Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Maclane Heward: The Foundations of UMVIM: Michael Watson, the Red Scare and the Social Gospel

Today's post is by Maclane Heward. Mr. Heward is a doctoral candidate in the History of Christianity and Religions of North America at Claremont Graduate University. It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

Michael Watson stands prominently among the many individuals who brought about the formation and growth of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) program. Surprisingly just a few years before Watson took his family on his first short-term mission experience, he himself considered leaving behind his childhood faith in search of something “more to [his] liking.” The purpose of this brief post will be to illuminate one particular experience that became formative for Michael Watson as he became perhaps the most significant figure in the establishment of UMVIM.

Watson, having been raised by a mother who had a heart for mission, began his medical practice after his discharge from the US Marine Corps and his completion of medical school in the small South Carolina town of Bamberg in the late 1950s.

Watson became fast friends with a like-minded young minister by the name of George Strait. Strait and Watson shared more than just their status as young enterprising Methodist bachelors, they were significantly missionary-minded and felt that the opportunities for Methodists to be involved with missions beyond simply financing them would allow the laity “more meaningful participation in the life of the church.”[1]

A “strange thing happened” in 1960 when Watson was elected the South Carolina Annual Conference’s Minimum Salary Commission which placed him on the Conference’s Board of Missions. With Strait already participating on the board as the District Mission Secretary, the two individuals now had a voice in sharing their ideas regarding lay involvement in missionary pursuits. Among other activities, they “decided to enlighten the General Board of Missions with [their] inspiration” to send the laity into mission service for short periods of time. The letter sent seemed to fall by the wayside as it was never responded to.

During the same period of time, the late 1950s and early 1960s, The National Council of Churches (NCC), had come under increased scrutiny due to its supposed involvement in Communism. As the church was a member of the NCC, suspicions arouse regarding its involvement in communism. One study conducted in 1954 found that the “Methodist church, a member of the National Council of Churches, was the least likely among Protestant groups to support Joseph McCarthy and his subcommittee.”[2] Thus, in the minds of some, it was the most likely to house communist infiltration.

It was at this time that Watson became so disconcerted with the possibility that the church was somehow involved with communism that he began looking for a new church home among other denominations. His fellow congregants in Bamberg shared his anxiety and appointed Watson the chairman of a special committee to research and report on the infiltration of the NCC by communists.

So while Watson was investigating the NCC, he was also looking into other denominations. Dissatisfied with each denomination he investigated, Watson began researching the beginnings of Methodism. He learned that Methodism began during the Industrial Revolution in England, a “time when man’s inhumanity to man was at its zenith.”

While originally concerned that if Methodism was not communistic, it certainly leaned socialistic, the process of learning about the church’s beginnings caused Watson to be “no longer… suspicious of [Methodism’s] Social Gospel, but … Proud of it and realized that this had been [his] position all the time!” Looking again at the critics of the NCC, Watson with his new paradigm was able to see the conflict over the NCC as a conflict between liberal and conservative theological ideologies, a conflict that he had not previously known existed. He came to see the accusations of communist infiltration as the attempts of the “Righteous Right.”[3] His report to the Board of Stewards in Bamberg concluded “there was just a difference of opinion and perspective that had been carried beyond the bounds of truthfulness by some of the critics.”

His research and the increase outside criticism of the NCC led to the SEJ Conference leadership appointing him to give a report on the NCC at the UMC Conference. Watson’s report informed the conference on the NCC and concluded that “the NCC was in reality cooperative Protestant Christianity in America” and was part of a worldwide movement of “Christian cooperation.”[4]

Two significant outcomes took place as a result of Watson’s investigation into communism in the NCC.

First, Watson himself became aware of his deep connection and commitment to the Methodist church. As part of that commitment to Methodism, Watson learned that involvement in social issues and in humanitarian efforts was at the core of how Methodism began; the Social Gospel was not just a thing the church did—for Watson it was the core of what the church did.

Second, because of previous time constraints, Watson left immediately after his conference report was received by standing ovation. In his absence he was voted in as the official delegate to the NCC from the Methodist Church.

This appointment greatly expanded Watson’s interactions with decision makers in the Methodist church and other mainline denominations across America. During each of his interactions with executives from the Methodist church he would steer the conversation toward his “favorite subject—using volunteers in [the Methodist] mission program.”[5]

Though nothing came directly of these conversations—seemingly because of the aversion of Methodist executives to the use of volunteers in a work done by professionals—his associations led him to an appointment as a member of the Methodist Committee on Relief (MCOR, which would later become UMCOR after the merging of the Methodist church and the Evangelical United Brethren church in 1968).

Watson’s involvement in UMCOR played directly into lay participation in short-term mission (STM) experiences. Having learned of Watson’s commitment to using volunteers, James Thomas, a UMCOR staff member, called Watson just months after his appointment to UMCOR and informed him of a volunteer opportunity. Thomas, an official representative of the church, was essentially inviting Watson on the first UMVIM trip. Watson’s reaction: “After 14 years, we at last had a mission challenge. I could hardly wait to tell George [Strait].”[6]


[1] Michael Watson. “A Journey of Faith,” September 1, 2009, 2. See also Thomas L. Curtis. From the Grassroots: A History of United Methodist Volunteers In Mission. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000, 34.
[2] Thomas Aiello, “Constructing ‘Godless Communism’: Religion, Politics, and Popular Culture, 1954– 1960,” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 4, no. 1 (Spring 2005): http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2005/aiello.htm. See also Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1970 (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 230.
[3] Watson, “A Journey of Faith,” 4.
[4] Watson, “A Journey of Faith,” 4.
[5] Watson details the dominos that fell in consequence of his presentation on communism in the NCC. “The acceptance of membership on the NCC General Board led to a series of events that included 12 years as a member of UMCOR, eight years as a member of the Board of Missions/Board of Global Ministries, membership in five Jurisdictional Conferences and three General Conferences and three years as a member of the Board of Directors of Church World Service. I also served as the U.S. delegate to the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas meeting in Nassau, The Bahamas, and to the British Methodist Conference meeting in Nottingham, England. I was elected to membership in the World Council of Churches meeting in Upsula, Sweden, and the World Methodist Council meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, but was unable to attend those meetings.” Watson, “A Journey of Faith,” 5.
[6] Watson, “A Journey of Faith,” 6.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The UMC and Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Part 4: Ability to Learn from Crisis

Having laid out an assessment of the crisis that the UMC is facing, and having laid out the framework that Jared Diamond used in his book Upheaval to assess nation’s abilities to effectively resolve national crisis, I will now examine those factors (adapted for denominations instead of nations) as they apply to The United Methodist Church. I will look at the factors in a different order that Diamond listed them, grouping them instead into four related categories. This post will look at the third category:

Denominational Factors Related to Ability to Learn
As Peter Senge and other leadership and organizational theorists have shown, an organization’s ability to successfully adapt and respond to change depends upon its ability not only to act, but to learn from its actions, current and past. Organizations that can learn are better able to adapt and respond to change and thus more likely to survive. Three of the factors identified by Diamond have to do with organizational learning – from previous crises, from failures, and from other organizations.

8. Historical experience of previous denominational crises
This factor asks whether there are previous crises that The United Methodist Church (or its predecessor denominations) has successfully faced from which it can collectively learn lessons and develop a sense of resiliency. There are certainly previous crises in the predecessors of the UMC from which lessons might be learned or resiliency be obtained.

The previous crisis that is most frequently invoked in discussions of the UMC’s current crisis is the split between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1844 over the issue of slavery. Commentators draw a range of lessons from this division, and it is not clear that there is a consensus on what the lesson of that split was for our current situation. Moreover, that the two denominations did not merge again until 75 years later, and that there were problems with that merger related to underlying issues of race and regionalism indicate that this split is perhaps not the sort of model all hope applies to the current situation.

Changes in church teaching and practices on divorce or clergy smoking tobacco are also sometimes held up as historical examples that the church can successfully resolve dissent over practices related to sexuality, marriage, and ordination. That is true, and the denomination should take some consolation from that, though these issues did not become crises at the same level as our current crisis.

The church could also perhaps learn from the fundamentalist/modernist controversy, which strained most of American Protestantism, but affected Methodists less than other denominations. Some scholars have undertaken to do so, but those lessons are not ones widely discussed.

Other previous crises in the church – especially those leading to splits in the church, such as the variety of holiness departures from the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Association/United Evangelical Church split, or the United Brethren in Christ/United Brethren in Christ (Old Constitution) split – have faded significantly from collective memory and do not seem to be a source of lessons for the present.

It is worth noting that all the examples cited above are from the United States. These examples will not have the same resonance with United Methodists outside the US. Instead, local and regional experiences will lead to other lessons drawn about how to resolve crises, as I have shown for the recent Filipino schism. Knowledge of these crises and the lessons drawn from them are not likely to be shared beyond a particular region.

9. Dealing with denominational failure
According to Diamond, dealing with failure involves the patience to try possible ways to resolve a crisis and the ability to tolerate failure in the process. One could include in this factor the ability to learn from failure, both failures in resolving the present crisis and past collective failures.

However, in the present UMC, failure to resolve the current crisis has seemed to increase emotional tensions within the denomination. General Conference 2016, the Commission on a Way Forward, and General Conference 2019 all failed in their own ways to resolve the denomination’s current crisis, especially as it manifests in the debate about the status of LGBTQ persons in the church.

Rather than the church seeing these failures as teachable moments from which it could learn, the failures have left United Methodists, especially in the United States, with limited remaining patience to try additional solutions to the current crisis to see if they work. Many US United Methodists now want a resolution to the crisis in the next year or two, or else they intend to leave.

The denomination’s attitude towards its current failures can be seen as part of a larger pattern of ignoring or minimizing failures rather than learning from them. Failures are either recast as successes or are edited out of our collective history.

Most United Methodists do recognize the failures inherent in the way that the denomination and its predecessors treated women and people of color, especially in the creation of the segregated Central Jurisdiction. And United Methodists do draw lessons from the movements for ordination of women and the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction. Yet, the focus on these pieces of United Methodist history is often on successfully getting past these failures, e.g., by talking much more about the events that led up to the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction rather than those that led up to its creation.

Other failures that might be relevant to our current crisis have largely been edited out of our collective history. The financial and membership failures associated with the collapse of the $2 billion (in today’s money) fundraising campaign and the evangelistic campaign both associated with the Mission Centenary, and its long-lasting consequences for the world-wide nature of the church have been intentionally forgotten because the church was unwilling to grapple with this failure. The COSMOS (Commission on the Status of Methodism Overseas) process has also largely been forgotten (outside of this blog) after its failure to move the church to a new model of international decision-making.

5. Using other denominations as models of how to solve the problems
In some ways, The United Methodist Church is trying to do something no other denomination has done – resolve a debate on sexuality as an international denomination. In that regard, there is no model for the UMC. Yet, in looking at the components of the problem, there are models from which the church can draw.

Notably, other mainline US denominations have gone through crises over the status of LGBTQ persons within them, and those crises have been resolved, in one way or another. United Methodists frequently cite the examples of the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and UCC. Less well known is the similar Moravian crisis. United Methodists seem to be committed to learning from these other models.

None of these other denominations are international, though the Episcopalians and Moravians are part of world-wide communions, and the international structures of these two traditions have intersected with how these two denominations resolved their crises over the status of LGBTQ persons in the church.

There are also models from other denominations of how to structure international decision-making within an international Methodist/Wesleyan denomination. The AME Church, AME Zion Church, The Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, and the Church of the Nazarene have all adopted different models for international decision-making. None of these models were adopted in the midst of debates over sexuality, however. Furthermore, most United Methodists are not familiar with these models and are thus not actively trying to learn from them.

There are no real models for successfully solving one component of the UMC’s crisis – the decline in US membership and giving. No other major US denomination has turned around long-term membership decline.

There are, however, perhaps still some models that are worth examining, both in other denominations and within the UMC. The Fresh Expressions movement in England and elsewhere is a model that many United Methodists are exploring as a means to counteract membership decline.

Moreover, as I have previously argued, examining the practices of racial and ethnic minority UMC churches in the US may yield models, as the total membership of these churches has continued to grow, even while white American membership has declined. Little work has yet been done, though, in trying to identify such models, and the mere suggestion of learning from racial and ethnic minorities has prompted resistance by some in the church.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Where Are the Central Conferences in the WCA's New Denomination?

The Wesleyan Covenant Association last week released its draft Book of Doctrines and Disciplines, which provides the framework for a new denomination that the WCA expects will form out of the current turmoil in the UMC, either as a result of a split or as a way for individual departing congregations to regroup.

The WCA has stated that their preference is for a split along the lines of the Indianapolis Plan, which was endorsed by both the WCA leadership team and last weekend's Global Gathering. Under the terms of the Indianapolis Plan, the new denomination would include not only US Traditionalists, but also many from the central conferences, who become part of the new denomination by default.

The expectation that United Methodists from the central conferences will become part of this new denomination raises a fair question: What would the draft Book of Doctrines and Disciplines (D&D) mean for United Methodists in the central conferences?

First, a disclaimer: the D&D as released is a DRAFT. Significant sections, including one on conferences, are yet to be written. Existing sections may be significantly modified. Yet, despite this caveat, the draft D&D contains enough to have some sense of the implications for the central conferences.

Second, a note about authorship. The WCA stated that a 16-person team wrote the draft D&D, but they did not state who these 16 people were. 15% of the WCA Council is from the central conferences, and there have been people from the central conferences speaking at all WCA events. Yet, given the overwhelmingly American nature of both the Council and Global Gatherings, it is likely that the writing team for the D& was overwhelmingly American.

Moreover, the recent Global Gathering does not appear to have been streamed in any central conferences, so there appears to be limited involvement by the United Methodists from the central conferences in affirming the draft D&D.

However, if the central conferences except for Western Europe were to join the new denomination, along with, say, 25% of US membership, then Methodists from the central conferences would represent 75% of the membership of the new denomination.

Thus, there's already an issue in a (likely) largely US group making decisions that will impact a largely non-US group. That pattern is not confined to the WCA but is unfortunately all too common in the UMC as a whole.

Let's turn now to what the draft D&D says. I'll discuss four points:

1. Central conferences and episcopal areas, as they are now, cease to exist.
The draft D&D refers only to annual conferences and regional conferences. Regional conferences are primarily about overseeing shared ministry. They do not have the power to elect bishops or adapt the D&D, and thus are significantly different from central conferences, as they currently stand. Moreover, the draft D&D envisions bishops serving a single annual conference, not episcopal areas of more than one annual conference. This leads to my second observation:

2. Ending episcopal areas would force a massive reorganization of the central conferences.
Currently, in many places outside the US, bishops serve multiple annual conferences. Requiring each annual conference to have its own bishop would either result in many more bishops or many fewer annual conferences outside the US, or both. To cite just one instance, would the 2,000 United Methodists in Poland get their own bishop, or would they become a district of some transnational annual conference?

In whatever way such questions are answered, this new denomination would require a massive reorganization of current UMC central conference structures. Any such reorganization is likely to have significant economic, legal, and church political implications.

3. There is not currently any indication that people outside the US will be able to adapt the D&D.
When the section on Conferences is written, this power may be given to annual conferences outside the US, but currently the draft D&D makes no provision for adaptation by context.

This raises at very least some legal and logistical questions. The draft D&D includes extensive rules around trusteeship. Will these rules meet the legal requirements for all countries in which this new denomination would function? The draft D&D requires an online database of all pastors and open appointments. Will this apply to remote congregations in the DRC as well?

In general, the draft D&D seems to repeatedly presume a US context of formal organizational rules and procedures, easy printing enabling frequent use of forms and paperwork, and easy internet access. These conditions do not exist in many parts of the UMC around the world.

4. Bishops are significantly weakened in the new denomination.
Under the draft D&D, bishops are term-limited to twelve years. They also have curtailed powers, including a hybrid call/confirmation system for pairing clergy with congregations instead of the current appointment process.

Bishops, especially in Africa, are currently positions of great power and usually great respect. Bishops in Africa serve for life after winning 1-2 elections. They frequently have the power to appoint not just clergy, but leading laity as well.

Thus, the proposed reduction in the powers of the bishop would go over much differently in Africa than in the anti-institutional, anti-bureaucracy culture of the United States. Of course, views will differ among Africans, and Filipinos and Europeans will have still other views, but this change is not likely to be as welcome in the central conferences as in the US.

In short, the draft Book of Doctrines and Disciplines struck me as overwhelmingly US-centric and often unaware of the consequences its proposed changes would have for the central conferences.

This raises an open question: Does this proposal mark the end of the road for the coalition between US Traditionalists and United Methodists from the central conferences, especially Africa?

That coalition has been founded on mutual opposition to homosexuality. But we've seen with the African bishops' statement opposing a split and opposing plans written without central conference input, that the interests of US Traditionalists and Africans are sometimes opposed to one another.

US Traditionalists may find that joint opposition to homosexuality is not enough to incentivize most Africans and Filipinos to follow them into a new denomination that would make radical changes to the church in their lands, changes that they had, at most, a minor role in determining.

The African bishops' statement said, "We cannot allow a split to further reduce us to second-class citizens in a church that only needs us when they want our votes. As Africans, we have the right of self-determination and we have the right to speak for ourselves and determine who we want to be." Whatever the future of the UMC in the US, Africa, and elsewhere, we should take Africans at their word when they speak of self-determination.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Mission Volunteer Videos

Today's post is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

Global Ministries' Mission Volunteers program has put out a series of ten videos related to various aspects of the program. Mission Volunteers is a program for what might be called "intermediate-term mission," with individuals or couples serving for between two months and two years. Thus, it's longer than the typical 1-2 week short-term mission trip but usually shorter than the placement for a long-term missionary. Like short-term missions, Global Ministries facilitates placements, but Mission Volunteers serve at their own initiative and expense, not as commissioned and supported Global Ministries missionaries.

The 2-3 minute videos cover theological, spiritual, and cultural considerations related to serving, as well as technical aspects of the program, such as the application process. Here is a complete list:

Expanding Cultural Awareness

Application Process

Theology of Mission

Spiritual and Emotional Health

Training

Social Media

Accident and Health Insurance

Health, Safety and Travel

Financial Support and Budgeting

Culture Shock and Reentry

Monday, November 11, 2019

The UMC and Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Part 3: Ability to Act in Crisis

Having laid out an assessment of the crisis that the UMC is facing, and having laid out the framework that Jared Diamond used in his book Upheaval to assess nation’s abilities to effectively resolve national crisis, I will now examine those factors (adapted for denominations instead of nations) as they apply to The United Methodist Church. I will look at the factors in a different order that Diamond listed them, grouping them instead into four related categories. This post will look at the second category:

Denominational Factors Related to the Ability to Act
The next set of factors that Diamond identifies as relevant to successful crisis-resolution impact the range of actions that a nation or denomination may take. A denomination may be motivated to action by its identification of a crisis and its acceptance of responsibility for addressing that crisis, as in the first set of factors, but that motivation must play out by considering the range of actions that are or are not possible. Factors related to the ability to act either delineate restrictions on denominational action or assets that may allow a denomination to consider a wider array of actions. The three factors here are denominational flexibility, freedom from constraints, and help from other denominations.

10. Situation-specific denominational flexibility
Diamond questions whether it is really appropriate to speak of nations as having a general disposition towards flexibility or inflexibility. Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of traditions of flexibility within organizations such as denominations; perhaps not. Nonetheless, I will attempt to do so.

In general, the structures of The United Methodist Church have been fairly stable since 1972. This includes international decision-making structures, financial structures, and structures of organization and leadership, including boards and agencies. Although there have been changes in the Book of Discipline related to sexuality since 1972, in many ways the contours of that debate were set in 1972 as well and have continued since then.

There have been a few significant changes in the UMC since 1972 – the autonomy of the Methodist Church in India, the replacement of the General Council on Ministries with the Connectional Table, and the merger with the Methodist Protestant Church of Cote d’Ivoire. Yet, as Darryl Stephens has shown for the Cote d’Ivoire merger, these changes have not caused wide-spread rethinking of the denomination.

Moreover, some major proposed changes to how the denomination functions that initially seemed possible have been shot down, including making the US a central conference (passed by General Conference and voted down at the annual conference level), reorganizing the boards and agencies as part of Plan UMC (passed by General Conference and overruled by Judicial Council), or ending guaranteed appointment (passed by consent of a General Conference committee and then voted down by the whole body).

Other significant changes, such as a revamp of the Social Principles (up for vote at General Conference 2020) or the development of a Global Book of Discipline (deferred to General Conference 2024) are still in process, and it is too early to know their fate.

Thus, the main contours of the denomination have been in place since 1972, and the denomination has not shown much flexibility since then.

12. Freedom from financial, legal, and cultural constraints
As laid out in my description of the crisis faced by the UMC, the denomination is facing demographic and financial pressures that result from the decline of membership in the US. These pressures result from larger cultural constraints on Christianity in the United States. In the US broadly, adherence to Christianity is declining in both percentage and absolute terms.

The resultant membership and financial pressures act as constraints on the range of option that the UMC considers for its future. Money is indeed an object, both in the US and elsewhere, and at most levels of the church, from the congregational to the general agency. Thus, most actors are weighing their options in the light of the financial implications for their specific organizations and rejecting those options they see as having deleterious financial effects.

A concern for the impact on membership and giving is perhaps most acute at the most local levels. Pastors leading congregations in the US are rightly concerned about whether the crisis in the UMC will trickle down to their congregation, costing them significant numbers of members in a way that would undermine the health of their congregations.

In Europe, where membership is already quite small, there is also a significant concern for how the UMC’s current crisis will impact future membership and the viability of various forms of church organization, from the congregational through to the central conference.

Still, despite the legitimate financial and membership concerns felt by many United Methodists in the face of the present crisis, it is worth noting that the UMC has a wider latitude to operate relative to other denominations. While the departure of, say, 20% of its American membership would no doubt have significant and in some cases severe consequences, it would still leave the UMC the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States.

In addition to the financial and membership constraints on the UMC, there are also significant legal and cultural constraints on the denomination related to its stance on homosexuality. As I have detailed for Africa, the Philippines, and Europe, the laws about homosexuality and predominant views of homosexuality in the surrounding culture differ significantly across the United Methodist globe. In some places, the church faces fairly significant legal and cultural opposition to anything that could be construed as acceptance of homosexuality. Especially for places like Russia where the church is small and fragile and there is significant disapproval of homosexuality, the church is quite limited in the range of options it can consider for a viable future.

In general, I think this is one of the things that US American United Methodists most fail to understand about their coreligionists elsewhere. US Americans are used to having fairly few constraints on their actions, both as individuals, as a nation, and as a church in a nation with a strong tradition of separation of church and state. It is difficult for US Americans to understand the sorts of legal and social constraints on the UMC elsewhere, especially in settings where the UMC is a small and barely tolerated minority.

4. Getting material and financial help from other nations
This is the factor for which the comparison between nations and denominations seems the least apt. Nations give and receive a variety of material and financial aid between each other all the time. It is rare for denominations to directly aid one another. Instead, denominations more often behave like competitors than allies.

Nevertheless, one might imagine related denominations in the United States taking steps to aid ideologically similar fellow Christians in The United Methodist Church.

Perhaps this could take the form of full-communion mainline Protestant partners preparing to welcome progressive clergy and/or congregations leaving the UMC.

Perhaps this could take the form of Wesleyan/Holiness churches arranging to support departing traditionalist congregations or to use traditionalist para-denominational services (publishing, conferences, etc.) in a way that allows them to transition into services for a new traditionalist denomination.

Such forms of assistance seem to happen on an ad-hoc basis already, though no wide-spread initiatives currently exist. Thus, this form of assistance is not likely to significantly impact how the UMC addresses its current crisis.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Recommended Reading: Nordic Perspectives on Methodism

The third book in the series Nordic Perspectives on Methodism has been released, and unlike previous issues, which were print-only, this one is available as a reasonably-priced e-book on Amazon. The title for this entry in the series is "The Younger Generation and their Walk with God." (Previous entries looked at the nature of Methodism and perspectives on diakonia and service.)

The book was edited by Christina Preisler, an elder in the Denmark Annual Conference. It contains articles by authors from throughout the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area, including Anne Thompson, Meeli Tankler, and Maria Thaarup. A fuller description of the book is available both on Amazon and in this book release announcement (in Danish) from the Denmark AC. While containing scholarship from Europe, the book is in English.

Often, it is difficult for those in the United States to access scholarship and other discussions about the church that occur in the central conferences. With its use of the English language and its publication as an e-book, this volume represents one of the more accessible opportunities for US United Methodists to learn how other United Methodists outside the US are thinking about ministry.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Recommended Viewing: "On the Brühl" Documentary

Discipleship Ministries has developed a 16-minute documentary entitled "On the Brühl." The documentary follows Rev. Barry Sloan, an Irish Methodist minister serving under appointment in Chemnitz, Germany, and his work with the INSPIRE Fresh Expression in the Brühl neighborhood. The documentary is likely to be interesting to viewers for several reasons: its portrayal of life in modern Germany, the cross-cultural dynamic of an Irish minister serving in Germany, and its portrayal of a Fresh Expression.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The UMC and Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Part 2: Recognizing the Crisis

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.

Having laid out an assessment of the crisis that the UMC is facing, and having laid out the framework that Jared Diamond used in his book Upheaval to assess nation’s abilities to effectively resolve national crisis, I will now examine those factors (adapted for denominations instead of nations) as they apply to The United Methodist Church. I will look at the factors in a different order that Diamond listed them, grouping them instead into four related categories. This post will look at the first category:

Denominational Factors Related to Recognizing and Responding to the Crisis
First are a set of factors that relate to recognizing and responding to the crisis, answering the following questions: Is there a crisis? Why? Should the church respond? How extensive should that response be? Unless a denomination agrees that there is a crisis and that it should respond in some way, a crisis cannot be resolved. The identified reason and extent of a crisis are also key in shaping the resolution.

1. Denominational consensus that one’s denomination is in crisis
It might seem that the UMC does indeed have a consensus that the denomination is in crisis. Traditionalists, centrists, progressives, and liberationists in the United States all agree that there is a crisis and that the current state of the church cannot continue. Something must give.

Most Europeans, I think, would also agree that questions about the status of LGBTQ persons in the church and related questions about international polity and financing must be addressed, though perhaps with less of a sense that the future of the denomination depends upon this issue.

Yet it is not clear to me that United Methodists in the Philippines or especially Africa have the same sense of crisis in the UMC as United Methodists in the US and Europe do. Most African United Methodists have limited information about the UMC in the US and only experience debates about sexuality at the occasional general church meetings they may attend. Moreover, in many places in Africa, the church is growing rather than declining.

Thus, while top-level African leaders certainly are aware of the scope and magnitude of the crisis in the UMC, I do not think that sense of crisis goes much beyond the top level. For most African United Methodists, the crisis the UMC faces is actually about local political and economic conditions or competition with pentecostals.

Since Africans represent 30% of the votes at General Conference, this difference between Africans on the one hand and US Americans on the other over the extent and nature of a crisis in the UMC may significantly hinder the denomination’s ability to resolve the UMC’s crisis as I (as a US American) have defined it.

7. Honest denominational self-appraisal
Understandings of some aspects of the current crisis of the UMC are widely shared – there is little debate over the specifics of demographic trends in the US, financial trends globally, or specifics of what church polity says and how it is practiced (which are not the same). Most of this understanding is at the level of facts.

On a deeper level, there is little agreement amongst various factions within the United Methodist church about the underlying explanations for those facts, limiting the extent of honest denominational self-appraisal.

In particular, most of the narratives that the various parties (US traditionalists, US progressives, US centrists, Africans, etc.) attribute the crisis to the actions of other parties and downplay the actions of that group. Each group blames the other(s) for the crisis and is unwilling to honestly admit the role that they have had in creating or sustaining the crisis.

Furthermore, it seems to me that partisans on both sides of the US ideological spectrum tend to scapegoat the debate over LGBTQ persons in the church, making a successful solution to this conflict the key to addressing all other issues related to US membership and financial decline and to international decision making. This assumption seems unrealistic to me.

It also seems to me that some US United Methodists make unrealistic assumptions about their ability to continue to determine the terms of discussion in the UMC long-term, whereas some African United Methodists make unrealistic assumptions about the US ability to continue to subsidize ministry elsewhere long-term.

Thus, in some important ways, United Methodists are not honest with themselves about the reasons for their current crisis.

2. Acceptance of denominational responsibility to do something
Among those United Methodists who agree that the denomination is in crisis, it seems that all of them have accepted responsibility to resolve that crisis in some way, even if they are unwilling to accept responsibility for having caused it. American caucus groups such as Good News, UMC Next, the WCA, and UMForward; European annual and central conferences; and African and Filipino bishops have all made statements, put forth plans, or initiated processes to respond to the crisis of the church.

Yet to assume responsibility to do something without accepting responsibility for having had a role in causing the crisis is to set up one’s own group as the savior and all others, therefore, as the ones in need of saving. This undercuts the possibility of cooperation with others.

If anything is missing in terms of denominational responsibility to do something, it is a sense that for the denomination to do something, various groups must work together rather than independently. Much of the action that has happened to address the UMC’s crisis is action taken by specific groups by themselves and not in concert with others.

3. Building a fence, to delineate the denominational problems needing to be solved
At times, at least for US American United Methodists, the debate over the status of LGBTQ persons in the church can feel all-consuming. This debate, while primarily focused on the two questions of gay ordination and gay weddings, can seem to impact almost all other areas of the church. Indeed, if the church splits, most other areas of polity may be impacted.

Moreover, to the extent that US membership and financial decline impact all United Methodist institutions beyond the local church level, and many local churches themselves, it can also feel like there are no fences around this aspect of the crisis.

To the extent that these perceptions are true, this represents a failure to build a fence around the issues needing to be addressed.

Yet, it should be remembered that this sense of the all-pervasiveness of the crisis is primarily a US sense. United Methodists elsewhere have less of a sense that this crisis is all-consuming, requiring changes in all aspects of what it means to be a United Methodist. This is true even when they acknowledge that the crisis exists.

Moreover, looked at another way, there are key United Methodist practices and characteristics that are not impacted by our current crisis of the sexuality debate, global decision-making, and US membership and financial decline, even in the United States. While the long-term fate of some of these facets depends on what shape possible new denominations might take, things like a belief in connectionalism, an emphasis on free will and personal responsibility, and the practice of itineration are core features of United Methodism that are by and large not presently affected by the crisis.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Recommended Readings: United Methodists Against Domestic and Gender-Based Violence

October was National Domestic Violence Month in the United States. Both Church and Society and United Methodist Women have resources for US Americans to take action on this issue within the United States.

But it is not only in the US that United Methodists are standing against domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Indeed, just within the past year, here is a rundown of countries where there has been news about UMC efforts to combat domestic and gender-based violence:

Cameroon

Cote d'Ivoire

Democratic Republic of Congo (East Congo Episcopal Area)

Democratic Republic of Congo (South Congo Episcopal Area)

Germany/Switzerland

Liberia

Malawi

Sierra Leone

South Africa

United States (Wisconsin)

Zimbabwe

Certainly, the members and ministers of The United Methodist Church are not perfect in their gender attitudes in any country. But that should not cause us to overlook what a significant force the UMC is on behalf of the rights of women in many countries, especially across Africa.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Daniel Bruno: Fifty years after the autonomy and the birth of the Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA)

Today's post is by Rev. Lic. Daniel A. Bruno. Rev. Bruno is a pastor of the Argentina Methodist Church and Professor of Church History. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) and appears here with the author's permission and in the author's translation.

"We retired, declaring that our holy aspirations are still standing ... maybe tomorrow we will return to the battle through new paths, according to the designs that God has prepared for us, since we have not been given to realize our ideals along the paths we have traveled so far" ... (1919)

With these words which expressed at the same time hope and frustration, one of the most conflicting and least known processes in the history of Rio de la Plata Methodism was closing. Between 1916 and 1918, a strong movement led by lay people and pastors had generated a public debate about achieving autonomy from the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The certainty of that movement was that “as long as our peoples reach the opinion that the Gospel we preach is an exotic doctrine, a religion of foreigners… the seed of the gospel will not develop, nor take root or bear fruit as we expect … ”

That nationalizing movement was a minority and was defeated at the beginning of 1919. But, as the proclamation that opens the article said, God had prepared other ways, although that old story`s leaders were no longer there to see them.

The sixties in the "south cone" of America 
Brazil and Mexico were the first Methodist churches to obtain autonomy in Latin America. For fifty years, both countries had the presence of two different Methodist churches in each country (northern and southern Methodism). Towards the end of the 1920s, American Methodism began a process of unification to overcome that division.

The merging of both missions made it necessary now to clarify which of the two mother churches would keep the relationship with local churches. For that reason, the best solution was to declare the new reunified missions to be autonomous churches. After a long process with their respective institutions, both missions achieved their autonomy in 1930.

The history and process in Latin America`s southern cone was different. The churches that came up from the first Methodist mission of the Southern Cone (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru) had to wait until the 1960s to reach that goal. Certainly, the emancipatory atmosphere of the ‘50 and ‘60 in political, religious and social fields had some similarities with the one that lived in 1916. However, the success of the process which culminated in the autonomies of those churches cannot be explained only by its own will and vision. The new shape that Methodism in the US was taking, its context and decisions, also should be taken into account in order to explain the process of autonomy in their missions abroad.

In the mid-sixties, two factors that facilitated the autonomy process came together. On the one hand, there was a progressive need of the missions of the southern cone to adapt the structure of churches to their contexts. They also needed their own space for political decisions out of the control of central interests. Many of their leaders, in clear harmony with that which had been expressed in 1917, claimed that "the effectiveness of their testimony could be annulled because of their historical and organic relationship with American Methodism." Which was true.

But, on the other hand, the structural needs that affected the US Church demanded a redefinition of its objectives and especially its budgets for missions. Since post war time, missions in Africa and Asia began to raise special interest. These were missions which had always been subject to greater attention and budget than that given to those in Latin America, and in this circumstance would be even more.

So, in this context the action of the Commission on the Structure of the Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) began to mobilize the idea about the need for missions in Latin America to separate from the mother church. That would be decisive for the realization of the autonomy process. COSMOS began its work in 1964 and officially concluded it in 1972; however, by 1968 its task was almost totally completed.

In that year, COSMOS sent a recommendation to the General Assembly of the Methodist Church to grant the request for autonomy that the churches in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay had been asking for.

So, in order to finalize the autonomy processes, these would need to be legitimized in local assemblies, which should create the new national churches. And so it happened: Chile, February 1969, Argentina and Uruguay, October 1969, and Peru, January 1970.

The Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina is born
The preamble of the IEMA Constitution declares:

"In Rosario de Santa Fe, on October 5th of the year of the Lord of nineteen sixty-nine, one hundred thirty-three years after the establishment of the Methodist Church in Argentina,
 •  "Grateful to God our Lord, whose Spirit`s work, through our parents in the faith, made us be born to the truth of the Gospel in the ranks of this Church, ……
 •  "Convinced that the present times demand all the fearlessness and creative capacity of a people rooted in the evangelical faith and energized by the power of the Holy Spirit for the fulfillment of the mission that Christ has entrusted to his Church
 •  "Wanting to give a more native and authentic character to our testimony for its greater effectiveness, and feeling the need to be endowed with more autonomy and freedom to give us legislation adapted to the needs and circumstances of our immediate situation,

We declare our willingness to establish autonomously, the ARGENTINE METHODIST EVANGELICAL CHURCH, whose life and action will be governed by the Constitution and General Regulations."

Autonomy with connexionality
It is important to note that because of this process of autonomy of the Methodist churches, the Council of Methodist Churches of Latin America (CIEMAL) was born in February 1969. In its first plenary, it declared:

"The time has come for Latin Americans to demonstrate greater responsibility, consolidating the unity of Methodism in Latin America, to avoid fragmentation, through the autonomy of the Churches of the continent."

The main objective of this entity was to prevent national autonomies from provoking the atomization of Methodism in Latin America. For this reason, the new council would try "to develop a structure that would allow Latin American Methodism to maintain its unity in the mission in a continent as vast and differentiated as ours" without implying that it would interfere with the legislation and politics of each autonomous church.

In the closing sermon of the Constitutive Assembly of the IEMA held in Rosario on October 5-7, 1969, Bishop Carlos Gattinoni said:

"We do not always see the way, but we see Jesus going forward with the great promise, 'just as the Father sent me, I send you.' There was great despair in the work of Methodism in the 30s, when they told me the Methodist church is about to be extinguished ... but it was reconstituted in the 40s and 50s, and it was proposed to extend ... There were new senses of march, new theological concepts, and new social awareness being displayed. But we are sure that we must move forward with more boldness through fields and cities. Our program will be given to us by Christ, because he is the right hand of God."

And that is still our prayer, after fifty years. Throughout this time new questions continue to open, such as those that unveiled the precursors of the beginning of the century. Surely, that process of questions will not stop and probably that is a good thing, for it lets us know that we are still a church in the process of autonomy.

This process manages to shape a church laid out and sustained based on an open mission tailored to the needs of the people, because "our program is given to us by Christ, because he is the right hand of God."

Monday, October 28, 2019

The UMC and Jared Diamond’s Upheaval, Part 1: Defining the Crisis

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 read Jared Diamond’s book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. In it, Diamond examines a variety of national crises, historical and contemporary, and assesses those nations on twelve factors impacting a nation’s ability to resolve a crisis. Diamond has adapted these twelve national factors from individual factors identified by crisis therapists as relevant to whether or not individuals can successfully resolve personal crises.

This got me thinking: If Diamond could adapt these individual factors to examine how nations respond to their crises, could this set of factors be further adapted to examine how organizations respond to their crises? More specifically, what might these twelve factors tell us about The United Methodist Church as an organization and its ability to successfully resolve the crisis in which it finds itself?

The factors that Diamond identifies for nations are as follows (see Table 1.2 on p. 62), with notation on how I intended to adapt these factors to examine the UMC as a denomination, mostly by a simple substitution of denomination for nation:
1. National [denominational] consensus that one’s nation [denomination] is in crisis
2. Acceptance of national [denominational] responsibility to do something
3. Building a fence, to delineate the national [denominational] problems needing to be solved
4. Getting material and financial help from other nations [denominations or organizations]
5. Using other nations [denominations] as models of how to solve the problems
6. National [denominational] identity
7. Honest national [denominational] self-appraisal
8. Historical experience of previous national [denominational] crises
9. Dealing with national [denominational] failure
10. Situation-specific national [denominational] flexibility
11. National [denominational] core values
12. Freedom from geopolitical [financial, legal, and cultural] constraints

Diamond also raises several other questions regarding nation’s abilities to resolve crises (p. 66-7), which are worth quoting here:
•    "the crucial role of political and economic institutions
•    "questions about the role of a nation’s leader or leaders in resolving a crisis
•    "questions more generally about group decision-making
•    "the question of whether a national crisis leads to selective changes through peaceful resolution or through violent revolution
•    "the question of whether different types of national changes are introduced simultaneously as part of a unified program, or else separately and at different times
•    "the issue of whether a national crisis was triggered by internal developments within the nation, or else by an external shock from another country
•    "the problem of achieving reconciliation (especially after a crisis involving a war or mass killings) between parties that were in conflict – reconciliation either between groups within a country, or else between a country and its neighbors."
While I am not going to address each of these questions individually for the UMC, issues of leadership, decision-making, and conflict are relevant to my assessment of the factors for crisis-resolution.

Before turning to an analysis of how the UMC rates on the various factors for crisis-resolution, it is worth saying a bit more about what exactly the crisis in the UMC is, or at least how I am understanding it for the sake of this thought exercise.

It might seem obvious to many that the crisis in The United Methodist Church is the long-standing debate over the role of LGBTQ persons in the church, which has come to a head following the special called General Conference in 2019. Specifically, the questions at the heart of this debate are whether the church should ordain non-celibate LGBTQ persons and whether UMC ministers should perform gay weddings. Disagreement over these two questions reflects a larger set of diverging theological, cultural, and ecclesiological understandings. Yet it is debate over these two questions specifically that has led to the threat of a denominational schism.

While this issue is certainly the central issue in the crisis that the UMC is facing, it is not the only one. There are two other issues that I believe form important parts of the crisis that the UMC is experiencing and affect how the UMC responds to its debates over the role of LGBTQ persons in the church.

The first of these additional issues is the issue of the world-wide or global nature of the church. The UMC has members in four continents, several dozen countries, and many cultures and languages. Moreover, the number of members from outside the United States and their representation at General Conference has increased significantly in recent decades.

Members from outside the United States should by no means be blamed for the present debate over the status of LGBTQ persons, but it is fair to say that the process of resolving questions about the status of LGBTQ persons in the church, possible futures for the church, or any other issue is significantly complicated when people from multiple cultural, national, and linguistic backgrounds are involved in the decision-making process. Thus, another important aspect of the UMC’s present crisis is reflected in the questions: When shall we make decisions together across cultural, national, and linguistic boundaries, and when should decisions be made more locally? When we do make joint decisions, how should those decisions be made? The UMC’s current answers to these questions seem to many to be inadequate.

The final issue in the UMC’s crisis is the long-term decline in membership in the United States and associated impending decline in funding for the activities of the church. The United Methodist Church has famously been declining in its US membership, which is the largest bloc of its membership, since its formation in 1968. This long-term decline has heightened the stakes in the debate over the place of LGBTQ persons in the church for many Americans. For many, the debate is not just about justice, holiness, or ethics, but rather feels like it is about the very survival of the church.

Until recently, an increase in affluence among US members allowed the church to continue to expand its budget for joint denominational ministries, which is 99% funded by the US. Yet even prior to US churches and members withholding apportionments in protest of General Conference 2019, it was clear to observers that the UMC had reached peak apportionments, and the amount for joint mission and ministry would decline in the future. This factor of money also makes the debate over the role of LGBTQ persons much more complicated than it would be if the UMC were composed entirely of financially self-sufficient annual conferences, central conferences, and other bodies.

Thus, the UMC is facing a crisis over its future that is fueled by debates over the status of LGBTQ persons in the church, questions about cross-cultural and international decision-making, and fear and anxieties about declines in US membership and financial giving. It is perhaps worth noticing that all three components of this crisis are long-standing, even though the crisis seems to have come to a head following the special called General Conference earlier this year.

Having set forth the scope of the crisis that the UMC is facing, I will turn in subsequent posts to an assessment of how the UMC does on the factors impacting its ability to resolve the crisis.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Recommended Reading: US Regional Structure Proposal

The Connectional Table has put forward a proposal to General Conference 2020 (or perhaps more accurately, two proposals) to create a new regional structure for the United States. Pages are available online continaing an announcement of the CT's intention to do so, its announcement of having done so, the text of the legislation, a narrative description of the rationale for the proposal, and frequently asked questions about the proposals.

The CT proposes a two-stage process: first, the creation of a standing committee of General Conference that would be the U.S. Regional Committee, tasked with screening all GC legislation that primarily impacts the US. In this regard, it would be a cognate to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

Then, eventually the U.S. Regional Committee would be replaced by a U.S. Regional Conference, separate from General Conference, that would take responsibility for making changes for the US context to adaptable portions of the Book of Discipline, as central conferences do in their contexts. Depending on how quickly the church moves to the second stage, the first stage may not be necessary for long.

This legislation is interesting for two reasons:

First, although its origins predate the called General Conference in 2019, it is usually talked about as one of the "plans" for GC2020 to take up in the wake of GC2020. That is not really correct, as it is neither a comprehensive plan for the future of the church nor a response to GC2019. But it is tied to or in harmony with some of the other plans for the church, including the UMC Next plan and the Filipino plan.

Second, this proposal seeks to change the long-standing, US-centric structure of the UMC by creating a structure for the US that would parallel some of the powers of the central conferences. Note that the legislation still leaves the US in a separate class of structure by itself; the US does not become a central conference. In part this is necessary because of the continued existence of jurisdictions under this proposal. Thus, the US still remains a unique, if somewhat less priviledged part of the church under this legislation.

A main reason (beyond the issue of jurisdictions) for calling the proposed US structure a "Regional Conference" instead of a "Central Conference" is because of sensitivities to the term "central," given the racist history of the segregated Central Jurisdiction. Certainly it is laudable to want to make a clear statement against racism and a clear break with the church's racist history.

Yet, if it is not okay to have Americans in a structure with the name "central," because the Central Jurisdiction was a separate structure for black and brown people, then why is it still okay to have separate structures for black and brown people with the name "central" in other countries? Why not change the name for areas outside the US, too? Do we as a church think that echoes of second-class segregation are okay for those outside the US? It seems to me that we must commit ourselves to anti-racist practices not just domestically, but internationally as well.

Aside from the issue of the name, while the proposed legislation does not make the US function in quite the same way as the rest of the church, it seems a step in that direction and an important way to give the US some more missional flexibility in adapting to its context. The proposal is thus well worth a read.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Robert Haynes: Toward a Wesleyan Biblical Theology for Short Term Mission

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

As I have pointed out previously, there is a lack of direct engagement with scriptural teaching on mission used by United Methodist STM teams. When this occurs, that vacuum is filled by cultural influences. In a cultural that highly prizes touristic experiences, we should not be surprised that STM has been shaped, then, to resemble the American tourist culture in which it was founded.

There has been, largely, a void of theological work in STM. Training in STM is largely absent in seminary and theological education. As a result, that void has been filled with many well-meaning, faithful Christians who have acted without proper theological direction from their leadership.

Rather than simply treat some of the symptoms of STM, it is necessary to treat the root cause of the problem. Theologies shape motivations, and motivations shape actions. If we want to change the actions on a STM, a sound Wesleyan theology of mission must be taught at every level. Only then can lasting change occur.

Such a work begins with a careful examination of the Scripture’s teaching on mission. It must move beyond a simple proof-texting of the “Great Commission” in Matthew (though the command to make disciples is important) as an excuse to leave the country. Rather, the whole narrative of Scripture, that points to Jesus’ example and command for self-abasing, cruciform love and service must be embodied.

Two accounts of Jesus’ teaching on mission, and the disciple’s role in mission, provide a starting place for this missional discussion. The first is in Luke 4:16-30. This passage is the central teaching on mission in Luke’s Gospel. This declaration of the centrality of Jesus' ministry to the poor, the setting aside of vengeance, and the mission to the Gentiles is primary.

In this announcement of Good News to the poor, he has in mind not just the financially disadvantaged, but also those deemed as pariahs by many in First-Century society, namely women, tax-collectors, and Samaritans. In a radical departure from the religious and societal barriers of the time, Jesus includes positive treatment for these otherwise shunned groups. Such is the declaration of Jesus' mission. For Luke, the category of "poor" is not limited to financial position, but it is a social category that can be used to describe the disadvantaged, spiritual blind, oppressed and captives as illustrated in the discourse in the synagogue in Nazareth.

A second passage helpful for our discussion is found in the fourth Gospel. John's Gospel illustrates not only what the disciples are to do when demonstrating Jesus' teaching, but also how to do so. John records Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the disciples and his announcement to them about this new reality of life: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'" (John 20:21) To understand the church’s role in mission, it is important to realize the “as” of Jesus’ message as a command to emulate his example as the disciples are sent forth.

Missiologists often see three key points in this commissioning: 1) Jesus showed them the scars from his crucifixion wounds. As such, missioners, like all other Christian disciples, should not draw back from human suffering. Such suffering could not be as profound as the suffering Jesus endured.

2) It is significant that the disciples are sent "as" Jesus was sent by the Father. They are to go in the same way God sent Jesus. The disciples are now sent by Jesus. That means that his followers are to do the things he did, teach the way he taught, and to the people he sought.

3) Jesus breathed on the disciples as they received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who will empower them to teach, to suffer, and to serve as he has just commanded. From fulfilling the Old Testament admonishments in Micah to love mercy, do justly, and love God to the commission of Jesus to "go" and serve "as" the Father sent him, Christians must respond to the needs of others. This must be done not only in transnational contexts, but in local contexts as well.

Wesleyan theology embraces the all-encompassing focus of the Gospel of Matthew: that believers have a responsibility to share in the work of Christ in bringing a message of hope in this world, not just waiting for the next. The assertion that Luke's evangelism to the rich and poor alike should be a part of the missionary message is another area of intersection. John’s proclamation of the work of the kingdom and Paul’s notion of the urgency of the timeliness of mission are both important premises for a Wesleyan mission theology.  Such biblical motivations are foundational to Wesleyan mission. Leaders of STM should actively, consistently, and robustly engage a biblical theology of mission to shape all of their practices. Only then will the current practice of a personal and communal pilgrimage, framed as a STM trip, be replaced with a lifestyle of mission that reflects Scripture’s teaching.

I am not suggesting that people stop traveling, stop serving, or stop learning. Quite the opposite.  However, STM is failing to realize its potential due to a lack of robust theological reflection by its leaders and participants. When the practice moves away from pilgrimage towards a more biblical practice of mission, it can begin to embrace such possibilities. Mission, including STM, properly understood and practiced, takes place when every self-abasing desire of the individual Christian, every program of the church, and the orientation of her leaders is consumed by the Mission of God.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Filipino UMC Link Between Revival, Unity, and Mission

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

In a previous post, I recounted the story of the Lito Tangonan-led split in the Philippines UMC in the early 2010s. I argued that politically this split has made those in the UMC more committed to the global church and more averse to the possibility of further splits in the UMC in the Philippines.

Yet there has also been a significant theological development that has come out of the aftermath of the Tangonan split. For the Philippines UMC, revival, unity, and mission go together. One can best see the connection between these three theological concepts in the Revive events held in the Philippines.

The first Revive event was held in November 2012. It was a revival gathering of 8,000 United Methodists from across the Philippines. It was organized by lay Methodists, especially retired Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

The event was intended as a direct response to the Tangonan split. Puno referred to the event as an attempt to heal “our wounded church,” a reference to wounds incurred during the split.

The event also came just two weeks before the Philippines Central Conference met to elect bishops. 16 out of the 26 candidates for episcopal election spoke at the event. I am sure that part of the reason for holding a revival and prayer meeting at which the episcopal candidates spoke was to ensure that the Spirit would guide delegates two weeks later in making good choices of episcopal leaders, thereby avoiding another harmful saga like that set off by Tangonan’s election four years earlier.

The event drew on and sought to reignite Filipino Methodist holiness piety, which have its roots in a holiness theology shared among the Philippines and the US in the early 20th century, one that has proven to be more enduring in the Philippines than in the US. Yet in addition to the focus on holiness, there was also a focus on unity, an important theme for an event organized to respond to the Tangonan split. American speaker Scott Kelso, one of the main presenters, spoke about “praying for healing and unity.”

Unity continued to be a main focus for Revive 2, held in November 2016, just before the next meeting of the Philippines Central Conference. That event was even more popular than the first, drawing 10,000 Filipino United Methodists, including participants from across the Filipino theological spectrum. The theme for Revive 2 was “Go in Faith, Go in Power, Go in Unity,” making even clearer the connection for Filipino United Methodists between revival, unity, and mission.

Reynato Puno was again a major organizer of the event, and he again connected it to unity in the wake of the Tangonan split. In a UMNS interview for the 2016 event, he explained the origins of the event in 2012 by saying, “Some of the churches were breaking away because of some issues not being reasonably resolved. As laymen, we thought that the proper response to the crisis was to have a revival.”

And although the church was past the worst of the split in 2016, the issue had by no means faded from memory. In testimonies by current bishops shown at the revival, Bishop Rudy Juan, then bishop of the Manila Episcopal Area, mentions the AIMP split in his description of the challenges and goals in the work of his episcopal area (see minute 13).

Nor was Puno the only one to make the connection between revival and unity. Several videos were produced for the event, including interviews with retired Filipino bishops. The opening video for the event includes several retired bishops speaking of the connection between revival, unity, mission, and evangelism.

A history of the UMC in the Philippines produced for the event (worth a watch in its own right) concludes with remarks by retired Bishop Soriano linking unity, revival, and mission. In those remarks, he specifically mentions the debate over sexuality as an issue of disagreement, but one that need not preclude unity for the sake of mission.

Moreover, there is evidence that this theological linking of revival, mission, and unity has continued to have currency among Filipino (and Filipino-American) United Methodists since the Revive events. In announcing the formation of the Global Filipino United Methodists Movement earlier this year, Rev. Edgar De Jesus again made the connection between revival, unity, and mission, saying “This [mission] movement is a wakeup call to the people called Methodists to keep the main thing the main thing — the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ, the humble servant and the risen one, who draws us into profound community with one another in love and unity.”

To grasp the significance for the UMC connection as a whole of this linking of revival, unity, and mission by Filipinos, consider some of the American alternatives.

For American centrists, there is a strong link between unity and mission, but that linkage typically lacks the inclusion of revival. Thus, unity is primarily understood in structural terms – we as United Methodists are united because we are part of one organization. For Filipinos, however, unity has less of structural connotation and more of a spiritual one – we are united because of our connection in Christ and our love for one another. That spiritual dimension to unity is evident in de Jesus’ quote above.

For American traditionalists, there is a strong link between revival and mission, but instead of these two being linked to unity, they are linked to purity. American traditionalists believe that revival will lead to mission, especially in the form of evangelism. But American traditionalists believe that for such revival to occur, the church must be pure, especially pure in its teachings around sexuality, which is to say, of one mind about those teachings. For American traditionalists, purity leads to spiritual power, whereas for Filipinos, unity with one another leads to spiritual power.

American progressives are less likely to use language of revival and mission, though they do have a vision of a future church where cherished spiritual values are in greater abundance (revival) and in which the church has an impact on social issues in the world around it (mission). They are, however, often antagonistic to language of unity, seeing it as a term used to justify continued oppression. It is clear that for progressives, as for traditionalists, purity is the theological virtue that will lead to the church they want, not unity. For progressives, this purity means a church that is pure from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

There are also different understandings of mission among American centrists, American traditionalists, American progressives, and Filipinos. Centrists are most likely to think in terms of charity, traditionalists in terms of evangelism, and progressives in terms of social justice. Filipinos are more likely to have a wholistic view of mission which encompasses all three, since all three have been important to the UMC in the Philippines, not just through separate constituencies, but through overlapping concern.

Thus, the Philippines again represents a different starting point from which to think about the nature of the global church, one that could potentially lead to different conclusions about the future of that global church, were others willing to listen to Filipino theology and history and see where thinking alongside them might lead.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Recommended Viewing: History of the UMC in the Philippines

The Philippines Central Conference put together this 13 minute video of its history in 2016. That history is recounted (mostly in English, some in Tagalog) by retired bishops of the Philippines Central Conference. Thus, the history is presented from a Filipino perspective, both in terms of narrators and producers.

The video recounts major events within the UMC in the Philippines and does an especially good job of linking the development of the UMC in the Philippines to the political history of the Philippines, including US colonialism, World War II, and the contest between dictatorship and democracy.

It would serve as a good resource for college or seminary classes or church study groups seeking to learn more about the history of this branch of the UMC.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Robert Haynes: Why Aren’t Short-Term Mission Teams Using the Bible?

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership at World Methodist Evangelism. It is adapted from excerpts from his book Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage (Wipf and Stock, 2018). It is part of an on-going UM & Global series on UMVIM and short-term mission.

As a part of my in-depth research in the United Methodist short-term mission (hereafter STM), I interviewed teams to learn more of their motivations for mission service. One question I asked was about the biblical passages and/or verses that informed their mission service. When I posed the question, I expected it to be one of the easiest for team leaders and team members to answer. However, the question brought a level of discomfort for many.

None of the teams in my field research, all of whom were sponsored by United Methodist Churches, reported using an intentional Bible study or mission curriculum before, during, or after their trip. Even some seasoned veterans had trouble providing common passages associated with mission. This trickled down to their team members in terms of the lack of intentional Bible study for their mission teams.

This lack of Scripture in explaining mission is very telling and reflects problems with denominational resources. Consider that the UMVIM Team Leader Handbook does not offer a section on biblical or theological reflection of mission, only a suggestion to download a twenty-five-page devotional guide from their website. In the list of "best practices," the recommendation of "Spiritual Formation" is listed last behind logistical considerations.[1]

A comparable resource offered for volunteers is similarly problematic. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers is the resource offered from The United Methodist Church's chief mission agency: the General Board of Global Ministries. This work should be commended for utilizing Scripture more so than the Team Leader Handbook. The material does attempt to articulate a theology of mission aimed at the level of the STM practitioner.

Yet, problems remain. The biblical material seemed to point to the enticement for "Volunteer Mission Experiences and Spiritual Transformation."[2] For example,

"United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Experiences offer a unique context for spiritual transformation.... [W]e often become so immersed in our busy schedules and the noisy demands of our daily lives that we neglect to care for our souls. The act of going to a different place and leaving our ordinary lives behind may open us to hear God speaking to us."[3]

Such sentiments are firmly couched in the idealization of STM as personal edification. Service billed as mission but aimed at self-fulfilling spiritual growth does not conform to a biblical Wesleyan theology of mission. However, it is interesting that no teams in my research reported using these materials but echoed these sentiments.

A Mission Journey should be affirmed for seeking to articulate a theology for all of mission, including STM, with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries' Mission Theology statement. Though this statement does include language that alludes to biblical messages, there is no explicit instruction to use Scripture as a directive for mission. Additionally, the "Best Practices for UMVIM/VIM (Sending and Hosting Teams)" only lists logistical and cultural concerns, not a directive for scriptural engagement.[4] Even in The United Methodist Church's key mission agencies' statements of mission, biblical engagement was not primary.

Since the Bible is not a significant part of mission training for team leaders or their team members, it may be expected that STMers had difficulties discussing their work with biblical motivations. When teaching a biblical theology for mission is not the primary task for mission leaders and their team members, cultural influences will take over the space theology should occupy. As a result, the wide-spread practice of crafting a meaningful experience for the participant, so predominant in American touristic culture, becomes the driving force for service activities done in the name of mission. Such is the danger of allowing cultural influences to shape ecclesial practice when something other than Scripture becomes the driving force in these activities. Yet, a proper understanding of the role of church, mission, the Kingdom of God, and the missio Dei cannot be found outside of Scripture.

Perhaps the ongoing Wesleyan/Methodist movement can embrace the lessons of its origin to catch a glimpse of its participation in the missio Dei and to do so in the mutual accountability of clergy and laity. Key components of the work of the missio Dei in the current context will include a biblical understanding of a radical solidarity between the missionary and those served, an embracing of the world as the parish, and a recognition that all are poor in some way. This is particularly true for the growing movement of United Methodist STM. Its leaders must assess their priorities in formation of the laity to admonish John Wesley’s call to "labour to do good...as of the ability which God giveth."

In my final post in this series, I will suggest a Wesleyan biblical theology of mission that STM leaders can use in shaping their congregations’ engagement in STM.

[1] Team Leader Handbook (Birmingham, AL: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, 2015), 6-7; Lyons, R. G. Preparing for the Journey: A Devotional Guide for Teams, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2016. http://umvim.org/send_a_team/usa/spiritual_formation.html.
[2] Jones, U. and J. Blankenbake. A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers (Nashville, TN: Upper Room, 2014), 17.
[3] A Mission Journey, 19.
[4] A Mission Journey, 145-49.

Monday, October 14, 2019

UMC Schism and the Philippines

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.

Given how focused US United Methodists are on the possibility of a split in the UMC in the United States, it may come as a surprise to many that the UMC has already experienced splits in other countries in the last 15 years. In 2018, both Nigeria and Burundi reconciled previous schisms within the UMC, and those are just the reconciled schisms.

These splits have been unrelated to the current US debate on sexuality. Nonetheless, they do provide some perspective on just how Amero-centric is our fear that the UMC might split. It already has, and for the most part, nobody outside the country in which a schism happened has noticed. It is a sign of American privilege in the UMC that we expect a US split to be of central importance to the rest of the church. Certainly, an American split would have financial ramifications for the rest of the church, but that just reinforces the point about how Amero-centric the UMC is.

I would like to share the story of one particular recent split – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas (AIMP) schism in the Philippines. This story is important for understanding current Filipino attitudes toward the UMC, which as I have suggested before, may be pivotal in determining the outcome(s) of GC2020. It also hints at how ugly church splits can get, though certainly a split in the US would play out differently than in the Philippines because of different legal and cultural systems.

Much of the information presented here comes from Chapter 4 of Scotty McLaughlin’s 2015 PhD dissertation at the University of Michigan, “The Boundary Indefinite: Schism and the Ethics of Christian Strategy in the Philippines,” corroborated with other sources, including articles by Linda Bloom ([1] and [2]).

In November 2008, Rev. Lito C. Tangonan was elected bishop in the Philippines Central Conference and assigned to the Manila Episcopal Area. Tangonan was serving as a district superintendent prior to his election and was an outspoken proponent of autonomy for the UMC in the Philippines and critic of the global structure of the UMC.

Within a year after Tangonan became bishop, charges of misconduct were brought against him. While denominational records kept the details of the charge confidential, it became known, at least in the Philippines, that he was accused of sexually assaulting a female assistant. Tangonan denied the charges, referring to them as a “smear campaign.”

In December 2009, the Philippines College of Bishops placed Tangonan on paid leave as his case was considered, a decision whose legitimacy was affirmed by the Judicial Council in April 2010. Retired Bishop Daniel Arichea was assigned to replace Tangonan as interim bishop, starting in January 2010.

However, rather than accept his suspension and Arichea’s replacement of him, Tangonan continued to try to exercise the functions of bishop. While barred from the episcopal office building, he called annual conference meetings in areas where he had strong support. This resulted in several competing annual conference meetings, wherein one was held by Tangonan, and one was held by Bishop Arichea. The Judicial Council ruled against Tangonan and for Bishop Arichea five times (once in 2010, three times in 2011, and once in 2012) in determining which annual conference meeting had been the validly constituted one.

In the midst of this dispute, the executive council of the Council of Bishops added their own suspension of Tangonan in July 2011 after he did not attend a meeting with Bishop Goodpaster in Georgia that was aimed at resolving the conflict. Instead, Tangonan released a public letter to Goodpaster, calling his suspension “illegal,” refuting the right of the Philippines College of Bishops or the UMC Council of Bishops to oversee him, and referring to himself as “the legitimate elected bishop.”

Around this time, Pangonan, working with supporters, began to lay the groundwork for leaving the UMC and forming an autonomous denomination with himself as the head. Tangonan officially resigned from the UMC later in 2011. Paperwork to register the new denomination – the Ang Iglesia ng Metodista sa Pilipinas – as a corporate entity was filed on Dec. 7, 2011. Tangonan was then elected as bishop of the new denomination.

Approximately 130 churches and 2000 members left with Tangonan, according to the AIMP’s own reporting, though some of those churches have been returned to the UMC and control of others remains disputed. These numbers represent about 7% of churches and 1.5% of Filipino UMC members at the time. However, the defections were not spread evenly across the Philippines, with the majority in the West Middle Philippines, Middle Philippines, Philippines – Cavite, and Palawan Annual Conferences.

Because Tangonan and his followers did not use formal UMC procedures to leave the UMC and because they sought to take local church properties with them, conflict soon ensued between the UMC and AIMP over control of property, including both church buildings and parsonages. Some of that conflict was legal – there were a couple of lawsuits between Tangonan’s camp and the pro-UMC camp over whose was the legitimate meeting of the West Middle Philippines Annual Conference. Despite the UMC Judicial Council ruling on the subject, Filipino courts decided in Tangonan’s favor in a process that some pro-UMC people believed was influenced by corruption.

But conflict extended beyond the legal to the physical. In some instances, the different camps attempted to lock their opponents out of church buildings. Pastors refused to vacate parsonages. In some cases, there was even physical violence between the two different camps. It was not pretty.

There is not much online about the AIMP from the last six or seven years, so it is unclear to me where that group stands currently. The UMC was successful in reclaiming some properties and probably some members after the initial schism.

But it is clear that, whatever the status of the AIMP, this experience of schism has affected those who have remained in the UMC, both theologically and politically. I will talk about the theological effects in a subsequent piece. Politically, the Tangonan split had two effects:

First, it reduced the long-standing drive for Filipino autonomy from the UMC. In part, it did this by siphoning off those pastors and churches that were most pro-autonomy and anti-UMC. In part, it did this because those remaining in the UMC felt less free in taking pro-autonomy stances, since they did not want to be associated with Tangonan’s party. And in part, it did this by showing some of the value of the larger UMC structures: the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council consistently sided with the pro-UMC group in the Philippines in ways that served to increase the legitimacy of the actions taken by those in the Philippines UMC opposed to Tangonan.

Second, the experience of the Tangonan split showed United Methodists in the Philippines just how messy a church split could become, not just legally but also interpersonally, as some resorted to violence to try to resolve issues of control of church property. I presume this is not an experience Filipino United Methodists would like to repeat.

These two political lessons from the Tangonan split are important for understanding the Philippines’ current stance within the current global UMC debates about structure and sexuality. It makes sense that the Philippines bishops and other Filipino leaders would advocate for the continued unity of the church, since one of the effects of the Tangonan split was to make the remaining Filipino United Methodists more pro-global UMC.

It also makes sense that Filipinos would want to avoid messy church splits over the issue of sexuality. While most Filipinos are traditionalists on issues of sexuality, there is a sizable progressive minority. The Filipinos’ proposal to grant more regional autonomy within the global UMC preserves some of the international structures important to the Filipinos (the Council of Bishops and Judicial Council), allows them more leeway in addressing their own disagreements about sexuality in a less conflict-driven manner than Americans, and helps ensure that any splitting that does happen will be confined to an American region that is a bit more separated from and therefore less likely to influence the Philippines.

While it is easy to read the statement of the African bishops and that of the Filipino bishops as saying essentially the same thing – they want continued unity of the global UMC – it is important to understand that the two groups are saying what they are saying for different reasons with different points of reference in mind.

Thus, the interests and strategies of Filipino delegates as a whole will be different from those of African delegates as a whole at General Conference 2020. Understanding those interests and strategies will be key for any Americans who want to successfully work with the Filipinos in crafting the future of the church.