Monday, September 16, 2019

Defining Mission: Good News

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of good news.

Good news is at the heart of Christianity and at the heart of Christian mission. Mark identifies his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as “the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” Indeed, the term “gospel,” the name usually given to the biblical books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, literally means “good news.” Christians believe that the story of Jesus is good news!

For early Christians, this concept was central to how they understood what it meant to be a Christian. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there are numerous references to Christians preaching “the good news,” and the apostle Paul refers to himself as one who has been “set apart for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1).

Mission is about God sending good news to the world. Mission begins with God (what missiologists refer to as the missio Dei, the mission of God) and God’s love for the world. The message of God’s love for the world is conveyed by God sending Jesus, God and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus sending his disciples, and the triune God sending the church in mission.

Those who are sent by God in mission are sent with a message. Mission is grounded in this message of love that God sends to the world. And this message is not bad news to the world; God is sending good news! We should treat it as such and present it with joy.

Note that it’s not just evangelism that involves good news. All forms of mission should have a component of good news to them. They should be both good and involve something new or not present in that situation before. Thus, good news is not just a narrow formulation of theology but includes the full breadth of God’s loving actions in the world.

Mission thus is centrally about the good news, which is basic to Christianity. Without it, not only would there be no mission; there would be no Christianity. Being a Christian is about claiming the story of God’s good news as the story of our lives as well. It’s about finding our place in the conversation of the saints of all times and places. And it’s about the God who loves us and who, because of that love, came down to earth in the person of Jesus to set us free, heal our wounds, forgive our sins, renew the world in which we live, and restore our relationships.

Methodism has always been clear that while being a Christian involves finding our place in the story of God’s good news, that place is never a solitary one. When we become Christians, when we recognize and respond to God’s gracious love, we are connected to other Christians. We become part of the ongoing conversation of the Christian faith, a conversation in which Christians throughout the world and throughout the ages share their understanding of God’s good news.

Furthermore, when we experience the good news of God’s love, we are compelled to share God’s love with everyone, Christian or not. When we truly experience the good news of God’s love, we want to talk with others about it! We want to know if they, too, have experienced this love, to learn from them if they have, and to encourage them to look for it if they haven’t. Moreover, we want to demonstrate God’s love for others in our actions as well as our conversations. In short, when we truly experience God’s love, we want to engage in mission. Good news is thus both the message of, and the motivation for, mission.

In Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission, Chapter 3 explores the nature of this good news in greater detail. As Christians, we may think we know the good news about which God wants us to engage the world in mission, but the gospel writers don’t precisely clarify what they mean by “good news.”

This chapter looks at four different senses in which the terms “good news” and “gospel” are used in the New Testament: as the Kingdom of God, as freedom from sin, as resurrection, and as restoration of relationship. The chapter then lays out how these different dimensions of good news connect to different dimensions of mission work and why thinking of the breadth of good news requires us to engage in relationships with others as part of our mission work, the topic of next week’s post.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Plan Now: Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20th

Environmental activist and United Methodist Sunday School teacher Bill McKibben of 350.org is among those calling for a "global climate strike" next week on Friday, Sept. 20th. McKibben explains his reasoning in an article for YES Magazine. The strike is intended to draw attention to the pressing nature of the problems associated with climate change.

For why care for creation is a religious, theological and missiological issues, see this pastoral letter from UMC bishops, these previous posts from UM & Global, this UMW webpage highlighting their work in the area, and this Church & Society webpage highlighting their work in the area.

If you participate in the climate strike, here are some things you can do that day:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ronda Cordill: How UMVIM Disaster Response Teams Work

Today’s post is by Ronda Cordill. Ms. Cordill is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Western Jurisdiction. This post is the second in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

There are many ways Volunteer in Mission (VIM) teams serve.  They:
  •  Construct of homes, churches, schools and clinics worldwide.
  •  Serve in outreach ministries to people who are homeless, hunger, or in poverty.
  •  Provide medical and dental needs.
  •  Assist with programs for children and youth.
  •  Teach vocational skills or children’s education.
  •  Help in disasters both through Early Response Teams (ERT) and Long-Term Recovery (LTR) Teams

After Hurricane Katrina, leaders in The United Methodist Church saw all the devastation caused by the hurricane, but they did not see the church being involved in the disaster response. At that time, each type of disaster response by churches was specialized. For example, the Baptist are known for feeding programs, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) do donations management, and the United Methodist were best known for their Case Management.

In response to the church’s request to do more, the leaders of UMCOR and UMVIM met together at Mr. Sequoyah in Arkansas. There, they developed and signed a covenant on how they would work together. At that time, UMVIM teams served hurricane recovery sites to assist with rebuilding homes. Through this new collaboration, the Early Response Team was developed as a specialized UMVIM team.

So how does this all fit into disaster response ministry? There are 5 phases of a disaster. They are:  Readiness, Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and then Review. These phases are related by the “Rule of 10.” If a disaster lasts 1 day, the rescue phase is 10 times longer, or 10 days, and the recovery phase is 10 times that, or 100 days. Readiness describes preparations before a disaster, and review happens at the end of the disaster response.

How does the church response in a disaster? During the readiness phase, UMCOR has developed the Connecting Neighbors program, which teaches individuals, churches, and communities how to be ready to work together in the event of a disaster. They develop disaster plans.

During the rescue phase, churches can set up shelters or feeding of survivors and volunteers.

Early Response Teams serve primarily in the relief phase, assisting survivors to start recover to a new life.

The recovery phase is the longest phase.  For example, in a flood where water has been in place for 30 days, this relief phase will last 300 days, and the recovery phase is 3000 days or more than 8 years.  This is where the Long-Term Recovery Teams work and will be there until recovery is completed.

The review phase is taking lessons learned and preparing for the next time. 

ERT Teams work with Disaster Response Coordinators of the Annual Conference where the disaster is located. They are trained by UMCOR, and after a disaster the ERT Teams primary role is to make the survivor’s home safe, secure, and sanitary. This is done through removing debris, tarping roofs after a hurricane or tornado, mucking out after flooding, and sifting ash after a fire, all with a listening presence as the survivors start to heal and rebuild their lives.

Long Term Recovery UMVIM Teams do rebuilding ministry, working on individual’s homes, churches, or schools that were damaged by disaster. They work with the Long-Term Recovery Organization of that community to assist with unmet needs. They also provide a caring ministry as the survivors continue to heal. Often there is a special connection with those families. As the team tells their story, they connect their church with the family. As the house gets completed, you will see the church gathering new furnishing and giving a “welcome home” celebration for that family. 

Disaster Response teams create networking between Conference Disaster Response Coordinators and UMVIM and other organizations such as VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters).  There is a strong connection between the survivors and the teams. Almost anyone can be a part of Disaster Ministry through so many ways.  One of my favorite sayings is for my UMVIM teams is “Bringing Love and Leaving Hope”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Defining Mission: Not Just Helping Programs

The following post is based on an excerpt from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

Christians often interpret mission as helping in programmatic ways. While helping and formal programs are necessarily and always bad, this understanding of mission is limited and potentially problematic.

Thinking of mission as helping programs is limited, because it makes us miss the breadth of God’s mission in the world and the full spiritual significance of joining in that mission. Many Christians would say that we should help others because God calls us to love others. That is true: God does call us to love others. Yet to equate helping and love is to dramatically misunderstand love, both God’s and ours. Helping may be part of love, but it cannot be the entirety of love.

Take as an illustration love as expressed in a marriage. One of my “love languages” in my marriage is doing things for my wife—in other words, helping. Sometimes she really appreciates my help. When she comes home from a work trip and the house is picked up, the laundry put away, the kids have both been bathed, and the lawn is mowed, that can be a big relief for her.

Other times, I think I get more out of doing the helping than she does being helped. That experience also has mission parallels—oftentimes our mission is more about how we feel than the impact on our mission partners.

Yet even when my wife appreciates my help, if helping was the only way I ever showed my love to her, if I never said I loved her, never spent time with her, never gave her gifts, never touched her, I would be more like a handyman and maid than a husband to her. I know that she would not find that a satisfying expression of love and, ultimately, I know I would not either. While I enjoy doing acts of service for her, I know there’s more to the relationship than that, and I want there to be more to the relationship than that.

While marriage is a special relationship, I think this insight applies to other forms of love as well. Others know that we love them not only because we serve them but because we spend time with them, share our treasures with them, and tell them how much they mean to us. Indeed, the ways we can show love to others go well beyond this list of “love languages” for romantic relationships.

Love expressed through service is good, but it is not a complete love. To confine love to helping is a limited understanding of love. In the same way, seeing mission as helping gives a limited understanding of the love God has for us and the love God calls us to share with the world.

Our understanding of mission is especially limited if we think of helping only in programmatic terms. When we see mission as a program, then we limit it to only those times and those places where such programs occur. If mission is a program, then it cannot be a way of life. A way of life happens at all times and in any place.

When we limit mission to specific programs, then it becomes easier to see mission as a small or optional component of the Christian faith and not a central aspect of how we live out our Christian calling. Yet, mission properly understood should be central to how we understand and practice our faith.

An understanding of mission as helping programs is not only limited but actually harmful at times. Such an understanding is especially problematic when we see helping as always flowing from the “haves” (the Christians in our congregation or group) to the “have-nots” (everybody else).

As books such as When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton show, it is quite possible to set out to help others but to actually have the opposite effect, if we do so with improper understandings and attitudes. As Corbett and Fikkert explain, when we combine a material definition of poverty with a sense of the superiority of the materially nonpoor and a sense of the inferiority of the materially poor, then we end up doing harm—spiritually, emotionally, economically, and/or socially—to both the materially poor and the materially nonpoor.

Because this definition of mission as helping programs is limited and potentially harmful, it is important to develop a fuller and more robust understanding of mission. That is what I do in Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

By exploring the biblical basis of mission (in Chapters 1 and 2), I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news. The book uses this definition to help churches rethink their own mission work, employing clear language, engaging writing, practical strategies, discussion questions, and additional resources.

While a full understanding of that definition of mission and how it can shape local churches’ engagement in mission is best grasped by reading the book, I will examine the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation – in an upcoming series of blog posts.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Recommended Readings: Central and Southern Europe Study Group Process

Previous UM & Global updates on United Methodist in Europe after General Conference 2019 have omitted the situation in the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference. Here's a quick rundown of how things have unfolded there:

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Central Conference in March, there were tense discussions about the widely varying opinions about gay marriage and gay ordination held by leaders within the Central Conference. In the light of this division, the Executive Committee approved the formation of a study group to investigate possible scenarios for future relations among the constituent annual conference.

A press release issued just prior to the second meeting of the study group last week (the first meeting was in June) clarified the stakes for the central conference of the possibility of structural changes. As the press release stated, "If positions within the Central Conference remain as they currently stand, a separation would be inevitable. However, each of the resulting sub-entities would no longer be big enough to be organized as a full standing central conference with the right to elect a bishop. This was a new discovery also for Bishop Streiff. In light of the planned election of his successor in 2021, it attracted attention and threw a spotlight on the importance of the pending decisions."

The process remains on-going, with a final report by the study group expected to be delivered to the Central Conference Executive Committee next March.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Tammy Kuntz: A Brief History of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

Today’s post is by Rev. Tammy Kuntz. Rev. Kuntz is the UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction. This post is the first in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

My job, and the jobs of the other UMVIM jurisdictional coordinators, includes encouraging and empowering individuals, teams, team leaders, churches, district, conferences, and projects in all things mission by providing resources and training opportunities. We maintain the US project list and the international project list. We work with Una Jones of Global Ministries to recruit and train Mission Volunteers and promote Primetimers journeys.

My fellow UMVIM coordinators and I will be sharing more about the UMVIM program in this and a series of posts to follow. I will begin by telling a bit about the history of UMVIM, drawing on the book From the Grassroots: A History of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission by Thomas L. Curtis.

UMVIM began as a grassroots effort led by laity in the Southeast Jurisdiction. The idea of Christian love in action which motivated its development came from 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

By 1972, a steering committee was formed and, two year later, Rev. David and Sue Lowry were named the first Southeast Jurisdiction coordinators. They encouraged cooperative relationships as teams served and the locations and types of service expanded. They established the cooperative nature of mission, that the request should come from the mission field rather than the sending church, and that volunteers should experience training prior to serving.

In 1976, The Lowrys returned to the mission field in what was then Rhodesia, and Tom and Margaret Curtis succeeded them as UMVIM coordinators. That same year, UMVIM became part of the Fellowship of Conference Mission Secretaries of the SEJ.

Good things were happening in the mission field with these amateur missionaries. They were sharing skills and teaching sewing classes and Vacation Bible School, helping with agriculture projects, reroofing houses and building school desks, providing medical and dental care and digging wells. Missioners were having life-changing experiences as they completed tasks and connected with the families with whom they served.

In 1980, a petition was passed at General Conference that admitted UMVIM as part of the structure of the global church. The legislation stated, “To affirm the concept of volunteers in mission (short-term) as an authentic form of personal missionary involvement, and to devise appropriate structures to interpret and implement such opportunities for short term volunteers in the global community.”

Yet there were still many concerns with the idea of amateur missionaries. There was not a lot of confidence in what they were doing nor how they were doing it. There was no funding made available for the program.

Through the early 80’s, each jurisdiction named an UMVIM coordinator to connect with and resource annual conferences. Coordinators’ responsibilities expanded to include travel beyond the US to “explain our program and outline operational styles so that those overseas could understand this new tool for our working together.” Remember, at this point, there was still no support from the General Board of Global Ministries.

Bill Rollins was appointed by Global Ministries to head up a new Mission Volunteer unit with a VIM office and a couple field representatives to facilitate engagement of conferences in this mission movement. This lasted just a few years before Global Ministries discontinued this support. Basically, information about the needs of projects and finding mission teams to serve was too slow or not provided to VIM coordinators.  The promise of “an abundance of opportunities” just didn’t happen.

The Board still considered missionary service to be something for professionals. The challenge for local churches became finding a way to engage “the church’s divine mandate to be engaged in mission.” With no funding from GBGM, local churches sought ways to be in mission and were making their own connections with projects domestically and internationally.

The SEJ and Global Ministries struggled for control of UMVIM. General Conference provided GBGM “support” for VIM, yet there was a clear attempt to take over. This struggle for leadership by the bureaucracy of the church caused great conflict and hindered expansion of the movement.

By the mid-1980’s, thousands of people in the SEJ were sharing in mission opportunities. Yet there was recognition of the exclusion of youth in the data. In 1985, Beverly Nolte, the North Central Jurisdiction coordinator, created Mission Discovery, a program specifically for teens and young adults.

In 1988, General Conference suggested that every conference have an UMVIM coordinator to work cooperatively with the General Board of Global Ministries and the jurisdictional UMVIM offices. These collaborations between conferences and jurisdictions were very important.

It was not until 1996 that the Mission Volunteers Program Area became an official part of Global Ministries. This program area was ordered “to enable the participation of Methodists from throughout the world in global mission volunteer programs so that affirming, empowering, and trusting relationships would be established.”

Financial support for jurisdiction UMVIM coordinators became a line item in 2000, and the reporting of teams as data collected on annual reports began in 2004. This important data became a way to reflect the strength of the VIM program, the diversity of missioners in the field, and the variety of the places where they serve.

Finally, in 2016, General Conference approved UMVIM Awareness Sunday to be observed annually on a date determined by each annual conference. The phrase "there may be a jurisdictional volunteer-in-mission (UMVIM) coordinator" was added to the tasks described in the Jurisdictional Conference section. Both these pieces are now part of the Book of Discipline.

And that’s how we got to this point in time. As the jurisdictional coordinators, our work continues. We collaborate on trainings, projects, and programs as we work to resource the church in all aspects of mission service.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Recommended Viewing: UM Creation Care Summit Videos

Videos of presentations from the 2019 UM Creation Care Summit are now available on YouTube. These videos include both keynote presenters and workshop leaders. For those who were unable to attend the event, these videos provide a good resource to help local churches and students identify the state of the conversation about creation care in the UMC and what actions faithful United Methodists are taking to address this missional concern. A UMNS story about the event provides a background.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

With, Not About, the Central Conferences

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

During General Conference 2019 and since then, queer United Methodists and their allies have had an important slogan: "with, not about."

This slogan indicates that The United Methodist Church should not talk about LGBTQ+ persons in a way that does not include them in the conversation. Instead, the church should talk with them when discerning matters related to their lives so that their perspectives and insights can inform the whole body's decision-making. This commentary by Jorge Lockward gives a good introduction into the problems that arise when the church talks about without talking with.

A quick review of mission history also shows many of the problems of talking about, not with. Missionaries who sought to impose their cultural understandings upon potential converts without seeking to understand the world and the gospel through the eyes of others often did much harm and were much less effective in sharing God's good news. Those missionaries who were most successful and most beloved by the people among whom they ministered were those who were willing to talk with, not about, native peoples and to learn from and be transformed by them.

Thus, this principle of "with, not about" follows important missional insights from the last century. I have written elsewhere about how mission is a conversation about God's good news, where those conversations take place in the context of relationships across boundaries. Conversation is never one-sided. A conversation about the good news that God has for LGBTQ+ persons is a conversation that must involve them and be informed by their understandings of what is good and how God brings about newness in the world.

Conversation does not presume that one side's pre-existing views will predominate. It is instead a space for each side to learn from and be informed by the other. Ideally, this process of mutual learning will allow God to create something new through that interaction reveals God's goodness in a way that goes beyond the ways that any one party understood at the beginning. But that transformation cannot happen if not all parties feel like they have been heard in the conversation.

Thus, the principle of "with, not about" is a good one and should be affirmed in its usage for the LGBTQ+ community. Yet it should also be extended beyond its present usage.
If it is important to include LGBTQ+ persons as marginalized people in conversations that directly impact their lives and their place in the church, then when we are having conversations that directly impact the lives and place in the church of other marginalized groups, we must have those conversations with and not just about those groups.

In particular, in discerning the future of The United Methodist Church, we must have conversations with, not about, persons in the central conferences.

The possibility of breaking apart the UMC is an issue that directly impacts the lives and the place in the church of members in the central conferences, whose views and voices have traditionally been marginalized in the church. US United Methodists must talk with, not about, those in the central conferences regarding what our relationships will look like in the future, how we can be the church together, and what God is saying to us as a group at this moment.

Note here that I am advocating that we talk about the nature of the relationships we have. I am not saying that pre-existing central conference views on sexuality should predominate. Sexuality is one issue that US United Methodists need to hear more from central conference sisters and brothers, in part so that our understanding of their concerns and perspectives can go beyond stereotypes and charicatures, but it is a part and not the whole of the conversation we need to have.

The real conversation we need to have together is what our mutual relationships will and should look like in the future. There have been several plans that have already come out proposing one way or another of splitting The United Methodist Church. From what I can tell, all of these plans have been drafted by US Americans with the impacts on US Americans as their main concern. To my knowledge, none of the plans thus far have been significantly informed by talking with United Methodists in the central conferences. The plans address the status of those in the central conferences, but in a way that is much more about than with.

This is not an acceptable way to try to discern the future of United Methodism for several reasons. First, it violates the ethical and missional principles set forth in the slogan of "with, not about." Second, from a practical perspective it is likely to fail. Central conference delegates are not likely to vote for any plan that they do not think takes them or their interests into consideration, and no plan is likely to pass without significant central conference support.

The principles of "with, not about" the central conferences is why I'm eagerly waiting to see what comes out of the group led by Bishop Yambasu. That seems to me to be one of the few conversations about the future of the church right now that is following the principle of "with, not about" the central conferences.

Yet whatever form it takes, for United Methodists to figure out a future, even a future of division into multiple bodies, it is crucial that those conversations happen with, not about, all those impacted by such significant decisions - LGBTQ+ persons and those in the central conferences both.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Recommended Viewing: The US & the Central Conferences at the UM Scholars Conference

While much of the Post-Way-Forward Gathering of UM Scholars focused on the US context, a few presentations looked at the relationship between the US and the Central Conferences.

Darryl W. Stephens presented on "United Methodism at the End of White Christian America." In his piece, he argued that the current conflicts in the UMC have their roots in a world in which white Christians were a dominant cultural force in America, and Americans were the dominant force in the UMC. Yet, white Christianity no longer holds the same dominant place in this country, and the UMC as a denomination has become increasingly less American and more international in its membership. Stephens closes by arguing that "General Conference must address the primary, urgent, pervasive, and political nature of the global challenges in the UMC."

Anne Burkholder's presentation on fine-grained attention to vote counts, however, indicates just how difficult building coalitions for change in the UMC is. She notes how the conversation is at very different places in different countries. Burkholder explains how, despite a centrist-progressive wave at GC2020 delegate elections in the US, US delegates along cannot push forward changes on their own. Yet, as Burkholder notes, it matters what the question is when it comes to anticipating central conference responses. Among the potential questions Burkholder examines is the proposal to create a separate US structure/region/central conference.

Taken together, Stephens' and Burkholders' presentations highlight the important of Americans having conversations "with not about" central conferences regarding the future of the church, a theme I will expand upon in a subsequent post.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Plan Now: Wyandotte Land Return

Global Ministries' founding 200 years ago was inspired by the work of John Stewart, a self-appointed African-American missionary to the Wyandotte/Wynadott/Wyandot Native Americans in Ohio. Stewart's work led to the conversion of Chief Mononcue, Chief Between-the-Logs, and many other Wyandotte, leading to the formal establishment of the Wyandotte Church and Mission.

When the Wyandotte were expelled from their land in 1843, they negotiated with the US federal government for the Methodist Episcopal Church to receive the land on which the church building sat, and Global Ministries has held that land in trust ever since.

On September 21 of this year, Global Ministries will return that land to the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma in a public ceremony in Upper Sandusky, OH.

More information about the land return can be found through a Global Ministries press release and an article from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

To register to attend the land return, visit this Global Ministries page.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Knut Refsdal: Consensus-based processes in the church

Today's post is by Rev. Knut Refsdal, District Superintendent for The United Methodist Church in Norway. Rev. Refsdal here explains the consensus-decision making model used at this year's Norway Annual Conference meeting.

Given the situation the church finds itself in after the specially called session of the General Conference earlier this year, there was a great deal of excitement before our Annual Conference in Norway in June. It was therefore of great importance how the various cases were handled.

From the Cabinet's point of view, we decided early on that we would try to facilitate consensus-based processes. This is a process where we search for a common opinion without using formal voting and where we engage in a genuine and respectful dialogue. This is important for a church. As a church, we are called to work against all forms of divisions so that God's reconciled fellowship can become visible. We do this also in the way decisions are made.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agrees. We also say that we have reached consensus when one of the following happens: Either that all those who have the right to make decisions agree on a result or most agree and that those who disagree accept that they have been heard and that they can live with the result. Thus, agreement on a result is not limited to confirming the wording of a proposal. It may also be that a consensus has been reached on another result, such as agreeing to reject a proposal, referring a case to further processing or confirming that one can take different positions in relation to the case in question.

Consensus is a willingness to explore and develop alternative ways of decision-making than what are often called "parliamentary methods." The latter aims to structure debates and proposals in such a way that they can lead to majority decisions. We know these methods very well in the church These are not methods that emphasize a goal of unity, nor are they methods that necessarily foster collaboration and broad participation and inclusion. I would say the contrary, these often promote factions with the result that one easily ends up with winners and losers in a process, which can be detrimental to internal relationships and make decisions more difficult to implement.

The goals for consensus processes are therefore: Better decisions, better implementation of decisions and better group relationships.

The following are some key principles that underpin consensus as a form of decision:

Inclusive and participatory: In a consensus process, everyone affected by a decision is included and encouraged to participate and contribute towards a final decision. Likewise, the goal is to address the needs of everyone involved in the process. Consensus is therefore a search for common opinion, understanding and will without the use of formal voting and where one strives for more voices to be heard.

Consensus seeking: Consensus is a process that seeks to reach as much consensus as possible on a decision. There is therefore a great deal of room for dialogue, consultation, exploration, questions, reflection and cooperation that increases respect and understanding.

Process-oriented: Consensus emphasizes the process towards a decision, not just the result. Therefore, all participants' views and perspectives are respected and appreciated. This means that one invests a lot also in the way a decision is made, not just in the decision itself.

Collaborative oriented: Consensus is dependent on the willingness to co-operate. All participants are encouraged to help shape matters in such a way that it can lead to a result that safeguards everyone's concerns. This is based on the belief that, by listening to everyone's perspectives, the community is better able to make decisions that most people can agree on. Consensus therefore presupposes that everyone listens with openness and humility in order to also seek the insight of others, and this implies an attitude of respectful expectation since everyone is working towards a common goal. In the concept of consensus, there is therefore an expectation of a willingness to put the interests of the whole above one’s own preferences. In locked situations, therefore, all parties must be encouraged to work together to find solutions that everyone can live with.

Relationship-building: Consensus seeks to build good group relationships through decision-making. This is intended both to create a foundation for future decisions and to improve the implementation of decisions.

At our Annual Conference, there were three proposals on the table regarding the decisions at the specially called session of the General Conference: One proposal supported the Traditional Plan. Another proposal included a statement for full inclusion. A third proposal called for more theological studies. Many voiced their opinion in the dialogue and two more proposals were presented.

It was clear, during the exploring period, which often is the starting point in a consensus-based decision-making process, that there was a solid majority for full inclusion. But there were no ordinary votes on the proposals. Instead a consensus process was used to guide the conference to a broadest possible consensus on the matter. Every delegate was given orange and blue colored papers to indicate agreement or disagreement. The minority was given time to voice their concerns and the proposals were adjusted accordingly.

The people behind the different proposals were asked to work on a joint proposal, weighted by the consensus indications given. They came back with a single proposal that included:

  •  an agreement that the large majority wants full inclusion.
  •  a willingness to respect the view of the minority that wants to uphold the discipline.
  •  a strong determination to keep TUMC in Norway together.
  •  to establish a broad commission to seek a way to fully include LGBTQ+ persons and map consequences for the discipline, finances, organization and international connections.
  •  to deliver a report to the Annual Conference 2020 for deliberations and actions.

The church in Norway is not of one mind in this matter, but the will of the majority is clear and the majority is willing to make concessions to include as many as possible. This achieved a consensus and a broad platform for our upcoming work for the next year.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Recommended Reading/Listening: Renee Bach and the White Savior Complex

Recently, NPR ran a thorough story about Renee Bach, an American woman who ran a critical care center in Uganda for undernourished children. Bach ran her care center as a Christian mission endeavor, directly motivated by her faith and relying on US church support.

Despite lacking any medical training, education beyond a high school diploma, or appropriate licensure, Bach was involved in providing medical care for severely undernourishing children, over a hundred of whom died in her care. She is now being sued in Ugandan civil court on behalf of the mothers of two of the children that died.

As a missiologist, Bach's story struck me as an extreme and horrific example of some of the negative aspects of American mission abroad, in particular the "White Savior Complex" - the notion that middle-class or well-to-do white Americans working in impoverished contexts can transform those contexts just becuase of the privileges associated with their background, regardless of any skills, expertise, or knowledge they may possess.

For those looking to learn more about the White Savior Complex, the Failed Missionary website ran a three-part podcast about this topic. Each podcast is about 70 minutes long and is hosted by Corey Pigg of Failed Missionary and Emily Worrall of Barbie Savior.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Hilde Marie Movafagh on the Divide over LGBTQ Issues in the UMC in Europe

Rev. Hilde Marie Movafagh, the rector of the United Methodist Seminary in Oslo, made a presentation at the Post-Way-Forward Gathering of UM Scholars last week in Dallas entitled, "The Iron Curtain is Back: The United Methodist Church in Europe in the aftermath of GC2019." The presentation provides an overview of the differences in thinking on the place of LGBTQ persons in the church between Western and Eastern Europe and the resultant tensions within the UMC in Europe. The 15 minute-long presentation is an excellent overview for anyone wanting to better understand how the fallout of GC2019 is affecting United Methodism in Europe.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Europeans Give More to Central Conferences Than the WCA

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.

Over the past two months, I have done a series of posts on the amount of US financial support for central conferences, central conference internal giving, and the impact of American money on the future of The United Methodist Church as a global denomination. It has been my main intention to provide facts and context for the difficult conversations that are taking place about the future of the UMC as an international body.

One area I did not explore in that series was the money that European United Methodists – primarily those from Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – give to mission and other ministries in other central conferences. Yet those figures are relatively easy to gather, so this post will do that, along with suggesting some comparisons between various funding figures and what these funding relationships mean for discussions of the future of the denomination.

First, to the amount given by Europeans. I’ll look at each of the three European mission boards, starting with Connexio, the mission board of Swiss United Methodists. Connexio has a useful annual report which details how much it spends in various geographic areas. In 2018, that amounted to 921,156 Swiss Francs in Eastern Europe and 407,756 CHF in Africa, mostly in the DRC. The total is thus 1,328,912 CHF, which converts to about $1,360,000 USD in 2018 to the central conferences. It should be noted that Connexio also gives to the UMC’s Cambodia mission and mission work in other countries not part of the UMC central conferences.

Germany’s EmK Weltmission has a project list for each of the countries in which it works, with 2019 commitments of support for each project. It is not entirely clear whether these figures represent firm commitments or fundraising goals; nevertheless, they provide an indicator of support in lieu of an easily-procured financial statement. For work in Eastern Europe, Weltmission has committed 58,000 Euros in 2019. For work in Africa, it has committed €603,900. Thus, the total to UMC central conferences is €661,900, or about $740,000 USD. As with Connexio, Weltmission supports additional mission work in countries other than the UMC central conferences.

Norway’s Misjonsselskap has work in four countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Lithuania. According to the yearly audit submitted to this year’s Annual Conference, Misjonsselskapet spent 10,852,086 Norwegian Kroner on projects in 2018, about 80% of which was underwritten by government support. That works out to about $1,220,000 USD. The report does not make clear the division between Lithuania and the three African countries, but it is clear from Misjonsskelskapet’s website that the vast majority of the support goes to Africa.

Adding the three totals together, one gets about $3,320,000 USD yearly in support for the central conferences from the three European United Methodist mission societies. As both the Germany and Norwegian mission agency sites make clear, individuals and congregations give additional funds directly to partners in the central conferences, but this $3.3 million is the total through the mission boards.

On the one hand, this $3 .3 million is less than a tenth of the approximately $40 million that flows from the US-dominated boards, agencies, and apportionment funds.

On the other hand, this $3.3 million yearly is over ten times as much as the WCA fund for “threatened global ministries” in the central conferences.

The comparison with the WCA fund is particularly informative. Certainly, the official WCA fund does not represent all giving by WCA-affiliated individuals and congregations, which is undoubtedly much larger. Neither do the European figures, as noted. Even if we attribute 5% of US direct congregational and individual giving to the central conferences to WCA-related individuals (who make up about 1-2% of membership, so this is a very generous estimate), total WCA giving (which might then be $2.3 million) would still likely be less than half of what is given by European United Methodists by mission societies, individuals, and congregations (which might be as high as $6 million, assuming individual and congregational giving equals non-government supported mission society giving, as in the US).

My point here is not that Europeans should get more influence in the denomination than the WCA because they give more to the central conferences. I think it is dangerous to directly equate money with voice in shaping the church. Such an approach privileges the rich at the expense of the poor, and thus this principle would serve African United Methodists poorly, although they certainly have voices worth listening to.

The conclusion I would like to draw instead is the difficulty in re-creating or simply patching the existing on-going financial relationships that currently exist through The United Methodist Church. The WCA’s offer to save endangered central conference ministries may sound great, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money funneled through official channels, certainly from the US, but even from Europe. Moreover, there is no indication that the WCA’s fund will include $300,000 every year. All descriptions thus far have made this fund seem like a one-time collection.

It is clear that financial relationships in The United Methodist Church will need to change both as a result of the internal tensions that will reshape the entire church and as a result of changing membership demographics. But to do so in a way that avoids harm as much as possible, we as a denomination must be willing to discuss those changes in a clear-eyed way based upon realistic assessment of the size of the financial commitments that are at risk. To do anything else would be dishonest and a disservice to the poorest and most vulnerable with whom we are in mission.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Evangelism in a Flat Earth

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.

Last year, Netflix released a documentary called "Behind the Curve" about US Americans who believe that the earth is flat. The documentary generated some discussion at the time it came out, much of it about what the documentary and its subjects say about the state of science, especially in a culture where many disbelieve in human-caused climate change, despite overwhelming scientific consensus on this point.

As I watched the movie, though, I was struck not by the parallels with science, but with the parallels with religion.

This started during a section of the movie that discusses factions within the group of people who believe the earth is flat. It turns out that there are different interpretations of what is at the edge of the earth (and whether there even is an edge). However, these are not just differences of theory, but different communities that have formed around the theories and their leading proponents, who hurl anathemas at one another.

The documentary suggests that these divisions are similar to sects within a religion, and the suggestion seemed a plausible one to me, based not just on Christian comparisons, but also what I know about Islam, Buddhism, and other religions.

What really drove home for me the sense that what I was watching was more akin to a religious community than a scientific community, though, was the convention that is documented near the film's end. Participants spoke of how much they appreciated the experience of community at the convention, and how the community and the enthusiasm evident at the convention affirmed their commitment to flat earthism, not just as a belief system, but as a movement, an identity, and a way of orienting oneself to the world.

The convention wasn't about knowledge as the secular Western scientific structure would define it. It was about the relationships and emotions that support shared identity, beliefs, practices, and motivations, which is the realm of religion.

Thus, following the movie, my question was not, "How can we get people to believe in science when this is the alternative?" It was, "How can we get people to believe in Christianity when this is the alternative?"

What does evangelism look like when the alternatives to Christianity are not just other religions and secularism, but a whole host of quasi-religious interest groups that arise through and are nourished by the Internet? Flat Earthers are not the only such group. Many other interest groups have generated a set of orienting beliefs and/or mythos, a sense of distinct identity, and a sense of group belonging, in large part through the skillful use of technology. These groups might be fandoms. They might be devotees of a particular health regimen. They might be conspiracy theorists.

To be clear, I am talking about interests that go beyond mere hobbies for those deeply involved to instead provide an orienting way of being in the world. These are interests and associated communities that provide the "system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [sic] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" that Clifford Geertz defined as religion.

One of the challenges of the pluralistic, individualistic, postmodern world of the West is not that people no longer have a yearning for the type of good news that Christianity provides. It's that there so many plausible alternatives to "fill the God-shaped hole in their hearts," and people can choose the one that most caters to their particular interests, personality, and proclivities. The West isn't irreligious. It's abounding in simulacra of religion.

It seems that two responses on the part of Christian evangelism are in order.

First, Christianity has to be willing to critique a system of individualism and consumer capitalist thinking. If one adopts a framework of the individual as the supreme arbiter of good and consumer capitalism as the paramount methodology by which to achieve that good, it is difficult to critique the notion that people should be able to choose whatever religious or quasi-religious group and devotion seem to best suit them.

Yet, instead of critiquing such an approach to religion, Western Christians, and especially white American Christians, are often captive to such thinking, as Soong-Chan Rah and others have shown. Effective evangelism needs to raise questions about such assumptions, both among others and within the church, even though doing so is counter-cultural.

Second, Christianity has to recover the way in which it is not just about individual beliefs but about communities of practice. This is one of the things that the Flat Earthers intuitively understand and one of the keys to their success. Flat Earthism thrives not because its tenets are particularly compelling. It proceeds because the Internet has allowed people to create communities that support such beliefs, turning them from mere opinions to central components of identity, which seems to be the real sell for many involved.

Certainly, belief is important for Christianity. But when Christianity focuses solely on belief, it is easy for others to simply dismiss its conclusions, as Flat Earthers dismiss the truth claims of modern astronomy. Yet when truth claims are embedded within communities of belief and practice, they take on additional plausibility, even easily-disproved truth claims about the earth being flat.

For most of Christian history, this understanding of Christian belief as embedded within Christian community and strengthened by a sense of Christian identity was a given. That changed under the effects of the Enlightenment and modernity. Christians must therefore reclaim the communal sense to our religion, and to do so, they must be willing to push back on some of the individualism that so pervades Western culture.

In the end, the question is not really, "How can Christian evangelism defeat Flat Earthers?" The question should be, "What can we learn (or re-learn) from this growing social movement?" While the beliefs behind the Flat Earth movement may seem silly, the "Behind the Curve" documentary does raise important questions about how humans fill their basic needs for belief, identity, and community.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Dana Robert on the Development of World Christianity

Dr. Dana L. Robert's keynote address at this year's conference of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on World Christianity and the History of Mission is available for viewing online. In her 44-minute address, Dr. Robert provides a learned and useful overview of the evolution of the discourse of "world Christianity." Dr. Robert also addresses the place of the Yale-Edinburgh Group in this discource and suggests some of the challenges for the discourse going forward. Though long, the video is well worth viewing for those interested in the churchly, academic, and institutional background to world Christianity as a contemporary field of study.

For more about the conference as a whole, read this article by Dr. Christopher Anderson.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

United Methodist Core Competencies for Mission Education in Theological Seminaries

These Core Competencies for Mission Education in Theological Seminaries were adopted by the United Methodist Professors of Mission in 2011.

“We are a people called by God to be a people for God in the world.  Recipients of grace, we become witnesses to grace.  As United Methodists, we envision lives changed by grace, a church formed by grace, and a world transformed by grace.”  -- Grace Upon Grace: The Mission Statement of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990), 4. 

Missio Dei and the Biblical/Theological Basis for Mission
 •   The student will be able to define mission and explain how mission is biblically and theologically constitutive of the very nature of the Triune God and the church.

 •   The student will be able to critically evaluate the major trajectories of missiological reflection in Roman Catholic, conciliar Protestant, and evangelical traditions in light of Wesleyan theological commitments.

 •   The student will be able to evaluate the interrelationship of Christian mission and evangelism as indispensable to Christian witness to the Reign of God in the world.

 •   The student will be able to articulate an understanding of mission that is consistent with a Wesleyan connectional ecclesiology and the worldwide nature of the Christian church.

Context and Mission
 •   The student will be able to critically assess with the tools of anthropology the challenges of cross-cultural engagement in North American and global contexts.

 •   The student will be able to analyze the social context of mission, attending specifically to the religious, economic, political, and other dimensions of culture.

History and Theology of Mission
 •   The student will be able to evaluate the history of Christian mission as it relates to a number of historical and contemporary trends including colonialism and empire.

 •   The student will be able to summarize the different approaches Christians have taken in articulating a theology of religions and be able to describe his or her own position on a theology of religions.

Organizing and Spiritual Formation for Mission
 •   The student will be able to describe ways they might actively promote missionary vocations and integrate discipleship for mission as a constitutive aspect of their Wesleyan approach to ministry.

 •   The student will be able to articulate how actions to promote social justice, peace, reconciliation and the integrity of creation are key dimensions of God’s mission. 

 •   The student needs to understand and critically assess various ways of engaging in mission through the local congregation, the Annual Conference, and other avenues and be able to promote engagement in these ways.

 •   The student will be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of short-term mission trips and understand how to make such trips both educationally effective and faithful to sound principles of anthropology.

 •   The student will be able to demonstrate how missional awareness can be integrated in services of worship in a congregation.

 •   The student will be able to describe the practical challenges and opportunities of partnership in mission for both local and global contexts. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

American Money and the Future of Global United Methodism

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

Having laid forth in my last post some (possibly) better estimates by region of the level of internal giving and the amount of US support allows for some more specific comparison of funding received by central conferences from the US vs. funding central conferences are able to generate on their own.

This comparison then gives a sense of the magnitude of possible decreases in funding that central conferences could face and the scale of the decisions that they would have to make in the face of funding cuts from the US. I will here examine two scenarios: What would happen if all US subsidies were to stop through complete separation from the current denominational system, and what would happen if US subsidies were to decline by a third within the present system?

Western Europe
In Western Europe, a complete separation would certainly be felt. It would represent a loss of several million dollars in funding. That is perhaps 20% of the amount the region is able to generate internally for connectional ministries.

Such a reduction would lead to noticeable cutbacks and would force indigenous leaders to choose which programs to continue. Nevertheless, it would not devastate ministry, nor would it prohibit the region from continuing any form of ministry, and travel expenses would be an easy cut if separated from the denominational system. A 1/3 reduction within the present system would have smaller effects, though travel expenses would need to be preserved.

The Philippines
Subsidies within the Philippines are perhaps three or four times the internal connectional giving capacity, which would lead to significant effects if completely ended. Certainly, health, education, disaster response, service, and other ministries supported by US dollars would be affected, and some ministry programs would end. Filipino bishops might also have to take a pay cut.

Yet the Philippines has several educational and health institutions that already operate extensive fee-for-service programs and thus would be able to continue, even without outside support. These ministries would not end, even without US support, though they might face challenges in launching new programs or upgrading facilities and equipment.

Because of these fee-for-service programs and internal giving capacity, a 1/3 reduction within the current system would result in substantial cutbacks and some lower-priority programs being closed, but it would allow for high-priority work to continue.

Africa
The subsidies Africa receives are perhaps 8 times as much as their internal capacity for connectional giving, though out of all the regions, I am least certain what Africa’s internal capacity actually is. Thus, complete separation would be devastating and would effectively end or impact many forms of ministry beyond local churches. Bishops would need to survive on substantially reduced salaries, though given the high level of episcopal salaries relative to average salaries in their countries, there is room to cut.

Most evangelism in Africa happens through indigenous resources, except for Global Ministries support of mission initiatives in some newly-entered countries Thus, church growth and evangelism, at least within countries of existing United Methodist presence, would like be little affected by the end of outside support, except perhaps in the mission initiatives. Moreover, Africans have shown a capacity for charitable giving by local congregations, especially for ad-hoc needs and programs with low capital and administrative costs. These forms of ministry would likely continue, even with the end of outside support.

African schools and hospitals do generate some money through fees for service, but it is not clear if all of them could survive on these alone. Quite likely, a complete cessation in US support would end large-scale health and service ministries in Africa, especially those that rely upon substantial capital in the form of buildings and equipment. Colleges and universities with popular secular programs tend to be money-makers for the church (in Africa and elsewhere) and could continue. Primary and secondary schools are much less lucrative and therefore more likely to be impacted.

A 1/3 reduction in support would also significantly impact these large, institutional ministries and significantly reduce the number and/or scope of them. Many such ministries could probably continue under such a scenario, though to do so, African United Methodists would likely turn to more government support (at the expense of some United Methodist control) and fee-for-service arrangements.

Eastern Europe
For Eastern Europe, the amount of subsidies is perhaps 10 times as much as their internal capacity for connectional giving. Even more so than Africa, complete separation would be catastrophic and would effectively end most forms of ministry beyond local churches. Churches in Eastern Europe would even be challenged to continue to support bishops and district superintendents without outside help.

A 1/3 reduction within the current system would mostly affect educational, service, justice, and evangelism ministries. Indigenous leaders would need to choose among these competing priorities, with some types of ministry being halved (or worse) to preserve others.

Conclusion
Since health ministries directly save lives and poverty-reduction, sustainable development, and educational ministries have an indirect but significant effect on the length and quality of life, decisions about the future of US support for central conference ministries are ethical decisions. They directly impact the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout the world.

The decisions that US United Methodists, from traditionalist to centrist to progressive, will make about the funding arrangements they establish with the central conferences in whatever the next iteration of Methodism is will thus have real consequences, and dramatic cuts will cost lives among the poorest and most marginalized globally.

Of course, there are also strategic and ethical questions about continuing to foster a system of dependency rather than empowerment. Yet a unilateral and sudden end to US subsidies of the central conferences is not the appropriate way to end dependency.

Admittedly, in any scenario for the future of United Methodism, the amount of money from the US for connectional ministries will be less than it is now. Some reduction in US subsidies for ministry in the central conferences will be an economic necessity, given membership trends in the US.

Nevertheless, having created the current system of dependency, US United Methodists have a moral obligation to fellow United Methodists in the central conference to work with them to decide together how to plan for a sustainable economic future for those ministries most important to people in the central conferences. To do anything less would be for US United Methodists to show disregard for the lives and the humanity of those who are different from them.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Central Conference Finances, Take Two

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.

Over the past several weeks, I have published a series of posts about finances in the global United Methodist Church, including central conference church giving, US support for central conference ministries, central conference bishops’ salaries, and African clergy salaries. Having worked through that variety of material, I’ve gained new insight relative to some of the earlier posts in the series. This post will contain some additional reflections on how much money the central conferences collect and how that compares to the amount of US financial support for central conference ministry. A subsequent update post will re-examine what would likely be cut if US support declined or ended.

How Much Money Do Central Conferences Collect?
In trying to get some hard data for African pastoral salaries, I did a quick calculation. I took the amount of money I estimated that central conferences might collect based on total membership, average annual income for that country, and the assumption that 1% of that income might go to churches and 70% of what is given to churches might go to pastoral salaries, then divided it by the number of pastors to get an estimate of clergy salaries.

When that calculation is run for the United States, it produces a number in the range of what an average clergy salary might be. But the model breaks down significantly outside the United States.

In most places in Europe, it gives a number that is about a third the average annual income for that country. In the Philippines, it gives a number that is half the average annual income. While pastors are not paid terribly well, it is unlikely that European and Filipino pastors earn so little. What is instead likely is that both European and United Methodists give more than 1% of their income to the church, perhaps 3-5% in Europe and 2-3% in the Philippines.

In Africa, on the other hand, the calculation fails for the opposite reason – in most countries, it gives a number much larger than what a pastor’s salary might actually be. While there may be some errors in the data for number of clergy in an individual country, the overall trend suggests that in most African countries, United Methodists give much less than 1% of the average annual income for their country. As Robert Harmon has pointed out in a comment on a previous post, average income figures for many African countries can be skewed by urban high earners, whereas many, especially in rural areas, do not participate significantly in the cash economy, instead exchanging goods and services in kind. Those who have no cash can give no cash to the church.

While much uncertainty remains, what these numbers allow us to do is revise estimates for how much central conferences might collect in local church donations. Revising in a way that would produce more accurate estimates of pastoral salaries suggests that the Philippines might collect $25 million at the local church level, Europe as much as $180 million at the local church level, and Africa as little as $11 million.

Altogether, that still adds up to more than $200 million, meaning the total estimate for connectional giving from the central conferences is still in the neighborhood of $20 million (based on an estimate of 10% of total giving going for connectional ministries), as I suggested earlier. Yet it dramatically shifts where than $20 million is coming from – much less from Africa, much more from Europe, and somewhat more from the Philippines.

How Much Are Central Conference Ministries Subsidized by the US?
In an earlier post, I suggested that US United Methodists subsidize ministries in the central conferences to the extent of about $100 million per year - $40 through apportionments and general agencies, and $60 through direct partnerships with annual conference and local congregations. Having gotten a better sense of what giving patterns in the central conferences look like, is it possible to get a better sense of what US support looks like?

First, it’s worth noting that in terms of subsidies, one can talk about four different areas with different economic realities: Western Europe (the Germany Central Conference, parts of the Southern and Central Europe Central Conference, and most of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area), Eastern Europe (parts of the Southern and Central Europe Central Conference, the Eurasia Episcopal Area, and the Baltic part of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area), the Philippines, and Africa. Each area receives some subsidies, but of varying types and extents.

Western Europe receives subsidies in meetings expenses. It also receives missionaries from Global Ministries, and the benefit of some other general agency programs that serve the whole church, though it’s hard to say exactly how much. Western Europe does not receive much direct programmatic funding from the general church and is instead a source of programmatic funding for partners in Africa through various European United Methodist agencies. Western Europe pays above its assigned apportionments to cover the cost of its episcopal leadership, but it may not pay for the entire amount of its episcopal travel. Altogether, Western Europe probably receives $2-5 million from the global church and pays about $300,000 in apportionments.

Eastern Europe (because of membership numbers and economic realities) pays less in episcopal support than Western Europe, and it is more likely to receive programmatic support for things like poverty relief, evangelism, education, and sustainable development. Eastern Europe might receive as much as $12 million from the global church, while paying a few tens of thousands in apportionments.

The Philippines also receives subsidies for travel and episcopal expenses. They receive some agency money and direct giving, though based on the number of Advance specials in the Philippines relative to elsewhere, perhaps not as much as one might think. It is possible that the Philippines actually receives less in subsidies than Eastern Europe, perhaps in the neighborhood of $9 million, while paying $40-50,000 in apportionments.

Africa receives significant subsidies for all forms of ministry – travel, episcopal expenses, and programmatic ministries. Perhaps three quarters of all subsidies sent from the US to the global church go to Africa, which also receives support from European United Methodists not included in my calculations. All told, the amount of support might be somewhere around $75 million, compared to around $200,000 in apportionments paid.

Hence, all areas of the central conferences receive subsidies from US United Methodists, even relatively well-off Western Europeans. But the extent of subsidies and the ratios between subsidies on the one hand and apportionments or internal giving on the other vary significantly among the regions.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference Keynote Addresses

In April, Global Ministries hosted a conference celebrating the bicentennial of Methodist mission entitled "Answering the Call: Hearing God's Voice in Methodist Mission Past Present and Future." Among the elements of that conference were four keynote addresses, which are now available for viewing on YouTube. You can find them at the links below.

Keynote Address #1
The Virtues of Mission,” The Rev. Dr. Arun Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and Bicentennial Steering Committee Member

Keynote Address #2
Overcoming Wars, Violence, Political, Social and Economic Challenges through Mission: Mission as Peacemaking and Peacebuilding in the North Katanga Area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Bishop Mande Muyombo, North Katanga Episcopal Area, The United Methodist Church

Keynote Address #3
"Trauma Informed Evangelism," The Rev. Elaine A. Heath, Ph.D., Abbess, the Community at Spring Forest, and Former Dean, Duke Divinity School

Youth Address
Turn ______ Upside Down,” Joy Eva Bohol, Program Executive for Youth Engagement, World Council of Churches (WCC), and Global Missionary, Global Ministries

Monday, July 29, 2019

African Clergy Salaries

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.

While my last post looked at the salaries of African United Methodist bishops, this post will look at the salaries of African United Methodist clergy. Whereas bishops in Africa are paid quite well relative to average income in the country, clergy in Africa struggle in many places.

Exact figures for pastoral salaries in the central conferences is difficult to find online. Anecdotal stories about the financial struggles of clergy in African central conferences abound. As explored in a previous post, total giving in central conferences is limited, a result of the weak economies of many countries in the central conferences. The money available for pastoral salaries may be even more limited than suggested by those figures.

While innovations such as cell phone banking are pushing banking services to more and more people, even in developing countries, in many places, United Methodist members’ access to cash, even in local currencies, is limited. This problem is especially acute in rural areas that are not well-connected to larger economic systems, places where war or disaster has interrupted normal economic functions, and countries experiencing currency crises.

The upshot of limited access to cash is limited ability to give cash donations to the church, which can then be used to pay pastoral salaries, from which pastors can buy the necessities of living. Instead, pastors either receive in-kind salaries through donations of food and other goods by parishioners, or go without a salary from the church, or at least without a full salary.

In cases in which pastors cannot draw a salary or much salary from the church they serve, they must instead rely on spousal support, as this story from Nigeria hints at or rely on farming to provide basic foodstuffs for their families, as is the case in some parts of Liberia, Angola and Zimbabwe, and likely other places in Africa. UMNS has also reported on farming as a means for clergy to build up retirement funds in Zimbabwe. More on retirement funds later.

Another source of support for African (and Eurasian) clergy salaries comes from US subsidies. Many annual conferences in the central conferences rely upon donations from the US to supplement their pastors’ salaries. These donations may come either through Advance specials or through direct conference-to-conference partnerships. Such giving must be regular and the receiving annual conference must have a means of distributing such funds to pastors for such donations to affect the salaries of all pastors in a systematic way. Moreover, such US subsidies raise questions about creating dependency in one of the most basic functions of a church.

In addition to low salaries, pastors must often use the limited cash salary they have to pay for expenses related to their ministry, especially transportation. The costs (in time or money) associated with pastors serving remote or widely-separated regions explain the popularity of the Bike and Bibles program (see stories about Libera, Sierra Leone, and Congo) run by conservative laymember Joe Kilpatrick of North Georgia.

Pastoral salaries in some areas of Africa have improved in regularity and amount, as this reminiscence from Zimbabwe makes clear. Moreover, some annual conferences, such as those in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, have adopted a system of salary equalization to ensure that all pastors are earning an equitable amount, regardless of the congregation they serve or its location. Not all United Methodist pastors in Africa are starving by any means.

There is also now the Central Conference Pensions program overseen by Wespath. This program includes a pool of money that is used to help annual conferences in the central conferences to set up their own pension programs, separate from the various pension programs that serve US pastors. While over $25 million has been donated by US United Methodists for this program, that money is used as seed money and to help cover the administrative costs of the program. The individual pensions depend upon contributions by United Methodist pastors in the annual conference that established the pension. Thus, these pensions provide a vehicle for retirement savings for pastors in the central conferences, but they don’t really address the issue of salaries, since it is the pastors’ own money which is funding their retirement.

Despite recent improvements in salaries and benefits for African United Methodist clergy, it is clear that being a clergyperson in Africa is quite often a sacrificial calling in financial (and other!) terms.

All of this information helps to put into perspective two issues: First, the power that African United Methodist bishops have relative to clergy in most places in Africa, power that is not only ecclesial but also financial, as explored in my last post.

Second, the potential offense created by asking African clergy delegates, who may be struggling to put food on the table for their families, to vote on retirement plans for American clergy who live comfortable, middle-class Western lifestyles. Certainly, there needs to be some way for The United Methodist Church to act as a body on issues related to American clergy compensation. But the disparity between how clergy compensation works in the United States and how clergy compensation works in Africa is a significant impetus for work that Wespath and the Connectional Table have undertaken for the sake of creating an alternative structure to address such US-specific issues.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Bishops' Salaries and African UMC Economics

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

As indicated in a previous post, one way in which United Methodists in the United States subsidize the ministry of United Methodists in the central conferences is through the Episcopal Fund, one of the seven general church apportionment funds.

Episcopal areas in the central conferences do contribute to the Episcopal Fund (central conference apportionments make up 2.81% of the Episcopal Fund), but the amount they receive from that fund exceeds what they put in, thus generating a subsidy.

GCFA has reported that the cost for a central conference bishop on average is $930,000 for the current quadrennium, or about $232,500 per year. This total for episcopal expenses includes salary, housing allowance, office allowance, and travel.

In 2018, the UMC spent $1,016,903 in Africa, $234,670 in the Philippines, and approximately $373,832 in Europe on episcopal salaries. Subtracting salary from the total expense leaves about $150,000 per bishop for benefits, housing, office, and travel expenses. Benefits might account for $30,000 (40% of average salary). Presumably less than $20,000 (the American limit) is for housing. No more than $10,000 is for office expenses. That leaves up to $100,000 per year in travel expenses per central conference bishop. While this may seem high, note the large expenses in flying bishops from remote locations in the central conferences to the Unites States for frequent meetings.

Taken all together, the UMC as a whole is spending about $4,650,000 per year on central conference bishops. By contrast, all central conferences together gave $621,241 in 2018 to the episcopal fund. Thus, central conferences received about 7 ½ times what they spend on episcopal compensation.

Even more important is the disparity between episcopal compensation and the average income of people in many of the central conference countries. In the United States, a bishop’s salary is 2.7 times the average income for a resident of the US. In Germany, it’s only 1.7 times as large, and in Russia, it’s only 2.3 times. But in the Philippines, a bishop’s salary is 9.4 times the average income.

And in Africa, the gap is even larger. It’s 13.3 times as large as the average salary in Nigeria, 34 times in Zimbabwe, 55.9 times in Liberia, and a whopping 111.7 times in the DRC. And that’s not including benefits, housing and office payments, or travel expenses. All told, episcopal compensation in Africa is dozens if not hundreds of times what an average United Methodist might make in a year.

While I have great respect for the difficult and challenging work done by the central conference bishops and the deep faithfulness of the individuals in the role, there are some structural consequences of these US subsidies of central conference episcopal salaries that are vastly out of scale with average income in African countries. Again, these are structural consequences to a structural issue that has been around longer than any of the individuals currently serving as bishops. This is about the system we as global United Methodists have collectively built, not any of the individuals serving as bishops in that system.

Moreover, it’s important to point out the colonialist roots of this system, wherein bishops were initially US Americans, and it was seen as acceptable to pay them many times what those among whom they served earned. Upon the election of leaders from the central conferences as bishops, the reasonable argument was made that they deserved to be paid in line with their American predecessors, not at a fraction of that rate.

Be that as it may, this system has several consequences. First and foremost, it dramatically increases bishops’ roles as patrons, therefore increasing both bishops’ power and the demands placed on them. African bishops may receive a lot of money, but they don’t just keep all this money for themselves. In line with traditional leadership models, bishops function as patrons who distribute resources, including their own money, for the benefit of those they lead. African bishops being paid more also means that the United Methodists they serve expect more from them as patrons, since they are aware of the resources that bishops control, not just through approval and channeling of project funding, but from their own salaries.

However, because the funds that African bishops distribute through patronage come from outside the communities served, rather than being redistributed among those communities as in traditional times, this reduces the accountability of bishops. If bishops hold all of the financial cards in a relationship, there are fewer who can (or are willing to) afford (literally) to challenge the bishops.

This can make episcopal elections hotly contested, as they are not just for positions of spiritual leadership but for positions of significant economic influence that can be used in a manner seen fit by the office holder with little pushback from others. I am not saying that bishops use this situation for their own benefit; again, they are often called upon to use their own resources for the church. I am saying this situation gives bishops a tremendous amount of power, making election as a bishop a very valuable prize.

The value of the prize of being bishop and the extent of the power that bishops wield within the official system paradoxically also increases the incentive for those not elected as bishop to try to cultivate alternative, non-official sources of funding to develop their own power base, since there is little recourse to power left to them through official channels after losing an episcopal election.

It is thus significant, for instance, that the three Africans on the WCA council (Jerry Kulah, Kimba Evariste, and Forbes Matonga) all previously ran unsuccessfully for bishop. WCA funding, connections, and prestige are a way to challenge the authority of the bishops in ways that are not possible through the official channels of the church. Indeed, it is fair to say that the way the UMC has administratively and financially structured the office of bishop in Africa has produced a perverse incentive for other African leaders to affiliate with the WCA to try to build their own spheres of influence.

To the extent that African episcopal salaries are ethical or administrative problem in need of a solution, the solution is not as simple as just giving all African bishops a significant pay cut. There are real issues of procedural fairness to those serving as bishop that should make us reconsider such a drastic approach.

But the UMC could stand to reflect more on how it has structured financial relationships not only between the United States and the central conferences, but within the central conferences themselves, and the complicity of US United Methodists in those systems. And, as The United Methodist Church lurches towards whatever future awaits it, there is no time like the present to rethink how money shapes the denomination, the consequences of that shaping, and the alternative that may exist

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Recommended Reading: Post-GC 2019 Updates from Europe

As previously reported, the actions of General Conference 2019 raised questions about the future for United Methodists in Germany, the Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area as a whole, and Denmark and Norway specifically within the Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area. All of these areas have created groups to generate proposals for the future of the United Methodist Church and ministries with and by LGBTQ persons in these countries.

While the total number of United Methodists in these areas is small, these efforts are significant, as they show United Methodists from several cultural settings other than the US trying to grapple with how to balance affirmation of LGBTQ persons by the majority and preserving unity among United Methodists of a variety of opinions.

Since most annual conferences in those areas have now met for 2019, some updates on the processes underway in these areas are available.

Germany
All three German annual conferences discussed the results of General Conference 2019 and affirmed the work of the roundtable that the Germany Episcopal Area church leadership council created to explore possible futures for the UMC in Germany. News articles (in German) on those discussions are available for the East Germany, South Germany, and North Germany annual conferences.

The roundtable met for a second time in July and identified three possible structural approaches to differences of opinion over the place of LGBTQ persons in the church. Two would re-organize the Germany Central Conference to create separate organizations within the central conference for conservative churches. All three would allow progressive German Methodists to ordain LGBTQ persons and perform gay weddings. A report and news article (both in German) provide details.

Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area
Reflections by Bishop Christian Alsted (in English) written after most annual conferences in his episcopal area give a good sense of the variety of responses to GC2019 in the Nordic and Baltic Area. They also provide some details on specific actions undertaken by Denmark and Norway.

The Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area will have its own roundtable process to discern its future, with a report to be given at the 2021 Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference. An update on the roundtable (in English) included information on participants and process. An update from the UMC in Norway (in Norwegian) provides a few more details on process.

Denmark
In a series of votes, the annual conference in Denmark showed overwhelming support for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church. The Danish annual conference also approved creating a commission that will bring suggestions to the 2021 Denmark Annual Conference about how to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. A report about the 2019 annual conference (in Danish) provides details.

Norway
Despite notable differences in opinion, the Norway Annual Conference used a consensus decision-making process to adopt a consensus proposal that called for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, respect for the minority of Norwegian United Methodists with differing views on this matter, and as much continued unity as possible. A working group of eight people will develop a report for next year's annual conference, laying out proposed actions to achieve these goals. A report on the annual conference (in English) provides more details, as do an announcement (in Norwegian) of those on the working group and a letter from the cabinet (in Norwegian) issued after the annual conference.