have helped in my missional praxis and witness in an increasingly pluralistic world. My relations with Buddhism and other sister faiths has been a journey that has strengthened my own faith and my commitment. So many of my friends join me to testify that these relationships have resulted in producing both interfaith friendships for a better world and spiritual growth within ourselves.

Towards New Missiological Insights
Modern Christians should encounter people of sister faiths with the attitude of developing a greater understanding, harmony, and building peace in the society where God’s mission takes place, the world where God has called the Church to serve. Catholic Theologian Hans Küng wrote:

“No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions” Hans Küng, Islam, Past Present & Future (Oxford: One-world Publications, 2007), p. xxiii.

In the traditional missiology, Christians tell Buddhists “who Christ is.” But in new the missiology framework, my Buddhist neighbor tells me who Christ is for them. Thereby the uniqueness of Christ is understood in a fresh way by encountering the Buddhist other.

Global mission is not exclusive to Christianity. Historically, Buddhists have many more years (nearly 2500 years) of experience in world mission than Christians, so it is humbling to learn from our Buddhist friends about their missional experiences of Buddhism’s contextualization and how it resiliently stood up to challenges over time.

The other challenge would be for Christians and Buddhists to compassionately journey together and work for peace, justice, and the integrity of creation.

“A person is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving, and fearless, then he is in truth called wise.”
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
― Gautama Buddha, The Dhammapada

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Filipina Theologians on UMC Gender Amendments

There have been many responses thus far to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice.

I am honored to share four more responses, reflections from Filipina theologians. The Philippines was one of the areas of the UMC with the strongest support for the amendments.

The four theologians are as follows:

JENNIFER FERARIZA-MENESES, Executive Secretary, Board of Women's Work, Philippines Central Conference, "In the Imago Dei, We Shall Rise!: A Mother’s Day Reflection for May 13, 2018"

LIZETTE TAPIA-RAQUEL, Assistant Professor, Union Theological Seminary, Philippines, "An Open Letter to The United Methodist Church: On the Rejection of Amendments on Gender Equality and Inclusion to the Book of Discipline"

DARLENE MARQUEZ-CARAMANZANA, Program Secretary, Program Unit on Ecumenical Education and Nurture, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), "An Unwelcome Gift"

NORMA DOLLAGA, Kapatirang Simbahan Para a Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) / Ecumenical Center for Development, "On the Rejection of an Amendment for Women's Equality: The Never, Never Sweet Sound of Rejection: Now a Parable"

Each piece is published separately on this website and accessible through the title links above. This post serves as a central linking spot for all four posts.

Lizette Tapia-Raquel: An Open Letter to The United Methodist Church: On the Rejection of Amendments on Gender Equality and Inclusion to the Book of Discipline

This post is by Lizette Tapia-Raquel, Assistant Professor, Union Theological Seminary, Philippines. The post is written as a response to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice.

On April 18, 1968, my mother and father, Lydia Galima and Jose Tapia, along with an entire community of family and friends, mostly from the United Methodist Church, celebrated my birth as the first child of the union. On 23 April, 1968, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church likewise celebrated their union to become the United Methodist Church. Thus, our Church and I are both celebrating fifty years this year.

The United Methodist Church has a long tradition of conferencing, ‘holy conferencing.’ We value our connectionalism and our global character despite our diversity as a people of faith. Thus, we gather, time and again, to be in conversation, to intentionally understand and deliberate on issues affecting the Church and our society, to define who we are as a community of faith and to raise our prophetic voice to transform our broken world. This we do because we believe “there is no holiness other than social holiness,” in the words of John Wesley.

The recent rejection of two amendments to the Book Discipline pertaining to gender equality and inclusion exhibits a crisis of faith for many of us called United Methodists, as well as our sisters and brothers in other denominations and faiths. Thus, I feel a need to ask these questions:

How do we understand our Christian identity? Who is this God we believe in and the Jesus we follow? How does it define us as communities of faith and as a Church?

What are we communicating to the women, our daughters and granddaughters, wives and sisters, our women bishops, pastors and deaconesses of our church? What are we teaching the men, our sons and grandsons, our husbands and brothers, our male bishops, pastors and lay? When we refuse equality between women and men, can we honor the women and girls in our churches and value their contributions and participation in our corporate lives?

How will our rejection of equality affect relationships between male and female clergy and bishops, female deaconesses and male pastors, between husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, male and female youth leaders in our churches and societies? How can we give testimony to a just and loving God when we cannot be just and love equally ourselves?

Who is truly welcome in our churches when we vote against inclusion? Can we truly live out our message, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors?” How do we authentically advocate for the migrant, the refugee, the suffering and oppressed when we exclude those we have nurtured in and belonged to our own churches because of tradition and rules? By whose standards do we deny others inclusion into our faith community, God’s?

Are we saying that women are not equal to men? Are we saying that not everyone is welcome in our churches? Are we saying that we do not believe that we are all created in the image of God? Are we saying that we cannot live out Jesus’ greatest commandment of loving our neighbors?

I have been raised in a family of United Methodists and have always been affirmed as a female. I grew up with the Church as my second home and learned of love, equality, inclusivity and justice in its Sunday School rooms and big sanctuary. Now, I am fifty years old and on Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day in churches in different parts of the world. But can we truly celebrate as women and as mothers in our churches?

If we cannot affirm the equality of women and men, and cannot commit to the inclusion of all into the United Methodist Church on its 50th year, what is there to celebrate?

Norma Dollaga: On the Rejection of an Amendment for Women's Equality: The Never, Never Sweet Sound of Rejection: Now a Parable

This piece is by Norma Dollaga, Kapatirang Simbahan Para a Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) / Ecumenical Center for Development. Ms. Dollaga is a deaconess in the Philippines Central Conference. This piece is written in response to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice. It originally appear on Ms. Dollaga's personal blog, patentero, and is republished with the permission of the author.

“If voted and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 4 would read:

"The United Methodist Church is part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ.

"The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist church, no conference or another organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability, or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”

Unfortunately, the amendment on women’s equality did not get enough vote to legislate that very important provision. However, the failure of the church to consider the said amendment does not define the totality of the church. It becomes a parable of the Church’s failure to celebrate grace, inclusive community and a welcoming church for everyone.

The parable goes like this:

“There was once a church who longs to fulfil and live out the message of Jesus Christ. It kept on proclaiming about how Jesus welcomed everyone in the table of communion, including the outcasts and the despicable ones. That Jesus welcomes those who, according to the standard of the empire, are deemed as problems of society. He welcomes even the sinners who discriminated and exploited the people, as long as they are willing to repent and join him in his cause. Jesus loves the children. He welcomed the women as his disciples and entrusted to Mary of Magdala, the most important news of resurrection becomes the theological basis of being church today. Jesus commissioned and sent her out: GO AND TELL. She was an apostle par excellence.

"Yet, as the church lives and ages, it looks like it has forgotten by heart the gift of humanity in female and male persons, in women and men. It has failed remember that our faith impels us to protect each one’s dignity, and nourish the gift of equality given us by God. The church becomes comfortable in accepting the poisonous normalcy of patriarchy that breeds inequality and discrimination.

"But there is a spirit ponders upon the gifts and this spirit that cannot be silenced within the church. This spirit cries out against the church system when the church becomes accustomed to the practice of patriarchy that marginalizes, discriminates, and promotes inequality. Thus, in a practical and humble action, this restless spirit tries to call the attention of the church and offered a proposed amendment. It takes only a practical and logical sense, and deep spiritual eyes to discern the value of the amendment. But lo and behold, this envisioned bequest did not translate into a vote that would make it truly a gift to the next generation!

"Today’s generation could have taken this historic moment to make a decision to truly affirm women’s place in the United Methodist Church’s constitution. Sadly, today’s generation made instead an oversight in perpetuating inequality within the church."

It continues the parable of ingratitude and the inability to celebrate to the gift of community, humanity, and solidarity. The church has become complacent and has let go not only of its priestly role, but also its crucial prophetic task.

The dignity, beauty, grace of LIFE and humanity is God’s gift to us. The protection, nourishment, and solidarity are our ways to honour these gifts. Today, it is not included in the church law, and so we wonder if the church could even speak of it within the ambit of love.

Those who voted for the amendment, and all who voted against it are part of the body of Christ. There are internal contradictions within and amongst us. Paul reminds us that we have to strive to make the greatest gift of love in concrete terms.

One thing is sure: the daughters of Zelophehad of modern times will continue and keep on knocking at the doors of justice and equality. They will not stop until strands of I justice and discrimination in church whether implicit or explicit will be dismantled. This we will do in memory of our foremothers who did trailblazing in eradicating discrimination and exclusion of women from the church and society. There is no other option but to pursue the dream of justice and equality.

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana: An Unwelcome Gift

This post is by Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, Program Secretary, Program Unit on Ecumenical Education and Nurture, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). Ms. Marquez-Caramanzana is a deaconess in the Philippines Central Conference. The piece is written in response to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice.

On Sunday, United Methodist churches paid tribute to mothers for the observance of Mother’s Day. Once again, the church proclaimed its praise to women (be it that some are just expressions of tokenism) – for their love, for their nurturing, for their care, for their strength amidst suffering, their resiliency and many more adjectives that one may think of.

On May 18-20, United Methodist Women throughout the whole connection will gather and celebrate women’s historic role in the church in Columbus, Ohio. While the assembly aims to foster fellowship among women, it is also meant to equip women for service and collectively experience God’s call to mission. Women of the United Methodist Church are faithful in service, diligent in study and compassionate in doing mission.

These two historic events are about to take place in the context of the church failing to ratify two constitutional amendments: One was on gender equality which declares, “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” The other was pertaining to inclusion which declares that no member will be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status or economic condition.

We failed to be the church.

We failed to remember that as a church, we stood up against slavery, against forced and child labor, against Apartheid.
We failed to remember our foremothers in the faith who trail-blazed new paths of mission and service.

We failed to be the church.

We failed to honor the dignity of women, the image of the Divine in each and every woman and girl.
We failed to honor the sacredness inherent in each of women’s lives.

We failed to be the church.

We failed to recognize women’s painstaking labor of love for the church and its mission; of their generous giving and sharing of resources till it hurts; of their kind deeds and acts of mercy.
We failed to recognize women’s contribution in their efforts to live out the pastoral and prophetic work of the church.

We failed to be the church.

We failed to affirm the diversity of women’s ministries, of their varied expressions of faith and service, of their deep love for humanity and for the church.
We failed to affirm women’s significant place in the church.

We failed to be the church. We failed before God. We failed the generations that are yet to come. We failed in our mission to be in solidarity. We failed God’s will for the church to have its doors, hearts and minds open.

No thanks for the gift. It certainly is not a gift but a failed mission.

And we, women shall rise. We will not be discouraged nor defeated.

We will persist until discrimination is but a thing of the past.

We will persist until inclusion is a reality.

The non-ratification of the two amendments is an act of injustice to women and the most vulnerable. It is an act of injustice done against the dignity and honor of women. We will be held accountable by the generations that will come.

In the ultimate, the Divine, the giver of life, the author and finisher of our faith, will hold the church accountable.

Jennifer Ferariza-Meneses: In the Imago Dei, We Shall Rise!: A Mother’s Day Reflection for May 13, 2018

This post is by Jennifer Ferariza-Meneses, Executive Secretary, Board of Women's Work, Philippines Central Conference. It is written in response to the recently announced non-ratification of two amendments to the United Methodist Church's constitution regarding gender justice.

As the world celebrates Mother’s Day today (even earlier this week), a big portion of my being a woman, a mother, a lay member of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines, is lamenting over the recent news about the failure (by required 2/3 votes) of my Church to affirm gender justice, women’s equality and all persons' full inclusion in the total life of The United Methodist Church. It is distressful to see the results of votes casted upon by several annual conferences, particularly in the Philippines Central Conference where I belong, of which women’s leadership, women's active participation and women's full engagement in almost all aspects and levels of our mission and ministries, are distinctly visible, but fail to be deliberately and justly recognized by the whole Church. The struggle is real, absolutely frustrating, but with the challenging words from our United Methodist women bishops' pastoral letter,

“We weep for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harm that is inflicted upon women and girls because of this action. We weep for those who are denied the ability to use their gifts to make a difference in the world. We also weep for those who are not protected from exclusion in the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition. We see you. We weep with you. We seek your healing. We work for the healing of our church. We strive for a church and world that honors every person as a beloved child of God, made in the image of our Creator.”

Women know and feel… from the core of their heart, mind, soul… that we never lose hope and we dare to fight.

I can say that working and journeying with our women over a decade through the organizations of UMWSCS, deaconesses, clergywomen, clergy female spouses, youth and young adult fellowships in the Philippines Central Conference ensure a possibility, though it seems like impossible in some occasions, that we can create a world of harmony, unity and equality. Our commitment and ministries for women’s empowerment go with our advocacy work for gender partnership – women and men working together and promotion of equal spaces and opportunities for both women and men. Our women have been learning the value and importance of collective action and shared leadership and service. They have been unlearning hierarchical and bureaucratic approaches, behaviors and styles and seeking ways of being inclusive, compassionate, welcoming and nurturing community of God’s people.

While we are forever grateful to our women (and some men) who made a significant impact with all their personal and institutional efforts in the past to advance women’s equality and gender justice within our Church, our present realities send us a clear message - that we must carry on, that we continue to struggle, to resist and that we cannot rest until we “reach a place where we fully embody the gospel promise that, ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’-Galatians 3:28” (From the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church Statement in Support of Women’s Equality and Full Inclusion, May 7, 2018).

As the world celebrates Mother’s Day today, I pause for a moment with my Mother God… to pray… and sing...

“Our souls magnify the Lord,
And our spirits rejoice in God our Savior,
For God has looked on the humble state of God’s servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call us blessed.”
(Paraphrase from The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-48)

“Our hearts exult in the Lord;
Our strength is exalted in our God.
Our mouth derides our enemies,
Because we rejoice in our victory”
(Paraphrase from Song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:1)

We celebrate our being women, created in the image and likeness of God, who are bound to protect and care for the sanctity of life;
Like Mary and Hannah, we speak words of denunciation to powers that be creating unjust systems and oppressive structures that destroy life and human dignity;
Like Mary and Hannah, we desire to take an active part in liberating our people from all forms of violence, injustices, discrimination and oppression;
Like Mary and Hannah, we pray for lasting peace, justice and equality to triumph and flourish;
Like Mary and Hannah, we sing songs of hope, freedom and liberation for our people, for our Church, for our land.
And our prayers and singing will never end… until fullness of life as God has promised, is fulfilled and shared with all.

References:
1. http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/bishops-announce-results-of-five-constitutional-amendments-two-fail-to-get
2. http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/documents/Detailed_results_of_Annual_Conference_Votes_on_Constitutional_Amendments.pdf
3. http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/documents/COB_statement_on_women_equality_and_inclusion_May_7.pdf
4. http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/documents/Pastoral_Letter_from_Female_Bishops_May_7.pdf

Monday, May 14, 2018

Recommended Readings: United Methodist Professors of Mission recent publications

Several United Methodist Professors of Mission and other UM & Global contributors have had recent articles published on topics related to mission and the global nature of the church.

Philip D. Wingeier-Rayo published an article entitled "A Wesleyan Theology of Religions: A Re-Reading of John Wesley Through His Encounters with Peoples of Non-Christian Faiths" in Methodist Review. The article is accessible freely online. The abstract reads as follows:

"This article argues that John Wesley’s contact with and understanding of native peoples and non-Christians can be a helpful model for a Wesleyan theology of religions today, when Christians have greater encounters with adherents of Islam and people of other faith traditions. Over the course of his lifetime Wesley grew in his appreciation of indigenous people and members of other religions from an original innocence to natural depraved man to a universal grace of hopeful eschatology for humanity. The early Wesley can be described as naïve and believing in native peoples as “noble savages.” The second stage, or middle Wesley, believed that native peoples and people of other faith traditions fall into the category of “natural man.” Finally, the mature Wesley believed in an eschatological hope for humanity. One can credit Wesley’s maturation process to at least two important factors. One important factor in his growth was the personal experiences with people of a different life experience that created cognitive dissonance for his previous worldview. The other contributing factor to his growth was Wesley’s reading of travel logs, missionary letters and other accounts of the expanding global awareness in 18th century England. Wesley’s sermon “The General Spread of the Gospel” calls for the Holy Spirit to empower Christians to cease to be stumbling blocks and to witness to Muslims and people of other faiths. This requires personal encounters, similar to those that Wesley had with his Jewish parishioners in Savannah. The article closes with an exhortation to those in the Wesleyan tradition to embrace this practice of personal encounters and continual learning, while at the same time maintaining an expectant eschatology of God’s salvific work through the Holy Spirit."

David W. Scott published an article entitled "The Value of Money: Funding Sources and Philanthropic Priorities in Twentieth-Century American Mission" in Religions. The article is accessible freely online. The abstract reads as follows:

"At the turn of the twentieth century, Western missionaries and mission organizations sought to develop financial strategies that would facilitate the further expansion of the Western mission enterprise. Three such strategies emerged: an increasingly sophisticated, corporatized approach to fundraising by mission boards; faith missions that shifted the economic risks associated with fundraising from mission agencies to missionaries; and self-supporting missions that cultivated economic funding available in the mission field. Each of these strategies had different implications for power configurations in the mission enterprise and allowed the values and views of different groups to prevail. The board approach empowered mission executives and large donors. The faith mission approach empowered missionaries and supporters with a conservative theology. The self-supporting mission approach made missionaries arbiters among a variety of competing interests. This economic approach to the study of mission provides new insights into the complex and contested power arrangements involved in Western foreign mission that extend beyond those gained from traditional political and cultural analyses."

David N. Field has published a book entitled Our Purpose Is Love: The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church. While one must buy the book, an excerpt is available through Ministry Matters. The book description reads as follows:

"We live in a time of great division in the world, and too often we find this polarization mirrored in the church. People sitting in the same pew, working in the same office, and living on the same street find themselves at odds with one another politically and theologically on a variety of issues. Conflict seems to reign supreme. As Christians, we know we are supposed to love one another, but even that mandate has come to mean different things to different people. What does it mean to love God and neighbor today—in both the world and the church—and can this be the answer to the conflict that divides and polarizes us?

"In Our Purpose Is Love, author David Field answers this question with a compelling “Yes!” as he challenges us to recognize and reclaim love as the center of our identity and purpose as the church. Field presents a Wesleyan vision of the church as the embodiment of God’s love in the world and explores the implications of this vision for our life together. In this vision, the church is where we become creatures of love, learning to love God and neighbor ever more completely and authentically through the means of God’s grace. As a result, we bear witness to the world by reflecting God’s love more and more perfectly in the way we treat others and order our common life. With a special focus on the importance of unity for the church’s witness, Field invites us to consider the ways in which embodying God’s love can and should influence how we live as individuals and as communities of faith, calling us to reclaim and recommit to love as the center of who we are."

Know of other books or articles by UM & Global contributors that our readers should know about? Send your suggestions to blogmaster David Scott.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What I've learned from 500 posts (and 11K tweets)

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

This is the 500th post on UM & Global since its start in March of 2013. A lot has happened in the last five years, in global Methodism and on this blog. This milestone has led me to reflect back on what I have learned in the process of writing and editing this blog and running its associated Twitter, Facebook, and Paper.li accounts. Here's five takeaways, one for every hundred posts:

1. It's hard to predict what will resonate.
I'm sure this conclusion is one many bloggers have reached. The internet is an unpredictable place. Sometimes you put up a post that you think is brilliant and insightful, and it goes nowhere. Sometimes you put up something that seems routine, and hundreds or thousands of people read it. I am grateful for Cynthia Astle of UM Insight and others who find what I write helpful and share it with others. I try to be faithful in putting up content, initially twice a week and recently three times a week, and not worry too much about the fate of any individual piece. Instead, I try to ensure that all of our content, week in and week out, is consistently high-quality and will make UM & Global a site worth reading and worth following.

2. I appreciate contributors to the blog.
This blog was commissioned as a project of the United Methodist Professors of Mission. Much of what appears on the blog is posts that I write (which are now identified as such, in contrast to earlier years), but at least a third has come from others - members of the United Methodist Professors of Mission, pastors, bishops, academics outside the US, and other church leaders. This style of curated blog with a diversity of voices is somewhat unique, but it's clear to me as I look through the statistics that it's often other people that viewers are coming to the blog to read, not me. Other contributors make this blog what it is. I believe one of the important functions of the blog is to give others a voice in conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church. I wish I could do this for a greater number of voices, especially those of Africans, but I will continue to try to provide that opportunity to the extent I can. (And if you're interested in helping identify such voices, let's talk.)

3. I appreciate the United Methodist News Service.
In order to write content for this blog, especially our "Recommended Reading" pieces, I read a lot of United Methodist news. A LOT. I sift through United Methodist Twitter on a daily basis, looking for stories about United Methodism around the world. In the five years I've been reading (and re-tweeting) United Methodist tweets, I have seen a real increase in the amount of international reporting that the United Methodist News Service has done. I think this increase is vitally important for the denomination. Professional journalism matters, especially when it touches on issues outside the daily lives of its readers. It also makes my job possible. Without UMNS stories, I'd have much less of a sense of what is going on around the world. I'd also like to extend special thanks to E. Julu Swen, Joe Ndzulo, and those running the UMC Twitter accounts in Germany, France, and Switzerland, all of whom have also helped inform my understanding of Global Methodism.

4. There's still a lot of Ameri-centric thinking and pat narratives about the rest of the world among American United Methodists.
Sifting through United Methodist Twitter means that I see not only stories about the UMC outside the US, but also a lot of the United Methodist Twitter conversations and blog posts about the UMC inside the US. There are certainly insightful writers and posts from whom/which I've learned about the American UMC and about Christianity in the US generally. I'm grateful for them. But I've also seen a lot of content that overlooks the rest of the UMC outside the US, puts it into American frameworks instead of understanding it on its own terms, and/or describes it using broad and simplistic narratives. This is not always malicious. I think often people are often just uninformed, and I know better than most how difficult it can be to get good, in-depth, nuanced information about United Methodism elsewhere. Nonetheless, there are problematic consequences to such approaches to the UMC outside the US, whatever their origins. I see this as one of the major missions of this blog and its associated social media accounts - helping American United Methodists understand the branches of our denomination outside the US in more complex, nuanced ways so that we can be in better, more informed, and more loving connection with our global sisters and brothers in Christ.

5. UM & Global represents a unique and needed voice.
The persistence of Ameri-centric thinking and overly simplistic narratives about non-American United Methodism means that UM & Global will continue to have a role to play in United Methodist conversations about being a global body. In an age of rising nationalisms, I believe it is important to promote knowledge and love for people from elsewhere. Moreover, I have come to appreciate how unique this blog's role in doing so is. Put simply, there's not a lot else out there in the United Methodist blogosphere or Twitterverse that tries to do what we do - consistently present informed reflections on United Methodist mission, in-depth analysis of United Methodism around the world, and deliberative conversation on the global nature of The United Methodist Church. This is UM & Global's 500th post. But because I believe in the importance and uniqueness of our mission, you can look forward to many more.

- David W. Scott, blogmaster