Monday, August 31, 2020

Plan Now: Season of Creation

Tomorrow begins the Season of Creation, the yearly time for ecumenical prayer and action on behalf of the environment. As these two recent articles make clear, the need for Christians to act on creation care has never been as pressing. Climate change is nothing something that will happen if we do not take action. It is something that is already happening and will get much, much worse without significant action.

To participate in the Season of Creation, see the following resources:

The Season of Creation website

The WCC announcement about the Season of Creation

The WCC 2020 Season of Creation Celebration Guide

Details about a global ecumenical prayer service for the Season of Creation that will be held tomorrow, Sept. 1st

For United Methodist-specific resources about climate care, see the following:

Creation Care resources from

Climate Justice resources from UMW

UMC Creation Justice Movement

UMC Caretakers of God's Creation

Friday, August 28, 2020

Recommended Readings: UMVIM Virtual Mission Trips

For those interested in learning more about virtual mission experiences after reading Karen DiStefano's piece describing them, here are a few more resources to help you do so:

The UMVIM website has a page describing virtual mission with links to specific virtual mission opportunities, including upcoming and on-going opportunities.

The UMVIM Facebook page has posts and pictures from recent virtual mission experiences, including those to Honduras, Tanzania, and Mexico.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Karen Distefano: Virtual Missions

Today's post is by Karen Distefano. Distefano is South Central Jurisdiction UMVIM and Disaster Response Director.

The Virtual Mission program, implemented in April, emerged from the very real need to maintain the connection between United Methodist mission sites around the world and Volunteers In Mission teams during times of quarantine and shelter in place.

The Virtual Mission is based on the traditional VIM team model, with a team leader working closely with the mission site host to understand the ministry and to help the site achieve its goals. Our first Virtual Mission was with the program “Give Ye Them To Eat” (GYTTE) in Puebla, Mexico, run by Global Ministries missionaries Nan McCurdy and Miguel Mairena. Working with Nan, we set the objectives of the mission: to introduce the team to the work GYTTE did and to encourage VIM teams to return to Puebla once the pandemic was over.

Our team consisted of 25 people from across the US, most of whom had never heard of GYTTE before. Like a traditional VIM team, we assigned people to different team “tasks”: construction, meals, devotionals, cultural research, safety, photography, social media, and fundraising. Their task would be very different than if we were on the ground, but still allowed for team members to be able to contribute to the mission. For example, the Meals Group would research the types of food eaten in the area and share recipes that we could make at home. The Construction Group looked at the types of housing that are typical of the area and how much a house might cost. The Photography Group searched for photos and videos of either the geographical area or from the mission site itself (many of the pictures came from GYTTE’s website and Facebook page) and then compiled a team video at the end.

The majority of the virtual mission content, though, was intentionally set by the GYTTE staff. Nan and Miguel, along with two staff members, shared pictures of their ministries and explained what they were doing in the community to empower and improve the lives of area residents. Another crucial piece of the mission was our discussions on videos and readings recommended by GYTTE. The Zoom platform allowed for our team to go into Breakout Rooms to discuss the information we had read or watched. Each Breakout Room was hosted by a GYTTE staff to allow for meaningful dialogue through questions and answers. By the end of the 3-day mission, team members unanimously agreed that they had had a true missional experience, in spite of the fact that we never left home. We forged a relational connection with our hosts and the GYTTE staff that will most likely lead to future teams visiting the Puebla mission.

One of the other intentional parts to the Virtual Mission is what we call the “Local Involvement” component. Team members were challenged to each come up with one idea of how they could continue the ministry(ies) of GYTTE in their own local community. For example, GYTTE has programs in the areas of agriculture and livestock development, water and sanitation, affordable housing, and community health. Suggestions for local mission work in our own communities could be partnering with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, setting up a food pantry, volunteering at a local free clinic, working with migrants, or teaching ESL.

The Virtual Mission can be a powerful evangelism and discipleship tool because it allows more people to explore God’s call on their lives and to see how their gifts and talents are valuable. The virtual model can incorporate people from a broad spectrum of age and life experiences into the body of Christ and allow them the opportunity to explore the gifts and talents God has given them.

The Virtual Mission will look differently for each mission context. It may even be a different experience for each team that goes to the same site. But what remains constant for each Virtual Mission experience is the refocusing on mission itself. Once the excitement of travel is taken out of the picture, team members are forced to see mission for what it truly is. The focus of the mission no longer is about the airline tickets, team t-shirts, and souvenir shopping. It is about the ministry that God has called us to and learning how we can be a part of it.

Monday, August 24, 2020

UMC Ecumenical Partnerships: Why They Matter Today

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.

Over the past month, I have done a deep dive into the extent, nature, and history of UMC ecumenical partnerships, both those with other Methodist denominations and those with Christian denominations from other traditions. In part, I have done this work because I thought that United Methodists do not know enough about these relationships, even though ecumenism is a long-standing part of the Methodist tradition, and I wanted to help educate the church.

In addition, though, I think knowledge about our ecumenical partnerships, past and present, is particularly relevant for The United Methodist Church at this juncture in its history. With the delayed General Conference meeting just a year from now, it seems likely that The United Methodist Church is headed toward some sort of break up or reconfiguration.

A breakup of The United Methodist Church will certainly come with a great deal of pain, difficulty, and internal focus. But there are also opportunities included in such a process.

One of those opportunities is for all successor denominations to rethink what type of ecumenical relationships they want to cultivate. Certainly, an important part of that process is figuring out what (if any) ecumenical relationships those successor denominations want to have with each other. But the question of future ecumenical relationships applies to other Methodist/Wesleyan denominations and other Christian denominations broadly.

As the range of current options reviewed in previous posts and the historical overview provided in a previous post show, there are many options for how to structure ecumenical relationships. Successor denominations may decide that they prefer less-direct, multilateral relationships such as those provided through the World Methodist Council and World Council of Churches. Or successor denominations may decide that bilateral relationships are important, and then will have to choose whether to focus on collaborative ministries or on recognition of sacraments.

Successor denominations will have to choose whether to continue to recognize the current range of ecumenical partnerships maintained by the UMC. Perhaps a Traditionalist denomination will invest more into the Wesleyan Holiness Connection but less into the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do with the Pan-Methodist Commission or affiliated church relationships.

As successor denominations look to their ecumenical futures, it is important to remember that the emphasis in ecumenical relationships has changed over time. Relationships between the UMC and affiliated churches, for instance, have gone from emphasizing missionaries and ministries to emphasizing recognition of members and ministers to exchange of fraternal delegates. Recent UMC ecumenical efforts have prioritized full communion relationships, especially with churches in the US. Some things may have been lost along the way and others gained, but the point is that successor denominations to the UMC will need to figure out what matters most to them about ecumenical relationships at this moment in history.

In reviewing some of the notes, reports, and General Conference speeches about the UMC’s ecumenical relationships, I saw one question raised repeatedly, and I hope it is a question that all successor denominations take seriously as they reflect on their ecumenical relationships: How can ecumenical relationships be structured so as to reflect relationships of equality and mutuality between parts of God’s church?

The United Methodist Church tends towards US-centrism, triumphalism, and in recent years, an internal focus. None of these are healthy habits. But serious attention to ecumenical relationships with churches around the world is an opportunity to counter these trends by taking intentional steps to create relationships of mutual support and sharing.

Ecumenism as a spiritual practice recognizes that no denomination is the entirety of God’s church. In this way, all denominations are incomplete and need the gifts that other denominations bring to the table. Moreover, when the question is phrased about ecumenical relationships globally, it reinforces that no one part of the church, no matter how powerful the nation in which it is located, is the church all by itself. We are all dependent upon one another for a fuller understanding of God’s grace and God’s action in the world.

Thus, I hope that those who are currently United Methodist take the opportunity presented by the next couple of years to reflect seriously about the nature of the ecumenical relationships they intend to retain or cultivate, even after the UMC as we know it is no more. This is an opportunity for greater spiritual and theological depth in how we think about the nature of God’s church.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Jack Amick: The Downward Stickiness of Fear

Today's post is by Rev. Jack Amick, Director of Global Migration and Interim Team Lead for International Disaster Response, UMCOR.

Many years ago, before I became a clergy person, I studied economics. One concept I recall is the downward stickiness of prices. Prices are downwardly sticky. Yes, sticky is a term of economics. Prices, in theory, rise and fall in response to supply and demand. And yet, prices do not adjust downward very quickly, for a variety of reasons.

I think the same could be said about fear. When we are afraid of something, we take a lot of convincing that those fears are false or no longer relevant. If we once saw a bear in the woods while camping, it is hard not to maintain a nagging fear of bears every time we camp.

In the face of COVID-19, countries have closed borders to prevent the spread of the virus. One of the first steps the U.S. government took was to close the U.S.-Mexico border to nearly all asylum seekers. In the name of public health, those fearing their lives were left to live in close proximity in makeshift camps without adequate water and sanitation facilities – a sure formula for spreading the disease, but keeping it just on the other side of the border.

Similarly, people in detention were deported to prevent the spread of disease in the U.S. In Greece, people are being “pushed back” to the maritime border with Turkey. Even some asylum seekers who have landed are being carried out and dropped off in lifeboats at that watery boundary.

A fear of foreigners, especially black and brown-skinned foreigners, was mixed with a fear of a new mysterious disease to justify implementation of racist and xenophobic immigration policies that some in the administration of the U.S. and other governments have been seeking for years. These policies and practices are being “hardened.”

For instance, in the middle of the pandemic, the U.S. government is raising filing fees for asylum applications to $50, a price prohibitive for many applicants, and all while officers have been instructed to dramatically reduce approvals for fee waivers. Meanwhile, people who process visa applications in the U.S. are being furloughed, because there are no longer enough visa applications for them to process.

Once in place, these policies and practices that are harmful to immigrants who seek safety in a new country will be virtually unnoticed by the rest of us. And once they are a part of our fabric of fear that insulates us from those we consider “illegal,” coming to America “the legal way” will be nearly impossible for most. We will be reluctant and slow to dismantle the policies created to protect us from our fears, as unrealistic as those fears may be.

One of the concerns that watchers of U.S. migration have right now is that the policies that protect countries from COVID through transmission across national borders will become “sticky.” This is because the COVID excuse is the razor wire crowning the policy that has been building during this administration.

Many nations, including the U.S., have already pre-ordered untested vaccines. As always, the poor in this world will be the last to receive (or will be the least able to afford) the vaccine. We have already seen examples of how shunned refugees, migrants, and displaced persons are relegated to camps where they have little or no access to medical support and no way to earn a living. We have seen those who migrated decades ago to urban centers (such as Mumbai, India) walking back hundreds of miles to their home villages, only to be rejected there.

The economic impact of COVID on migrants is tremendous. First, many immigrants work in sectors of the economy that have experienced significant layoffs. Secondly, many immigrants, depending on their legal status, may not be eligible for certain unemployment or other relief benefits. Consequently, the global level of remittances—people sending money back “home”—is predicted by the UN to drop this year by as much as 20%. (International foreign direct assistance is historically less than remittances globally. For some countries, such as the Philippines or Nepal, remittances are a major portion of GDP.) In many countries, foreign workers are being fired and sent home, without much, if any, compensation.

Proceedings in immigration courts in the U.S. have slowed dramatically. Those filing inside the U.S. for asylum are now being assigned court cases in 2023. These cases are slow in the best of circumstances, but this is as bad as it has been. Refugee resettlement is all but shut down, except for Special Immigrant Visas, such as translators for the US military seeking refuge in the US.

Migrants are bearing the negative burden of COVID and are tied intrinsically to how we address (or do not address) other global issues collectively. Conflict transformation and reconciliation, disaster response and mitigation, and climate change are all issues that have profound impact on migratory flows. And yet, the nations who, collectively, were seemingly so eager to collaborate for the greater good in the mid-20th century have either shunned recent compacts and talks or have failed to comply with previous understandings, or both.

In recent years, there has been a major erosion of international understandings of how nations are supposed to behave and the shared responsibilities we have for the most vulnerable. It is sad that some of the things the U.S. pushed so hard for with the international community in the 1940s and 1950s, for instance, the Refugee Convention, are no longer adhered to (at least vis-a-vis asylum seekers), even by the U.S.

Given that context, when a need to protect citizens from a disease comes along and borders can be closed to asylum seekers and refugees fleeing harm’s way and seeking a new life, we seem eager to close the doors of hope and safety.

As Methodists, we need to do no harm and continue to work for global cooperation on peacemaking, climate change mitigation, and migration in a way that ensures that the methods we use to combat COVID do no harm and do not unfairly shift the burden of this disease to the poor. As Christians, if we close borders, we also need to advocate for finding ways to open them as soon as possible, so that we can get back to our calling of welcoming the stranger.

We need to make sure that Christianity doesn’t inadvertently undergird the “us first” mentality that goes hand in hand with nationalist, xenophobic, and racist agendas and policies that end up excluding. We need to offer constant reminders to these forces that we are so much better off with the diversity of migrants in our nation, our communities, and our churches. 50% of those employed in the agricultural sector in the U.S. are immigrants. Immigrants account for 20% of all U.S. health care workers. Immigrants are an important part of our communities in many ways. Immigrants make the U.S., and the world, function well.

The church has an important role to play to call everyone back to the table so we can move forward in positive ways in these arenas and not get stuck in our fear. Simultaneously, the church is called to welcome the stranger. It is time for the church to boldly proclaim that message that appears 82 times in the Bible: “Fear Not!” If the church can show people, through small actions, that it is not only safe, but beneficial, and consistent with our faith, to truly welcome into our lives people who speak differently, look differently, and maybe even think differently, we may be able to reverse the sticky downward descent into fear.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Introducing UM & Global Collections: Collections on Race, Mission, and American Christianity

Today, UM & Global is debuting something new: UM & Global Collections. These are compilations of multiple posts on the same or similar topics packaged into a PDF for convenient reading. The goal of these Collections is to make the content of UM & Global more easily accessible for use in classroom discussions, mission training events, church study groups, and other venues. Rather than having to click through and try to find related posts, a bundle of posts is presented together for easy viewing.

The PDFs include a table of contents; the posts, including the original URL, date published, title, attribution, content, and tags; and some discussion questions about the Collection as a whole. Other than reformatting hyperlinks and a typographical correction here or there, the posts are not edited from their original format. The length of the Collections will vary somewhat based on the topic, but most will be 30-40 pages.

The first two Collections both deal with the topic of race:

Race and Mission: A UM & Global Collection

Race, American Christianity, and the Global Church: A UM & Global Collection

In the coming weeks, additional collections will be posted on short-term mission; commentaries on the UMC's official mission document, Grace Upon Grace; UMC assets; the global nature of the UMC; and other topics. If there are specific topics that you would find helpful in your teaching or church work, please note them in the comments below, and I (David) will try to prioritize these as I put together future Collections.

Monday, August 17, 2020

UMC Ecumenical Partnerships: A Brief Historical Timeline

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.

Having provided an overview of the bilateral and multilateral ecumenical relationships maintained by The United Methodist Church, I thought it would also be helpful to provide a timeline of significant developments within United Methodist (and predecessor) ecumenical relationships.

1881 – The first World Methodist Conference, which brought together 400 delegates from 30 Methodist bodies around the world, was held in London, England.

1908 – The Federal Council of Churches in America is formed, primarily to unite churches’ voices on labor issues. The Evangelical Association, Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC), Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS), Methodist Protestant Church, and United Brethren in Christ are all founding members. The new council adopts a social creed based on the Methodist example written by Frank North, and MEC Bishop E. R. Hendrix is elected the organization’s first president.

1909 – The Methodist Church in Japan becomes the first church body associated with American Methodism to become autonomous. It does so as part of a merger of MEC, MECS, and Canadian Methodist Church mission work. Missionaries from all three bodies continue to play a part in the life of the Methodist Church in Japan.

1910 – The World Missionary Conference is held in Edinburgh. It is chaired by US Methodist layman John R. Mott. Mott, with the help of others, uses the conference to launch a number of regional and mission-focused ecumenical organizations that would be the forerunners of the World Council of Churches.

1930 – The Methodist Church in Brazil, Methodist Church in Korea, and Methodist Church in Mexico become autonomous from the MEC and MECS. For Korea and Mexico, autonomy includes a merger of MEC and MECS work in those countries. The MEC and MECS adopt provisions into their Doctrines and Disciplines about their relationship to autonomous affiliated churches, with specific reference to Japan, Brazil, Korea, and Mexico. Affiliation is seen as a function of continued missionary presence and collaboration with the Board of Missions.

1931 – The World Methodist Conference agrees to organize a council to oversee work in between its decennial meetings.

1939 – The Methodist Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of the MEC, MECS, and Methodist Protestant Church.

1941 – The Methodist Church in Japan is forcibly merged into the United Church of Christ in Japan by the Japanese government. The Methodist Church (US) continues its relationship to the new denomination through the Board of Foreign Missions. The category of affiliated united church is subsequently created to recognize Japan’s new status.

1946 – The Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren in Christ.

1948 – The World Council of Churches is founded. John Mott is elected honorary president.

1950 – The Federal Council of Churches in America is reorganized as the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, or NCC for short, carrying out expanded forms of ecumenical collaboration.

1951 – The World Methodist Conference officially changes its name to the World Methodist Council, and conferences begin to be held every five years.

1960 to 1968 – A formal process is developed and spelled out in the Book of Discipline for an annual conference of the Methodist Church/UMC to become an affiliated autonomous or affiliated united church. That process involves central conference permission and coordination with COSMOS (the Commission on the Status of Methodism Overseas, later replaced by the Commission on Central Conference Affairs and then the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters).

1964 to 1972 – A wave of annual conferences outside the United States, especially in Asia and Latin America, become autonomous from The Methodist Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), and The United Methodist Church. For former annual conferences of the EUB, these moves to autonomy are the result of an intentional mission strategy. For former Methodist annual conferences, these moves to autonomy acknowledge the wave of decolonization sweeping much of the world. These newly autonomous churches sign agreements to maintain relationships as affiliated autonomous or affiliated united churches.

1968 – The United Methodist Church is formed through the ecumenical merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Talks with the Methodist Church in Britain produce a concordat between the two churches. Although the concordat is discussed at the UMC’s General Conference, it is not clear from the Daily Christian Advocate how much of the concordat is formally approved by the General Conference. A process for developing further concordats is later laid out in the UMC’s Book of Discipline (BOD) based on the work with the Methodist Church in Britain.

1972 – The affiliated autonomous relationship is redefined based on mutual recognition of members and ministers as part of a clarified “covenant relationship.” Thus, affiliation is no longer a function of missionary placement or relationship with the Board of Global Ministries. In addition, a process for previously autonomous bodies to join the UMC is added to the BOD.

1976 – Concordats with the Methodist Church in Mexico and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas are approved. General Conference approves extending an invitation to other Methodist churches to consider concordat relationships.

1980 – The Methodist Church in India becomes autonomous. The previously autonomous churches in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, once part of the EUB, rejoin the UMC. A distinction is made in the BOD between autonomous churches and affiliated autonomous churches.

1985 – The Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation, which brings together the UMC and historically African-American denominations, is formed. The Methodist Church in Kenya, which comes from a British background and does not have historical ties to the UMC, enquires about becoming a concordat church. This request and other similar ones set of a re-examination of the UMC’s intra-Methodist ecumenical relationships.

1988 to 1992 – First in the Book of Resolutions (1988) and then in the Book of Discipline (1992), a new definition of and process for becoming a “covenanting church” is adopted. The initial intention was that both affiliated and non-affiliated churches could become covenanting churches as an alternative to concordat relationships. Primary responsibility for such covenanting relationships is clarified as belonging to the Council of Bishops, not Global Ministries. At least ten denominations would go on to sign covenants, the majority not previously affiliated.

1992 – The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico becomes autonomous and signs a concordat with the UMC that guarantees continued representation on UMC boards and agencies.

1992 to 2000 – As a result of a 1992 study committee, a Commission on Union is established in 1996 to explore union between the UMC and historically black Methodist churches. In 2000, this Commission is merged with the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation to create the Pan-Methodist Commission.

2000 to 2001 – A number of Methodist churches that are not affiliated are invited to General Conference 2000 as affiliated churches. A follow-up committee develops a list of official affiliated autonomous and affiliated united churches in 2001, that list apparently having previously been lost.

2000 to 2008 – The BOD definitions of affiliated autonomous and affiliated united churches shift away from historical language about how these bodies were established to geographic language about their existence outside the boundaries of the jurisdictions (but not outside the boundaries of the central conferences, as some central conferences and affiliated churches overlap). BOD language also shifts from emphasizing mutual recognition of membership and ordination, mutual visitation, and cooperation in mission to emphasizing exchange of General Conference delegates (though the prior concerns are not deleted, just de-emphasized by rearranging the language). Specific mention of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas and the Methodist Church in Mexico is added to the section on concordat churches. No mention of the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico is made in this section, though mention of MCPR continues to be made in the section on boards and agencies.

2008 to 2009 – A full-communion agreement between the UMC and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is ratified, first by the UMC General Conference and then by the ELCA.

2011 to 2015 – The Equmeniakyrkan (The Uniting Church in Sweden) is formed in 2011 through a merger of The United Methodist Church in Sweden, The Swedish Covenant Church, and The Baptist Union of Sweden. In 2012, The Uniting Church in Sweden is recognized as an affiliated united church, and in 2015, the UMC and The Uniting Church sign a full communion agreement.

2012 – A full-communion agreement among the members of the Pan-Methodist Commission is ratified.

2016 to 2018 – A full-communion agreement between the UMC and the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces) is ratified, first by the UMC General Conference and then by the Moravians.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Recommended Reading: Germans Elaborate Plans to Stay Together

In the wake of General Conference 2019, the Germany Central Conference made an interesting resolution: They would reject the Traditionalist plan but stay together as a denomination, despite varying opinions on sexuality. This resolution led to an ongoing roundtable process that produced, in January of this year, "a system for preserving the connection" in Germany that would eliminate Book of Discipline language prohibiting gay ordination and gay weddings but also create a new association for German United Methodists with traditionalist views on homosexuality. On July 17th, the roundtable members held their first meeting since releasing the framework of this plan. As news coverage of, including an abridged report from, this meeting make clear, Germans are continuing to move forward with both parts of this plan, with the intention of granting provisional approval this November at a short meeting of the central conference, with full approval at the postponed regular meeting of the central conference in 2021. The work at the July meeting focused mostly on elaborating the new structure for traditionalist German United Methodists. More details are available in the full report of the meeting and the theological foundations for the new traditionalist association. All links are in German.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Problems of a Global Traditionalist Church

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 noted previously, Traditionalist United Methodists in the United States are making a concerted bid to persuade African United Methodists to join the new Traditionalist Methodist denomination that they intend to launch. Traditionalists’ main argument is that because of Africans’ common opposition to homosexuality, they would be best served by being part of a Traditionalist denomination.

The problem, however, with unity forged through a common enemy is that once that enemy is gone, internal fracturing soon follows. There are significant reasons to believe that this pattern may apply to a global Traditionalist denomination, unless they are able to articulate a common vision that goes beyond opposition to gay ordination and gay marriage. Moreover, this vision needs to be adequately fleshed out by theological and operational agreements on thorny issues such as power sharing, contextualization, and the nature of partnerships.

US Traditionalists and (some) Africans may currently be united in opposition to changing the stance of The United Methodist Church toward gay ordination and gay marriage, but the moment they jointly leave for a denomination where those practices are out of the question, they lose their main point of commonality, since there will no longer be arguments about sexuality to unite them. The question then is, what next? Evidence of grounds for possible future division are already visible.

There is a particularly telling moment in Mark Tooley’s recent interview of Jerry Kulah. Tooley asks, “How can USA traditionalists help [the] UMC in Africa?” Kulah responds, “That is an interesting question. I think your question should rather be, ‘How can USA traditionalists and African traditionalists be of help to one another, following the schism?’ And that is what I would prefer responding to.” As part of his answer, Kulah states, “We desire mutual partnership in response to the holistic needs of one another, not one that is dependent or paternalistic.”

It is clear that, having helped Traditionalists prevail at General Conference 2019, Kulah is not willing to accept a second-class status in a church in which Africans continue to play the role of poor objects of US benevolence. Instead, Kulah intends that African agency be recognized and that Africans have power in whatever church they become part of. While US Traditionalists affirm the worth of African church members, it may be a hard shift for those used to pulling the levers of power to suddenly find that others have their hands on those levers too.

In particular, US Traditionalists may be surprised when Africans want to speak to issues other than evangelism and vitality. There is a deep-seated trope among US United Methodists of all stripes that defines Africans in terms of their vibrant worship and growing number of church members. This trope is evidenced in Tooley’s next question to Kulah: “What can [the] UMC in Africa teach [the] USA church about church vitality and evangelism?”

Kulah’s reply includes several points of critique of US culture. While US Traditionalists are likely to agree with the points Kulah raises here, how will they react when Africans want to speak about more than just evangelism and vibrant worship? How will they react if Africans want the church to address neo-colonial economic structures that keep the church in Africa poor but benefit the church in the US? How will they react if Africans want a role, as Kulah suggests, in determining the curriculum not just for African theological schools, but for American ones as well? There are numerous points of potential conflict.

The possibility for offense goes the other way as well. Despite the title, Keith Boyette’s piece on “The Beauty of a Global Church” has a fundamental problem: It only speaks of cultural or contextual particularity in negative ways. Boyette does say, “Becoming a truly global church means we recognize and highly value the gifts, abilities, and contributions of each part of the movement, and we work intentionally to identify and deploy those gifts, abilities, and contributions to make an impact beyond the limitations of country, culture, or context.” Yet he also describes diverse cultures as “local idiosyncrasies, myopic visions, and efforts to shape the gospel to accommodate a particular setting” characterized by “regional prejudices, ethnic tensions, economic differences, and social distinctions” and says that focusing on one’s local church is “selfish.” What happens in a new denomination when Africans feel their cultural heritage is dismissed by US Traditionalists as a “local idiosyncrasy” or, worse, a “regional prejudice”?

Boyette argues that the church should be shaped by “the word of God which is not bound by geography, time, language, or culture.” This is similar to a statement that Kulah makes about the need to “[p]reach the simple message of Scripture without diluting it with the cultures and philosophies of the day.” That is well and good. But what happens when differing language or culture impacts the ways in which US Traditionalists and African Methodists understand the word of God? As works such as Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes make clear, there are abundant examples of issues where Westerners and non-Westerners have significantly different ideas about what the “simple message of Scripture” is.

It is entirely possible that US Traditionalists and African Methodists may be able to forge a strong working partnership based on a shared vision and a mutually acceptable modus vivendi of working toward that vision. But that will not come automatically, and it will not come simply through shared opposition to homosexuality. Being a global denomination takes difficult work, culturally sensitive negotiation, and a willingness to learn from the other, acknowledge one’s mistakes, and forgive the other party. Time will tell whether US Traditionalists and African United Methodists are able to transition from a shared enemy to these deeper practices of partnership.

Monday, August 10, 2020

UMC Ecumenical Partnerships: Multilateral Partnerships

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.

Last week, I wrote about the variety of one-to-one bilateral ecumenical partnerships in which The United Methodist Church is engaged. This week, I will share some information about the UMC’s multilateral partnerships, that is, the groups or consortia of which the UMC is a member along with several other denominations. Some of these are Methodist-specific. Some are more broadly ecumenical.

The multilateral Methodist group that jumps first to many people’s minds is the World Methodist Council (WMC). The UMC’s membership in the WMC is stipulated in ¶433.1 of the Book of Discipline. The WMC includes 72 distinct Methodist, Wesleyan, and historically related united/uniting denominations. Some of these denominations are nationally based and some are international. In the WMC’s listing of denominations, some regional bodies of international denominations are listed separately, so the cited number of members varies. There are some very small Methodist denominations around the world that are not members of the WMC, but it includes almost all of any significant size. This blog has produced maps of the members of the WMC.

The WMC originated as the Ecumenical Methodist Conference, first held in 1881. The Conference gave way to the Council in 1951. The WMC continues to host a conference every five years, along with working groups and other programming. The WMC has a number of related organizations, such as the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, and programs, such as the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies, that further promote intra-Methodist collaboration, but these are all built upon the framework of the WMC.

The World Methodist Council, however, is not the only group that brings together multiple Methodist denominations. There are also regional groups separate from, though associated with, the WMC. The UMC participates (through Global Ministries) in the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin American and Caribbean, or CIEMAL by its Spanish acronym. It participates (through the European central conferences) in the European Methodist Council. It participates (through the Philippines) in the Asian Methodist Council. Most, if not all, members of these regional groups are also members of the WMC, but the regional organizations allow for more regular meetings and closer collaboration on certain matters. CIEMAL and the European Methodist Council are particularly active.

In the United States, there are two further multilateral Methodist ecumenical partnerships in which the UMC participates. The Pan-Methodist Commission brings together the UMC and the five historically black Methodist denominations (the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal and First African Union Methodist Protestant Churches). Although the AME, AME Zion, and CME are also international denominations, most of the work of the Pan-Methodist Commission is fairly US-focused. UMC membership is stipulated in ¶433.2 of the Book of Discipline.

The Wesleyan Holiness Connection brings together the UMC and historically related Wesleyan/Holiness denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Assemblies of God, Brethren in Christ Church, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Church of God in Christ, Church of God Ministries, Church of God - Cleveland, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church, Grace Communion International, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Shield of Faith, The Evangelical Church, The Foursquare Church, The Salvation Army, and the Wesleyan Church. Most of the work of the Wesleyan Holiness Connection is US-focused, but it does have regional networks in the Philippines, UK, and Brazil. The UMC tends to be a minor participant in this group.

The UMC is also a part of a number of broadly ecumenical partnerships with denominations beyond the Methodist family. Many of these take the form of “Councils of Churches.” The UMC is, as required by Book of Discipline ¶434.3, a member of World Council of Churches. The World Council of Churches brings together Protestant, Orthodox, and indigenous churches from around the world and is one of the most significant international ecumenical bodies.

The Book of Discipline indicates in ¶434.2.a that the UMC will be a members of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, a group of Protestant and Orthodox denominations. ¶434.1 requires that the UMC be a part of Churches Uniting in Christ, another US-based ecumenical organization of predominantly white and predominantly black mainline denominations seeking to “live into unity.” ¶434.2.c directs the UMC to seek observer status in the National Association of Evangelicals, the main ecumenical body of evangelical denominations in the United States. Many, though not all, US Annual Conferences are also members of statewide councils of churches, though that is not addressed in the Book of Discipline.

¶434.2.b leaves open the possibility that the UMC may be part of other national councils of churches, at the discretion of leaders of the UMC in those countries. The Council of Bishops has identified at least seven other countries where the UMC is part of national councils of churches, as well as the All-Africa Conference of Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, and several Europe-wide bodies, but this may not be a complete list. The difference between official recognition of US-based ecumenical relationships and the lack of awareness of ecumenical relationships in other countries should be noted as another example of the denomination’s US-centric nature.

There are numerous other ecumenical partnerships in which parts of the UMC participate. These include those focused on work on a particular topic (for example, Religions for Peace International), to programmatic bodies supported by multiple denominations (for example, Church World Service), to groups for ecumenical dialogue (for example, the Global Christian Forum), to regional bodies (for example, European Methodist Youth and Children). I will not attempt a comprehensive list here, though readers can find more information on the Council of Bishops’ website.

The thing to keep in mind about all of these multilateral ecumenical partnerships is that they do not necessarily imply close, direct collaboration between any two given member denominations. Often, the UMC will send one person or a handful of people to conferences or other meetings that may happen as infrequently as once every 5-10 years. This sort of arrangement does not yield close relationships.

Where these ecumenical partnerships tend to be more robust is those that involve ongoing cooperative work in which the UMC and other denominations meet frequently and each contribute resources. These sorts of partnerships work because they have active buy-in from boards, agencies, central conferences, annual conferences, or other units of the church designated to carry out programmatic activities. The downside of this sort of relationships is that other United Methodists outside of these units of the church tend to be uninvolved and often unaware of these partnerships. That problem may not be entirely solvable, but through greater exchange of information, awareness can be increased.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Recommended Viewing: Mission Beyond COVID-19 Webinar on Evangelism

Video of the second episode of Global Ministries' monthly webinar series, "Mission Beyond COVID-19," which examines aspects of mission theology in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now available online. This webinar occurred last month, with Dr. David W. Scott facilitating a conversation between Rev. Dr. Jack Jackson of Claremont School of Theology and Rev. Dr. Wesley de Souza of Candler School of Theology on evangelism amid the pandemic. The video is just over a half hour.

The next episode of this series, featuring Dr. David W. Scott facilitating a conversation with Rev. Dr. Jin Y. Kim of the World Council of Churches and Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the World Methodist Council on "COVID-19: Hindrance or Help to Peacemaking?" will happen at 10:00am EDT next Wednesday, August 12th. Those interested may register in advance for the webinar. A fuller description is below:

COVID-19: Hindrance or Help to Peacemaking?

The COVID-19 pandemic has enforced national borders through travel bans and disrupted planned peacemaking events for 2020, such as those associated with the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. But it has also led to new calls for a cessation of hostilities world-wide, such as the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2532. Will the pandemic lead to more separation and conflict as groups seek to secure their own health and other interests? Or is the pandemic an opportunity to redefine peace and security in terms of people, human life and value, and the importance of (re)securing relations with one another?

Wednesday, August, 12, 2020 at 10:00 am EDT

Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams, General Secretary, World Methodist Council
Rev. Dr. Jin Yang Kim, Global Ministries global missionary and coordinator of Korean Peninsula Dialogue and Peacebuilding of the World Council of Churches
Dr. David W. Scott, mission theologian, Global Ministries

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Traditionalist Bid for Africa

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.

With the postponement of General Conference until the end of August 2021 and plenty of other things to focus on, especially a global pandemic and a movement for racial equality, many United Methodists in the United States, especially centrists and progressives, have been relatively distracted from denominational politics. In addition, key foci of progressive and centrist agitating—annual conference ordination ceremonies and weddings—have been among the events most disrupted by the pandemic.

So-called Traditionalists, however, have continued to push forward with their plans for creating a new denomination. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) has continued to release drafts of portions of a new Book of Discipline. United Methodist Traditionalists, sometimes working with ecumenical partners from other Wesleyan/Holiness churches, have also launched new media channels including an online magazine and a podcast to promote their point of view.

Key within on-going Traditionalist efforts to create a new denomination has been a focused attempt this summer to recruit African United Methodists to join that new denomination. These attempts are evident in surveying a variety of blog posts and articles across Traditionalist outlets.

Keith Boyette of the WCA re-stated the goal in a June 12 post on the WCA site entitled “The Beauty of a Global Church.” In the piece, he wrote, “We will only be the church Jesus is building if we are truly global in every way.” Although Boyette disclaimed, “Being a global church is not simply about having churches around the world and members from every nation,” having churches around the world is an express goal of the UM Traditionalist movement. “That is rudimentary,” he said.

Global ambitions are not new for Traditionalists. Just after General Conference 2019, Traditionalist theologian Billy Abraham wrote about “the genuinely global nature of our enterprise” and hinted that other (even non-United) Methodists from around the world might be interested in joining “an orthodox, global, intellectually vibrant, Spirit-energized, socially engaged version of Methodism.”

Yet this summer’s developments go beyond US traditionalists re-stating their global ambitions. A number of articles have sought to undercut the African bishops as leaders and to assure Africans that their financial interests will be taken care of in a new, Traditionalist denomination.

The summer has seen pieces by Africa Initiative leaders Jerry Kulah (May 26 interview by the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Mark Tooley) and Forbes Matonga (June 15 article in Firebrand) in which they have opined on the future of the UMC. Matonga’s piece in particular makes the case that the unofficial, unelected Africa Initiative is the true representatives of African United Methodism, not the polity-provided, democratically elected bishops.

Moreover, Matonga writes, “If Africa is allowed freely to choose its future, it will definitely go with the conservative side of the church. But given the manipulation, intimidation, and pure dishonesty by a few powerful African bishops, the African church shall split just like what is happening to the American church.” This sets up African affiliation with US Traditionalists as the default, normalizes division within the African church, and undermines the bishops as a source of leadership by labeling their leadership efforts as “manipulation, intimidation, and pure dishonesty.”

In a further attempt to undermine African bishops as a source of leadership, Good News Magazine’s Tom Lambrecht published two pieces “Violations in Central Congo” on July 17 and “Looking for Accountability in North Katanga” on July 27. These two pieces lay forth allegations of misconduct by Boards of Ordained Ministry and bishops against pastors and laity in the Congo who were disciplined by the church. Lambrecht asserts that the Boards and bishops violated processes laid out in the Book of Discipline, while failing to acknowledge that the Book of Discipline that is operative in the Congo is an adaptation and translation of the 1988* Discipline, not the 2016 English-language Discipline.

Whatever the merits of the complaints, the impact of the pieces is to undercut the bishops as leaders. They cast Bishops Lunge, Mande, and Unda as liberal on the questions of gay ordination and gay marriage (by their willingness to stay within The United Methodist Church), with the complainants as the real Traditionalists. Lambrecht writes, “The underlying issue behind the singling out of some pastors and laity for punishment has to do with the church’s position regarding marriage and human sexuality,” although the reality is almost certainly more complex than this reduction of the conflict to a single issue that is most salient in the US, not Africa. It characterizes the bishops’ actions as flowing from a lack of accountability and implies that their political opponents within the UMC would fair better under a Traditionalist church with “a more robust accountability mechanism for bishops at the global level.”

Funding is also a concern in a number of pieces appearing this question. Questions about funding are a significant portion of Mark Tooley’s interview of Jerry Kulah cited above, though Kulah, as in past statements, does not seem concerned about funding as a major factor that should impact the church in Africa’s decision.

In early June, the WCA announced recipients of its Central Conference Ministry Fund. The WCA awarded just over $200,000 in grants, mostly to Africa, with a promise of another $100,000 in grants to be announced in November. This announcement was made with great fanfare, despite the yearly total representing as little as 0.3% of the yearly total support by US United Methodists of their sisters and brothers in the central conferences.

June also saw another trial balloon for mechanisms of Traditionalist funding of African ministers. A piece by Davies Musigo, a United Methodist pastor in Kenya, on the Traditionalist-oriented Spirit & Truth site for which he serves as Africa Regional Director, included an appeal to give to Spirit & Truth’s “Kenya Fund.” No information has been released on how much was collected in this way.

John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote a three-part article in which he argues that United Methodists in the central conferences would be better served financially to affiliate with a Traditionalist denomination. He first critiques a centrist talking point about 78% of global UMC funding coming from centrist and progressive US United Methodists. Then, using data from this blog in misleading ways, Lomperis argues that, because local church partnerships represent a major source of US funding for the central conferences, a significant portion of US funding is Traditionalist-provided, though Lomperis does not offer hard numbers for the amount of local church partnerships or annual conference apportionments that come from Traditionalist congregations. Finally, while acknowledging that US giving overall will decline and that cross-denominational financial partnerships will be possible, he asserts that Traditionalists have the financial best interests of United Methodists outside of the US at heart, while centrists and progressives want to cut their funding.

Thus, the Traditionalist argument is clear: United Methodists in Africa should affiliate with a new, Traditionalist denomination because of their views on sexuality. Even if their bishops oppose such a move, their leadership is illegitimate. Plus, affiliating with Traditionalists is in Africans’ financial best interests.

Most Traditionalist United Methodists, as well as most centrists and progressives, honestly believe that those United Methodists outside of the United States would be best served by continuing to be affiliated with them. Ultimately, it is up to Africans to decide which case is more convincing. The unfortunate point is that Africans are being forced to choose sides and, in the process, divisions that originated in the US are being spread to other areas of the world.

* An earlier version of this article originally indicated that the BOD used in the Congo is an adaptation of the 1984 BOD. The 1990 Africa Central Conference BOD is an adaptation of the 1988 BOD.

Monday, August 3, 2020

UMC Ecumenical Partnerships: Bilateral Partnerships

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.

Last week, I published a map of the UMC and affiliated denominations. This map generated a lot of discussion and a variety of questions: Why were the Italians and the Columbians and the Methodist Church of South Africa not included? Why were some but not all members of CIEMAL and some but not all members of the World Methodist Council included? Aren't there some countries with more than one type of Methodist?

I was glad to see that this map foster discussion. As a follow up, I thought it would be helpful to write some posts that contextualize the map by providing more information about the UMC's ecumenical partnerships.

Within the realm of those ecumenical partnerships, one can make a distinction between bi-lateral partnerships, that is, partnerships between The United Methodist Church and individual other denominations, and multi-lateral partnerships, that is, groups that bring together The United Methodist Church and multiple other denominations. One can further make a distinction between intra-Methodist partnerships and broader ecumenical partnerships with churches outside the Methodist tradition.

This post will examine bilateral partnerships, both with Methodist and non-Methodist denominations, and a subsequent post will examine multilateral partnerships.

The Council of Bishops (as successor to the Office of Christian Unity and Inter-religious Relations) recognizes five different types of bilateral partnerships between the UMC and other denominations.

The first type is "concordat" churches. A concordat is essentially a treaty ratified between two denominations that gives each other certain rights and privileges within that relationships. The terms of each of these concordats differs significantly, but all include an exchange of delegates between top legislative bodies, recognition of lay membership, potential, but not automatic, recognition of clergy membership, and language about collaborating in ministry, which may play out in more or less concrete ways. Concordats are not full communion agreements. In the case of the UMC, concordats are approved by General Conference and are governed by ¶570.5 and ¶574 of the Book of Discipline.

There are four concordat churches for the UMC: The Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, the Methodist Church of Mexico, and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. The first concordat was with the MCGB in 1968. At the time, it was seen as hearkening in a new era of pan-Methodist collaboration, and the expectation was that more concordats would follow. The MCM and MCCA concordats did come about in the decade or so after that, but there was never a wide-spread movement towards concordats. The MCPR concordat was ratified in 1992 when the MCPR became autonomous from the UMC, and no concordats have been passed since.

The second and third types of bilateral relationships are affiliated autonomous Methodist churches and affiliated united churches. These are churches with historical ties to the UMC and its predecessor denominations (Methodist Church, EUB, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church, South). As with concordat churches, affiliated status involves recognition of lay membership, potential, but not automatic, recognition of clergy membership, and language about collaborating in ministry. Affiliated denominations are allowed to send delegates to General Conference, but these delegates are non-voting. Affiliated relationships are governed by ¶570-¶572 of the Book of Discipline.

There are eighteen affiliated autonomous Methodist denominations and eight affiliated united denominations. For a full list, see the Council of Bishops website. These are the denominations highlighted in the map from last week; the "affiliated" in the title of that post was intended in a technical sense. Most of these affiliated relationships were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the biggest wave of conferences becoming autonomous from the UMC happened, though some date from earlier and later. Since these are denominations with historical ties to the UMC and its predecessors, denominations which came out of the British Methodist tradition, such as the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the Uniting Church in Australia, are not in this category. There are also a few denominations, such as the Methodist Church of Italy, that have some historical ties with the UMC but are not included in this group.

The fourth category of bilateral partnerships are full communion relationships, in which two denominations recognize each other's ordination and sacraments. This allows pastors to transfer between denominations or serve congregations of the other denomination easily. Full communion agreements usually involve a joint theological affirmation. Full communion does not, however, mean structural unity. Both partners remain separate denominations. Full communion relationships are governed by ¶431 and ¶442 of the Book of Discipline.

The UMC has eight full-communion partners, seven of them primarily in the US. Five are historically African American denominations that left UMC predecessor denominations because of white supremacy. One is the Uniting Church of Sweden, which was formed out of a merger of Swedish United Methodists, Swedish Baptists, and the Mission Covenant Church in Sweden. The other two full communion partners are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church, Northern and Southern Provinces, which also covers the US. The UMC is in the process of considering full communion with the Episcopal Church, another US-based denomination.

The final category of bilateral relationships is relationships that European United Methodists have with (formerly) state Lutheran churches in several countries, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, and Norway. These relationships vary by the country. Unlike ecumenical relationships in the US, these relationships are not officially recognized by General Conference or governed by the Book of Discipline. Thus, the UMC's approach to ecumenical relationships still tends to be US-centric.

While this may already seem like a dizzying array of relationships, this post has only examined direct one-to-one relationships between the UMC and other denominations. A subsequent post will examine multilateral groups such as the World Methodist Council and other bodies.