Monday, June 29, 2020

A Literature Review on African Americans, Race, Racism, and Methodist Mission History

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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 I discussed last week, black Americans are underrepresented in missiology. One corollary is that topics related to African Americans, race, and racism are neglected within mission history. Yet, these subjects are not absent. What follows is a literature review on African Americans, race, racism, and Methodist mission history. I hope it is of use in future teaching and research on the subject. If you are aware or resources not listed below, please add them in the comments.

I will start with the start of American Methodism. It is commonplace for scholarship on the first 50 years of American Methodism, before the organization of formal mission structures beyond the annual conferences themselves, to talk about race and evangelism among and by African-Americans. It’s almost de rigueur for books on this time period to have at least one chapter on black Methodism. Book length treatments are less common; the best and most recent is J. Gordon Melton’s A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). Part of what makes Melton’s treatment so good is that he foregrounds the agency of black Methodists. In his account, black Methodists (from all Methodist denominations) are not just the objects of white mission evangelism, but are active in carrying out mission evangelism themselves.

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?).

There is also some scholarship on race and domestic mission beyond women’s work. Christopher J. Anderson’s edited collection of speeches from the 1919 Methodist Mission Centenary, Voices from the Fair: Race, Gender, and the American Nation at a Methodist Missionary Exposition (Emeth Press, 2012), reprints several speeches from that event about how African American Methodists are serving in mission and how Methodists of all races are working to address social problems affecting black people, though without much scholarly analysis or commentary.

The General Board of Global Ministries published a short book in 1985 entitled An Enduring Legacy: Black United Methodists and the National Program Division. There are sections on the variety of community development and urban mission initiatives that Global Ministries and its predecessors ran in the Charles Cole series on Methodist mission history, but the lack of sustained research into this phenomenon is another significant lacuna. The books in the Cole series, especially Linda Gesling's Mirror and Beacon: The History of Mission of the Methodist Church, 1939-1968 (2005) and Robert Harman's From Missions to Mission: The History of Mission of the United Methodist Church, 1968-2000 (2005), address mission and race more broadly as well, and there is an essay in the final book in that series, Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (2005) on “The Future of African Americans and Mission” by Anthony J. Shipley, a former Global Ministries staff member.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Whatever Happened to Marduk?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

When Facebook first introduced the option to list one’s religious views, a theological school friend of mine jokingly listed his as, “Whatever happened to Marduk?”

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

Recommended Reading: Out of Chaos ... Creation

While discussions about the future of The United Methodist Church have taken a backseat amidst the coronavirus pandemic and postponement of General Conference, a new group has formed to call others to new conversations about that future. The group is called Out of Chaos ... Creation.

Led by an international leadership team, the group has released a vision statement called "Out of Chaos, Creation: Seeds of a Vision for a Renewed United Methodism." The statement, available in six languages, calls on fellow United Methodists to "join us in doing the following:
  • "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."

The new initiative is worth exploring because of its international leadership, its novel approach to focus on conversation rather than another plan, the missional theological grounding of its vision statement, and because it represents the first significant new possibility for the future of United Methodism since the start of the pandemic.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Why Are There So Few Black Missiologists?

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

I 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.

2.    This post draws from my general knowledge of the structure of American religion and American society, not extensive research into the subject.

3.    There are, of course, black and white exceptions to what I say below. My goal is to explain general patterns, not to account for every individual case.

4.    I write as a white man, and thus this analysis reflects my own, white-privileged perspective.

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

Recommended Listening: Real Faith - Real World Podcast

World Methodist Evangelism publishes an every-other-week podcast, entitled "Real Faith - Real World," hosted by UM Professors of Mission member Dr. Robert Haynes. The episodes, which are approximately a half hour long each, cover a variety of topics related to evangelism and practicing and sharing the Wesleyan faith in the contemporary world. Each episodes features a guest speaker whom Dr. Haynes interviews. Several recent episodes tackle issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Secularization and the Collapse of Empire

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

Within the sociology of religion, the secularization thesis states that religion becomes a less significant part of societies and individual lives as history progresses. The evolution of religion in Europe in the past century has been the main evidence cited in support of this theory, though recent declines in religious belief and identity in the United States have injected new life into this debate.

A variety of causal mechanisms are suggested as the driving force(s) behind secularization. These include modernity broadly, the rise of science and de-mythologizing of people's worldviews, urbanization, religious and social pluralization, the rise of market capitalism, an increase in individualism, and others. I will not rehearse the details of this debate here.

But as I've been thinking about the relationship between religion and power recently, another possibility has occurred to me: What if the process of secularization in Europe and the United States was actually related to the collapse of empire?

In this version of the theory, a decrease in collective and individual religiosity within a society is connected to a decreased sense of national power and efficacy brought on, at least in these recent cases, by the collapse of formal or informal imperial systems. In Europe and North America, there has been a lengthy and tight relationship between Christianity and government. When European empires expanded, Christianity traveled with them, though it was admittedly a complicated relationship. Given that sustained history of connection, we should not be surprised, then, if a decline in imperial power should have implications for the religion which for so long had been connected to it.

This explanation would make sense of the timing of secularization in most of Europe (1950s and 1960s) and its later onset in the United States (2000s and 2010s), despite similar levels of modernization on other scales. It would also explain the greater resilience of religion in Eastern Europe (which had lower participation in the age of imperialism) than in Western Europe, though there are certainly individual outliers, such as the Czech Republic.

Moreover, this explanation might account for the different trajectories in the United States between mainline Protestants and Catholics, on the one hand, and evangelical Protestants, on the other, given that mainline Protestants and Catholics were impacted by post-colonial critiques much earlier than evangelical Protestants, who were forced to reckon with the United States' changed role in the world more significantly only after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It also could explain differences between white and non-white religiosity. The religiosity of white Americans, who have been the primary beneficiaries of American empire, has declined faster than that of people of color, who have been farther from the seats of American imperial power.

This explanation also fits with general impressions I have about the difficulty that American Methodism has with providing a theological accounting of failure of any type and the difficulties that British Methodism has faced in providing an accounting for Britain's changed role in the world since the 1960s. In both cases, a loss of confidence seems to be both cause and effect of membership decline.

This thesis (and secularization theory in general) may well be incorrect. I have not done extensive research to substantiate it. But if there is at least a kernal of truth in it, it has several implications for the fields of missiology and World Christianity.

First, the amount of research that missiologists have done on the relationship between Christianity and empire makes them well-prepared to investigate this connection. While most of this research has looked at the relationships as they have played out in imperial territories, there is more of this story to be written about the relationship between Christianity and imperial power in imperial metropoles, and mission historians could easily be the ones to write it.

Second, if secularization is caused by the relationship between Christianity and secular power and declines in that secular power, rather than modernization or other factors, that would give scholars of World Christianity curious or concerned about the future of Christianity outside of Europe and North America a new set of indicators to pay attention to.

Rather than wondering whether economic development will undercut religious belief, this thesis would lead scholars to pay more attention to the relationship between Christian groups and local political power and the power trajectories of nations. In many cases where Christianity is far from political power, there should be little concern about secularization. Furthermore, even when Christianity is proximate to political power, but that power is not waning, Christianity should (at least for the time being) be unaffected.

Finally, such a connection would give missiologists another consideration in setting evangelistic strategy as it relates to proximity to secular power. The proper relationship between Christianity and societal elites has been a debate for hundreds of years within mission circles, with pros and cons enumerated on both sides. This thesis would, however, suggest that those "who take the sword will perish by the sword."

Monday, June 15, 2020

Recommended Readings: European UMC Churches Begin to Reopen

The wave of new coronavirus cases has passed its peak in almost all European countries. While concerns about the virus remain high, and while life is very different in many ways from what it was pre-pandemic, some European Methodist Churches are taking tentative steps towards reopening.

It is clear, however, that worship services will be different after reopening than they were before. For instance, UMC leaders in Austria and Hungary have given guidelines about social distancing, wearing masks, and cleaning surfaces.

In Germany and Switzerland, a few churches have reopened, while most others continue to be closed, relying on online and TV-broadcast worship instead. These alternatives are available at both the national and, in some cases, local level. Where they have resumed, services have been made shorter, and fewer people are admitted. Some reopened churches are holding multiple services to accommodate demand within these new restrictions. Congregational singing is not part of resumed services.

In this regard, the European experience reflects that in the United States, Africa, and the Philippines, all of which have also seen tentative or limited resumption of worship services, with significant changes from before. In all of these places, practices of social distancing and limiting of congregations indicate how the coronavirus pandemic has wrought a change in church life around the globe.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Global Christian Solidarity with the George Floyd Protests

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian 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.

Protests over the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, have taken place in cities, suburbs, and small towns across the United States and have spread to cities around the world. Wikipedia lists hundreds of George Floyd protests in cities outside the US. Other sources also list protests in dozens of cities in over 40 countries.

Moreover, the outcry over Floyd's death and the larger issue of racist police violence has not been merely a secular one. Religious bodies and leaders around the world have condemned Floyd's death specifically and racism broadly in the past two weeks.

Racism is global, but the particular combination of systemic racism and police violence that has led to the George Floyd protests is in many ways a distinctively US dysfunction. Why, then, have Christians and others around the world joined this way of protests and proclamations?

The Guardian and the New York Times both have intelligent secular analyses of why these protests have gone global. Together, they identify three reasons why people from around the world have supported these protests. These three reasons can also be seen at work in recent worldwide Christian statements on racial violence:

1. People around the world feel genuine concern about racial injustices in the United States and want to express solidarity with African-Americans.

People around the world recognize the systemic injustices impacting African-Americans and other people of color in the United States and are speaking up against them accordingly, in the same sort of way that the international community has responded to other instances of injustice around the world, from apartheid in South Africa to the oppression of the Rohinga in Myanmar.

One sees this line of thinking at work in, for instance, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Church's Statement on Racial Justice in the USA, which reads in part, "The executive committee expresses its support and Christian solidarity with all US churches seeking and pursuing racial justice, proclaiming peace that is inclusive of all, and rejecting the instrumentalization of the outward forms of Christianity without its substance of compassion, service and self-giving love."

2. The George Floyd protests provide an opportunity for people to denounce racism in their own contexts.

While racism is deeply entwined with American society, the United States by no means has a monopoly on racism. Many of the protests around the world have called attention not just to police killings in the United States but also police killings and other instances of racial injustice in their own countries. In Europe and Africa, protests have linked current racism to past European colonial exploitation of Africa (and other areas of the world).

This sort of self-critique is noticeable in the statement on racism from Rev. Dr. Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Conference for the Methodist Church in Britain. Rev. Dr. Hustler wrote, "As Christian people, we are appalled that someone could die in such a fashion and appalled also at the continued injustice which many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people experience in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, and in many institutions, including, shamefully, the Methodist Church in Britain."

In a similar manner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, and Anglican Church in Canada put out a statement which said, "We as church leaders, acknowledge the pain, frustrations and anger of our Black communities, and recognize that systemic anti-Black racism is prevalent in our context in Canada as well; in the streets of our communities, in the justice and policing systems, and in our congregations and parishes."

From another perspective, the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians connected racism in the US with the global racism that includes oppression of people in the two-thirds world, including Africa. In their statement, they wrote, "This deep wound of racism is not only found in the USA; it is a worldwide structure of oppression. Since the days of colonialism when racism served as the instrument of white supremacy, it has remained inbuilt in global economics, politics and knowledge systems. Two-Thirds World countries continue to suffocate under the knee of racism that has relegated them to exploitation and poverty."

3. The protests reflect a complicated set of views about the United States' place in the world.

The rest of the world is aware of the rising levels of divisiveness, nationalism, isolationism, racism, and xenophobia in the United States, much of it connected in recent years to Donald Trump's presidency. Many around the world are opposed to such rhetoric and policies coming from the United States, and these protests present an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with how the United States has behaved as an international actor in recent years.

Yet the protests are not simply about hating the United States. Many of these same protestors deeply believe in the values that the United States has historically professed: equality, democracy, freedom, etc. Many protestors would like to see the United States better uphold these values. If the United States does a good job of upholding these values, that makes it easier for people in other countries to push for these values as well, because of the tremendous cultural power of the United States. It provides a balance to more autocratic regimes such as China and Russia, who are looking to expand their power. A strong United States, if it behaves justly and democratically, is still an asset to many around the world. Thus, these protests are also an attempt to hold the US accountable to its own ideals.

This complicated view of the US is clearly displayed in the All Africa Conference of Churches' statement "Condemning Injustice and Racism in the USA." That statement reads, in part:

"We have always appreciated how the USA attempted to be a champion of justice and human rights globally, always condemning and sanctioning countries and leaderships who violate the rights of their own people and against militarization of law and order. As we follow developments going on in the USA, we are asking, will the USA government recover its moral authority and credibility to dare call out any other country which uses military on the streets to dominate citizens demanding right to be heard, or which sanctions its law and order organs to brutalize its own people using flimsy and queer legislation, to humiliate its people? Where is the soul of America as a country of the free?"

The AACC's questions are open ones, but their statement makes it clear that the answers matter, not just in the United States, but to Christians and others around the world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Recommended Readings: COVID-19 disrupts long-term missionaries

Short-term mission trips canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic are too numerous to document, and these cancellations are happening for obvious reasons: concerns about health and travel restrictions. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting long-term missionaries as well, in a variety of ways. Certainly, many long-term missionaries have seen their work impacted by the pandemic, but many are also facing challenges to even being able to serve as a missionary.

While we may think of long-term missionaries as people who stay in one place for a long time, long-term missionaries may still be quite mobile, and that mobility presents challenges amid the pandemic. UMNS has this story of Cuban missionaries to Angola whose travel for itineration was disrupted by the pandemic and who were almost prevented from returning to their place of service (story in Spanish). At other times, travel restrictions have caused the cancellation of planned itineration trips, as with this German family serving in Malawi (article in German).

Problems with travel and pandemic-related visa restrictions caused a missionary couple from the US serving in the Czech Republic to end their missionary service early. Some governments have recalled their citizens serving abroad as missionaries, including a Global Ministries missionary from Chile and these EMK Weltmission missionaries from Germany.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic is also preventing some from becoming long-term missionaries in the first place. In one example, Global Ministries has cancelled its 2020 class of international Global Mission Fellows, a two-year program for young-adult missionary service.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The Missional Division in The United Methodist Church

Today's piece is by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.”[3] 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[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6]

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.”[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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 Evang√©licas 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.

[1] 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.

[2] Rael Jean Isaac, "Do You Know Where Your Church Offerings Go?," Reader’s Digest, January 1983, 120-125,

[3] Jessup Papers, 1980.

[4] 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.

[5] James and Margaret Goff, In Every Person that Hopes (New York: Friendship Press, 1980), 55-56.

[6] “The Use of Money in Mission—An Opportunity for Understanding,” United Methodist Communications brochure (October 17, 1980), 3.

[7] Ira Galloway, Drifted Astray: Returning the Church to Witness and Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983), 109.

[8] TMS Global, (accessed February 8, 2020).

[9] 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

Recommended Readings: Global models of non-violent resistance

An unprecedented wave of protests over police killings of unarmed black men and women, most recently George Floyd, have swept across the United States. Although there has been some looting, destruction, and violence associated with the protests and the police and National Guard responses, the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful - an example of non-violent resistance. Nonviolent resistance is most commonly associated with Gandhi and with Martin Luther King, Jr., but it has a long pedigree around the world. Here are some resources that provide models and analysis of various nonviolent resistance movements around the world:

The Global Nonviolent Action Database from Swarthmore College, which provides short overviews of movements that can be searched by geography, technique, theme, and date. The overviews provide a narrative along with a list of the nonviolent techniques used, the groups leading the protest, the groups opposing the protest, and the outcome of the protests.

The Albert Einstein Institute was founded by Dr. Gene Sharp to promote nonviolent resistance around the world. It makes several useful resources available on its website:
 *  Publications, in English and other languages, about nonviolent theory and nonviolent movements around the world, especially in Eastern Europe and Latin America

Waging Nonviolence is a news organization that reports on nonviolent movements around the world. Their news and analysis pieces can be searched by topic and by region.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Glory Dharmaraj: Gender, Intersectionality, and Being Home in Mission - A Reflection Under the Shadow of COVID-19 Crisis (Part 2)

Today's post is by Dr. Glory Dharmaraj. Dr. Dharmaraj is President of the World Association for Christian Communication, North America and Retired Director of Mission Theology for United Methodist Women. This post is the second of a two-part series.

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.”[1] 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.

[1] 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)

Today's post is by Dr. Glory Dharmaraj. Dr. Dharmaraj is President of the World Association for Christian Communication, North America and Retired Director of Mission Theology for United Methodist Women. This post is the first of a two-part series.

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.