Friday, September 28, 2018

Recommended Viewing: Missionary Interviews

There is a long tradition of missionaries itinerating and visiting local churches to speak about their work and the contexts in which they do it. But what to do if you want your church (or classroom) to hear from missionaries but can't arrange an itineration visit? Thankfully, technology has an alternative. Several YouTube videos of interviews with United Methodist missionaries can help.

The most thorough such interview video is one conducted by Joe Iovino of UMCommunications with Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and his wife Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufu.The two are missionaries from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Cote d' Ivoire. This video gives viewers an opportunity to learn about social conditions regarding marriage and gender in Cote d'Ivoire and to hear from the voices of Africans engaged in mission. The video is about 35 minutes long.

Global Ministries had compiled numerous short video interviews with its missionaries. Playlists exist for both young adult missionaries and longer-term global missionaries. Most of these videos are about 2 minutes long and contain a brief synopsis of the missionary's call story and current work. There are currently 27 young adult videos and 17 global missionary videos, with more being added on a regular basis.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Four Interpretations of the African UMC Bishops' Statement

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.

The Africa College of Bishops met recently in Sierra Leone for a regular time of discussion and learning as the episcopal leaders of the UMC in Africa. Following that meeting, they released a statement summarizing some key points of their meeting, including discussions related to the topic of sexuality, the upcoming called General Conference, and the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. You can read the full statement, a summary by the Council of Bishops, and a UMNS article about the statement and meeting.

The statement reaffirmed the bishops' support of a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman and emphasized their commitment to the unity of the denomination. While that much is clear, there are at least four possible interpretations of what this statement means for how African delegates will likely vote at February's special General Conference.

The first interpretation is that the African bishops were showing support for the Traditionalist Plan. Indeed, the initial version of the UMNS story indicated that the African bishops had done just this, though UMNS retracted that version of the story and indicated that the African bishops did not support any of the three plans coming out of the Commission's work.

While it is clear that of the three plans, a traditional understanding of marriage aligns most closely with the Traditionalist Plan, that does not necessarily mean that the bishops' support of traditional marriage equates to support of the Traditionalist Plan. The current Book of Discipline upholds a traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, so implementing the Traditionalist Plan would not be necessary for the church to officially have a traditional understanding of marriage.

Thus, a second interpretation of the African bishops' statement is that is actually is a call to maintain the status quo rather than adopting any of the three plans. The African bishops did speak positively of the Commission, but that does not mean they agree that African delegates should vote for one or another plan. They did not endorse any of the three, and that may be a sign that they do not see any of the three as attractive options.

This interpretation may be more plausible depending on how one reads the bishops' statements for unity and against "legislation that calls for the dissolution of The United Methodist Church." The Traditionalist Plan includes extensive provisions for prompting the exit of portions of the (American) UMC unwilling to abide by Book of Discipline provisions on gay marriage and gay ordination. Such exits would come at some cost to the unity of the denomination, though it would not entail full-scale "dissolution" of the UMC.

Focusing on this term "dissolution" leads to a third interpretation of the African bishops' statement, as a specific warning against legislation proposed by the WCA that would outright dissolve The United Methodist Church without making provisions for what comes next. Under this interpretation, the bishops are warning their constituents against that particular legislation and signaling that either the Traditionalist Plan or the status quo (both of which preserve teachings on traditional marriage) would be acceptable.

A fourth and final interpretation rejects the assumption that this statement actually offers any new or reliable information about how African delegates will vote next February. Much of the statement is a reiteration of past sentiments (referred to in the statement). Moreover, there are several reasons that this statement might not translate directly to voting behaviors.

First, a "unanimous" statement by the bishops may more indicate a commitment by the bishops to presenting a united front rather than an accurate indication of the opinions of each bishop individually. I have spoken before about how understandings of voting differ outside the US and unanimous votes can mask spirited discussions that occurred just prior to the vote. Thus, it is quite possible that the African bishops, despite this unanimous statement, do not unanimously agree which, if any, of the three plans would be best for the church in Africa.

Second, the statement by the bishops may be seen as a statement that is about sending the right public messages (to African rather than American publics) that are necessary to ensure their constituents' continued support. Such a public statement may then open up private discussions with delegates that may take more specific directions regarding which of the plans a particular bishop supports. The public statement contain enough in it to provide bishops with theological cover while providing enough room for interpretation for bishops to recommend different plans.

Third, bishops aren't voting delegates themselves, and despite African bishops' vaunted authority, they do not determine how their delegates vote. Even if this statement is an indication that the bishops are support a plan (or no plan), African delegates could still vote in other ways. A recent article about the Africa Initiative meeting in Nairobi indicated that there are tensions between the bishops and the Africa Initiative (which did support the Traditionalist Plan). Delegates may have to choose between listening to the Africa Initiative, listening to their bishop, or selecting another option.

It's hard to read much encouragement in the statement by the African bishops for the One Church Plan, let alone the Simple Plan proposed by American progressives. Still, the statement is open to a variety of interpretations and should not be taken as foregone evidence that passage of the Traditionalist Plan is inevitable. That is still a real possibility, but nothing passing is at least as likely, and other scenarios may yet come to pass, too. We won't know definitively how African delegates will vote until next February.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Recommended Reading: Sam McBratney

For those interested in learning more about Methodist voices from outside the United States, I recommend checking out the blog of Rev. Sam McBratney. Rev. McBratney is a presbyter (elder, in UMC parlance) in the Methodist Church in Britain and Research Officer at the Susanna Wesley Foundation. Methodism and mission are both focal topics for his blog. Of particular interest to readers may be his recent post on the connection between the two and the way that connection contrasts with Anglicanism.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Recommended Listening: Failed Missionary Podcast

Failed Missionary is a new (more-or-less) monthly podcast hosted by Corey Pigg along with occasional collaborators Emily Worrall (of Barbie Savior), Jamie Wright (The Very Worst Missionary), and Hannah Paasch (of The Flawless Project). The approximately 50-minute segments feature Pigg and guests discussing topics related to mission, both short-term and long-term, especially as practiced within American evangelicalism. Topics thus far have included calling, missionary kids, and the specific work of some of the guest hosts.

The podcast is worth a listen both for its exploration of significant topics in mission in a popular audio format, but even more so as an example of the growing critique of the evangelical missionary endeavor by former practitioners. This developing conversation stands at the intersection of conversations about and challenges to mission and the world of ex-evangelical (or committed but critical evangelical) blogging.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Recommended Viewing: David Scott at BUSTH alumni panel

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.

I am going to engage in a bit of self-promotion in this post.

I have the deep honor of being recognized today by my alma mater, the Boston University School of Theology (MTS '07, BU GRE '13) as one of their Distinguished Alumni/ae in the category of "Emerging Leader." You can read more about that award, along with the other honorees, here.

As part of the Distinguished Alumni activities today, I will participate in a panel discussion with the other three award recipients about "The Three Greatest Challenges Facing Us in the Next Decade." My thoughts on that topic are (at least in part) shaped by my work on this blog, and you can hear them! The panel will be live-streamed here, and you can watch it today (Wednesday, September 19, 2018) from 5:00-6:30pm, Eastern Daylight Time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Recommended Viewing: Eurasian Bishop Eduard Khegay

For those looking to learn more about United Methodism outside the United States, a recent video interview with Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Episcopal Area, which includes Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova. Bishop Khegay shares not only about his own spiritual journey but also about The United Methodist Church in Russia. He also includes a plea for more relationships and understanding between the United States and Russia.

Bishop Khegay's interview adds to several other recent interviews with bishops from the central conferences, which can be found here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Benjamin L. Hartley: On Really Getting Things Wrong…

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley, Associate Professor of Christian Mission at George Fox University. The post originally appeared on the author's personal blog, Mission and Methodism, in slightly modified form.

This summer I was once again in the archives researching world Christian leaders in the early part of the twentieth century. In the course of this archival research I occasionally come across letters where the writers are so very blind to the big events that are beginning to happen around them or will shortly happen. They are sometimes astonishing to read. Sometimes they are astonishingly boring in light of what – in historical hindsight – we know was about to happen in their world (like World War 1!).

But for the most part my reaction to these astonishing letters is not one of self-righteous incredulity where I wonder, “How could s/he think or say that?” Quite the contrary. When I come across these letters they frequently give me pause as I wonder to myself, “What am I missing in my own context?” Am I equally blind to critical matters happening in my world where I am doing very little in response?

It seems important to be especially prayerful along these lines following the summer of 2018 which seemed particularly disturbing in the world news events swirling about us. The growth of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, the rise of right-wing nationalist leaders, the separation of immigrant families, the praising of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un by President Trump… The list goes on. What will happen next? What is happening now in other parts of the world that I am not noticing because these events I just mentioned are either closer to home or are more active in the press I am paying attention to?

It is with all of this in mind that I share an excerpt from a two-page, typewritten letter written by an early twentieth century evangelist named Sherwood Eddy. He was very popular as an evangelist in student circles, and by the late 1920s was getting increasingly intrigued by what was happening in the still-new Soviet Union. He sent an almost syrupy sweet letter to Josef Stalin in 1932. What was happening in 1932 that he was clueless about? Well, here’s a bit of a taste…

In 1932 the first “five-year plan” was wrapping up. Collectivization of Soviet agriculture was moving forward at a break-neck pace and a devastating famine was setting in causing the deaths of millions of people in the Ukraine and elsewhere. Some scholars see this as deliberate and thus worthy of the “genocide” label committed by Stalin.

Now read the letter that Sherwood Eddy wrote to Stalin that I came across in my research at the Yale Divinity School archives. One of the most striking examples of really getting things wrong.

This is my ninth visit to this country in twenty years – twice in Czarist Russia, seven times to the Soviet Union, which has made such astonishing progress especially during the Five Year Plan. I am counted a friend of this country and have been working for a decade with my friends… for the recognition of the Soviet Union by the reactionary Government of the United States, so much so that in America it is foolishly said I must be supported by “Moscow gold.” I am not a Communist nor a capitalist, but a Socialist; but I want to see this daring undertaking of a classless society under a new social order succeed, and it is succeeding.

I know you are occupied with much more important questions in collectivization, heavy and light industry, etc. I do not ask an interview nor an answer to this letter, which may not even reach you, but I have confidence in you as the one man that can bring victory and success in the face of all these difficulties.

Speaking as a friend of the Soviet Union, not by way of criticism but in kindly suggestion, I may say that your tourist business for foreigners is very badly run. I know the difficulties and I do not expect perfection, busy as you are with more important internal problems, but things are worse this year in many respects than in previous years. Thousands of dollars have been wasted abroad in advertising which was unpsychological and not adapted to foreigners, promising things which could not be fulfilled, and have not been fulfilled. A few thousand dollars spent in making these hotels suitable for foreigners would have brought better results than tens of thousands in unwise advertising which has not been fulfilled…[1]

Yes, that’s right. In the midst of a genocidal famine caused, in large part, by Josef Stalin we have this letter giving Comrade Stalin advice on his country’s hospitality industry! Astonishing? Yes.

May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear what is happening in our world that is at least somewhat better than Sherwood Eddy was able to see in his own day. That is my humble prayer – for all of us.

[1] Letter from Sherwood Eddy to Josef Stalin, July 29, 1932. Sherwood Eddy papers, Yale Divinity School archives, New Haven, CT

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On the Methodist Church in Britain, CIEMAL, and learning from our global partners

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.

I recently saw a surprising flyer put out by the Methodist Church in Britain. The flyer was for an advertisement for a new program to assist with evangelism that the Methodist Church in Britain was offering. This itself was not surprising.

What was surprising to me was the program itself: the Methodist Church in Britain was offering for local churches in Britain to receive missionaries from CIEMAL, the Consejo de Iglesias Evangélicas Metodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (Council of Methodist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean), who would assist these British churches with their evangelism programs over the course of three years.

The Methodist Church in Britain pointed out that Methodism is growing in many places in Latin America and the Caribbean and left unspoken the contrast that Methodism is shrinking in most places in Britain. If Methodism is growing in Latin America and the Caribbean, might not Latin Americans and Caribbeans have something to teach the British?

That seems logical enough, but what was surprising was the embrace by the Methodist Church in Britain of a very different sort of relationship with some of its descendant churches than the one it traditionally had. Don't get me wrong - I think the shift is very laudable, but it is still surprising.

Traditionally, the Methodist Church in Britain was the one exporting missionaries elsewhere. Those missionaries went out and told other people how to do their evangelism. British Methodists did not receive missionaries or need anyone else to tell them how to do their own evangelism. They were the ones with the money, the power, and the answers.

That attitude has been changing for some time in Britain. The post-colonial and post-Christendom British church realizes it can no longer expect to project itself as the center of money, power, and knowledge, among Methodists abroad or within its own society, in the same way it used to.

Yet this recent flier represents a further step, and a necessary one. There is a progression - from "we will go out as missionaries with the answers," to "we will go out as missionaries in partnership with others, where both sides have answers," to "we may still go out as missionaries, but we also need to receive missionaries and answers from others."

Some of my surprise, I am sure, comes from being an American. It is difficult enough to get many American Christians to shift from the first mindset to the second on the above continuum. That denominational leadership would promote the shift to the third mindset seems unthinkable. What would be the reaction if The United Methodist Church offered to deploy Congolese evangelists in the United States? How would US churches respond to the suggestion that they needed to place themselves under the tutelage and leadership of Africans?

Yet that is the direction that Western Christians should go. We must recognize that it is not only us who go as missionaries, nor only us who have the answers, nor only others who have problems with which they need help. All Christians are called to mission. All Christians have knowledge to share. And all Christians, including Western Christians, have problems with which they need help. We, too, must be willing to listen to others who have aspects of the gospel to share with us so that we can hear them with fresh ears. We, too, must be willing to receive from others just as much as we seek to share with them. The church in the United States may not be at that point yet, but I pray it gets there.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Recommended Reading: Norma Dollaga on Duterte, theology, and poverty

United States Attorney General and United Methodist Jeff Sessions was roundly criticized in June for his use of Romans 13 to justify the Trump Administrations' policy of child separation for families arriving at the US southern border.

Yet Sessions is far from the only politician globally using theology to justify questionable practices. In the Philippines, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has pondered publicly about the connection between God, poverty, and suffering. The strongman ruler has been accused of fomenting violence against the poor and indigenous groups in his country.

Just as United Methodists in the US responded to Sessions' claims, United Methodist deaconess and theologian Norma Dollaga takes on Duterte's theological claims in a piece on her blog entitled "Poverty Is Not A Creation of God." It is a recommended read.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Recommended readings: Africa Initiative meeting

The Africa Initiative, a unofficial caucus group of African United Methodists with ties to conservative American United Methodist caucus groups, met a few weeks ago in Nairobi, Kenya. Among other discussions and trainings, the group discussed proposed legislation for the upcoming called General Conference in February 2019. The group endorsed the Traditional Plan. You can read a UMNS article by African journalist E. Julu Swen about the meeting here.

The meeting has received some pushback from African United Methodists living in the United States. For examples, see articles by Albert Otshudi Longe and Kalaba Chali.

Amid the meeting and its criticism, there are four points worth highlighting:

1. Not all Africans think the same. There are debates in Africa, just as there are in the US, even if they are not the same debates.

2. While American traditionalists and progressives are promoting various African voices, we should be careful to not just read these African voices as presenting the same set of views as their American allies. Africans have their own takes on issues and their own takes on which issues are most worthy of the church's focus.

3. Both Chali and Longe are living in the United States. One can interpret their critiques of the Africa Initiative in a variety of ways, but one interpretation is to see a distinction between the views individual Africans hold and the views Africans feel free to express publicly in Africa. Many African cultures emphasize deference to communal norms to a much greater degree and individual expression to a much lesser degree than does US culture.

4. Swen's article alludes to conflicts between the Africa Initiative and the African bishops. Three of the thirteen African bishops were at the Nairobi meeting, but the relationship between the Africa Initiative and the bishops as a whole, along with the different strategies each adopt in advance of General Conference 2019, may actually be the determining factor for how African delegates approach that General Conference and thus the result of the conference.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Recommended Readings from Darrell Whiteman on Contextualization

Last week, we published piece on contextualization by Dr. Darrell Whiteman, leader of Global Development, entitled "Contextualization, Relevance, and Biblical Fidelity in the Church and Mission." As a companion to that piece, Dr. Whiteman also shared a list of recommended readings on the topic of contextualization. Those recommended readings are as follows:

Flemming, Dean (2005) Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Flemming, Dean (2009) “Contextualization in a Wesleyan Spirit: A Case Study of Acts 15” In Whiteman, Darrell L. and Gerald H. Anderson (eds.) World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit, American Society of Missiology Series, No. 44. Franklin, TN: Providence House Publishers, pp. 16-27. 

Kraft, Charles H. (2016) Issues in Contextualization. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Moreau, A. Scott (2012) Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic.

Moreau, A. Scott (November 2018) Contextualizing the Faith: A Holistic Approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Whiteman, Darrell L. (1997) “Contextualization: The Theory, the Gap, the Challenge” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 21:2-7.

Whiteman, Darrell L. (2010) “The Gospel in Human Contexts: Changing Perceptions of Contextualization” In MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.  David J. Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer (eds.). Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, pp. 114-128.