Monday, April 23, 2018

Recommended Readings: United Methodism in Germany

In case you missed it, United Methodist News Service has been putting out a series of stories about The United Methodist Church in Germany. While entries in this series go back a couple of years, many of the stories have been published in the last couple of months. Not only are these stories a chance to learn more about United Methodism in another part of the world, most also deal directly with the church as it is in mission.

Among the stories are several about United Methodists seeking revitalized congregations and new ministries in the community.

Also included are several about the history of deaconesses in the German UMC.

Quite a number of the stories address immigration within society and within the church.

The General Board of Church and Society also met recently in Berlin, Germany. Board members were given another glimpse into the German church and German society. GBCS, UM News Service #1, UM News Service #2the Germany Episcopal Area #1, and the Germany Episcopal Area #2 all wrote articles on this meeting.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The Church Exists for Mission

This is the third of a three-part blog by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Associate Professor of Evangelism, Mission, and Methodist Studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, that will discuss the work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The United Methodist Church.

Swiss theologian Emil Brunner wrote his now famous statement in 1931 that has redefined the church’s mission: “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning.”[1] As the United Methodist Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the uniting General Conference in 1968 it is a good time to reflect on the mission of the church and purpose of its organizational structure. Sometimes denominations and church structures can experience unintended “drift,” and take on a life of their own. German theologian Paul Tillich cautioned about the important balance between form and dynamics (Spirit) that healthy churches should maintain. Tillich went so far as to caution against an institution becoming too set or rigid in its form and become the object of idolatry.

This reflection will follow-up on my two previous blogs (blog 1 and blog 2) on the global nature of the UMC on the anniversary of Cuban Methodist autonomy. I will revisit the work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) that examined the organization of the Methodist and then the United Methodist Church in the 1960s and early 1970s. I think that you will agree that many of the issues studied by COSMOS are still relevant today—if not more so.

John Wesley gave the Methodist movement great vision and direction when he wrote in the "Large" Minutes: "What may we reasonably believe to be God's design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land."[2] When American Methodism was launched and ready to become its own denomination Wesley wrote with mixed-feelings:

As our American brethren are now totally disentangled both from the State and the English hierarchy, we dare not entangle them again either with one or the other. They are now at full liberty simply to follow the Scriptures and the Primitive Church. And we judge it best that they should stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has so strangely made them free.[3]

This freedom of innovation and the importance of context, as well as connection, has been at the heart of Methodism from the beginning.

In the midst of conversations of unity between The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren, the 1964 General Conference of The Methodist Church continued Wesley’s vision for the global church when it approved this statement: “In the growth and maturing of Methodist churches overseas two basic principles are apparent, in one way or another, in all forms of organization: 1) the principle of freedom, and 2) the principle of fellowship.” Today the conversations of the Commission on the Way Forward still embody these two foci.

To carry out this vision, the 1964 General Conference mandated COSMOS to “study the structure and supervision of The Methodist Church in its work outside the United States and its territories and its relationships to other Church bodies…”[4] Taking up this mantle, the commission held study committees in every central and annual conference outside the United States, as well as consultations with British Methodists and the World Methodist Council. In addition, COSMOS had a major consultation in Green Lake, Wisconsin in 1966. In attendance were 250 leaders from 48 countries including bishops, board executives, clergy and laity representatives from the central and annual conferences around the world. One representative from Singapore, Yap Kim Hao, spoke on behalf of autonomy at the consultation:

Autonomy is not so much a question of self-government or independence as that of the principle of freedom. We are primarily interested and vitally concerned with the Church making her own witness in the social and political environment which is clearly delimited in our world today. We are attentive to the freedom of our people to make an unfettered response to God and His word which is spoken to us in our living situation.[5]

Yap Kim Hao went on to argue at the consultation that Methodist churches in Africa and Asia could not afford to be seen as a western institution imposed upon local people and advocated becoming affiliated autonomous Methodist churches with equal partnerships while still maintaining fraternal relationships with the Methodist Church in the United States.[6] Two years after the consultation, Yap Kim Hao was elected the first Asian bishop of the newly formed Methodist Church in Malaysia and Singapore in 1968.

Based on its findings from the consultation, COSMOS reported to the 1968 General Conference. They recommended that structural change of world Methodism is “desirable and necessary” and gave the following reasons:

  1. There has been growth both in membership and in the strength of leadership in Methodist groups outside the United States. These groups want greater freedom to make decisions.

  2. The spread of nationalism, finding expression in new nations and a greater desire for independence and self-determination, has created a new climate in which the church must carry out its mission.

  3. Methodist churches outside the United States are now both receiving and sending missionaries. Present structures, created and controlled by a General Conference, 90 percent of whose delegates are from the United States and 90 percent of whose time is devoted to concerns of the American church, cannot give proper consideration to the different conditions of 45 countries involved.

  4. The emergence of the World Council of Churches and regional conferences such as the East Asian Christian Conference raise questions as to how Methodist groups should be related in these areas and be fully participating members of these bodies and at the same time under the jurisdiction of the General Conference. Similar problems exist in Africa, Latin America and India.

  5. A deepening conviction that to drift or make minor shifts in present structures is to decide against a world church; by default annual conferences of Malaysia, Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, Peru and Uruguay become autonomous.[7]

The Uniting Conference that was held in Dallas 50 years ago this month accepted the report of the commission and granted autonomy to those annual conferences outside the United States that had requested it, but did not act on any of the recommendations for greater structural change. After unification, COSMOS continued to work for one more quadrennium until the 1972 General Conference, at which time it was disbanded. The United Methodist structure has remained largely the same ever since.[8]

I would posit that many of the issues addressed by COSMOS are still factors today and the church would do well to use this occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The United Methodist Church to revisit our original purpose so that the structure will always follow the mission of the church.

I have argued in other places that we can maintain an international Methodist connection while simultaneously giving freedom to regional bodies to develop a structure more suitable to their context and culture and in obedience to local laws. I believe that we can create a more fluid structure while also maintaining the two principles established by the 1964 General Conference of fellowship and freedom, or in the words of Tillich “form” and “dynamics.”

We can do all this while continuing Wesley’s vision for Methodism “to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.” He gave early American Methodists this same freedom in 1784, and it remains a good organizing principle for global Methodism. Just as Emil Bruner stated “The Church exists by mission, just as fire exists by mission.”[9]

[1] Emil Brunner, The Word and the World, London: World Student Movement, 1931, p.108.
[2] John Wesley, Works, Jackson Edition, vol.8; Baker, 1978, p. 299.
[3] This letter was sent with Thomas Coke and distributed to American Methodists in 1784 along with the Sunday Service and an edited version of the Articles of Religion. Letters of John Wesley.
[4] Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas, Report No. 1, Book of Discipline, 1968, p. 1778.
[5] Yap Kim Hao, A Bishop Remembers, Singapore: Gospel Works, 2006, 66.
[6] Ibid, 67.
[7] Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas, Report No.1, Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1968, 1784.
[8] The General Conference has created a Commission on the Worldwide Nature of the Church and they have made recommendations to several General Conferences, but no major structural changes have been implemented. See my 3-part blog on “The Cost of Being a Global Church” November 10, 17, and 24, 2015,
[9] Emil Brunner, The Word and the World, London: World Student Movement, 1931, p.108.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What are your assets?

Today’s post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott. It is the second of a four-part series on money and relationships in the global church. Dr. Scott is Director of Mission Theology for the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent official positions of Global Ministries.

Last week, I raised the question of how United Methodists can face the problem of vast economic inequality in the church in a way that preserves relationship between rich and poor without turning those relationships into ones of dependence solidifying inequalities of power. I noted the importance of the rich sharing with the poor, for not to do so would destroy relationship by implying that the rich did not care for the poor. If the rich must share, then, how can they share without creating dependency?

One approach to sharing without creating dependency is asset-based partnerships. Asset-based partnerships can involve partners with varying levels of financial resources working together to address issues in the church and the world, but in a way that is intended to create more equal partnership between all participants, regardless of their level of financial resources.

The key to asset-based approaches is realizing that money is only one form of asset. While Americans are socialized to understand assets in economic terms, an asset can be defined as anything of value, or anything that is helpful for accomplishing work. In Christian theological language, an asset is any gift or grace given us by God.

Certainly, money is an asset, and most undertakings require a certain amount of money. But the important insight of asset-based approaches is that money is far from the only asset. Other assets include knowledge, skills, abilities, relationships, networks, authority, physical resources, and even prayer and spirituality. All of these assets can be necessary to accomplish a project, and thus all of them have value. Therefore, all of them should be recognized as valuable. If we think of assets as treasure, then they should not be understood only as economic riches, but as anything which we actively treasure, which we hold in high value.

The other important tenet of asset-based approaches to partnership is that not only is there a wide variety of assets, but all people and groups have some assets. Not all individuals may have the same level of financial assets, but the poor have other assets along with whatever meager amount of financial assets they do have. They also have knowledge, skills, abilities, relationships, networks, and spirituality. Asset-based partnerships recognize the assets that are contributed by all who participate.

Asset-based partnerships thus shift the mentality of partnership from “We, the rich, have the money; therefore, we will make the decisions,” to “We are all contributing necessary assets to this project; therefore, we all have a say in how the project will go, since it would not work without all of us.” Asset-based partnerships thus require give and take, listening, and mutual understanding.

Such an approach requires some spiritual effort and humility on the part of the rich. One of the ways in which wealth negatively affects the rich is that it distorts their views of themselves, creating the conditions for pride from assuming that their wealth means that they also have more of other assets than other people – knowledge, skills, networks, and even spirituality. The rich must be willing to not only give up their riches but give up their sense of superiority.

For the rich to open themselves up to recognize and receive the assets of the poor requires some kenosis – some self-emptying. Yet, as Christians, we have the greatest example of self-emptying in Jesus who, “though he was in the form of God, did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Rich Western United Methodists must ask ourselves how we can empty ourselves and become obedient, both to God and to the poor. To do so will require vulnerability, which may run counter to American culture, but it is a direct response to the gospel call.

Despite the spiritual and psychological challenges to the rich in adopting this model, it has been an important one promoted by Global Ministries, the World Council of Churches, and secular development organizations. One expression of such an approach is mission roundtables, which seek to bring together partners around an issue on a relatively equal footing that recognizes the assets of all.

Asset-based approaches do not remove all inequalities. Asset-based partnerships still usually involve rich Christians and poor Christians working together in poor Christians’ countries, not rich Christians’ countries. Rich Christians have by and large not yet recognized that poor Christians may have something to contribute to the ministry of rich Christians in their own home contexts, perhaps an inevitable reflection of a world in which not only wealth, but health, peace, education, and well-being are inequitably distributed.

Persistent inequalities in wealth and well-being that create rich and poor are not God’s desire for the world. Yet, while inequalities do persist, asset-based partnerships address the important and biblical injunction for the rich to share of their wealth with the poor. They are an important part of the solution, especially when combined with other partial solutions, such as my post next week will explore.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Recommended Reading: Matt Rawle, Juan Huertas & Katie McKay-Simpson on #MyHope4Methodism

Ministry Matters, in conjunction with Abingdon Press's Faultlines collection, recently published a post entitled "Finding Hope in the UMC." The article is written by Louisiana Annual Conference pastors Matt Rawle, Juan Huertas, and Katie McKay-Simpson. The piece is an excerpt from their recently-published book The Marks of Hope: Where the Spirit is Moving in a Wounded Church.

The authors center their hope for the UMC in the local church. The article also specifically mentions mission as an aspect of hope.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: My Islamic 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.

Mission Friendships with Our Islamic Neighbors
The Mission Dialogue Forum of Global Ministries in Atlanta invited an eminent Islamic educator, Dr. Khalid Siddiq, to speak on March 25, 2018.

Dr. Siddiq, who is a Pakistani national, is a medical doctor specialized in endocrinology. He also serves as the director of outreach at the Al Farooq Masjid in Atlanta, which was established in 1980 in response to growing Islamic communities in Atlanta, especially the migrant community. On a usual Friday, nearly 500 Muslims came for Salah. The Masjid founded the Dar-un-Noor School in 1990 that now has about 200 students in grades pre-K through 8, learning traditional academic subjects in addition to Islamic Studies and Arabic.

One of my very first encounters with the Muslim community in the United States was to visit Al Farooq Masjid in Atlanta in July 2017 with Candler School of Theology summer intern to Global Ministries, Luis Velasquez. We both had a wonderful exposure, good welcome and met several people including Dr. Khalid Siddiq at the mosque.

Dr. Siddiq, being a faithful follower of Islam and an academic, offered Global Ministries staff a wonderful introduction to the basics of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. This session was most helpful as the work of the Global Ministries is spreading globally. Interfaith is also important in understanding an emerging U.S. context. I think churches should intentionally be doing more interfaith activities as our multi-cultural society grows.

Demographics Matter
Let us gather some recent empirical data on the religious landscape. Islam is predicted to rise in the United States. There were about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2017, and thus Muslims made up about 1.1% of the total U.S. population. By 2050, the U.S. Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million, or 2.1% of the nation’s total population—twice the share of today.

Looking at the global scale, it is estimated that by 2050 the number of Muslims worldwide will grow to 2.76 billion, or 29.7% of the world’s population. The share of the world’s Muslims who live in sub-Saharan Africa will increase from 15.5% in 2010 to 24.3%.  Asia, which is home to more of the world’s Muslims (61.7%) than all the other regions combined, will continue to host most of the world’s Muslims (see So, Muslims with their global presence will have neighbors from other faiths in almost in every part of the world.

This changing religious landscape must be taken seriously, must be addressed creatively, and calls us to engage meaningfully if we are to have world peace. In this endeavor, the initiatives taken by Muslims for dialogue are of paramount significance while churches are continuing their interfaith ministries.

Our Islamic Neighbor
As Christians, should we not celebrate our neighbor? What is the significance of interfaith friendships in Mission of God today?

It is of prime importance that the Christians should deal with Islamophobia, prejudices, and misunderstandings that we have about Muslims. This is growing in general, even at the global level, and can be as dangerous as racism. While moderate citizens are very critical of Jihadist segments of the Muslim population, we must know that all Muslims are not extremists or fundamentalists. Quickening negative judgments is not the way.

Understanding the faith of the other is the way of wisdom. On a very basic level, we Christians need to improve our knowledge and awareness of the faiths of our neighbors. It is our missiological responsibility to understand and dialogue with our Muslim neighbors in these challenging times. Jesus’ golden commandment is “love your neighbor,” and loving our neighbor involves understanding her or his faith, culture and lifestyle. While academic study helps, we must go beyond academic knowledge and relate to our neighbor in a living manner in our day-to-day life. Interfaith relationships are not just a technical skill to acquire but also a gift from God to every Christian arising from God’s love.

Sri Lankan Dialogue Experiences
In Sri Lanka where I had my longest ministry thus far, four living major religions are present: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Communities of these faiths live and do things together in a multi-religious society. So, dialogue becomes a daily experience. We called this “dialogue of life.”

The Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa (Kandy), where I taught and was the principal for five years (2010-2015), has a strong ecumenical tradition of interfaith education and work. We have Islamic leaders come and teach the seminary students, who will be in the ministry and mission in the future. Students along with the faculty regularly visit the mosques as part of their educational and cross-cultural exposures. This is a transformational experience for missions. This work helps the future theologians, ministers, and lay leaders to respond to conflict and tensions with more understanding, discernment, and peace-building, leading to reconciliation of all communities.

We have experienced the fruits of this interfaith work for harvesting peace. D.T. Niles, Lynn De Silva, W.J.T. Small, Basil Jackson, Soma Perera, D.K. Wilson, R.S. Sugirtharajah, and Wesley Ariarajah are some prominent Methodists from Sri Lanka who contributed to a greater interfaith understanding in mission and Christian witness in a multi-faith world. Their work reaches beyond Methodism.

The Other as a Partner in a Mission
Can we consider our Islamic neighbors as a partner in mission?

The World Council of Churches’ recent mission statement, Together Towards Life (TTL 2013) (para 93), challenges us in the right direction:

"In the plurality and complexity of today’s world, we encounter people of many different faiths, ideologies, and convictions. We believe that the Spirit of Life brings joy and fullness of life. God’s Spirit, therefore, can be found in all cultures that affirm life. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and we do not fully understand the workings of the Spirit in other faith traditions. We acknowledge that there is inherent value and wisdom in diverse life-giving spiritualities. Therefore, authentic mission makes the “other” a partner in, not an “object” of mission."

I was also delighted to note the American Society of Missiology has chosen “Interfaith Friendship as an Incarnational Mission Practice’ as its yearly theme in 2018.

My Islamic neighbor is my FRIEND. Best wishes for greater interfaith friendships in God’s mission, and Salam, سلام, Shanthi, Peace!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Money is the biggest problem in the global church today

Today’s post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott. It is the first of a four-part series on money and relationships in the global church. Dr. Scott is Director of Mission Theology for the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent official positions of Global Ministries.

The United Methodist Church has a big problem.

No, it’s not the debate over sexuality.

No, it’s not the long-term membership decline in the US or flat membership most places in the world.

It’s not overly bureaucratic boards or creeping congregationalism or theological confusion or any of the other problems commonly named in the denomination.

It’s a huge problem that stabs at the heart of how we relate to each other as a global church, yet it’s also a problem that we don’t talk about. It makes us so uncomfortable, that we avoid even recognizing this problem as one.

This problem is money.

Specifically, the problem is the vast economic inequalities between the different branches of the church and the relational and spiritual distortions caused by these inequalities.

To be fair, The United Methodist Church is not alone in this problem. We live in a world of vast disparities in wealth, the result of a capitalist system designed to accumulate ever greater amounts of wealth for those who already have it. Many indicators show that wealth distribution globally is becoming ever more unequal. The tiny number of ultra-wealthy hoard every larger percentages of the world’s total wealth, while millions live on pennies a day.

Yet even taking the ultra-wealthy out of the picture, the financial disparities between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or between Norway and Liberia, are still stark. The US’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is 72 times that of the Congo. Norway’s is 78 times that of Liberia.

The UMC operates in several of the world’s wealthiest countries, but also in several of the poorest countries in the world. The world’s inequalities are our inequalities. We cannot pretend that the problem of wealth is a problem only for the Bill Gates of the world; it is a problem for the Western church generally. While our missionaries may come from everywhere and go everywhere, our money does not.

Again, this problem affects more than just United Methodists. This problem applies to World Christianity as a whole. The World Council of Churches has been wrestling with how Christians can be in partnership with one another across vast economic inequalities for decades. Yet the World Council of Churches has at least been facing and trying to come to grips with this problem. Despite statements in the Book of Resolutions, The UMC as a whole has yet to fully acknowledge this problem as such.

Wealth inequality in the church is a problem for several reasons. To begin with, there are the many, many biblical teachings on wealthy, poverty, and economic justice that speak of God’s concern for the poor. Money is an overriding concern for Jesus and the rest of the Bible, but rarely for the Western church. A full review of the Bible’s teachings on money is beyond the scope of this post but suffice it to say that our current capitalist world does not reflect the biblical ideals of a just economic community. Moreover, John Wesley reflected this biblical concern for the poor in his own ministry.

Second, as Jonathan Bonk and others have pointed out, wealth disparities in mission can distort the very message of the Gospel and how it is heard and understood, both by those with wealth and by those without wealth who encounter wealthy ambassadors of the Gospel. Many United Methodists would disparage the prosperity gospel, but how often do wealthy Western United Methodists unwittingly propagate just such a gospel by implying that the result of becoming Christian is to become like wealthy Americans?

Vast wealth inequalities also make it impossible to have healthy relationships among branches of a global church with dramatically different financial resources. Wealth inequality places the church in a dilemma:

On the one hand, were rich United Methodists not to share any of their resources with poor United Methodists, it would destroy relationship because it would imply that the rich did not care about the poor.

Yet, if rich United Methodists do share their resources with poor United Methodists, it is difficult to do so in a way that does not create patron-client relationships between rich and poor. In such relationships, the poor become subservient to and dependent upon the rich, who then have disproportionate power over the poor. Such power imbalances are difficult to reconcile with a Gospel and a polity that theoretically affirm the worth of all, regardless of how much money they have.

As I said at the beginning, the problem of money is a big problem. There are not a lot of easy solutions. The problem of money may even be more difficult to resolve than the debate over sexuality in the church.

Nonetheless, over the next three weeks, I will look at three possible partial solutions. The first is asset-based approaches to relationship building; the second is reducing the amount of church structure required in all locations; the third is a self-supporting approach to church and mission. The first approach seeks to create more equitable approaches to sharing. The second and third seek to reduce dependency by poorer branches of the church on the richer branches. None of them is the entire solution, but all may be pieces of how we as the church can build a just, loving, and equitable global fellowship.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Plan Now: Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference

The Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest denomination-wide mission organization in American Methodism, was founded on April 5, 1819. That means the 200th anniversary of its founding will happen in just under a year.

As part of the celebration of this milestone in Methodism, Global Ministries, in collaboration with Candler School of Theology of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, will be hosting a Methodist mission bicentennial conference called “Answering the Call: Hearing God’s Voice in Methodist Mission Past, Present, and Future.”

The conference will celebrate Methodism’s mission heritage and look to the future of Methodist mission. Rev. Dr. Arun Jones, Bishop Mande Muyombo, and Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath will be featured speakers. Joy Eva Bohol will present a youth address.

The conference will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, at the Emory University Conference Center Hotel, April 8-10, 2019.

Those interested in attending can indicate their interest here. The application found through this link is a non-binding pre-registration. An official registration system will be available later.

For academics, students, and mission practitioners, a call for papers is available here. The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2018, and selected papers will be announced after that.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Missional Retrospective on Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

The General Board of Global Ministries, now located in Atlanta, Georgia, has decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) as part of its biennial board meeting in April 2018. Global Ministries’ raison d'être in Atlanta is to make living connections and missional friendships with institutions, organizations and movements for mutual collaboration and ministry. Being relocated to Atlanta, the birth place of Rev. Dr. King, Global Ministries’ choice of remembrance testifies to The United Methodist Church about Global Ministries’ commitment for mission and witness in response to the biblical call to reconciliation, justice, and transformation of the world. Global Ministries also has a great interest in cross-cultural appraisal of Rev. Dr. King’s mission. This step is an encouragement to missiology to interpret Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s multi-faceted life and work for today’s mission and ministry.

I was honored to be part of the planning committee for the opening worship that will be held on April 12, 2018, in which Bishop Gregory V. Palmer will be the preacher. The liturgy we have organized reflects several themes of missional significance, including Rev. Dr. King’s legacy; his messages of desegregation, racial justice, and reconciliation; repentance of the structural evils of racism (both historical and present to this day); solidarity with the victims of institutional and other forms of racism; the dignity of every person; and hope for a better future. Our effort was to weave these themes into the worship service, with the church’s mission today in mind.

Missional Re-envisioning of Atlanta’s legacy
Atlanta played a significant role in the history of the civil rights struggle, and while for some, it was the “the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” others referred to it as “the city too busy to hate.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change stands today as a living testimony to ongoing work and mission in human rights and human dignity. It is unique that some significant historical black educational movements emerged in Atlanta , including several of the city’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities—Atlanta University, Spelman, Morris Brown, Morehouse, and Clark Colleges, and the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), in which consortium the famous Gammon Theological Seminary also participates—all of which created an unparalleled space for activism in civil rights and equality.

Perhaps it is important to note that following the civil rights struggle, Atlanta wished to be a role model city where the right to pluralism and the practice of religion and religious freedom are acknowledged; Atlanta is now notable for a dynamic interfaith movement and has become a place that offers spaces for followers of various world religious traditions. Initiatives in Tibetan Buddhism at the Emory University and The Swaminarayan Mandir, one of the largest Hindu Temples in the US that is situated in the suburbs of Atlanta, are two examples.

Atlanta also has its own share of continuing pains and agonizing racial struggles such as on segregation policies in housing, lack of infrastructure in predominantly black communities and issues of environmental racism. So Atlanta is not perfect, but darkness cannot overcome Atlanta’s light. Atlanta’s legacy in human rights may inspire other cities as well to become cities of peace and harmony. It also calls on churches to take the peace movement seriously in contemporary times accompanied by new challenges.

How did Rev. Dr. King cross cultures?
Rev. Dr. King’s mission laid the foundations for a vibrant global movement in developing human responsibilities, civil and human rights, and peace. His teachings and ministry have influenced work in minority rights, social equality, ethnic reconciliation, and the construction of a theology of peace on the part of secular thinkers, activists, and Christian practitioners worldwide. His cross-cultural influence is great and inspires us even more in today’s globalized world.

King supported the independent struggles of African nations to free themselves from colonialism and was a proponent of Pan Africanism. Prof. Jeremy Levitt, a scholar of International Law in the Florida A&M University College of Law, asserted that King had strong connections in Africa, among them Kwame Nkrumah, first prime minister and president of Ghana, Nnadami Azikwe, first president of Nigeria, Tom Mboya, one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Kenya, and Oliver Tambo, leader of South Africa’s African National Congress. King’s famous phrase, “Certainly injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” referred to Africa’s struggle against colonial rule, because his position was that so long as problems exist in Africa or Asia or in any region of the United States, we must take them seriously. Revered by African leaders for his work in the Civil Rights Movements, King and his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, responded to a personal invitation from Ghana’s new Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah to attend the nations’ independence celebrations in 1957.

I read about Rev. Dr. King and his movement in my own language (Sinhalese) while I was in high school in Sri Lanka. I was missiologically fascinated by his emphasis on social equality, God’s image in every human being, social justice, the rights of all people, and non-violent social change. As a theologian and pastor, Rev. Dr. King played a significant role in my own biblical hermeneutics and missional praxis. Later, I realized that reading about Rev. Dr. King’s life and mission has had a strong influence on many Asians who stand for the rights of minorities, reconciliation and forgiveness, restorative justice in the contexts of civil and ethnic wars, and justice to the poor and marginalized.

The way in which Rev. Dr. King applied Mahatma Gandhi’s Ahimsa (Non-Violence) principle and his relationship with legendary Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, are solid inspirational proofs of his cross-cultural collaborations during times of evil, crisis, and conflict in the world. Thich Nhat Hanh and King both were part of the movement against the war in Vietnam.

Rev. Dr. King’s influence on Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar of India, popularly known as Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was a jurist, social reformer, and politician, must be acknowledged, although it is little known. He was known as the Father of the Indian Constitution and worked tirelessly to eradicate social evils such as untouchability, caste domination, and the caste system itself. Ambedkar was a Dalit himself, renounced Hinduism, and became a Buddhist. Recognizing the connection between Ambedkar and King, in 2017 the Karnataka government in India invited Martin Luther King III to mark the 126th anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar’s birth. On that occasion, King III said that he believed Ambedkar and King were “…intellectually, philosophically, morally and spiritually cut from the same cloth.” He said as well, “They were brother revolutionaries whose minds and hearts were driven by justice and compassion.”

I have observed that the missional praxis of Dalit theologians reflects a great interest in Rev. Dr. King’s theological and political thoughts. Dalit theologians are attracted to King’s application of social egalitarianism and social liberation and engage in comparative theologizing between Black theologies and Dalit theologies. The social gospel dimension of King’s thought also has been of inspirational and significant interest to Dalit Christians.

Now is the Time!
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a costly prophetic mission. Missiological appraisal of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death raises several disturbing and challenging questions and calls us today to go beyond a simple memorial. This is where our ecclesial, missional, and pastoral comfort zones are being challenged and our missional calling refreshed.

1. Christian communities are called to evaluate our ministry and mission in racial justice and reconciliation critically. What is our response?

2. The Church is called to repent, apologize, change our lifestyles, and partake in God’s restorative justice. Does our mission engage in these efforts today?

3. How is the church’s mission called to take peace and reconciliation as a missional challenge and praxis given today’s context?

4. How should we take human responsibilities and human rights discourses into pastoral and missional praxis, both as a global church and as local churches? How can we join with the wider social and interfaith movements that work with similar interests in the common good?

Empower us, O Lord, though wounded, yet as healers, so that we can be your friends, to restore justice and humanity; to thirst for righteousness and truth; to create a new Heaven and a new Earth.

In memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.—now is the time!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Resource: More world Methodist maps

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.

A few weeks ago, I published links indicating the presence of various World Methodist Council member denominations in countries around the world. Now, with some additional research (using the World Christian Database, the World Methodist Council website, and denominational websites), I have been able to compile maps showing total Methodist/Wesleyan membership by country and Methodism/Wesleyanism as a percentage of each country's population. Those maps are below.

First, a couple of caveats: I did not include the membership of United/Uniting denominations that are part of the World Methodist Council. I did not think it was fair to include all members as "Methodist" when these churches were formed out of the mergers of many Protestant traditions. Also, data is never perfect, and the data these maps are based on may not be perfect, especially in the case of smaller countries or countries with small Methodist/Wesleyan presence. In particular, I was not able to get country-level data for The Wesleyan Church, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and Americas, and the Korean Methodist Church outside Korea directly from those denominations' websites, so I am relying on the less accurate WCD data for them.

Overall, these maps indicate that Methodism/Wesleyanism's areas of greatest strength are the United States, coastal West Africa, South Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Africa, the Caribbean, and parts of the Pacific. Methodism/Wesleyanism has a moderate presence in Latin America, south Asia, and southeast Asia. It is weak in Europe and central Asia. It is mostly non-existent in the Muslim world.

Methodist/Wesleyan Membership Totals

Note that those countries with large Methodist populations have a large total population and/or a large percentage of the population that is Methodist.

The United States has by far the largest number of Methodists/Wesleyans. 6 of the top 10 countries with the most Methodists/Wesleyans are African.

The top 10 countries with the largest Methodist populations are as follows:
1. The United States of America (13,689,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
2. Nigeria (3,304,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
3. India (3,154,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
4. Democratic Republic of Congo (2,910,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
5. South Korea (2,214,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
6. South Africa (1,676,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
7. Ghana (900,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
8. Cote d'Ivoire (688,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
9. Kenya (631,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)
10. Brazil (412,000 Methodists/Wesleyans)

Methodism/Wesleyanism as a Percentage of the Population

Most of the countries with the highest percentage of Methodists/Wesleyans in the population are small island nations in the Caribbean or Pacific with low overall populations. Liberia is the non-island nation with the highest percentage of its population that are Methodist/Wesleyan (6.9%), and it does not make the top ten. 6 of the top 10 most Methodist non-island nations are African.

Top 10 countries with the highest Methodist percentage of the population
1. Tonga (46.1% Methodist/Wesleyan)
2. Fiji (30.5% Methodist/Wesleyan)
3. Samoa (24.4% Methodist/Wesleyan)
4. St. Kitts and Nevis (22.0% Methodist/Wesleyan)
5. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (17.0% Methodist/Wesleyan)
6. Anguilla (16.0% Methodist/Wesleyan)
7. Bermuda (15.4% Methodist/Wesleyan)
8. American Samoa (14.9% Methodist/Wesleyan)
9. Turks and Caicos (14.7% Methodist/Wesleyan)
10. Antigua and Barbuda (9.7% Methodist/Wesleyan)

Top 10 non-island countries with the highest Methodist percentage of the population
1. Liberia (6.9% Methodist/Wesleyan)
2. Sierra Leone (5.0% Methodist/Wesleyan)
3. South Korea (4.3% Methodist/Wesleyan)
4. The United States of America (4.2% Methodist/Wesleyan)
5. Belize (3.5 % Methodist/Wesleyan)
6. Democratic Republic of Congo (3.5% Methodist/Wesleyan)
7. Ghana (3.0% Methodist/Wesleyan)
8. South Africa (2.9% Methodist/Wesleyan)
9. Guyana (2.8% Methodist/Wesleyan)
10. Cote d'Ivoire (2.8% Methodist/Wesleyan)

Continental totals
Finally, for those who are interested in the total membership, including United/Uniting churches, of World Methodist Council bodies broken out by continent, here's a map of that:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Recommended Reading: Norma Dollaga on having faith and being an activist

Friend of UM & Global Norma Dollaga has written a piece entitled "Having faith and being an activist is not a contradiction, but a fulfillment of self" on her personal blog, patentero. It in, she makes a case for faith-based activism. I appreciated the biblical grounding she provides for her argument and the connections she draws between activism and love. The latter seems a very Wesleyan approach.

Ms. Dollaga's piece comes out of long personal experience of faith-based activism and also serves as an important indicator of how Methodism is practiced in the Philippines, an area in which the UMC is confronted with serious issues of violence and justice in society and in which revivalism, evangelism, and social justice are not necessarily set against one another. In this regard, United Methodism in the Philippines more closely follows a holiness approach to Methodist theology common in the US in the nineteenth century, but neglected in the US since then.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Benjamin L. Hartley: #MyHope4Methodism

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 Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley. Dr. Hartley is Associate Professor of Christian Mission at the College of Christian Studies at George Fox University. He also blogs at

“Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem… They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?” John 11:55-57

The Scripture text above for the day before Palm Sunday ends with a question: Will Jesus show up? It is a question many people in The United Methodist Church are asking – sometimes with anguish in their hearts, yearning for renewal.

At our best, I think we ask this question not with anxious handwringing but with what Cornel West calls a “blues sensibility” sort of faith. Our eyes are wide open to the problems in our church and world, but we have faith that Jesus will always show up. It is the faith and love of Jesus working out in our lives that moves us with hope and a persistent unconditional love for others. At our best we sing with the pathos of a famous African American spiritual as our model, yearning for the “City Called Heaven.” It is that ultimate hope expressed with the grit of a blues artist that I pray will animate our life together as United Methodists in the years to come.

Where do I see this happening? What gives me this kind of gritty hope for the UMC? I have two stories.

Just before Holy Week I gathered with fourteen people in Portland, Oregon in order to encourage one another in our experiments of living in intentional Christian communities. Most were folks from Portland, but I drove an hour with my housemate and Romanian missionary friend, David, to see what this might be. I knew some friends would be there who went through Missional Wisdom training and prayerful retreats with me, but the circle was wider than that with people who have been experimenting for less than a year to one man who had lived in an intentional Christian community for 33 years.

I went to this gathering because I’ll be serving as a faculty mentor next year for two residential houses of university students who want to explore in practical ways what it means to live a deeper life of Christian fellowship that they have been reading about in the “great books” honors program I also teach in. I need help to dream what those houses could be so that my prayers would not be too small. Small prayers are a problem for many of us.

On my drive home with David last night we spoke about what we experienced in that Portland living room with other disciples of Jesus. There were deep wells of wisdom there, experiences of desert wandering, and also a spirit of holy experimentation. It is the willingness to experiment and yearning to keep re-envisioning church that gives me hope for United Methodism.

My second story is a tad less contemporary. I’m a historian of the missionary movement, and one of my current projects is to examine one of the earliest and exuberantly hopeful missionary endeavors of American Methodists. No other missionary venture of early American Methodists more fired the imagination than the mission to share the Gospel of Jesus with Native Americans in Oregon.

Big dreams of mass conversions of thousands of eager Native Americans (whom Methodist missionaries barely knew anything about) were quickly met with discouragement in the years after missionary arrival in Oregon in 1834. Instead of thousands yearning to become Christians they instead encountered thousands of people being decimated by diseases that had had been transmitted to the region earlier via trading ships.

The Methodist missionaries persisted in Oregon but perhaps the best missionary of the bunch, Henry Kirk White Perkins, has barely been recognized in Methodist mission histories. His journals reveal that he was probably the leading missionary linguist in the denomination at the time; he translated a good chunk of the New Testament into Sahaptin, a language of eastern Washington. He was also a man with a heart full of love for others and a belief that the Gospel truly can transform lives.

In a letter to his friend, Daniel Lee, he relays stories of a revival that took place at the Willamette Mission – a few miles south of where I now live – during a few days surrounding a Watch Night service in January of 1839. Perkins tells stories of the conversion of a half dozen Native Americans. Most were older children in the school the Methodists were running, along with some adults and children of white settlers.

He was especially moved by the emotional conversion of two Native American women – both named Mary. Mary Sargent had been converted the day before. She was friends with Mary Hauxhurst who was married to a white settler. As Perkins tells the story, “Mary S. arose and with joy beaming in her countenance, went and threw her arms around the neck of her friend, [Mary Hauxhurst] and they wept, and prayed together…O, thought I, this, this is religion, and religion is love. God beheld the sight, and he wiped their tears away, and in a few moments they were praising God together.”

At first glance this is not a particularly unusual conversion story. What makes it noteworthy to me is that it is the first conversion story in Oregon where – at least in the way Perkins tells it – the missionary seems to be more of an observer to one Native American woman introducing another to the saving love of Jesus. Perkins, it seems, trusted that what was happening to these two women was of God even though so much of their history and culture was unknown to him. It would still be over a year before he could preach in any language other than a rudimentary trade language the local people used.

This story that Perkins tells illustrates a hope I have for United Methodism in that we too will learn to trust one another across cultural and linguistic barriers. Perkins made plenty of mistakes in his work, to be sure, but as I have read his journals I am struck by his openness toward Native American cultural practices that were foreign to him. As he painstakingly translated Scripture day after day he was also willing to question his assumptions about how he interpreted the Bible. He even wrote back home to ask a friend for help in thinking through some passages.

That letter home embodies another hope and gritty prayer I have for United Methodism – namely, that we would learn to be better friends and vulnerably ask for the help we need – from God and one another. For where two or three are gathered... Jesus will most assuredly show up.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Recommended Reading: Tom Lambrecht on Big Picture Status of United Methodism

Rev. Tom Lambrecht has written a three-piece series for Good News Magazine, explaining what recently released membership numbers from GCFA reveal about the "Big Picture Status of United Methodism." It this series, he examines trendlines for United Methodism around the world. Rev. Lambrecht's interpretations parallel and extend the interpretations of these numbers previously published on this blog. Here are the three pieces of his series:


United States

Europe and Asia

Friday, March 23, 2018

Kale Yu: Mission and Trump's Pivot to North Korea

Today's post is written by Dr. K. Kale Yu. Dr. Yu is Instructor in Religion at High Point University, a United Methodist-affiliated institution. A chapter of his upcoming book Understanding Korean Christianity: A Terracultural Perspective examines Christianity in North Korea.

As a Korean American, I have tempered optimism about Trump’s decision to meet North Korea's supreme leader, an unprecedented event for a sitting U.S. president in the post-Korean War era.

Prior to the Korean War, my grandfather took his children (including my father) and fled Haeju, his hometown in northern Korea to flee invading communists that were persecuting and executing Christians. My grandfather in the north had seven brothers but only he and his family fled because he became a Christian, specifically a Methodist (since that region was marked by Methodist missionaries). Little did he realize at the time that his conversion to Christianity literally saved his and family's life. Although he fled to the south penniless, he credited God for his deliverance and, as a way of giving thanks, became a Methodist pastor in the south and later superintendent of Sunday Schools.

The rise of communists in the north forced many, especially Christians, to flee to the south. Pyongyang was dubbed "Jerusalem of the East" after the Great Pyongyang Revival of 1907 that made Pyongyang the vibrant center of Korean Christianity but, just like the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D. that pushed Christians outside Palestine, the communist invasion pushed northern Koreans to the south where they started some of the most well-known Korean churches, such as Young Nak Presbyterian Church, started by Han Kyung-Chik who received the 1992 Templeton Prize.

For most refugees who fled to the south, they thought their situation was temporary. The assumption that they would be able to return to their homes in the north was shattered when the conclusion of the Korean War created a permanent line of division between families in the North and South.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of the last remaining communist nations, such as Vietnam and Cuba, showed signs of engagement with the West except North Korea. Trump’s pivot from threats of raining “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea to agreeing with meet Kim Jong Un whom Trump called the “little rocket man” marks a pace of rapprochement that no one anticipated.

However, there are potential pitfalls that could result from the meeting. In the worst case scenario, U.S.-North Korea relations deteriorate to the brink of war that destabilizes the region. The best case scenario would de-nuclearize North Korea and lay the groundwork for North Korea’s opening to the world. A formal peace treaty would be signed (a cease-fire armistice, not a peace treaty, concluded the Korean War in 1953), ending sixty-five years of estrangement and antagonism. Furthermore, a successful summit could reshape the international geopolitical map far beyond the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s spontaneous agreement to a summit meeting with Kim comes less than two weeks of China’s Xi Jinping amending the Chinese Constitution to remove term limits, an act that effectively permits him to remain in power indefinitely, allowing Xi to cast China’s global vision for decades to come. How would a successful rapprochement with North Korea reshape the geopolitics in East Asia with Japan, South Korea, and China? How would peace on the Korean peninsula redefine America’s relations with China? From a Christian perspective, how would warmer relations with South Korea affect China and North Korea's receptivity to Christianity?

While as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I was fortunate to know Professor Samuel H. Moffett who was born in Pyongyang to missionary parents in 1916. He considered Pyongyang his hometown and he told me how saddened he became as a young man when his ship carrying him to his college in the U.S. left the Korean port and he could no longer see Pyongyang in the distance. At the age of 81, he and other former missionaries returned to Pyongyang in 1997. Moffett told me he was determined to find his old home in Pyongyang as it was forever etched in his memory but the passage of time under modern Pyongyang made it impossible. Like Moffett, my grandfather longed to return to his hometown in the north but never did.

Would warmer relations with North Korea once again open its doors to friends and families? Would it enable missionaries to return there to re-kindle the light of Christ that burned brightly over a hundred years ago?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Should the UMC have missional rather than geographic annual conferences?

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.

For the last two weeks, I have been looking at the question of how we can structurally support innovation in The United Methodist Church. I have argued that this is a particularly important question for those interested in mission since mission is a primary form of innovation for the church. Last week, I examined the evangelical approach, which is to have a low bar for the creation of new, separate structures to support innovation in churches and mission work.

This week, I’ll look at Catholicism as an alternative model of innovation. For those committed to overarching organizational unity, Catholicism is a good model. Not only does Catholicism have an overarching organizational unity, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest human organizations on the planet. It’s over 1500 years older than the oldest nonprofits and fraternal organizations, a millennium older than the oldest universities, and 500 years older than the oldest companies.

If evangelicals innovate by starting new, separate organizations, Catholics have another approach to innovation – the creation of new units within the larger organization. One of the main ways this has happened is through the creation of new orders. New orders were historically able to pioneer new forms of devotion (prayer, preaching, pilgrimage, etc.) that drew people closer to the church. They were also often responsible for the evangelization of new geographic areas. Thus, the creation of a new order was a way to sanction some innovation in Catholic religiosity or geographic coverage.

Individual orders have had the tendency to become susceptible to the same sort of organizational stagnation I wrote about in my initial post, but since the Catholic church is always open to new orders and sub-orders, it is not dependent on the vitality of any one of these orders. There was a persistent pattern in medieval Catholicism of the creation of new monastic orders that would implement reforms, achieve success, become stagnant, and then decline and need reform themselves. Then the cycle would start over again.

Protestants don’t have orders, so the question is what structures do we have that could serve the same function? The basic structure of Methodism is the annual conference. Annual conferences do several of the same things that Catholic orders do – they recruit, ordain, and missionally deploy clergy. They also carry out a variety of programs such as health and welfare ministries that Catholic orders frequently do.

Yet annual conferences currently have several problems that inhibit them from consistently and effectively supporting innovation. There is a tendency for annual conferences to reflect the same sort of organizational bureaucratic malaise and rigidity from which the denomination as a whole suffers. Also, the geographic organization of annual conferences leads to less innovation when they are not in a pioneer situation with clear margins along which to expand. In most places, the geographic organization of established annual conferences tends to lead to a pastoral and maintenance focus on existing congregations.

The Mission Initiatives sponsored by Global Ministries are good examples of organizational structures that support growing, innovative mission in areas without a historic United Methodist presence. But the question remains of how United Methodists in areas with a long-established presence can continue to be innovative. There are some annual conferences that have effectively supported innovative ministries within their own, long-established geographic limits. The Florida Annual Conference’s Fresh Expressions initiative is one such example. Yet such instances seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

Another possible solution to organizationally supporting innovation in the UMC would be to allow United Methodists to create new units within the larger church that would focus on some particular form of innovative ministry. If annual conferences are the basic units of United Methodism, this could mean the creation of missionally-defined rather than geographically-bounded annual conferences.

This approach has happened before in Methodism. Examples include the various ethnic or language-group annual conferences or the Red Bird Mission Conference. These annual conferences geographically overlap(ped) other (Anglo) annual conferences but were focused on missional outreach to a particular group facilitated by a flexible organizational system controlled by those doing the outreach. While that was usually defined in terms of a particular ethnic and/or immigrant group, there’s no particular reason why that same approach could not be used for other missional foci.

It’s important to say that the people doing the innovation must be the ones in charge of selecting this option and then customizing it for their needs. It can’t be an imposition by others. The Central Jurisdiction is a tragic example of a separate, non-geographically defined structure that was imposed on others because of the prejudices of the dominant group, not chosen by a particular group to give themselves organizational freedom to adapt and innovate. I am not calling for anything resembling the Central Jurisdiction.

Another version of this approach to creating new organizations within a wider umbrella is found in the third, multi-branch model under consideration by the Commission on a Way Forward. The multi-branch model seems to authorize this sort of new structures within a larger system. But these structures are defined only by the one issue of sexuality and are more for the sake of keeping peace than fostering innovation. United Methodists need to be able to innovate in other ways beyond the one issue of sexuality. Moreover, such an approach could happen within a unified church as well as a multi-branch church. The examples cited above were all part of unified churches.

This approach to sponsoring innovation should, though, lead us to think more deeply about what unifies us. Catholics have certain theological, spiritual, and organizational common touchpoints that keep them together despite a proliferation of sub-organizations. United Methodists will have to find our own.

Among the most important must be our understanding of unity. Authorizing new structures within the larger group works when we see unity not as about institutional uniformity but rather as about bonds of spiritual connection. I have argued elsewhere (here, here, here, and here) that a relational understanding of unity is the best approach to unity. Here’s another reason why: Thinking of unity relationally open us up to innovative ministries and mission.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Recommended Readings: Arusha Call to Discipleship

The World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) recently concluded its Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania. These conferences, which occur about once a decade, are often seen as an important means of ascertaining the state of missiological thinking around the world. This year's conference produced The Arusha Call to Discipleship as a statement of its understanding of the current state of mission, evangelism, and discipleship. It is worth reading.

For more on the Conference, you can read the following resources:
Jerome Sahabandhu's UM & Global post in advance of the conference
A Global Ministries story about Methodist participation in the conference
Two reflections (one and two) from Global Ministries' Amy Valdez-Barker about the conference
News stories from the WCC about the conference

Friday, March 16, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Mission and Religious Fundamentalism

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.

One of the major challenges or hurdles for global peace, justice and reconciliation is religious fundamentalism. Why should missiologists be interested in engaging religious fundamentalism? If mission is God’s mission (mission dei) in the whole cosmos, then what is going on in the world is of utmost important as instruments of mission ‘join in’ mission. ‘Joining in’ requires an incarnational understanding of sitz im leben (life in real context). Fundamentalism is a reality in our context today.

Further, mission requires responsibility, accountability, solidarity and mutuality. According to Thomas Thangaraj, missio dei should be complemented with missio humanitas – the mission of humanity (“Toward a Dialogical Theology of Mission,” in Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman. Edited by Sheila Greeve Devaney. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991, pp. 161-176). The challenge of missio humanitas is to comprehend critically a better understanding for mission today and engage in a social analysis – that is a missiological task.

Thus, missio humanitas is tasked with critical questions as part of missional engagement in all times:
  • What are the causes of religious fundamentalism? Are there systemic causes and non-systemic causes?
  • What are the missiological responses to religious fundamentalism and its transformation?

Competing extremisms
In Sri Lanka, we speak of extremism (antavadaya) and religious exclusivism. Like many parts of the globe, in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka religious fundamentalism has caused so much violence and destruction. Today so many are concerned about Islamic fundamentalism, its tendency to provoke and actualize violence. Of course, on an equal footing we must reflect and deal with Christian fundamentalism as well.

Fundamentalism is a global phenomenon and thus scholars are discussing not just ‘fundamentalism’ but fundamentalisms and even competing fundamentalisms. Prof. Sathianathan Clark, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, recently published a work entitled Competing Fundamentalisms. Here, Clark deals with Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and discuss how the extremist trends in each of these religions compete in a socio-religious market place at a global scale today.

What is common?
In religious fundamentalism, religion and politics overlap at many points. But what is religious fundamentalism? What elements do they have in common? In 2013, I was asked by the Oblate seminary in Kandy, Sri Lanka to conduct a seminar on religious fundamentalism.

In it, I reflected on some elements that are common to all fundamentalism, and they are:
1) A sense of crisis in a global dimension and of the impending damnation of the world.
2) A sense of a vacuum of authority in the religious institution to which they belong.
3) A return to their founding scriptures (holy texts) to rediscover in their literal interpretation the unbreakable authority of divine revelation.
4) Clinging blindly to the purity of doctrine and moral precepts of those scriptures as the sole norm of life and only doctrinal authority.
5) Utter condemnation of all those who fall outside their religious views.
6) Willingness to kill for the sake of their faith (fanaticism).

Politics and fundamentalism
There may be several types of religious fundamentalisms. The first we can speak of is a type that pretends to be apolitical and views politics (and indeed all aspects of political and social existence) as being this-worldly and, therefore, bound to damnation, in frontal opposition to the revealed truth. This is largely a Christian variety of fundamentalism. From this perspective, the political and social life should be organized on the basis of what are seen as essential or original religious principles, commonly supported by a belief in the literal truth of sacred texts.

On a cursory analysis of their preaching and teaching, one immediately discovers that in certain types of fundamentalism pretended apoliticism and condemnation of the things of this world is only a pretension without any empirical foundation; deep down, most of the Christian fundamentalist movements and groups are staunch defenders and legitimators of the extreme rightwing side of the political arena.

Another type may be a fundamentalism that is openly political and overtly sets out to give legitimation to the politics of the extreme right. One views this type of fundamentalism as essentially an aberration, a symptom of the adjustment that societies make as they become accustomed to a modern and secularized culture.

Yet we observe another type too – fundamentalism of enduring significance. One believes that it is a consequence of the failure of secularism to satisfy the abiding human desire for higher or spiritual truth.

All these types lead to extremism of one form or the other.

Landmark year 1910
While the global Christian leaders, especially the Protestants, met in Edinburgh for the World Missionary Conference in 1910, something significant happened parallelly in the US. That was when the term ‘fundamentalism’ came into existence and wider usage. The prime source of the term was the publication, beginning in 1910, of the conservative Christian manifesto in 12 volumes titled The Fundamentals. The “Fundamentals” included the basic (fundamental) Christian doctrines in response to scientific liberal thoughts and higher biblical criticism, which were coming to the fore at that time.

But fundamentalism is a new designation for those Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and others whom sociologists, historians, philosophers, and other scholars include under that title today. It is interesting to note that two modern movements, the ecumenical movement and fundamentalism – to my mind one positive and the other negative – emerged simultaneously in 1910.

From a missional view point, the ecumenical movement for Christian unity in evangelization and mission is a positive movement with its ups and downs through the history. Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Pentecostals have positively contributed to this movement. But globalization of religious fundamentalism is a negative movement for the humanity and rest of the creation, yet a powerful one with religious affiliation.

Three questions come:
1) Has the ecumenical movement failed to engage critically with the ‘signs of the time’ and dialogue with fundamentalists?
2) Has the global peace movement failed to interpret, analyze and transform fundamentalisms?
3) Have we – the moderate conscientious communities all over the globe – engaged in sufficient social analysis to comprehend and transform the phenomenon of fundamentalisms?

These questions require a deep discussion.

Strange way forward
Let me suggest three ways to grapple and respond to the phenomenon of fundamentalisms; my thinking is on long-term investments and more in the educational approach.

1. Intra-religious work: every religious community can have an educational plan to understand the world religions and indigenous religious traditions in a more comprehensive way for their own religious community. That would be part of an educational process for global citizenship and peace-making. Every religion must encourage internal critical discernment and assessment on their own faith tradition in a fully honest way.

2. Education of youth: all public and private schools can conduct a systematic educational program and offer resources on inter-religious understanding for global peace.

3. Missiological work: Missiologists should engage with missiologists of all faiths, especially with the missionary faiths like Islam and Buddhism and semi-missionary faiths like Hinduism. Interfaith missiological sessions could be held and can lead in developing collective approaches to fundamentalisms in the world today.

Finally, we have to LOVE fundamentalist too; praying, understanding, engaging and loving is a non-negotiable ‘missional call’ in dealing with the phenomenon of fundamentalisms today.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 3:8).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Are there too few mainline 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.

My last blog raised the question of how we can structurally support innovation in The United Methodist Church. I argued that this is a particularly important question for those interested in mission since mission is a primary form of innovation for the church.

This week I will look at a common strategy for evangelical Christians in the United States to support innovation: innovation through organizational multiplication.

There are many more evangelical denominations in the US than there are mainline denominations, and more are being created all the time. There are something along the lines of 10,000 denominations in the US. A couple dozen of these are mainline Protestant, a dozen or so are Catholic, and a few dozen are some form of Orthodox. The rest are evangelical Protestant denominations. Many of these denominations are tiny, but there are a lot of them.

There are also many evangelical para-denominational, interdenominational, or non-denominational organizations. These include cooperative ministries, non-profits, educational institutions, media outfits, and a whole slew of other forms of organizational life.

Because evangelicalism has a decentralized and personalized sense of authority, evangelicals frequently feel free to go ahead and start their own thing, whether that’s a church, a denomination, or a religious non-profit, without needing to seek authorization from others. The bar to create new organizations is low, which leads to more new organizations.

Thus, innovators can easily start their own (separate) structures, which will then suit their own needs and support whatever form of innovation they are engaged in. Of course, not all new denominations or other evangelical organizations are innovations. Some are created to resist innovation and keep things the same. The point is, though, that if an evangelical Christian in the US wants to do something innovative, they often feel divinely authorized to create their own new organizational structures to support that innovation without needing the say-so of existing organizational structures.

This leads to a free-market approach to religious organizational innovation. Some innovations find support and succeed, and some don’t, but the innovators are empowered to develop and accountable for developing their own thing.

Rodney Stark and Roger Finke argue that such a free-market approach to religion that provides more religious choices is good for religious adherence. Thus, more evangelical denominations may mean more evangelicals. Of course, questions may persist about the depth of discipleship and the accuracy of theological and moral understandings developed through a consumerist approach to religion. Paul says untruth sells (2 Timothy 4:3). But if the goal is members and you accept Stark and Finke, then this approach is a good strategy.

In terms of mission, more organizations may also mean more missionaries and more money for mission if there’s more opportunities to get involved and a lower bar to entry. Again, there may be questions about whether this is the “right kind” of mission. Pictures of orphans bring in donations, even if those orphanages have negative consequences in their communities. Yet following Stark and Finke’s argument again, there’s a reason to think more options for mission = more support of mission.

The number of mainline denominations, on the other hand, decreased over the twentieth century through a series of mergers and a disinclination to start new mainline denominations. This lack of religious options and competitors on the mainline side may be one reason for mainline membership decline starting in the mid-twentieth century, if you buy Stark and Finke’s argument. By contrast, evangelical membership only began to decline in the last decade or so.

Mainline denominations also generally reduced the number of organizations conducting mission over the 20th century as they merged organizations responsible for men’s and women’s work and domestic and foreign work. Organizational consolidation may have decreased interest in mission among mainline Protestants.

Thus, one answer to the question of organizational support for church innovation in The United Methodist Church would be to have more United Methodists go off and form their own organizations, separate from the current structure. This argument is sometimes advanced in favor of UMC schism.

I’m not making that argument here. But I think the appeal of this approach to Americans does put the onus on those committed to some form of continued organizational connection to provide an account of how innovation can still happen within that larger organizational system. I’ll offer one such possibility next week.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Recommended Viewing: Central Conference Bishops

For those looking to learn more about United Methodism outside the United States, several recent interviews with bishops from the central conferences are a good way to do that. Here's a list:

Joe Iovino interviews German bishop Harald Rückert for the Get Your Spirit in Shape podcast.

Joe Iovino interviews Filipino bishop Rodolfo A. Juan for the Get Your Spirit in Shape podcast.

Bishop Christian Alsted gives a short overview of The United Methodist Church in Norway.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Dialogue — A Spiritual Practice for 21st Century

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.

The word dialogue comes from the Greek dia, meaning through, and logos, a word that includes the meanings of language, principle, rationality, law, etc. Dialogue invites us to engage with the other by respecting the ‘otherness of the other’ as we grow together in humanity and world citizenship for peace and justice.

Global Ministries’ Mission Dialogue Forum conducted a session on interfaith literacy in January 2018 in order to offer the Global Ministries staff an appreciative understanding of world religions and spiritualities and promote interfaith dialogue. The following are some of the insights we encountered during the mission dialogue session and wish to share with a wider public.

Cross-Cultural Literacy
As global citizens of the world, it is important to not just learn to respect the people of all faiths and non-affiliates but also to develop understanding, sensitization and awareness as the necessary step. The challenge is to empower global citizens cross culturally in a changing world today to face the challenges of tomorrow. Literacy challenges of the new times are that of interfaith literacy, cross-cultural literacy and ecological literacy.
A recent Pew Research study on the changing scenarios of the world’s major religions forecasted into 2050, when the world population will be about 9.3 billion. Finding include the following:

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world. By 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30% of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31%), possibly for the first time in history.
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population. (Is our society become a post-secular society?)
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish based on religion.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Our Neighbors
Given these facts together with rapid growth of international migration and human movements across national and global borders sociology and spirituality of our neighbor will have a spectacular come back. This is extremely challenging for the Christians in mission and ministry; engaging our neighbor and her faith will be the critical question in front of all humans. When we say and greet, “How is it going!” are we practicing missional seriousness? In the greeting there is a call to stop and dialogue on the “goings of the other”. The faith of the other is a significant dimension of that ‘going.’

Test of Faith is Faith in Relation
I thought sharing a few highlights from Rev. Dr. Lynn De Silva (1919-1982), an eminent Sri Lankan Methodist theologian, ecumenist and world religions scholar could share some wisdom for Christians who are called to be in mission today. According to De Silva:
  • Dialogue does not in any way diminish full and loyal commitment to one's own faith, but rather enriches and strengthens it.
  • Dialogue, far from being a temptation to syncretism, is a safeguard against it, because in dialogue we get to know one another's faith in depth. One's own faith is tested and refined and sharpened thereby. The real test of faiths is faiths-in-relation.
  • Dialogue is a creative interaction which liberates a person from a closed or cloistered system to which he happens to belong by an accident of birth and elevates him to spiritual freedom giving him a vision of wider dimensions of spiritual life by his sharing in the spirituality of others.

Intra-Cultural Dialogue
From the point of view of reconciliation, healing and goodwill, navigating through intracultural dialogue and cross-cultural dialogue is the test of our time. Sometimes intra-cultural relationships are harder and even tougher than cross cultural dialogue. What we need today is a dialogical leadership at all levels. Dialogue cannot be genuine unless we engage as equals. This may be of special critical relevance in inter-racial dialogue, inter-economic dialogue (the rich and the poor), and inter-theological dialogue within our own cultural communities.

Prayer and meditation in all faiths is a dialogue. The challenge of the world religions and other spiritualities today is to earnestly invite their own adherents to engage seriously in prayer and mediation as a mystical spiritual empowering source for dialoging with humanity and the rest of creation. Let the gift of Dialogue be our 21st century spiritual practice for the fullness of LIFE.

“It is vital that we stand up with the same aspiration and that we talk openly with each other. In any situation, dialogue is a positive endeavor. It builds solidarity and creates unity. dialogue gives rise to trust, even among those who don’t see eye to eye.” - Nichiren Daishonin