Friday, July 10, 2020
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Monday, July 6, 2020
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Recommended Reading: ASM, APM and AETE Statement on Race and Injustice in the United States of America
Monday, June 29, 2020
After the first fifty years or so of Methodist history, the literature diverges into several separate fields: histories of the development of American Methodism generally and its relationship with the broader society, histories of foreign mission, and histories of domestic or home mission.
Within the field of histories of the development of American Methodism generally, race is a significant theme. There is, of course, a slew of literature about race, slavery, and the Civil War, some of which deals specifically with Methodism. There are several good book-length treatment of predominantly white Methodism and race in the 20th century, such as Peter C. Murray’s Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975 (Columbia University Press, 2004) and Morris Davis’ The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of the Jim Crow Era (New York University Press, 2008), though those these books do not interact with the literature on mission.
Ever since the “cultural turn” in mission studies forty years ago, it is common place to talk about the racial attitudes held by missionaries. When the focus is foreign mission, the discussion is usually focused on the prejudices missionaries held about the people with whom they work. Occasionally, connections are made to domestic racism in the United States and Britain, though not always. A few books draw parallels between U.S. missionary experience with and attitudes towards Native Americans and subsequent attitudes towards and techniques of foreign mission. William Hutchison's 1987 classic
Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (University of Chicago Press), but also newer books like Emily Conroy-Krutz's Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Cornell University Press, 2018). Both of these books are focused more on Congregationalists and Baptists than Methodists. I am not aware of a book that draws similar connections between domestic plantation missions and foreign missions, though Jay Riley Case’s An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2012) touches on both topics (along with a discussion of AME foreign missions).
There is a bit more, though still too little, on African Americans as foreign missionaries. Jon Sensbach’s Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Harvard University Press, 2005), is an excellent study of a slave woman who became a Moravian missionary evangelist in the Caribbean and West Africa. It has inspired subsequent scholarship on the black religious linkages across the Atlantic, though not always with a missiological slant. Sylvia Jacob’s 1982 book Black Americans and the Missionary Movement in Africa (Greenwood Press) is the only thing approaching a comprehensive take on the subject of African American missionaries. Robert Stevens and Brian Johnson published the more recent Profiles of African-American Missionaries (William Carey Library, 2012), which includes a couple of stories of Methodists, including John Stewart, the self-appointed missionary whose work inspired the founding of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the earliest denomination-wide mission organization in American Methodism.
For Methodist foreign mission specifically, Eunjin Park wrote White Americans in Black Africa: Black and White American Methodist Missionaries in Liberia, 1820-1875 (Routledge, 2001), and Anne Streater Wimberly wrote a Methodist History article, “Called to Witness, Called to Serve: African American Methodist Women in Liberian Missions, 1834-1934.” There has been some work done on AME foreign missions, such as James T. Campbell’s excellent Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (Oxford University Press, 1995) and Jay Riley Case's previously-mentioned An Unpredictable Gospel.
There is more scholarship about race and home missions, though as indicated in my blog post last week, the boundaries of what is labeled home mission and what is labeled something else have often been drawn with implicit racial assumptions that have excluded many stories of African Americans as mission practitioners from being included in discussions of mission, with those ending up instead in community development, practical theology, social ethics, homiletics, and other fields.
Still, there is a decent body of scholarship on the pre-Civil War plantation missions, both Methodist and more broadly. Janet Cornelius’ book on the topic, Slave Missions and the Black Church in the Antebellum South (University of South Carolina Press, 1999), has a chapter on Methodist efforts. Robert Sledge discusses those in his volume on MECS mission, "Five Dollars and Myself": The History of Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1845-1939 (General Board of Global Ministries, 2005). Heather Rachelle White wrote an article for Methodist History entitled “’The Glory of Southern Christianity’: Methodism and the Mission to the Slaves.”
There is less scholarship about freed African Americans as a focus of home missions after the Civil War, though that was a significant phenomenon. The lack of any scholarship on the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Freedmen’s Aid Society is a major lacuna.
There is a bit more on race and home mission in the 20th century, especially as it relates to women’s work. John Patrick McDowell’s The Social Gospel in the South: The Woman's Home Mission Movement in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1886-1939 (Louisiana State University Press, 1982), has a chapter on race. Alice G. Knotts wrote a book, Fellowship of Love: Methodist Women Changing American Racial Attitudes, 1920-1968 (Kingswood Books, 1996), on the role that Methodist women had in challenging racial hierarchies, much of that work done through the Women's Society of Christian Service and the Women’s Division of the Board of Missions. Ruth G. Carter wrote a history of women’s mission leadership in the segregated Central Jurisdiction that was published by the Women’s Division: To A Higher Glory: The Growth and Development of Black Women Organized for Mission in the Methodist Church, 1940-1968 (1980?).
Friday, June 26, 2020
The quick answer to that question is that Marduk went the way of the Babylonian Empire that worshipped him. The Babylonian Empire fell, and Marduk, its imperial god, did not long survive that fall.
Nor is Marduk the only deity to meet such a fate. Marduk has been joined in his fate by the likes of Ra, Zeus, Jupiter, Mithros, Quetzalcoatl, Pachamama and others. While at one point, each of these deities presided over an empire of devoted followers, when their empires collapsed, so did their religious cults.
The reasons why imperial religions go into decline with their empires are probably many and vary by the individual. For some, imperial religions have taken on an air of coercion, and newly freed people are eager to be rid of religious coercion along with political coercion. For others, the truth claims a religion makes about the order of the world no longer seem credible when the imperial order collapses and the world becomes chaotic. For others, the religion is no longer able to deliver the this-worldly goods, especially power and prestige, expected of it when it can no longer access those goods through decayed imperial structures. For others, the religion may just take on an air of the past, and they look for something more contemporary.
Whatever the reasons, there is a clear historical correlation between imperial decay and the decline of belief in and practice of the official or predominant religion(s) of a declining empire.
One may wonder why then we expect imperial Christianity to be different than other imperial religions.
These historical and interreligious comparisons are another reason to take seriously the idea that the secularization experienced in the West (first in Europe, then in its colonies such as Canada and Australia, and most recently in the United States) is more a function of those societies’ diminished secular and political role in the world than it is a product of modernity.
That may in some ways be bad news for Christianity in the West. The West is unlikely to regain its imperial power any time soon, nor should it, and one might fairly expect a rather lengthy post-colonial religious hangover. Europe’s has been going on for half a century and shows no signs of letting up.
Yet, at the same time, this analysis is good news for Christianity as a whole. Under this explanation, global religious belief is not doomed to some pre-determined decline based on increasing standards of living or the advance of science and technology. Instead, falling levels of religious belief are associated with particular historico-political situations, and outside those situations, one may fairly expect religion to continue to flourish, as it has in various forms for the duration of human history.
Moreover, there have been instances in which a religion has survived the collapse of an empire. Yet it almost always does so outside the core of that former empire.
One such example is Buddhism after the end of Ashoka’s empire in India. The Emperor Ashoka was a strong proponent of Buddhism, at least in his latter reign. But after his death, his empire began to fracture. When his grandson set about to rebuild the empire, it was Jainism rather than Buddhism that occupied the favored religious spot.
Yet despite its lack of support in India after Ashoka, Buddhism flourished in Sri Lanka, where Ashoka sent missionaries. Indeed, Buddhism continued to spread throughout Southeast Asia. The missionary impulse was strong enough in Buddhism, and the religion was flexible enough, that others were able to find value in it that extended beyond its associations with a single imperial system. They were able to make it their own and use it for their own purposes unconnected to Ashoka’s empire.
In a similar way, people around the world first encountered Christianity in its imperial version associated with Western economic and political expansion. But the missionary genius of Christianity, like Buddhism, has been that those who have encountered it have been able to take it out of its imperial trappings, make adjustments as they see fit, and make it their own.
This process is, of course, widely affirmed by contemporary missiology. Whether called inculturation, contextualization, or something else, the importance of people making Christianity their own is almost universally recognized. This process is important both for the sake of the people appropriating Christianity, that they may fully connect to it, and for Christianity itself, so that it may continue to cross cultural, political, linguistic, and other borders. The endurance of altered forms of imperial religion beyond the borders of empire is just another reason to affirm the continued adaptation, translation, and appropriation of Christianity by peoples around the world in ways that make sense to them.
As people continue to make Christianity their own, some will probably make of it an imperial religion for new empires, and those versions will eventually suffer for it. But the continued endurance of Christianity will come in its ability to connect with the lowly as well as the mighty, the poor as well as the rich, the marginalized as well as the central. Christianity will endure, not because of the might, power, or wisdom of its most vociferous proponents. It will endure because it continues to speak good news to people wherever they are, especially on the margins.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
"Imagine how we might listen to the Spirit’s leading about a vision for a renewed and reimagined United Methodism grounded in the mission of God, identity, and core values.
"Engage in a collective conversation about how we might conference differently and prepare a strategy for General Conference 2021 that might reshape the culture of our conferencing.
"Bring examples of how we each might envision being the church and seeking intersectional justice in a post-corona world throughout the world and in our varying ministry contexts.
"Join us in webinars on July 7, 2020 for the beginning of this conversation."
Monday, June 22, 2020
I have had several recent conversations, including among members of the American Society of Missiology and the United Methodist Professors of Mission, about the relationship between race, mission, and missiology. These conversations have left me pondering a question: Why are there so few black missiologists? There are, of course, many significant black African missiologists, but here I am thinking about black African American missiologists and their relative absence from white-dominant missiological conversations and organizations.
Before going further, I think it is important to state several caveats:
1. This post focuses on the relationship between African Americans and white-dominant American missiology. It does not address the participation of other people of color in missiology or the racial systems in which that discourse is embedded, even though other people of color are a significant part of missiology, both domestically and abroad.
With those caveats in mind, I believe the reasons there are so few black missiologists lie in compounding levels of systemic racism and implicit bias. I will examine three.
Black Christians participate in mission, but in different ways than White Christians
This observation applies to both international and domestic mission, and black participation in international mission differs from white participation both in its extent and its focus.
Black missionaries have historically gone to different places than white mission practitioners. Africa and, to a lesser extent, the Caribbean have been the overwhelming focus of black missionary interest. African Americans’ sense of affinity to Africa, racial assumptions by white-dominant missionary agencies about appropriate placements, and the racism of Asian and Latin American societies towards Blacks have combined to reinforce this focus. Yet that focus has meant that black missionaries lack the same sorts of inter-continental networks that white missionaries have had, networks which often foster missiological reflection.
Moreover, white Americans have more often served as international missionaries than black Americans. Because of systemic racial inequalities, African Americans in general earn less and have less wealth than white Americans. These more limited financial resources limit black participation in international mission, both short-term and long-term, especially when that participation must be self-financed or financed through personal social networks.
Domestically, many black churches have been and are extensively involved in what should fairly be termed mission, but often goes by different names: social engagement, social justice, community development, etc. Thus, black and white churchgoers participating in mission may use different language to describe and analyze their domestic mission activities, leading to separate discourses and the exclusion, often unintentional, of black practitioners from white-dominant mission conversations.
Black mission practitioners are less likely to become academically trained than white mission practitioners
Again, systemic racial inequalities are at play here: in income, wealth, and education. First come the educational consequences of growing up in different, racially segregated zip codes, which negatively impact African Americans. Then there the well-documented challenges to black access to higher education, especially graduate education.
When African Americans do participate in higher education, they are more likely than other Americans to end up at a historically black college or university (HBCU). HBCUs are good institutions, and the role of the premier HBCUs such as Morehouse, Spellman, and Howard in developing a black intelligentsia is unquestionable. Yet, advanced graduate study of mission almost always requires attending a white-dominant institution such as Fuller, Asbury, Boston University, or Biola. The perceived challenge of doctoral study of missiology may be greater for black students who have not previously been part of white-dominant educational institutions, with their unspoken expectations geared toward white culture.
Intertwined with that educational system are racial denominational differences in the educational requirements for ministers. Most white-dominant denominations, especially mainline Protestants, require a master’s degree for ordination. Many predominantly black Baptist and Pentecostal denominations do not. That makes a difference when pastors involved in mission consider whether to further study that practice academically. For pastors who already have a master’s degree, it is a smaller jump to consider a D.Min. or Ph.D. Racial differences also exist in the breakdown of part-time vs. full-time clergy and congregational ability to support continuing education for their pastors.
Thus, to the significant extent that missiology is a scholarly conversation, it is one that African Americans are less likely to join for reasons both internal and extending beyond the field.
Black conversations about mission are segregated from white-dominant conversations about mission
Even when African Americans participate in mission and/or make it through the obstacle course of academic study of mission, there are still several reasons why they may not end up participating in white-dominant missiological conversations.
The first challenge is the question of terminology raised earlier. Black and white scholars/practitioners may describe similar things but use different, racially conditioned language. For instance, despite the similarities between the white-dominant missional church model and black patterns of community engagement, my impression is that much of the missional church conversation does not look to black models and has a presumed white-dominant audience in mind.
A second challenge is white implicit biases about the place of African Americans in mission. From an early focus on plantation mission to recent racial connections between African Americans and poverty, white Americans have often seen African Americans as “recipients” of mission, rather than practitioners of mission. While thinking of mission in terms of actors and recipients is inherently problematic, it is even more so when assumptions about those actors and recipients reinforce racial hierarchies. Because of these associations, when prompted to discuss race and mission, white Americans have an implicit bias towards framing the conversation as about predominantly white mission practitioners working with African Americans, rather than as about black mission practitioners doing their own work. Such a framing serves to exclude or mute the voices of black missiological thinkers.
A third challenge is white implicit bias towards seeing black Christianity as a contextual expression of Christianity with limited relevance to white-dominant Christianity. American religion is structurally segregated along racial lines. But for White Americans, seeing black Christianity as a distinct phenomenon from white Christianity often means seeing it as a tradition that is irrelevant for their own faith. Deep seated white assumptions about the normativity of white Christian practice and white theology make White Americans less interested in learning from black Christian practice or black theology. Moreover, when black voices are raised up, white Christians are often only interested in listening to those black voices speak about racial issues. Thus, white interest in other forms of black Christian practice and theology, including mission, is limited. Certainly, one hopes that missiologists, with their appreciation of context, would be less prone to such biases than others, but they still exist.
White Christians should be learning from black Christians, though, about mission and all other Christian beliefs and practices, just as black Christians have had to learn about white Christianity for a long time. That is why it is important to broaden the scope of missiological focus, to challenge the labels used to describe Christian practice, to support black students in studying missiology, to question white theological normativity, and to listen to black voices.
These are not easy or quick reforms, and they cannot be accomplished apart from larger societal changes that will benefit black economic and educational outcomes. Yet for a whole host of moral and theological reasons, missiology as a white-dominant field must engage these issues.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Monday, June 15, 2020
Friday, June 12, 2020
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Monday, June 8, 2020
On a recent jog near my home, I happened upon the former Marvin Memorial UMC, now a mission annex of Silver Spring UMC since the two congregations merged several years ago. Although little-known, the former Marvin Memorial UMC is the site of an important development in the looming division of the UMC. While the differences on human sexuality date back to the 1972 General Conference, the conflict over missions began in 1977. This difference eventually led to the founding of the Mission Society for United Methodists—a second non-official UM missionary-sending agency—which further exacerbated denominational tensions.
This division began in 1977 when Linda and David Jessup sent their children to Sunday School at Marvin Memorial UMC, and the children brought home appeals for wheat shipments to the Vietnamese government. David Jessup began to research the destination of church offerings and traced money through the UMC to the Church World Service Fund of the National Council of Churches, which supported causes that he deemed to be left-leaning. His research led him to write his findings in what came to be known as the “Jessup Papers,” which were distributed at the 1980 General Conference.
In the report, Jessup stated that local church offerings went to “groups supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organization; the governments of Cuba and Vietnam; the pro-Soviet totalitarian movements of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and several violence-prone fringe groups in the United States.” He alleged that the GBGM, the Women’s Division, and the National Council of Churches financed left-wing movements, such as the PLO, the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe, and even socialist governments around the world. These accusations were interpreted through the lens of the Cold War and the Moral Majority religious right and fueled distrust of UM Boards and Agencies—especially the General Board of Global Ministries.
The “Jessup Papers” played an instrumental role in the distrust of GBGM, the UM boards and agencies, and ecumenical agencies by more conservative church members. The Good News movement did not like the boards and agencies spending denominational money on progressive causes—especially in countries considered socialist. Conservatives felt uncomfortable with mission funds promoting social justice agendas and not using traditional understandings of mission and evangelism. Moreover, the Good News movement believed that boards and agencies were too bureaucratic and didn’t reflect the views of the average person in the pews.
The pastor of First United Methodist Church in Peoria, IL, Ira Galloway, picked up the cause and targeted the Women’s Division of the GBGM, citing the reading material about Cuba for UMW’s School of Christian Mission in 1980 that stated: “The revolutionary government established a socialist society that focused national priorities on the needs of the people instead of those of multi-national corporations.” Moreover, GBGM made a $18,000 grant to the Cuba Resource Center, a Catholic and Protestant non-governmental agency founded “…to promote communication between North Americans and Cubans.”
Another frustration for Galloway was the rejection of more evangelical missionary applicants by GBGM. Galloway wrote, “…the staff leadership of the Board has essentially frozen out or refused to consider for placement many missionaries who are primarily concerned with evangelistic or evangelical priorities.” In particular, he cited a missionary couple who wanted to go to Peru in the 1970s whose application was not approved by GBGM. And so Galloway’s church sponsored the couple; this effort was a forerunner of the Mission Society.
Growing frustrations led to a group of 34 people—mostly UM pastors—meeting in St. Louis in 1983 to select Rev. H.T. Maclin as the first president of the alternative, unofficial mission agency. Based in Atlanta, the Mission Society for United Methodists, now simply known as TMS Global, was incorporated on January 6, 1984. The emphasis would be more on evangelism and church planting than social justice ministries. Not drawing on the UMC general budget, missionaries for TMS Global raise their own funding from local churches and seek their own placements.
How I discovered this division
While I only recently discovered the former Marvin Memorial UMC on my neighborhood runs, I have known about this split for some time. I was a GBGM missionary in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Mexico from 1988-2003 and had several covenant (supporting) churches. I itinerated every three years to witness to the congregations. I often was asked “Are you from GBGM or the Mission Society?” I found this split to be confusing for local churches who just wanted to support missions but didn’t know the history or reasons why we had two United Methodist mission agencies—one official and one unofficial.
If United Methodists found this confusing, just imagine our mission partners abroad who began to receive missionaries from both agencies—each with very different priorities and theologies! This division created schizophrenic mission efforts around the world and led to having UM missionaries in several countries, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina, from two different UM mission sending organizations.
For example, in Argentina the bishop of the Methodist Church discovered that a missionary from the Mission Society had purchased land under the name of the Methodist Church—an action that he didn’t authorize. In the case of Venezuela, a country without an historical Methodist expression, GBGM worked with La Comunidad Cristiana Metodista de Venezuela (CCMV) and the Mission Society started Concilio de Iglesias Evangélicas Metodistas en Venezuela (CIEMVE). Both churches began about the same time in different regions of Venezuela—each without the knowledge of the other. If this is confusing alphabet soup for you, just imagine how it looked to the Venezuelans!
In Nicaragua there have been GBGM missionaries for a long time, and suddenly the Mission Society sent missionaries that did not work or have anything to do with the Methodist Church of Nicaragua. It is one thing to have a division within the United Methodist Church in the US, but it is poor witness to export internal differences to people who are new Christians. In an ironic twist, the General Board of Global Ministries moved their headquarters to Atlanta in 2016—about 20 miles from the Mission Society—and the two agencies have since conducted some joint missionary trainings.
Discussions about a division in the UMC are currently on the backburner as plans for General Conference have been postponed until 2021. This delay is also an opportunity to reflect on how we got to be where we are today. Just as I discovered the former Marvin Memorial UMC and the “Jessup Papers,” we can also look at how our history has contributed to different approaches to missions, missiology and ecclesiology. While the debate within the UMC mostly focuses on human sexuality, different understandings of mission and missiology are other sources of tension.
 The Mission Society for United Methodists changed its name to simply “The Mission Society” in 2006 and then “TMS Global” in 2017. It is based in Norcross, GA.
 Rael Jean Isaac, "Do You Know Where Your Church Offerings Go?," Reader’s Digest, January 1983, 120-125, http://www.materialreligion.org/documents/july99doc.html
 Jessup Papers, 1980.
 It is of interest to note that First UMC in Peoria had some prominent members who were executives at Caterpillar, Inc., which receives about $250 million in development contracts through the USAID. See Helen Milner and Justin Tingley, “The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Aid,” Economy & Politics, vol.22, no.2, (July 2010). In the spirit of transparency, First UMC in Peoria later become a supporting church for me as a missionary, and I met one such executive at Caterpillar, Inc.
 James and Margaret Goff, In Every Person that Hopes (New York: Friendship Press, 1980), 55-56.
 “The Use of Money in Mission—An Opportunity for Understanding,” United Methodist Communications brochure (October 17, 1980), 3.
 Ira Galloway, Drifted Astray: Returning the Church to Witness and Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983), 109.
 As recently as 2018, CIEMAL has moderated conversations between the two Methodist Churches in Venezuela to merge, but this is still inconclusive. See “Metodistas en Venezuela buscan camino a la unidad,” Servicio Metodista Unido de Noticias, November 20, 2018.
Friday, June 5, 2020
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Glory Dharmaraj: Gender, Intersectionality, and Being Home in Mission - A Reflection Under the Shadow of COVID-19 Crisis (Part 2)
As explained in my previous post, the COVID-19 crisis has shown the need for ground-up community-level solutions for survival. It is time for niche advocacy in specific localities with a focus on the most vulnerable people, with an intersectional perspective, while interrogating why certain groups of people have been less protected and allowed to die. It is time to align ourselves in a mutually respectful dialogue and joint action with those who are at the margins of survival, and work with those who build coalitions for human flourishing from ground up. It is also time to include the voices of those at the margins in building such coalitions. In this way, we can build a new concept of home as hearthhold of hope.
Sisterhood and Neighborhood
These new practices must be rooted in concepts of sisterhood and neighborhood. Sisterhood and neighborhood existed long before women organized themselves for mission. Sisterhood is as old as neighborhood.
For instance, in the story of Naomi and Ruth, it is the sisterhood of Bethlehem that visit Naomi often, bless her in her journey of survival, and rejoice when she takes over the child care of Ruth’s new-born baby. It is the neighborhood women who even come up with a name for the new-born child (Ruth 4: 14-17). Something unprecedented!
A sisterhood of lament is found in the story of Jephtha, who makes a hasty decision that if he wins his fight over the enemies of Israel, he will sacrifice anyone who comes to meet him first on his return home. It is his virgin daughter who comes to greet him first with music and dance! A group of women immediately accompany this unquestioning daughter in order to bemoan her “unfulfilled” life. A sisterhood of lament, the women perpetuate the memory of this nameless victim whose life is cut short, in an annual ritual of remembrance (Judges 11: 29-40).
In the not-too-distant past, sisterhoods have played many roles for survival, running soup-kitchens, offering child-care, sewing clothes, and making it possible for families to function. Instances of sisterhood and neighborhood coming through in the best and worst of times are not rare occurrences. Emerging in the communal spaces during crises where inequality persists due to class, race, and other categories of oppressions, sisterhoods have strengthened women, children, and men, and the community as a whole, and have sought to address systemic gaps, by community organizing projects and neighborhood unions.
Home and True Womanhood in Mission History
As a base, home has been pivotal in women’s mission. So is the notion of the “cleansing” influence of home on the neighborhood and community, that home offer a moral and spiritual framework to shape the latter.
A key thread in the history of women in Christian mission is a story of how the female leaders negotiated the ideology of separate spheres along gender lines in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In a binarily divided cultural framework, the domestic sphere defined “true womanhood,” characterized by piety, submissiveness, and domesticity; public sphere fostered men’s roles in hard core activities.
While the definitions of home and household labor have gone through sweeping changes over time, there have been gaps and cracks in the concept of women sanctifying the private sphere from its inception. African American and poor immigrant women had toiled along with their men side by side, be it in farms, fields, or crowded urban settings. The ideal of true womanhood failed to include the so called “heathen” within the U.S., such as the “blacks, mountaineers, rural people, and immigrants.” Gaps of inequity, be it class-specific or race-related, tend to become “systemic gaps.”
The rallying cry for women’s mission was centered around the notion of the private sphere in the slogan, “Women’s work for women.” Single female missionaries, both home and foreign missionaries, and the deaconesses put to use the notion of separate spheres as a strategy around this catch phrase, while playing a key role in women’s move from the private sphere into the public world. These women used concepts of home to propel their mission but refused to be limited by the home.
This circumvention of patriarchy is an interesting thread of this story and an important lesson to take with us as we re-examine home in this COVID-19 reality, though a full accounting of this history is beyond the scope of this article.
Local Solutions and Community Organizing
Localized solutions to the problems revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic have sprung from home and extended neighborhood spaces. Garages, driveways, and porches have become communal spaces where groceries, masks, and essentials are distributed to neighbors. Some clergy make “driveway” visits in place of home visits in the New York area, and pray aloud to the parishioners who keep social distance in their garages and in their front yards!
In the midst of it, practices of togetherness, however fragmented it be, take on many shapes. In my immediate neighborhood in Westchester County, New York, a father of a nine-year-old suggested that we have a backyard barbeque and that we celebrate togetherness in groups of two or three households. The idea is well mapped out by this dad that the “fired-up” barbeque grill be common and each bring their own meat or vegetable and grill from an assigned area on the grill plate. A common fire and a shared grill!
Hearthholds of Hope
This localizes the age-old concept of hearthhold, alluded to by Felicia Ekejuiba, and developed into a theological idea by Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a Methodist minister and a former leader in the World Council of Churches: a fireplace set inside or outside the home. It is a concept familiar across many places in Africa and Asia, and migrant camps including the one in Brownsville, Texas.
Some years ago, a group of women in Angola, Africa interpreted what hearthhold meant to them in a Bible Women training in Luanda which was sponsored by the Angola Council of Christian Churches and the United Methodist Women. Surviving the Civil War in Angola, these women were rebuilding their communities. To them, the fireplace meant “warmth,” “food,” “solidarity,” “protection,” and “presence of the life of the household.” Women created heartholds in the fields where they spent long hours of work, and they created these heartholds in places of survival. Men create a central fire place in communities called “Njango” and “Kibanga.” One of the women leaders urged the others in a Bible Study to nurture the fire of hope, “Nutrir da palavra de Esper.”
Thanks be to all those who tend the heartholds, be it homes, neighborhoods, migrant camps, and returnee routes. Though we are not together in Covid-19 crisis due to pre-existing and current deep systemic gaps, we are called to be in mission, “together towards life.” Lest this remain a mere aspiration, may we continue to imagine durable mission practices from the ground up, for and as resilient communities locally, regionally, and inter-regionally taking seriously into consideration the interstices and the systemic gaps that persist and resist human flourishing, healing, and wholeness.
 Mary E. Frederickson, “Shaping a New Society” in Women and New Worlds, vol. 1, Hilah Thomas and Rosemary Skinner Keller (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1981), 349.
Monday, June 1, 2020
Glory Dharmaraj: Gender, Intersectionality, and Being Home in Mission - A Reflection Under the Shadow of COVID-19 Crisis (Part 1)
Even during ordinary times, laws notwithstanding, inequalities due to gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and other social markers exist. The current environment, rife with fear and uncertainty, has exposed some of the entrenched inequities such as access to resources, health care, and social services. COVID-19 compels those of us who are engaged in mission to delve into current mission practices and examine them through the lens and baseline of intersectionality. Focusing on the concept of home helps us do so.
The Place Called Home
During COVID-19, the place called home has adapted itself to be an office space and a learning center for online classes, while continuing its role as a basic habitation for its members. This place has often become more gender-inflected with women taking on an additional load of work such as care of their children as well as their studies, on-line or otherwise, during the lockdown.
In the world of the academy in recent months, submissions of articles for journals have become fewer from women than men. Among those who lost their jobs in the low- income and wage-earning categories, women are the most adversely impacted. Women form the majority among the essential workers, and yet they have to take care of their children at home and their studies.
The rate of domestic violence across the spectrum has risen significantly during this pandemic. The face of poverty, the face of victims of domestic violence, and the face of care-giving is female, as it has been during “normal” times, but the COVID-19 crisis has compounded the gendered and intersectional nature of these impacts.
Home and Convergences of Inequality
During this COVID-19 crisis, many thousands of migrants around the world, women and men, are engaged in journeys toward home, voluntarily or involuntarily. Like Ruth who becomes a returnee, they are on the move to neighborhoods in their home countries.
In India, migrant construction workers in cities are on an arduous journey back to their rural homes, along the railway tracks. Many have been en route over sixty days, and some are still on their journey toward home.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are sent home from Europe, the Middle East, and from other parts of the world. Some are forced to move due to loss of jobs and others due to policies of nativism, as in the case of U.S. While migrant labor is still a deep need in fields and food chains, migrants are deported on a routine basis.
In the meantime, the agency of sisterhood in lament is left to envision processes of remembrance in families and communities. At present, it is practically impossible to observe rituals of loss and mourning over lives cut short by COVID-19. People are deprived of the sense of home provided by ritual and by family and kin.
Lament, too, has exposed intersectional vulnerabilities, since disproportionate deaths are race-and-class inflected. There is no accurate count of the death of the migrants. There is a cry for justice in the lament of the black and the poor, since these are the people often turned away from hospitals without proper testing or adequate treatment due to implicit or inherent bias. Scars of “moral injury” of those who made these decisions are a reality to grapple with in post-COVID-19 contexts.
To cap them all, certain racial and ethnic groups have been harassed and attacked as the cause for spreading COVID-19. Chinese Americans in the U.S. are a target. Asian American doctors and nurses have been attacked, along with other medical workers, most of them women. In India, Muslims are attacked as the cause of spreading the virus, and tourists and travelers in other parts of the world. These groups are made unwelcome in their own homes.
We are not in it together in this COVID-19 reality, though the slogan is an appealing one.
While focusing on the concept of home allows us to see the problems exposed by the COVID-19 crisis, the concept of home can also help us explore solutions, as I explain in my next post.
Friday, May 29, 2020
It is appropriate at this juncture to look at one model that has been operating for almost 12 years. The European Methodist e-Academy started operating in 2008 as a response to the specific situation of (United) Methodism in Europe.
European Methodist Churches are all minority churches. In most cases the annual conferences are small with limited resources yet in many cases experiencing steady but limited growth. Establishing theological seminaries in every country was not viable, and it was not practicable or desirable for students to attend one of the existing seminaries.
A decision was taken that students would do their initial theological training at a seminary or university in their own country and that this would be supplemented by an online program focused on Methodist studies. Thus, the Methodist e-Academy was established to offer this program.
The program consists of six modules covering Methodist History (Early Methodism and European Methodism), Methodist Theology (Doctrine and Ethics), and Methodist Ecclesiology (Including polity but focused on the mission in contemporary Europe). Students take one module a semester. In the majority of cases, the students are engaged in ministry either prior to or after ordination during this time.
At present each module in made up of eleven lessons which have of three components.
• Printed and online readings.
• Online exercises
• A weekly webinar
From 2020, each lesson will also include at least one videoed lecture. This was successfully introduced to one course in 2019.
Each module is concluded with a residential block seminar of two to three days, and students have to complete a major essay on a topic related to the course.
The e-Academy operates primarily as a network linking together students and lecturers from diverse parts of Europe. The lecturers are either suitably qualified pastors or professors at one of the Methodist seminaries. The only people employed on a regular basis are the coordinator and an administrator – both of whom are employed in a part time capacity. The work of the e-Academy is overseen by a board comprised of representatives of the four UMC episcopal areas, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, and the independent Methodist Churches.
A new development which, it is hoped, will facilitate the expansion and improvement of the program is a partnership with Cliff College in Britain. This partnership includes access to the TheologyX learning management system, which offers numerous technological advances that will enhance our program.
The key pedagogical features that we strive to implement are.
• Learner centred – It seeks to enable students to learn with and from each other.
• Interactive – It requires interaction between the lecturers and students, and amongst the students.
• Praxis oriented – It is designed to facilitate interaction between academic theological content and thinking with the lived experience of ministry.
• Connectional – It brings together students and lecturers from diverse countries to learn together.
• Communal and relational – It is based on the recognition that the learning best takes place in the context of relationships of commitment and trust. A key element of the program is the building of a community of learning. Here, the residential seminars have been of great importance
• Responsibility and commitment – Community involves mutual responsibility. On the one hand, students are responsible for their own learning, but on the other, they responsible to enhance the learning of other students by participating in the interactional dimensions of each lesson.
The program was designed to meet a particular need – to equip students who had been educated at non-Methodist Institutions with a deep understanding of the Methodist tradition so that they could creatively draw on it as they engaged their ministry. It has however had two unforeseen consequences which have become increasingly important particularly in the present context of The United Methodist Church.
1. The development of deep relationships between church leaders from different parts of Europe. This occurred not only in the organised dimensions of the program but also on the initiative of students. They organised, for example, an online fellowship group, congregational visits, and partnerships between congregations in different countries.
2. The facilitation of inter-contextual learning. While students were united by their common membership in a Methodist, in most cases United Methodist, Church they discovered the dynamic variety of contextual differences that lead to very different understandings of the Methodist tradition and its embodiment. Students came from the richest and some of the poorest nations of Europe. Some came from highly secularised societies others from deeply religious societies, though with different dominant religions – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Islamic. The nations and the churches had lived through the twentieth century on different sides of the Iron Curtain. The e-Academy provided a community in which students could learn from each other’s contexts and experiences
The Methodist e-Academy has not achieved all its goals and has not fully implemented its desired pedagogy. However, its structure as a virtual connection linking students and lecturers across very different countries and contexts has provided the flexibility to address the particular needs of European United Methodism and provides an example of how online learning can be used to provide inter-contextual and connectional theological education with limited resources, which would not have been possible in a traditional institution.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Friday, May 22, 2020
David Scott’s post earlier this week discussed the spread of Zimbabwean United Methodist congregations outside of Zimbabwe. The phenomenon of emerging churches sharing the gospel across cultural, ecclesiastical and national boundaries has been well established in recent years.
But questions persist. Just how secure is this venture in extending the global witness of the church? Will the forces of globalization that drive this trend survive the current resurgence of nationalism? How will the adoption of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation impact the structural configuration and support systems needed to nurture this pattern of United Methodist witness? Can the UMC learn from mistakes of the past how to gracefully appropriate this trend?
The time has long passed since the Methodist Church charged its mission board with authorizing the origins of this kind of missionary activity by certifying the credentials of ministers sent from conferences beyond the US to serve appointments within the US conferences of the denomination.
Soon the migration of people called Methodist from churches beyond the jurisdiction of the missionaries of the board of missions began populating neighborhoods beyond the reach of existing Methodist congregations and presented a whole new reality for which disciplinary provisions were never written. But the notion that this activity could be regulated by recognizing clergy credentials of those sent by Methodist bodies beyond the US is what receiving conferences in the US-based UMC held onto for dear life.
The first serious challenge came from the Korean Methodist Church, whose pastors accompanied their migrating members to the US and established congregations with or without the blessing of either the KMC or UMC. Fearing ultimate financial liability for supporting the arriving KMC pastors, conferences established strict membership criteria for expat clergy including educational achievement that matched standards in place for existing clergy members, English language skills, and for their churches, an arbitrary sustainable congregational size and organizational structure that complied with the UMC discipline, not the KMC discipline.
Some of the Korean ministers played by these rules and brought their churches into UMC annual conference membership. Only when superintendents made their charge conference rounds did they discover that the first-generation Korean United Methodist Churches were United Methodist in name only. Their strong ties to the KMC were evident in their parish organizational structure and cultural support, while their linkage to other churches in their districts were non-existent.
Moreover, many immigrant Methodist pastors and congregations chose to remain independent of the UMC and establish a mission relationship to their homeland sending church bodies. This was true for fledgling groups from Korea, Japan, China, the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America. A similar pattern prevailed in European conferences, which generally promoted a fraternal relationship that respected mutual independence before cultivating direct connectional ties.
In most major urban population centers this pattern prevails. Immigrant congregations have distinct cultural needs that require nurturing by leadership from within the culture and connected to the denominational support systems that will maintain their identity and keep them viable throughout a first generational transition. Not until a second generation of members and clergy begin to influence congregational life will consideration of external affairs / relationships become evident. Still, the threat from outside the established community, whether from geographically based-judicatory appeals or adherents attracted by virtual forms of communication, will be controlled from within.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
My local church, FUMC of Neenah, Wisconsin, and our partner church, Pilviskiai UMC in Lithuania, started doing monthly Skype Bible studies in 2014 shortly after one of our mission trips. The idea of videoconferencing was born out of the desire to keep our relationship strong and to grow spiritually together in between our in-person visits. Although it was a step outside our comfort zone, little did we know that 6 years later this connection would continue with great enthusiasm.
That first Skype Bible study back in 2014 reminds me of the parable of the mustard seed, which has grown in profound ways that we never imagined. We have planted and nourished seeds as we sought new ways to communicate and build relationships, despite being physically distant from each other. Together, through our openness to videoconferencing, we have been able to be the hands and feet of Christ for each other, halfway around the world. Grounded in prayer and devotions, we are now more involved in each other’s lives and more connected to our mutual spiritual journeys. Although it has not been easy, we have patiently and steadily developed the tools to gather people together virtually.
Connecting over a computer screen does not change the importance of being together in person and doesn’t replace the “real” hugs, but it certainly can keep partnerships alive and strong in between visits. And during this time of pandemic, we have been able to lift each other up and listen to the sharing of similar struggles and challenges. It has been very meaningful to see each other and pray for each other during this difficult time. I am grateful for the groundwork laid in 2014 between UMC Pilviskiai and FUMC Neenah that has brought us to this point.
Even more exciting has been to see how the concept of videoconferencing has been embraced by more Methodist groups in the Baltics as a result of our first Bible study between our two partner churches, 5,000 miles apart. Here are the Methodist groups from the Baltics that are now using videoconferencing on a regular basis:
Friends of Lithuania – This is a group of partner churches, individuals, and clergy from the US and Lithuania who have engaged in In Mission Together partnerships with the Lithuania UMC. We have been meeting monthly, and more recently quarterly, through WebEx since January 2018. We are grateful to Global Ministries for providing this resource. Beginning with devotions and prayer, we learn about what is happening in the Lithuania UMC and we keep each other informed about our partnerships. It has deepened our relationship with each other and has definitely improved our communication. It is a joy to have these calls!
Friends of the Baltics – This committee was born out of the desire to connect the three Baltic “Friends” groups – Friends of Estonia, Friends of Latvia, and Friends of Estonia. These are all groups in the US who partner with Methodist churches in the Baltics. Noticing that there was little communication between these groups, Dr. Üllas Tankler, Regional Representative – Europe, Eurasia & North Africa, Global Mission Connections, and I launched this group in the fall of 2018. Consisting of the co-chairs and leaders of each group, we meet quarterly though teleconferencing. The goal is to build relationships, learn from each other, and create a vehicle for communication. These “Friends” groups are passionate about their relationships with fellow Methodists in the Baltics. There are many similarities and challenges with United Methodism in these post-Soviet occupied countries and we knew there was a wealth of information that could be shared. One day, we hope to have a Friends of the Baltics gathering.
Friends of Latvia – This is a group of partner churches, individuals, and clergy from the US and Latvia who have engaged in connecting congregation partnerships with the Latvian UMC. We had our first call in January 2020 before even knowing what COVID-19 was! Since then, we have had two other teleconferencing calls. Our last call on April 25th replaced what was supposed to be an in-person gathering in Dallas, Texas. There were 40+ people on the call from the US and Latvia, and people stayed on the call for the entire time! I was blown away … I thought we would lose people, or they would be disengaged, but quite the opposite was true. Initially, this group was hesitant about getting started, but once we did, we realized how amazing it is to be connected. Our next call will be May 30th, and we look forward to our ongoing connections and conversation.
Development Committee of the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary (BMTS) in Estonia – We are excited about the newly-formed BMTS Development Committee which held its first meeting in early 2020 and continues meeting almost weekly. Through Webex and Zoom resources from Global Ministries, this committee consists of BMTS leadership and board members and the Friends of Estonia co-chairs from Estonia and the US. We were already working virtually on a 2020 Development Plan when suddenly everything changed with COVID-19. Creating a new development plan specific to the response to COVID-19, we quickly adjusted because we had the resource of videoconferencing available to us.
While the idea of doing mission through teleconferencing may seem foreign to many people, the partner relationships I am seeing in the Baltics during this pandemic are only heightening our steadfast commitment to each other. Teleconferencing is making real connections possible! Because the relationships are personal and ongoing, people are caring about each other, praying for each other and taking opportunities to engage with each other via videoconferencing. Our collective willingness to stretch outside of our comfort zones has made this growth possible.
These examples of groups using videoconferencing have reaffirmed my strong belief in the concept of In Mission Together where the framework embraces ongoing relationships. Promoting sustainability versus dependency, creating a journey of engaging in spiritual development with each other, each of us bring to the table our own unique gifts to share with one other. And just like the mustard seed, I see these covenant relationships growing in mutuality through God’s grace and love. We are joined together in human connection by participating equally as the body of Christ. I continue to marvel at God’s wisdom, guidance, and hand in this process for certainly the Spirit has inspired, and will continue to inspire, this journey.