While much of the Post-Way-Forward Gathering of UM Scholars focused on the US context, a few presentations looked at the relationship between the US and the Central Conferences.
Darryl W. Stephens presented on "United Methodism at the End of White Christian America." In his piece, he argued that the current conflicts in the UMC have their roots in a world in which white Christians were a dominant cultural force in America, and Americans were the dominant force in the UMC. Yet, white Christianity no longer holds the same dominant place in this country, and the UMC as a denomination has become increasingly less American and more international in its membership. Stephens closes by arguing that "General Conference must address the primary, urgent, pervasive, and political nature of the global challenges in the UMC."
Anne Burkholder's presentation on fine-grained attention to vote counts, however, indicates just how difficult building coalitions for change in the UMC is. She notes how the conversation is at very different places in different countries. Burkholder explains how, despite a centrist-progressive wave at GC2020 delegate elections in the US, US delegates along cannot push forward changes on their own. Yet, as Burkholder notes, it matters what the question is when it comes to anticipating central conference responses. Among the potential questions Burkholder examines is the proposal to create a separate US structure/region/central conference.
Taken together, Stephens' and Burkholders' presentations highlight the important of Americans having conversations "with not about" central conferences regarding the future of the church, a theme I will expand upon in a subsequent post.