Monday, March 18, 2019

Recommended Reading: WCC Ecological Justice Roadmap for Churches

The World Council of Churches has released a "Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice," a short, practical guide of steps that churches can take to practice ecological justice in their economic habits. Tragically, its main author, Rev. Norman Tendis, was killed in the recent plane crash in Ethiopia, making its release poignant.

One significant point raised at the "Creation and the City of God" theological consultation hosted by Global Ministries recently was that there is a need for more resources for congregations, conferences, and other United Methodist entities as they seek to make decisions about property in ways that take into consideration the impact on our environment and the inclusion of all people. This WCC resources is therefore a welcome arrival.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The UMC in Denmark considers "a better way forward"

Ole Birch, a pastor in the Denmark Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has suggested that body appoint a commission to recommend "a better way forward" for the UMC in Denmark. While Birch's suggestion is just that - a suggestion - it reveals the range of options that may be under consideration in Denmark following the adoption of the Traditional Plan by the special General Conference 2019. A translation by David Scott of an interview with Birch by the official website of the UMC in Denmark is below.

Proposal for a Better Way Forward (Forslag om en bedre vej fremad)
After the conclusion of the extraordinary General Conference last week, Ole Birch, pastor of the Jerusalem Church, posted a proposal to Facebook that he will present to the Methodist Church's National Meeting [Annual Conference]. Ole Birch calls the proposal "A better way forward," and it is about establishing a commission that will have the task to prepare a report for the 2021 annual conference on a future for the United Methodist Church in Denmark where gays and lesbians enjoy the same opportunities to have their relationships blessed and to serve in the church as all others.

You can read the proposal here. [Link in Danish.]

Proposals are made to the National Meeting and are handled by the delegates that the local congregations elect to represent them. has asked Ole Birch to explain the background for his proposal:

Ole Birch writes:

I have sent a proposal to the [United] Methodist Church in Denmark's annual conference about a commission for a better way forward. Moderator Anne Thompson has asked if I would shortly explain my thoughts in this regard, and I will do that gladly.

Like many others, I have experienced repeated disappointments that our more conservative brothers and sisters are not willing to allow room for different theologies on the question of human sexuality. I had dared to hope a little bit that our bishops initiative and support for the One Church Plan at the now concluded General Conference could have helped us into a new situation. As all who followed along saw, it went very differently. It is difficult to see how it would possibly go differently in the foreseeable future. It is my experience that many Danish Methodists experience discouragement and a feeling of powerlessness over this.

I make my proposal on two grounds. First, to point out that we are not powerless. We can, with God's help, take the situation into our own hands and form our future as we think it should be shaped. We must not give in to discouragement, which is a great temptation in this situation. Discouragement will lead us to give up and take us away from our fellowship in the church. I cannot think of any that feel discouraged, namely not the LGBTQ people that have held fast to their church, which has condemned and discriminated against them, but I will say that there is hope for a better way forward, if we stay together to form the way.

Second, I think we need to investigate what possibilities we have to come to a situation where we do not condemn and do not discriminate. Many have asked if one or another solution could not work? The commission I suggest should investigate to answer this question. Can we work together with European Methodists on a new church? Can we find ecumenical partners in Denmark to be church together with? Can we be autonomous? Can we ever leave the United Methodist Church? Can we become an affiliate church to the United Methodist Church, and thereby open more freedom? There are many such questions, but we lack answers. It is my hope that the commission can help us to find a better way forward.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Convening "Creation and the City of God"

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

The last two days, Global Ministries hosted “Creation and the City of God,” a theological consultation that considered how the built environment can exemplify the flourishing of God’s creation through the ways in which development integrates with and enhances the places where it exists, ensures physical, economic and emotional safety for people in the community, and contributes to the sustainability of all of creation.

The consultation brought together a unique mix of scholars, pastors, agency executives, financial decision-makers, and creation care advocates from across The United Methodist Church and beyond. Five panels fostered interactions among those gathered around the topics of the theological significance of the built environment, how the built environment can promote inclusion and belonging, how we respond to vulnerability and living in liminal spaces, stewardship of finances and property, and creation care witness and advocacy.

I had the good fortune, along with Rev. Jenny Phillips and Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, to be one of the people convening this event. Thus, I know as well as any why Global Ministries hosted this event. I share here a version of my remarks from Monday morning to the participants on that question.

In my role as Director of Mission Theology at Global Ministries, I see one of my main jobs as fostering conversations. In fact, I’ve argued that mission is conversation – conversation in the context of relationships across boundaries about God’s good news. That focus on conversation is spelled out in the purpose of this blog (“Dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church”), and it’s present in much of the rest of the work I do as well.

Thus, when Rev. Malcolm Frazier, at the time the United States Regional Office Representative for Global Ministries, approached me and my colleague Jerome Sahabandhu about the possibility of convening a theological consultation for mission partners from around the US, I was intrigued.

When Jerome and I agreed to take Malcolm’s idea and run with it, we had to decide: On what area of missional work should we focus? What topic would be significant enough to warrant our time and attention, while not duplicating existing resources and conversations?

On the question of significance, it was clear to me that creation care is one of the most pressing political, social, cultural, and religious issues of our time. Recent scientific findings released in the past six months have only heightened that sense.

I have been deeply encouraged to see missiologists paying increasing attention to creation care as an area of mission work over the last decade or so. For instance, it is included as one of the Five Marks of Mission, J. Andrew Kirk lists it as one of four main areas of mission work in his seminal book What Is Mission?, and recent ecumenical documents on mission such as Together Towards Life have emphasized the importance of creation care as a realm of mission work.

Yet while there has been important work done in the area of creation care within The United Methodist Church by the bishops and by our sister agencies such as UMW and Church and Society, and by some of Global Ministries’ own global missionaries, it seemed like there was room to do more. Indeed, until we see dramatic changes in the ways our economy and society are structured for the sake of reducing our impact on the created world, I don’t think any amount of effort related to or attention on this issue can really be too much or unnecessarily duplicative.

At the same time, Global Ministries was deepening its creation care efforts, including naming the creation care dimension to long-standing work. In addition to a growing attention to creation care, Global Ministries has a large and diverse network and a reputation as a trusted partner to many in the denomination. Therefore, we thought that Global Ministries had the possibility of bringing together people around this issue in a way that had not been done before by including a wider array of partners in the conversation.

Thus, Jerome and I agreed to focus on creation care. Yet, although creation care is something I care very deeply about as an individual and think is quite important as a missiologist, it is not my area of primary academic expertise. Fortunately, it was at just this time that Global Ministries hired Rev. Jenny Phillips as our first-ever Creation Care Program Manager. Jenny brought a wealth of experience, knowledge, and networks that have really made this event possible.

Together, Jenny, Jerome, and I identified urban areas and the built environment as an aspect of creation care that would benefit from more attention from the church. Moreover, we felt there was often a disconnect between conversations among those involved in creation care, those involved in property stewardship, and those involved in efforts to increase inclusion. Therefore, it seemed a good topic around which to build this consultation. Jenny was much influenced here by the work of Barbara Rossing, one of our panelists this morning, on ecology and eschatology. Hence, we arrived at the theme of “Creation and the City of God.” The rest of the program flowed from there as we asked questions about what the City of God would look like, for people and the rest of God’s creation.

I expect some interesting insights to come from these two days of conversation, especially around this focus on urban and built environments. But beyond these specific insights, I pray that this event serves to encourage further conversations, conversations in which we all have a role to play, about our relationship as humans with the rest of God’s creation and our responsibility to discern together God’s good news, not just for humanity, but for all that God has made.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Recommended Reading: German United Methodists Strive to Preserve Unity, Say No to Traditional Plan

The United Methodist Church in Germany has released a "Message from the Executive Committee to the congregations of the United Methodist Church in Germany." (Linked text is in English.) In the message, the Executive Committee states that while they are not of one mind about homosexuality, they will not abide by the provisions of the Traditional Plan. They indicate that they do not anticipate their differences of opinion to disappear anytime soon, but nonetheless they want to remain in unity, and they see the Traditional Plan as threatening that unity. The message also announces a series of roundtable discussions and promised that the 2020 Germany Central Conference will adopt "trendsetting resolutions."

A translation of the accompanying article by UM & Global's David W. Scott is below.

The Struggle for a Way to Preserve Unity (Das Ringen um einen Weg zur Bewahrung der Einheit)
By Klaus Ulrich Ruof

As a reaction to the passage of the "Traditional Plan," the Executive Committee ("Kirchenvorstand") of the United Methodist Church in Germany (EmK - Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche) responded with a message on the unity of the EmK/UMC in Germany.

The Executive Committee ("Kirchenvorstand") of the United Methodist Church (UMC / "EmK- Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche") in Germany had its regular spring session on Friday and Saturday (8 and 9 March) of last week. Almost the whole meeting, which met in the Hessian city of Fulda, was occupied with the decision of the recently-concluded general conference in St. Louis. The Executive Committee addresses the EmK congregations in Germany with a message to preserve unity and at the same time lay out the way to do so.

Consternation and concern for the unity of the EmK
"There is hardly a region of the United Methodist world where fragmentation, fractures, and deep chasms did not arise after the decision of the General Conference," Harald Rückert, the bishop responsible for Germany, opened the meeting of the Church Council by saying. These are the first impacts of the decision of the General Conference, which adopted the so-called "Traditional Plan," which reinforced the previous provisions of the church rules on homosexuality. In addition, the resolution calls for the consistent application of all relevant regulations and intensifies them through control and punishment. Deeply concerned, the members of the board of directors heard Rückert's information from numerous episcopal colleagues from northern, central and southern Europe, the USA, Africa and the Philippines. Deep consternation and great concern for the unity of the UMC is heard from all regions. With quotes from letters to the bishop, the members of the Executive Committee for the EmK in Germany also received insight into the turmoil and emotional dismay that the decision triggered in people with very different attitudes in congregations of the EmK in Germany.

"Not acceptable"
The Executive Committee had to deal with the decision of General Conference, because the framework of the decision expressly required a statement from all Annual Conferences of the UMC worldwide. With two essential statements, the Executive Committee addressed its advice to the people in the German EmK congregations. On the one hand, the message of the Executive Committee states: "Independent of the contents of our commitments, we are unanimously of the opinion, that these provisions of the Traditional Plan are not acceptable." That is why the United Methodist Church in Germany is not going down "the adopted way of thought control and intensified punishments." The members of the Executive Committee emphasized that "democratically-made decisions" must be respected. However, the wide-reaching consequences of the decision in this case make the adoption and implementation of the decision in United Methodist bodies in Germany impossible.

A united way "that demands much from all of us"
The second main statement of the message of the Executive Committee is an invitation to all groups of the EmK in Germany, to take part in a way to preserve unity. On this way, the church can only remain together if it succeeds in "liv[ing] in proximity and acknowledgement even without agreeing on important questions. We therefore want to be a church where people with homosexual sensibilities can be ordained and blessed in a marriage ceremony, and also where traditionally minded people can uphold their ideas and lifestyles. The “Kirchenvorstand” has reached agreement on this objective." This path will be pursued in the awareness "that the endeavour to uphold community will make great demands of us all in future too," if people of different convictions are to find security and a home in the church. The plea was made "to stay in our church and join us in our search for this way."

The Executive Council decided, for the search for a way to preserve unity, to form "roundtables," to which "people  from  different  groups  and  directions  in  our  church  will  be  invited." These will begin their work before the middle of May. Bishop Rückert will call and spiritually lead a group that will initiate the process for roundtables. In November 2020, the Central Conference will adopt "trendsetting resolutions," because only there can decisions affecting church rules for all three German Annual Conference be adopted.

Sign in an increasingly torn and divided society
The members of the Executive Committee expressly point out that the decision came about after intensive deliberations. The superintendents of the nine districts of the EmK in Germany (one woman and eight men) as well as the further 21 voting and advisory members of the Executive Committee "have  spent  several  days  struggling  intensively,  emotionally and honestly with this resolution and all its consequences." Despite widely diverging opinions, they came to this unanimous decision. If this way succeeds, as it says at the conclusion of the letter, it could be "an  important  sign  in  an  increasingly  torn  and  divided  society."

Friday, March 8, 2019

Jerome Sahabandhu: The Faith of My Zoroastrian Neighbor

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

On September 19, 2018, Global Ministries, through its Mission Theology Desk, invited one of the eminent Zoroastrian teachers in Atlanta to teach in a Mission Dialogue Forum. Mrs. Nairika Kotwal Cornett, the President of Atlanta Zarathushti Association (AZA), presented an introductory session for the staff of Global Ministries on Zoroastrianism as a living faith in the world and in the US. Mrs. Cornett made a very comprehensive and interactive presentation, and the following is a synopsis of the presentation from my notes and reflections.

Some may remember the historical documentary film “Iran: The Forgotten Glory,” directed by Makan Karandish, which was released in Los Angeles, California in October 2008 at the Bogota Film Festival. According to Karandish, “This film has been in production for more than five years and was shot in over 60 locations throughout the province of FARS. It is an attempt to re-capture the glory of the ancient Persian empires and their influence on world history, art, and culture”. Persian culture is essentially and symbiotically connected with Zoroastrianism.

Zoroastrianism, sometimes referred to by its adherents as “the Good Religion,” is one of the world’s oldest living religious faiths, already well-established by the time of the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire. It is also one of the most innovative faiths in human history, pioneering concepts of monotheism and moral dualism that have influenced the development of the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

According to the Parliament of World Religions, the number of Zoroastrians in the world today is about 200,000, with the highest concentrations in the 'homelands' of Iran (then Persia) (24,000 - 90,000) and India (70,000). In the past half century, Zarathushtis have emigrated around the world. They are currently in USA (11,000), Canada (6,000), Great Britain (5,000), Australia and New Zealand (3,500), the Persian Gulf (2,200), Pakistan (2,200), continental Europe (1,000), the Far East (400) and elsewhere.

Genesis and Diaspora
The very roots of the Zoroastrians go back to Central Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE. According to their own tradition, the ‘Mazda-worshipping religion’ was revealed to Prophet Zarathustra. Later, the Greeks turned his Persian/Iranian name into Zoroaster, from which the name Zoroastrian derives, denoting a follower of the religion of Zoroaster.

Zoroastrianism flourished for over a thousand years as the state religion of the three great Iranian Empires: the Achaemenids, the Parthians and the Sasanians. In its heyday, it was the dominant religion of imperial Persia and was practiced throughout central Asia and the Middle-east until it was supplanted by Islam during the Arab conquest of Iran in 651 CE. The Islamisation of Iran was a slow but persistent process and led to the eventual erosion of Zoroastrianism in its birthplace.

Emigration proved vital for the survival of the religion. Following the Arab conquest, Zoroastrians migrated to India in search of religious freedom and better living conditions and, coming from Persia, they became known there as Parsis. The presence of a current small yet important Parsi community in Sri Lanka is evidence to the fact that there was Zoroastrian movement in early stages to Serendib (Sri Lanka) as well.

One God
Zoroastrians believe in one God, called Ahura Mazda (meaning 'Wise Lord'). God is compassionate, just, and is the creator of the entire universe. Ahura Mazda is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, impossible for humans to conceive and unchanging. God is the Creator of life and source of all goodness, happiness and joy.

God is worshiped as supreme. Zoroastrians believe that everything God created is pure and should be treated with love and respect. This includes the natural environment, so Zoroastrians by virtue of their religious faith do not pollute the rivers, land or atmosphere. Thus, Zoroastrianism is an ecological religion.

Dualism is central to Zoroastrian teachings. Dualism at the cosmic level refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe. It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God's equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God's creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this. With cosmic dualism we have life and death, day and night, good and evil. One cannot be understood without the other. Life is a mixture of these two opposing forces.

When it comes to humanity there is moral dualism that refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of humankind. God's gift to humans is free will; therefore, humans have the choice to follow the path of evil (druj - deceit) or the path of righteousness (asha - truth). The path of evil leads to misery and ultimately hell. The path of righteousness and justice leads to peace and everlasting blessedness in heaven. However, in Zoroastrianism, because there is no concept of ‘original sin,’ misery and negativity are short-lived. The power of righteousness always wins over negative forces. In Zoroastrianism, the concept of heaven is not a physical location but rather a state of blissful and complete wisdom.

The Relationship of God and Humans
Unlike some religions where humans are God's children or servants, in Zoroastrianism men and women are considered more as God's helpers. Through positive choices and actions of humanity, evil will be eradicated and removed, and finally God's Paradise on Earth will be established. Men and women, rich and poor, and young and old are all seen as equal. One only surpasses the other through their righteousness.

Symbolism of Fire
Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some people wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure, and that fire represents God's light, wisdom and justice. Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary. Prayer is often done in front of a fire, and consecrated fires are kept perpetually burning in the major temples.

The Avesta
The Zoroastrian book of holy scriptures is called The Avesta. The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
  • The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
  • The Younger Avesta contains commentaries on the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.

Daily Prayers and Daily Life
Zoroastrian beliefs in a nutshell can be synthesized up by the maxim: Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. Zoroastrians try to live their daily lives by this creed. Before puberty, Zoroastrians are given a sudreh (muslin shirt) and kusti (cord) as part of an initiation ceremony (Navjote ceremony). These garments are considered sacred. They tie the kusti around the sudreh three times to remind themselves of 'Good Words, Good Thoughts, and Good Deeds'.

Family and Community
Zoroastrianism is a family and community-oriented religion. Zoroaster himself was a family man and most worship happens in the family. There is no tradition of monasticism or celibacy. Zoroastrianism is also about social action. Zoroastrians work towards improving the local community and society in general and work for peace and harmony. They tend to give generously to charities and are often focused on educational, environmental and social initiatives.

Zoroastrian-Christian Relationships
According to the Hebrew Bible, evincing God’s sovereignty over all nations, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please” (Isaiah 44:28). Cyrus was instrumental in the returning of the exiled Jews and letting them build their Temple. Dr. Mary Boyce of London University, who is regarded as the living authority on Zoroastrianism in our times, has to say regarding King Cyrus freeing the Jews from the Babylonian captivity: “This was only one of many liberal acts recorded of Cyrus, but it was of particular moment for the religious history of humankind.” (Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, 1984, p. 51).

Scholars have studied how Zoroastrianism has influenced later Jewish thought, Christian thought and Islamic thought as one of the oldest significant spiritual forces in the central Asia; some have given special attention on its influence on Biblical apocalypticism and eschatology of early pre-Christian and Christian teachings and writings.

I believe if Christians are serious of interfaith friendships, that will lead to a positive engagement and dialogue with our Zoroastrian neighbors and friends everywhere for building a better word of peace, love, joy and harmony and integrity of creation.

"Happiness comes to them who bring happiness to others. Abiding happiness and peace are theirs who choose goodness for its own sake - without expectation of any reward.” - Gathas

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Nancy Ammerman: How denominations split: Lessons for Methodists from Baptist battles of the ’80s

Today's post is by Dr. Nancy Ammerman. Dr. Ammerman is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University School of Theology. This piece originally appeared on Religion News Service and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Talk of schism in the United Methodist Church has prompted me to revisit the research I did in the 1980s as the Southern Baptist Convention was being transformed into the monolithically conservative body it is today. I wanted to know: How does a denomination arrive at and move through a split?

What I wrote about in my 1990 book, Baptist Battles, may just have some enduring lessons for what we are seeing now.

Nearly a century ago, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote “The Social Sources of Denominationalism,” and my research confirmed his contention that differences over theology or practice are rarely enough to split a denomination. The argument has to tap deeper social divisions.

It’s not that theology doesn’t matter. The Southern Baptist argument was begun by conservatives who claimed an inerrantist view of the Bible. They also definitely disapproved of the growing number of ordained women in progressive SBC churches. These were real theological differences between the parties, just as there are today between the traditional and progressive Methodists.

Those groups’ differences were also social and political, however. Southern Baptist progressives — they called themselves moderates — were more likely to come from cities, to value seminary-educated clergy and to favor women’s and minority rights. Conservatives opposed abortion and welfare and were strongly anti-communist (remember, this was the ’80s). They were more likely to have moved from rural to urban areas and to be somewhat less well-off.

In a very large denomination, spread out across the country, even such socially different groups can coexist for a long time without a split. A split also requires an organized movement to “call the question.” That’s what happened to Baptists in the 1980s, and that is what has happened to Methodists over the last decade.

Now that the Methodists have reached the precipice, the very complicated organizational work of division has to get underway, and one thing is sure: Nothing will happen quickly. Whatever division happens will unfold at multiple levels over at least a decade. Denominations aren’t just individuals who share (or formerly share) a theology. They are complex organizations with national bureaucracies, regional branch offices, local congregations and individual members. Each of those parts of the whole will come apart in different ways.

How that happens is determined by the denomination’s “polity,” that is, the way it governs itself. Baptists don’t have bishops, but Methodists do. That means that it is harder for Methodist congregations or clergy members simply to do what they individually think is right. Most critically, Methodist connectional polity means that the congregation doesn’t own its property — although this recent conference seems to have opened the way for churches to leave without giving up their buildings.

Even denominations without bishops, however, have extensive national organizations with lots of influence over what happens in local churches. They develop programs, publish literature, organize mission efforts and educate clergy.

The conservatives who took over the SBC knew that this connective tissue was their real target. They replaced members of the governing boards, then replaced the staff and eventually transformed all the national institutions into supporters of conservative theological (and political) causes. If traditionalist Methodists prevail and progressive ones leave, we can expect to see just such a slow but inevitable transformation of their national bodies.

We may also expect to see a few Methodist organizations declare independence. Among Baptists, Baylor University’s cutting of its official Baptist ties was the most noted such move. For Methodists, some of the theological schools – especially those lodged in universities – may follow that path. It means developing new funding streams, of course, but it also means “rebranding” so as to keep a claim on one’s historic identity even as the organizational link is severed.

The most visible splitting among Methodists is likely to happen at the local church level. Individual congregations will have to decide whether to stay, and if not, where to go. In some cases, that decision may divide the congregation itself, with one faction leaving to start something new. Jimmy Carter’s Maranatha Baptist is one of the more visible Baptist examples.

Some progressive congregations will choose to stay and force the fight. My old church, Oakhurst Baptist, in Atlanta, stayed, forcing each of its Baptist associations to officially vote it out (which they eventually did). Other congregations may simply exit quietly. There are about 800 United Methodist churches that have identified with the movement to accept LGBTQ members and clergy. They are the ones to watch, but others may join them.

When a church leaves, it can either join with others to form something new or join up with an existing denomination. Departing Southern Baptists formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists, which are still going strong, but a few churches also aligned themselves with the American Baptist Churches, effectively mending the North-South rift that was created in the 1840s by slavery. The Reconciling Ministries Network may be the nucleus of a progressive Methodist alternative, but there are also overtures emerging from Episcopal and other denominations.

But what about individual Methodists? If they are like the Baptists in the 1980s, most haven’t been paying much attention to all the sound and fury. It is likely that they already attend a church that mostly matches their theological and political views, so most won’t notice much change, at least initially.

But there are sometimes crises that change that. When the issue of accepting LGBTQ persons becomes personal — a son or daughter, perhaps — individual Methodists may seek a new place to worship, and it may or may not be Methodist.

Perhaps more critically, young adults brought up Methodist are overwhelmingly on the progressive side of this issue. Their failure to pursue a clergy career — or even to stay in the church — is likely to further solidify a traditionalist future for the UMC.

The answer to how you split a denomination, then, is slowly, in hundreds of painful decisions. These will almost certainly result in multiple new, more polarized religious bodies with less diverse middle ground.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Recommended Reading: Inter-Ethnic Strategy & Development Group Statement at Special Called General Conference 2019

Last week, Dana Robert raised the issue of women leaders as "collateral damage" in the current fights over LGBTQ ministry and marriage in The United Methodist Church. Yet women leaders are not the only potential collateral damage in this fight.

The Inter-Ethnic Strategy & Development Group, which represents the five racial ethnic caucuses in the United States, including over twenty distinct racial ethnic groups, issued a statement on the last day of General Conference. While the statement is worth reading in its entirety, one of the last points speaks directly to the issue of collateral damage in this fight:

"We celebrate a narrative of church growth within The UMC in the United States. As you deliberate, please remember that your decisions will have lasting fiscal ramifications for racial ethnic ministries, where membership is growing. Despite our struggle to overcome racism, nationalism, and effects of unjust systems such as immigration, poverty, and other social issue, racial ethnic membership has grown during the decades from 1996 to 2016." The statement then cites statistics first published on this blog.

The statement is clear: racial ethnic congregations in the US are growing, but church-dividing debates that drain necessary support money away from new ministries will hurt that growth. Many of the racial ethnic groups did not take positions on the plans before General Conference because of the diversity of opinion among their membership and because they recognized that unity was important for fashioning their shared future. While it should not detract from the primary damage done to LGBTQ+ people, people of color also stand to lose in this coming Methodist civil war.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Dana L. Robert: The “Other” Issue of Gender: What Happens to United Methodist Women Leaders?

Today's blog post is written by Dr. Dana L. Robert. Dr. Robert is the Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Missions and Director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at the Boston University School of Theology.

The recent General Conference was a very public fight over the identity and direction of the United Methodist Church, with regard to LGBTQ issues of ordination and marriage.  Without minimizing the pain of LGBTQ sisters and brothers, as a women’s historian, I need to raise the issue of collateral damage—that of the ministry and leadership of women. As a spirit-filled Wesleyan “centrist” who is more interested in mission than dogma, I offer these observations in dismay and sorrow.

Anyone who watched the live streaming of the conference saw women bishops in the chair, and a disproportionately large number of women supporting flexibility and inclusion. This combination was no coincidence. The United Methodist Church has more women bishops, more ordained women, more women seminary professors, more deaconesses, and more women in charge of church agencies than any other church in the world. When I travel in southern Africa, I often meet women who tell me that their education and empowerment have come directly through the mission of the United Methodist Church. To dismantle it--as was so casually discussed--is a body blow against women’s leadership in the church.

Every women’s historian knows that fights over restructuring undercut the ministry of women. Progress in gender relations is never certain. Women keep fighting to minister, to teach theology, and to serve a God who has called diverse people into ministry. In 1880, northern Methodist women lost their licenses to preach. In 1884, Methodist and Presbyterian officials attacked their women’s missionary societies, and four years later women delegates were denied seats at the Methodist General Conference. In 1910, men in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, forcibly merged women’s organizations. Lacking voice and vote, southern Methodist women began fighting for laity rights. In 1923, during the fundamentalist-modernist controversies, the Presbyterian women lost their national agency overnight. It was not until 1956 that Presbyterian and Methodist women got full ordination rights.

Back in the late 1970s, when I was in graduate school, I knew women whose male classmates walked out of the classroom when they gave presentations because they did not think women should teach theology. Women in the graduate religion program just a few years ahead of me talked about how they had to serve refreshments to their fellow male students at departmental get-togethers. As a young southern woman on her first day of graduate school, an older male student—upon learning I had attended Louisiana State University rather than an elite private school—asked me, “How did you get in here? Did you know somebody?” As the first tenured woman in the venerable Boston University School of Theology, I carry memories of struggles that today’s seminarians think happened only in the 19th century. Only one generation ago, Southern Baptist women were ejected from seminaries and lost their right to preach. Even the memory of Lottie Moon was hijacked by fundamentalists, who crushed women’s ministries while they told women to “graciously submit” to their husbands.

In the past few years, freestanding mainline seminaries like Bangor, Episcopal Divinity School, Andover-Newton, San Francisco, Pacific School of Religion, St. Paul’s, and Claremont have collapsed or been forced to merge with other institutions. Today there are fewer seminaries in which women can teach theological disciplines than forty years ago. Emory, Duke, Boston University. . . what happens when these United Methodist university-based seminaries lose the support of a fractured church? The universities that host them will not look kindly on being yoked to fundamentalist-type readings of scripture that prop up exclusion. The fight to the death over LGBTQ rights will continue to shrink spaces in which women can teach theology. And where women cannot teach, LGBTQ students will not be welcome either.

Women’s high visibility at the recent General Conference demonstrated that the tradition of John Wesley has been the most welcoming to women’s leadership in the history of Protestantism.  In global perspective, fundamentalist biblical interpretation yoked with punitive sanctions against LGBTQ persons undercuts that tradition. In effect, the recent General Conference was a stealth attack against women in ministry. The agony of the excluded LGBTQ youth was the agony of the women who have mentored them, and who experience the pain of their own struggles all over again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Recommended reading: German, Danish, Norwegian coverage of General Conference 2019

United Methodist News Service (UMNS) did an excellent job of covering the events of General Conference over the past four days, and they also did an excellent job of ensuring that coverage was translated into French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Korean.

Yet they were not the only United Methodist news source covering the conference. Among others, Klaus Ulrich Ruof of the Germany Episcopal Area wrote a series of articles about the conference from the perspective of German delegates. For those interested in another perspective on the proceedings, you can read his articles below:
Auf der Suche nach der Lösung ("On the Search for a Solution," Feb. 22)
Achtungsvolle Weite als Auftrag ("Respectful Wideness as Mission," Feb. 23)
Bedeutung und Wirkung einer einfachen Form ("The Meaning and Effect of a Simple Form," [on the Gateway Arch,] Feb. 23)
Die, um die es geht, waren vergessen worden ("Those about Whom It Is Were Forgotten," Feb. 24)
Die Einheit zur Leidenschaft machen ("Make Unity a Passion," Feb. 25)
Traum oder Albtraum? ("Dream or Nightmare?" Feb. 26)
Der Weg zum Miteinander bleibt auf der Strecke ("The Way to Togetherness Remains in the Distance," Feb. 27)

The United Methodist Churches in Denmark and Norway also had coverage of the event, though less extensive than the German coverage. From Denmark:
De danske delegater er på vej ("The Danish Delegates Are on the Way," Feb. 21)
De danske delegater hilser ("Greetings from the Danish delegates," Feb. 25)
Biskop Christian Alsteds åbningstale ("Bishop Christian Alsted's Opening Speech," Feb. 25)
Opdatering fra biskoppen ("Update from the Bishop," Feb. 26)
Opfordring fra Metodistkirkens unge ("Request from the Methodist Church's Youth," Feb. 26)
Generalkonferencen 2019 er ovre – hvad nu? ("General Conference 2019 is Over - What Now?" Feb. 27)

The Norwegian church translated many of the UMNS articles into Norwegian, as can be found in their news archive. They also wrote additional Norwegian-specific content, including the following:
På vei til historisk generalkonferanse ("On the Way to the Historic General Conference," Feb. 19)
Biskop Christian Alsteds åpningstale ("Bishop Christian Alsted's Opening Speech," Feb. 25)
Be for at Den Hellige Ånd skal veilede oss ("Pray that the Holy Spirit Will Lead Us," Feb. 26)
One Church Plan strandet, Traditional Plan går videre ("One Church Plan Is Stranded, Traditional Plan Continues On," Feb. 26)
Etter generalkonferansen ("After General Conference," Feb. 27)

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Prayer of Confession for GC2019

After nearly three years of anticipation and an increasing crescendo of opinions, debates, discussions, and strategizing, General Conference 2019 begins tomorrow. Knowing that the eyes of the United Methodist world will be focused elsewhere, UM & Global will take a brief hiatus until after the conclusion of the General Conference.

Since the General Conference will begin with a day of prayer, I leave you with this prayer of confession from the United Methodist Hymnal, A Service of Word and Table 1, p. 8. It is likely that none of us has nor will fully love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, nor our neighbor as ourselves through this process. For that, Lord have mercy.

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What are laws and views on homosexuality in Europe and Eurasia?

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.

After examining the variety of laws and views regarding homosexuality in Africa and the Philippines, this post will examine such laws and views in Europe and Eurasia, the third region of United Methodist presence outside the United States.

As in Africa, Europe and Eurasia is a large region with multiple countries and cultures, so laws and public opinion vary. Moreover, both laws and public opinion are continuing to change, so please excuse any recent developments overlooked by this post.

On the legal side, no countries in Europe criminalize homosexuality. Instead, most of the variation is in the recognition of same-sex relationships, where countries range from banning gay marriage to recognizing same-sex civil unions to recognizing same-sex marriage. As of last year, 17 European countries recognize same-sex marriage, and an additional 11 recognize same-sex civil unions. Romania is moving the direction of recognizing civil unions after a referendum to ban same-sex marriage there failed. Same-sex marriage because legal in Austria on Jan. 1st of this year.

According to a 2017 Pew Research report, supplemented with additional online information, European countries with a UMC presence where same-sex marriage is legal include Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and Norway. European countries with a UMC presence where same-sex civil unions are legal include Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Switzerland.

European countries with a UMC presence where there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Same-sex relationships are also not legally recognized in the central Asian countries where the UMC has congregations. Some European and Eurasian countries that do not permit same-sex marriage have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while others encode such bans in elsewhere in their legal system.

This list of laws reflects an overall trend in public opinion: the farther east one goes in Europe and Eurasia, the more opposed people are to same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general. This result even holds up across age ranges. Large majorities in Northern and Western Europe are in favor of societal acceptance of homosexuality and governmental recognition of same-sex marriage. Opinion on both issues is split among central European countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Eastern European countries are likely to view both same-sex marriage and homosexuality negatively.

This is one of the ways in which The United Methodist Church in Europe is in a unique position in the denomination: it includes people of widely differing views on sexuality living in countries with different legal stances on sexuality, yet at the same time unity is a strong value for European United Methodists. Unity is seen as essential to survival for what is in Europe a small denomination which is often viewed with suspicion.

I know they have struggled themselves and had many difficult conversations in preparation for General Conference 2019, but perhaps European and Eurasian delegates can teach the rest of the denomination something about how to balance strongly held convictions, deep differences in opinion, and the recognition that we still need each other.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What are laws and views on homosexuality in 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.

After examining last week the variety of laws and public opinions regarding homosexuality in countries in Africa with a United Methodist presence, this post examines the same set of questions for the Philippines, the only country in Asia with an established United Methodist presence.

On the legal side, the Philippines does not have laws criminalizing homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in the Philippines, though there has been an effort in the country's legislature over the past two years to pass a bill that would create same-sex civil partnerships. The Philippines Supreme Court also heard a case last summer that would legalize same-sex marriage, though they have not yet issued a ruling on it. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has changed his position on same-sex marriage several times, but currently supports it. If the Philippines legalizes same-sex marriage, it would become the second Asian country to do so, after Taiwan.

On the side of public opinion, Filipinos as a whole are rather accepting of homosexuality. In a 2013 Pew Forum survey, 73% of Filipinos said that society should accept homosexuality. That is a higher percentage than in the United States, and the results led to the Philippines being labeled "among [the] most gay-friendly in the world."

Religiosity does affect view of homosexuality in the Philippines, as elsewhere. Not only The United Methodist Church, but the Catholic Church, to which the great majority of Filipinos belong, views homosexuality as a sin. Yet in forming their views on homosexuality, Filipinos draw not only on religious teachings, but also on long-standing Southeast Asian cultural traditions in which gender is a more fluid category and sex roles and sexuality are not as rigid.

Despite the overall favorable views of homosexuality, Filipinos may be less accepting of the idea of same-sex marriage. The most widely distributed survey of public opinion on same-sex marriage found that only 22% of Filipinos supported it, while 61% were opposed. Yet, as in South Africa and Taiwan, it is possible for same-sex marriage to be legal in a country even when the majority of the population has expressed opposition.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What are laws and views on homosexuality in Africa?

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 his series of "Seeing a Way Forward" videos, Rev. Forbes Matonga makes the claim that the Traditionalist Plan is the only "legal" plan for Africans, since gay marriage is illegal almost everywhere in Africa. On one level, Rev. Matonga is incorrect in that it would be possible for the One Church Plan or Connectional Conferences Plan to pass and Africans to maintain prohibitions against gay marriage and gay ordination, nor much church policy and state policy always coincide. Yet it is worth exploring the range of laws about and views regarding homosexuality in Africa.

On one hand, Rev. Matonga is right about the legality of gay marriage in Africa. South Africa is the only country in Africa where gay marriage is legal. It was legalized by an 80% pro vote of parliament in 2006 after previous marriage laws were struck down as unconstitutional.

On the other hand, there's much wider variation on the legality of homosexual practices in Africa. It's true that some African countries, including some where the UMC is located, have criminalized gay sex, making LGBTQ+ people who are out vulnerable to arrest, detention, and other legalized harm. But there are also African countries, including those where the majority of African United Methodists live, where there are no laws prohibiting homosexuality, even though gay marriage is not legal.

The following lists come from a 2018 Amnesty International infographic:

Those countries with United Methodists in Africa where homosexuality is legal include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, and Central African Republic. Collectively, these countries make up about 69% of UMC membership in Africa.

Those countries with United Methodists in Africa where homosexuality is illegal include Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. These countries make up the other 31% of UMC membership in Africa. The severity and enforcement of these laws vary. In Kenya, the Supreme Court is in the process of deciding a court case that could legalize homosexuality there.

Beyond the issue of legality is the issue of public opinion. The most commonly cited source for African views on homosexuality is a 2013 Pew Forum study which covers several but far from all African countries. It does not include the DRC or Cote d'Ivoire, but does include South Africa. African countries, Muslim countries, and Russia stand out as the places least accepting of homosexuality. Even in South Africa, where gay marriage is legal, public opinion runs against homosexuality, and LGBTQ+ persons still routinely face discrimination and even violence.

One caveat to these results that I have heard from Africans themselves is that Africans do not talk about sex, even straight sex, publicly. It is treated as a taboo subject. This makes it difficult to have conversations about homosexuality. When those conversations do happen, views are perhaps less cut and dried than a yes/no question on a Pew Forum survey would suggest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Recommended Readings: More African views on General Conference 2019

As commentaries continue to pour forth in the closing days before General Conference 2019 convenes on February 23rd, several pieces by African United Methodists give a sense of the variety of African viewpoints heading into GC2019.

The Africa Initiative issued a call to prayer for the week of Jan. 28 in preparation for the special called General Conference.

UMNS published a series of video interviews with Rev. Forbes Matonga of Zimbabwe on his views of the way forward

UMNS published a commentary on GC2019 by retired Congolese bishop and Way Forward moderator David Yemba

UMNS published a commentary on GC2019 by Congolese native Albert Otshudi Longe, who currently resides in the United States

One could compare these four pieces in terms of their views on homosexuality. The Africa Initiative and Rev. Matonga (who is a leader in the Africa Initiative) are clearly opposed. Bishop Yemba does not take a direct position. Mr. Longe speaks against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Yet another interesting comparison is to examine the range of terms the four pieces use to describe the upcoming General Conference and The United Methodist Church as a whole. The Africa Initiative speaks of GC2019 as "spiritual warfare." Rev. Matonga instead states, "This is not a war," and calls for gracious and civil behavior. Bishop Yemba speaks of the church as a worshipping community and theological entity. Mr. Longe describes the church using the African concept of "ubuntu."

While Americans often paint Africans with a broad brush, this collection of commentaries should serve as a good reminder that not only are there a variety of views among Africans about the issues at hand before GC2019, there are also differing African ways of understanding General Conference and the church itself.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What are the differences between the five exit plans?

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 last week, one likely scenario for General Conference 2019 is that a exit plan will be passed without any other plan also being passed. But the question remains: which exit plan?

There are currently five different exit clause petitions that will come before GC2019 - Brooks (Petition 90051), Tull (Petition 90056), Ottjes (Petition 90058), Boyette (Petition 90059), and Taylor (Petition 90066). Here is how these five plans stack up on a variety of points of comparison.

Brooks (Petition 90051)
Breadth of reason for departure: Departure not limited to disagreements over sexuality
Timeframe for departure: Exits allowed during 2020
Timeline for process: Not stipulated
Local church majority needed to approve: 2/3 of church conference or church local conference
Role of District Superintendents, bishops, and annual conferences: DS presides at church local conference vote of disaffiliation
Payment of unfunded pension liabilities: Not mentioned
Local church assumes property debt: Not mentioned
Use of denominational reserve funds: Not mentioned
Payment of apportionments: Departing church pays apportionment for year of withdrawal (2020)
Other stipulations: Departing church must pay penalty of 50% average annual budget

Tull (Petition 90056)
Breadth of reason for departure: Departure not limited to disagreements over sexuality
Timeframe for departure: two years after passage
Timeline for process: Not stipulated
Local church majority needed to approve: 2/3 of church conference
Role of District Superintendents, bishops, and annual conferences: prohibited from delaying vote by local church
Payment of unfunded pension liabilities: Yes
Local church assumes property debt: Yes
Use of denominational reserve funds: Not mentioned
Payment of apportionments: Departing church pays twice yearly apportionment
Other stipulations: Departing church repays all moneys received from the annual conference in the previous two years. Departing church pays filing fees to release trust clause claims.

Ottjes (Petition 90058)
Breadth of reason for departure: Limited to disagreements about sexuality
Timeframe for departure: No limit
Timeline for process: Must include 90 days of discernment
Local church majority needed to approve: 2/3 of church conference
Role of District Superintendents, bishops, and annual conferences: Must facilitate departure
Payment of unfunded pension liabilities: Not mentioned
Local church assumes property debt: Yes
Use of denominational reserve funds: Not mentioned
Payment of apportionments: Not mentioned
Other stipulations: None

Boyette (Petition 90059)
Breadth of reason for departure: Limited to disagreements with the Book of Discipline
Timeframe for departure: No limit
Timeline for process: Must include 30 days of discernment
Local church majority needed to approve: 55% of church conference or 2/3 of charge conference
Role of District Superintendents, bishops, and annual conferences: Must facilitate departure
Payment of unfunded pension liabilities: Yes
Local church assumes property debt: Yes
Use of denominational reserve funds: Used to offset unfunded pension liabilities
Payment of apportionments: No
Other stipulations: None

Taylor (Petition 90066)
Breadth of reason for departure: Disagreement with changes to Book of Displine stance on homosexuality passed by GC2019
Timeframe for departure: Must finish by Dec. 31, 2023
Timeline for process: Not stipulated
Local church majority needed to approve: 2/3 of church conference
Role of District Superintendents, bishops, and annual conferences: DS appoints a task force on church viability after exit; bishop sets terms of departure with the cabinet
Payment of unfunded pension liabilities: Yes
Local church assumes property debt: Yes
Use of denominational reserve funds: No
Payment of apportionments: Departing church pays apportionments for the year before and the year following departure
Other stipulations: Departing church pays back last five years of annual conference grants. Departing churches can continue to sponsor benefit plans through WesPath.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Why "exit only" is the plan most likely to pass GC2019

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.

Most of the coverage of the plans laid before the delegates of General Conference 2019 has focused on four: the Connectional Conference Plan, the One Church Plan, the Simple Plan, and the (Modified) Traditional Plan. Yet the plan most likely to pass GC2019 is none of these. The mostly likely plan to pass GC2019 is an exit plan - that is, a plan that relaxes the trust clause which states that the denomination, not local churches, owns church buildings - which could be passed without being tied to a larger piece of legislation.

First of all, none of the other plans seem a shoe-in. Even the supporters of the Connectional Conference Plan and the Simple Plan acknowledge that they do not have enough support to pass. Traditionalists in Good News seem to think that the One Church Plan has insufficient votes, though they may be underestimating their opponents. At the same time, traditionalist messaging in support of the Connectional Conference Plan and exit plans and their unwillingness to declare preemptive victory suggests they doubt their own plan has enough votes. Centrist messaging has given fewer tells, so it is unclear what their take on the situation is. Moreover, the Holy Spirit and other surprises may always happen, but at this point, it does not seem a foregone conclusion that one of the four main plans will pass.

Yet, there seems to be building momentum from a variety of places on the theological spectrum for an exit clause to be passed. Traditionalists associated with the WCA have declared their intention to leave the denomination if the Modified Traditionalist Plan is not passed (and maybe even if it is). Good News is actively advocated the adoption of one of three exit clauses. Although Uniting Methodists has called for a referral of exit plans to GC2020, it is still likely that some centrists and progressives would like to let traditionalists leave, since it would strengthen their position in the remaining denomination. It is also possible some progressives might want to leave the denomination. Thus, an exit clause could have support across a range of American United Methodists. Because there are five petitions that present exit clauses alone, each of which will be voted on separately, it is entirely possible that such a petition would pass, but that no major plan would pass in addition.

Considering this possibility leads to three questions:

1. How would delegates from the central conferences view an exit clause?

It is unlikely that an exit clause could pass without some support among central conference delegates. Relaxing the trust clause so that American churches could leave the denomination could seem to central conference delegates like Americans fighting about American money, and thus an issue without clear implications for them.

This is where the terms of the exit clause become important. "Cheap" exit clauses - ones that pay unfunded pension liabilities but which pay nothing in apportionments or even drain denominational reserve funds are likely to be less palatable to central conference delegates. Apportionment dollars fund grants and programs that central conferences depend upon. Central conference delegates might see such "cheap" exit clauses as a betrayal of their trust in American partners and a direct financial hit to their conferences. If central conference delegates do support an exit clause, it is likely to be one that includes some level of apportionment payout for departing churches.

2. Which exit clause will be approved?

There are currently five different exit clause petitions that will come before GC2019 - Brooks (Petition 90051), Tull (Petition 90056), Ottjes (Petition 90058), Boyette (Petition 90059), and Taylor (Petition 90066). That body will have the responsibility of amending and refining as many of those as they want, but they are likely to pass only one. To do more would seem redundant. Good News has indicated support of three of the five (Ottjes, Boyette, and Taylor), though it has suggested amendments to two of them (Ottjes and Taylor). The other two exit plans may also find support from different quarters.

Yet the five different plans come with different terms for exiting, which may be further amended during discussion. Key differences include the following: How broad is the exit - must an exit be tied directly to the debate over gay marriage and ordination? How long will the exit window be open? What size majority within a local church must vote for exit? Will district superintendents, bishops, annual conferences, or others outside the local church have a role in approving exit? By what calculation will exiting churches pay for their unfunded pension liabilities? Will denominational reserve funds be used to underwrite exiting churches' unfunded pension liabilities? Will exiting churches be required to pay back apportionments or even a year or two of future apportionments? A post next week will run down how the five current petitions address these and other areas.

3. What will the denomination look like after churches take the exit clause?

If an exit only plan is indeed all that is passed by GC2019, who will take that exit? While the conventional wisdom would say, "traditionalists," the question still remains how many. Moreover, will others also take the exit? Are there progressives who would like to leave as well? Are there other congregations who would like to shed their denominational ties for reasons that are not directly tied to debates over sexuality? Would any churches in the central conferences use the opportunity to exit the denomination - either because of issues related to sexuality or because of unrelated power struggles among local leaders?

When the dust settles, how many people will be left within The United Methodist Church, where will they be located, and what will their theological and spiritual inclinations be? And how much money will they continue to give toward connectional ministries through the apportionment system? The GCFA board has already recommended a 23% reduction in US apportionments for the 2021-2024 quadrennium. If substantial number of American United Methodists leave the church, this will have further deleterious effects on general agencies and other connectional ministries.

My point here is not that an exit only situation would necessarily be good or bad. I pray that God lead the church and GC2019 in their decision-making. I know that whatever decisions are made, some change will come, and change always has both good and bad aspects to it.

I do, however, think that it would behoove GC delegates and other leaders to begin thinking about what an "exit only" scenario would look like and what it would mean for the church, rather than focusing all their attention on the other plans. The more prayerful time and reflection that goes into an "exit only" plan, the better it will be, if that is indeed what comes to pass.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Rob Haynes: Consuming Mission and Short-Term Missions

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes. Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member in The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit

From the earliest days of my pastoral service my leaders and mentors encouraged me to lead and develop short-term mission (STM) trips. They assured me that these trips would provide life-changing opportunities for those in my ministries. In addition, the people in the communities we would serve would receive the benefits of medical care, children’s ministry activities, or the construction of a new facility. This seemed like an easy decision to make.

However, few significant, lasting changes were made. The deeper I went into the practice, I began to wonder just who exactly the STM trip was to benefit.

My new book, Consuming Mission, is a product of asking what happens on a STM trip, who serves whom, what are the expectations of STMers on their trip, and what theologies shape and inform their activities.

Written for pastors, mission leaders, seminary students, and professors, Consuming Mission is an illuminating ethnography of current STM participants and is representative of the wide age ranges and demographic backgrounds from which STMers come. Since STM is a grassroots movement, hearing directly from the STM participants to understand their theologies and motivations for service is key to understanding the current practice and how to shape it for the future. It is the product of in-depth interviews with United Methodist STM leaders and practitioners from four different states and four different annual conferences.

A biblical motivation for mission is foundational to Wesleyan Methodist theology. Therefore, I asked team members and team leaders about their biblical motivations for STM.

Surprisingly, this was one of the most difficult questions for participants to answer. Participants often hesitated to answer and apologized for not being more familiar with the Bible when trying to recall a verse or story. Answers to this line of questioning varied and were among the most difficult to elicit during our discussions. Some pointed to verses where Jesus’ followers are command to “go” and to “serve.” Many team members and leaders referenced Scriptural principles that pointed to aid and comfort for the STM participants themselves. However, generally speaking, scriptural references in regard to service in the name of mission were slow to come from the interview participants.

Additionally, none of the teams in the interview pool reported using a cohesive Bible study or mission text to help shape their pre-trip planning or in-country service. Most recalled using Bible verses as a part of the pre-trip meeting devotionals, but these devotionals were but a small part of the meetings, which were usually consumed by logistical planning.

When there is a vacuum of biblical and theological missional training, something will fill that vacuum of motivation. For most STMers, the vacuum was filled by the desire for an “experience.”

Consuming Mission gives an in-depth examination of the role “experience” plays in the American consumer culture and missions. Many economists say that we are living in an “experience economy” which is driven by the high value placed upon things like experiential encounters, vacations, and everyday activities. Consider the high prices commanded at theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios. Diners pay a premium price for meals in restaurants with walls covered in music or movie memorabilia. Tour companies are offering vacations to increasingly exotic places in an effort to satisfy the yearning of their customers who want to top last year’s adventure vacation.

The influence of a desire for an experience is pervasive in the interviews with STMers in Consuming Mission. Such an influence can be seen, for example, in some of the responses when I posed a common question around STM, “Why not just send the money?” Many with whom I spoke rejected the idea for fear of missing out on the “experience” for themselves.

The experience they were seeking for themselves was frequently seen as the chance to grow in their own faith. Many people expected to be influenced by their mission hosts and the perception of a superior faith on the part of those hosts. When talking about their STM activities, participants often describe their time, money, sacrifice, and service, applied in the name of mission, as a way to purchase an experience akin to personal growth commonly sought by pilgrims.

Historically, a pilgrimage is an event when people travel to another place where they understood God to have worked before, could work again, and they expected God to work in their lives while they were there. They expected to come home different than when they left. They expected to be transformed by the experience.

Consuming Mission illustrates that many people are using STM to do just that: to use acts of service, done in the name of mission, for self-edification that functions as a pilgrimage. In STM, the cathedrals and shrines of historical Christian pilgrimage perceived as sites of the miraculous are replaced with what is perceived as substandard housing and malnourished children.

Many ministries have developed STM programs with the primary goal of consuming an experience for the implicit, and sometimes explicit, benefit of the participants. Yet, this is not a motivation for mission service demonstrated in the biblical text nor in Wesleyan theology. Rather, a cruciform attitude towards service, exemplified by Christ and taught in Wesleyan missional theology, displaces self-fulfillment as a motivator for activities done in the name of Christian mission.

To address such issues in this approach to mission, we must move beyond simply trying to correct a few “best practices” and move deeper to their underlying causes. Developing appropriate mission theology is important because theologies shape motivations and motivations shape practices. If we want to make a long-lasting change to the practices, the theologies that shape them must be further developed. Through the careful engagement with biblical mission theology, I point out the ways in which the missio Dei should be the “consuming mission.”

At its best, STM seeks to address many real-world issues. However, STM is failing to realize its potential due to a lack of robust theological reflection by its leaders and participants. The STM movement can, and should, function as an instrument of the missio Dei to strengthen the church around the world. When the practice moves away from pilgrimage towards a more robust practice of mission, it can begin to embrace such possibilities.

I am not suggesting that people stop traveling, stop serving, or stop learning. Quite the opposite. An increased awareness of the work of God around the world can only lead to good things. A life-changing pilgrimage should be applauded. Coming to a deeper understanding of the cultures of other nations leads to a better worldview.

Yet, tensions remain. Deep problems arise when those who participate in practices deemed "mission" do so with the primary aim of bettering themselves or experiencing something new and exciting. Unhealthy practices in the name of mission (e.g. ethnocentrism, paternalism, and developed dependencies) come forth.

Consuming Mission takes steps to confront such traits in STM and calls upon mission leaders to reshape this ubiquitous practice to more faithfully reflect a biblical missional engagement in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Recommended Reading: Methodist House Churches: Economics

Rev. Dave Barnhart, a United Methodist church planter in Birmingham, AL, recently wrote a piece on Ministry Matters entitled, "Methodist House Churches: Economics." The piece is well worth a read. It summarizes the evolution of an economic model in North American churches that is tied to the middle class and supporting the professional salaries of clergy and costs of established buildings. Rev. Barnhart then describes the economic model for house churches and how this differs from existing models. He asserts that the house church model may become an increasingly necessary model in North America in the future. His comments align well with previous posts on this blog by David Scott about the intersection of church finances, structure, and mission ([1], [2], and [3]), while demonstrating that these concerns apply not just outside the United States, but within the US as well.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Recommended Reading: UK response to UMC bishops' letter to global LGBTQ community

On December 28, The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops issued a "letter to the global LGBTQ community." The letter, intended as a pastoral statement, lamented demeaning and dehumanizing treatment of members of the LGBTQ community.

The letter received varying responses from United Methodists - some positive, some critical. It is interesting to see, though, that the letter has provoked response by Methodists beyond the UMC. Dignity and Worth, a group LGBTQ Methodists and allies in the Methodist Church in Britain, has issued an appreciative response to the bishops' letter.

Dignity and Worth's letter is a reminder that not only do debates within The United Methodist Church affect United Methodists around the world, Methodists (and non-Methodists) from other denominations around the world are also listening in as the UMC tries to discern its way forward.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Bishop Ciriaco Francisco Videos

United Methodist Communications has put out a series of five short (1-2 min.) video interviews with Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco of the Manila Episcopal Area. These videos are part of a series related to the Way Forward, which also includes videos by central conference bishops John Yambasu of Sierra Leone and Christian Alsted of the Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area.

A couple of things are notable about Bishop Francisco's comments. First, like many others, he stresses the importance of focusing on mission instead of debates over sexuality. Second, several of his comments deal with the relationship between the UMC in the Philippines and the UMC in the United States or as a global body. Francisco stresses the importance of a Book of Discipline that could be adapted by Filipinos to suit their context and throughout refers to the debate over sexuality as an American issue that has relevance for the Philippines only because of their connection to the American church. His comments are further evidence that for many in the Philippines (and elsewhere), the Way Forward is less about sexuality and more about how American and non-American United Methodists will relate to one another.

The videos are as follows:

Filipino United Methodists greet GC2019 with anxiety

Philippine Bishop: One Church Plan passage won't affect us

Bishop describes his work on a global Book of Discipline

Philippine Bishop: "Let's listen to God's leading"

Philippine Bishop urges focus on mission, not divisive issues

Monday, January 28, 2019

Recommended Reading: Lloyd Nyarota on GC2019 and US/African relationships

Rev. Lloyd Nyarota recently published an editorial on United Methodist Insight entitled "The Real United Methodist Crisis: Loss of U.S. Political Power to the Growing Church in Africa." Rev. Nyarota is an elder from Zimbabwe serving two United Church of Canada congregations of Zimbabwean immigrants in Canada. In his article, he argues that plans by conservative American United Methodists to divide the denomination reflect a fear of losing power to African delegates.

Whether or not one agrees with Rev. Nyarota's analysis, his article is interesting for several reasons.

First, his argument in many ways parallel's Luther Oconer's Facebook post highlighted last week in alleging American fear of losing control of the denomination to non-Americans. Interestingly, however, the two authors use that premise to different ends, Oconer arguing from it to the Traditional(ist) Plan, and Nyarota arguing from it to the One Church Plan.

Second, in making his argument, Nyarota references and recasts the process of Latin American Methodist autonomy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This blog has shared several other pieces looking at the history of COSMOS and the autonomy process. This history is relevant history.

Third, Nyarota's article is further evidence of a point I made regarding Filipino debates about General Conference 2019: "While for American United Methodists, the debates surrounding GC2019 are debates about how progressive and traditionalist American United Methodists should relate to one another, for many United Methodists outside the US, the debates are instead about how American and non-American United Methodists should relate to one another."

Finally, Nyarota's article gestures beyond General Conference 2019 at other upcoming topics that will be read through this same lens: He references plans for regional conferences. Reductions in apportionments requested from US churches and discussions of a US Central Conference are also likely to be read by many in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe through the lens of what they mean for how Americans want to shape their relationship with the rest of the church.

Questions about the relationships - financial, political, spiritual, and otherwise - between American United Methodists and United Methodists from outside the US will only grow more pressing.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Recommended readings: Filipino debates on the Traditional(ist) and One Church Plan

American readers will no doubt be familiar with the terms on which the debate over the plans before General Conference 2019 has played out among American United Methodists. Americans, however, are generally less privy to how that debate is construed elsewhere. Two recent Facebook posts give a sense of how that debate is playing out in the Philippines.

The first post is by Luther J. Oconer, a Filipino living in the US and teaching at United Theological Seminary, where he is a member of the United Methodist Professors of Mission, sponsors of this blog. Oconer argues against the One Church Plan and for the Traditional Plan.

The second post is by SJ Early Canlas, a Filipino United Methodist living in Manila and former secretary of the Philippines Central Conference. Canlas rebuts Oconer's argument and instead argues for the One Church Plan over the Traditional Plan.

While many elements of their cases will seem familiar to Americans - discussions of unity, mission, theologies of sexuality, etc. - what is unique about this discussion in Philippine perspective is the added dimension of what this debate says about the relationship between the UMC in the Philippines and the UMC in the United States. Oconer charges that the One Church Plan is a way for American United Methodists to resist being influenced by United Methodists from the Philippines and Africa. Both authors argue that some American United Methodists are unduly influencing United Methodism in the Philippines.

While for American United Methodists, the debates surrounding GC2019 are debates about how American progressive and traditionalist United Methodists should relate to one another, for many United Methodists outside the US, the debates are instead about how American and non-American United Methodists should relate to one another.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What are the possible outcomes for GC2019?

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.

General Conference 2019 begins one month from today. While GC2019 will certainly not be the end of the story about debates over sexuality in The United Methodist Church, it is a climax in that debate towards which events have been building for many years.

There is no way of knowing what exactly will happen at GC2019 until it happens. Moreover, some surprising thing may happen in the next month that would dramatically affect debate at GC2019. Yet, we do know a lot about the range of possibilities. The Commission on a Way Forward has made its report, the Judicial Council has ruled on that report, other groups have submitted their own legislation, the Committee on Reference has decided which of these proposals are in harmony, and groups have lined up behind various proposals. With all that background in mind then, here are some reflections on the range of possibilities for next month.

It seems there are five primary plans under consideration: the One Church Plan, the Traditional Plan, the Connectional Conferences Plan, the Simple Plan, and a relaxation of the trust clause that would allow churches to exit the denomination with their property. These plans do not have equal amounts of support and therefore are not all equally likely to pass, but all have some level of support. That there are multiple plans under consideration make the negotiations, politics, and discernment much more complicated.

While a relaxation of the trust clause alone has not been treated as a formal plan in much of the discussion leading up to GC2019, there are good reasons to regard it as such. That there were five different petitions to take this action, all of which were ruled in harmony, indicate a significant level of interest. Deciding among the different details of these five may create complications for this option, but it is an option. There have also been people publicly supporting this option, even if no official group has backed it.
In addition to (or instead of) these five primary plans, it is possible that GC2019 could revise church teachings by adopting one of the petitions ruled in harmony without adopting a broader plan that would address a full range of polity issues related to gay marriage and gay ordination. These petitions seem to be mainly the work of individuals rather than broader groups, making this option unlikely.

The General Conference will begin its work as a committee of the whole and will select which proposal it wants to take up and work on. That proposal will then serve as the main proposal with the best procedural shot at passage. It does not, however, assure passage of that proposal. As I have previously noted, there is a bit of strategy for supporters of various plans in determining which plan should be taken up first. If a plan is taken up but then defeated, that may make it easier to pass an alternative plan. Such a sequence of events may benefit the trust clause relaxation plan in particular. If another plan is taken up but then defeated, supporters of a variety of plans may agree to relax the trust clause as a way of trying to provide some resolution.

It is possible that none of the five proposals will pass. Since support is divided among a number of different proposals, none may have majority support. Furthermore, as I have indicated before, some delegates, especially from Africa and the Philippines, may prefer that no changes are made. It is also possible that if the first plan (or two) considered fail, General Conference may simply run out of time to fine-tune and pass a plan acceptable to all.

Whatever happens at General Conference, annual conference, local churches, caucus groups, central conferences, and other entities will likely need to make decisions in response in the days, weeks, and months following GC2019. Some plans, including all three from the Commission on a Way Forward would allow for or require some decision making about standards for ministry and/or affiliation with the church. Any constitutional amendments would need to be ratified. Those unhappy with whatever plan passes are likely to make decisions about next moves and strategies to accomplish their long-term strategy goals. If a plan passes with only simple majority support, it is possible that opponents could seek to reverse that decision at General Conference 2020.

It is this continued decision making that will ensure that GC2019 is not the end of this story. It may prove to be a denouement or a turning point, as many expect it to be, but it will not be the end. As they say in broadcast, stay tuned for more!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Recommended Reading: European and Eurasian delegates discuss GC2019

The following is an English translation by David W. Scott of the article "Respektvolle Gespräche trotz großer Unterschiede" by Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic/Baltic Episcopal Area. This article first appeared on the website of the Evangelische-methodistische Kirche (EmK), the name of the United Methodist Church in Germany.

Respectful Conversations Despite Great Differences
The European delegates met in preparation for the extraordinary General Conference. Concerns about lobbying and desire for unity.

The European and Eurasian delegates to the extraordinary General Conference met from January 11-13 in the Hessian city of Braunfels. General Conference, the highest governing body of the world-wide United Methodist Church, meets at the end of February in St. Louis in the US state of Missouri.

Community and Consultation
It is no secret that among the 40 European and Eurasian General Conference delegates there are different understandings of human sexuality. Following from that, there are also different views on what the best Way Forward for the United Methodist Church should look like. That was also clear at the meeting in Braunfels, where the delegates met for interchange, worship, prayer, and cultivating community.

The goal of this meeting was to offer the delegates from Europe and Eurasia an opportunity to meet one another and to prepare for the imminent extraordinary General Conference. Bishops Patrick Streiff, Harald Ruckert, Eduard Khegay, and Christian Alsted led the worship services and the plenary discussions. In small groups with people from each episcopal area, the delegates discussed both the report of the Commission on a Way Forward and also other proposals. In the conversations, the participants especially lifted up to what extent the various proposals were challenging or problematic. They also discussed possible improvements of the existing proposals. The One Church Plan and the Traditionalist Plan received the greatest attention. Beyond that, a quick glance was given at those proposals that were submitted in addition to the report of the Commission on a Way Forward.

Church Political Maneuvers Feared
An important topic of discussion was the question of what impacts the various packages of petitions could have on the individual Annual Conferences and also on the three European Central Conferences. The present delegates unanimously decided to introduce an amendment to the One Church Plan that prevented a legal vacuum between the extraordinary General Conference in 2019 and the first regularly occurring meetings of the Central Conferences in 2021.

The delegates deliberated how they could mutually support each other in the run-up to and during the meeting of the General Conference, which is especially important if the tensions should increase. In this context, a prayer-dependent attitude of "conviction in humility" was emphasized. But many also expressed their concerns about church politics maneuvers and lobbying before and during the General Conference. These behaviors are difficult to bring in harmony with how a church should proceed in its decision-making process.

Conviction, Respect, and Positive Regard
Culture, national legislation, and service in the 27 countries of Europe and Eurasian with a United Methodist presence - from Kazakhstan to Algeria and from Germany to Latvia - are very diverse. But it is a strong solidarity, formed from love, trust, community, and Methodist identity, that holds the churches together. The meeting showed that Methodists in Europe and Eurasia have strong convictions but are still able to stay in respectful conversation with one another, to listen attentively to one another, to try to understand one another, to hold one another in positive regard, and to avoid an approach to one another that creates winners and losers. The delegates uttered their anxiety in looking to the future of the United Methodist Church, while at the same time the atmosphere was characterized by hope. Several of those present stressed their great wish that it might be possible to remain united as a church. In the context of very different realities in Europe and Eurasia, the church should together live out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.