Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2022 Year in Review

There's no secret about it: the topic UM & Global readers were most interested in during 2022 was developments related to the future of the church.

The most-read story of the year came in February when UM & Global alerted readers to the problem of securing visas in sufficient time for General Conference to be held in 2022. UM & Global had previously written about the challenges of securing visas after General Conference 2019 and then returned to the issue in November of this year, looking ahead to the 2024 General Conference.

After General Conference was further delayed to 2024 and Traditionalist leaders announced the formation of the Global Methodist Church, UM & Global helped orient readers to how these developments were playing out globally, including in the United States, in Africa, and in Europe.

With these developments related to separation and intra-church fights, this blog also highlighted the dangers for United Methodists of staying stuck in conflict and explained how new narratives can help move the church past such conflict.

Amid this focus on church politics, mission was not entirely overlooked. Readers also resonated with a post from May that suggested that rather than following John Wesley in talking about the world being our parish, we should instead follow Thomas Coke's affirmation that “Oceans cannot limit the affection we have for one another.”

While this was not reflected in the readership stats for the year, 2022 also saw an all-time high mark for the amount of translated material on UM & Global, including posts from Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Norway, and the Congo (which also yielded the first French-language post on UM & Global). As the church seeks to live into its intercultural, multilingual future, such posts that facilitate discussion across linguistic barriers are an important part of strengthening the connection.

Finally, on a technical note, several regular readers have noted that they are no longer receiving emails notifications about new posts. This is due to some technical changes in the blog's current platform. We are aware of the problem and looking into possible solutions. Stay tuned for more updates in 2023.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Coalition-Building as a Way Forward

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.

My past two posts have explained how The United Methodist Church is an increasingly complex system beset by a wicked problem and how, given those conditions, leadership is an attractive approach to addressing the problems of the denomination. Leadership alone, however, is a flawed solution given the complexity of the system and the limitations of knowledge and power possessed by a single individual within the system, even if that person is a leader within the system.

As this post will explain, though, while leadership may be a flawed solution, that does not leave us without hope. An approach focused on coalition-building, collaboration, and communication can be effective in effecting change in complex systems. Moreover, when leadership is oriented towards contributing to such an approach along with larger groups (rather than towards the top-down exercise of power by an individual), coalition-building, collaboration, and communication can strengthen and enhance the exercise of leadership.

All of this has implications for The United Methodist Church as it moves towards the next stage of service to which God is calling it.

Coalitions, collaboration, and communication
The problem with a leadership-focused approach to the wicked problems of complex systems is that the complexity of the systems exceeds the ability of any one individual to understand how the system works and the ability of any one individual to control the system. The solution to this limitation is to locate understanding and control of the system not with any one individual but with coalitions of individuals and groups working together to address the problems of the system.

Having more individuals committed to finding solutions means more collective knowledge of the system, both of its individual parts and of how those parts interact with one another. It also means a greater ability to influence the system via more pressure points. This greater collective knowledge and greater influence means a greater ability to effectively address the problems of the system and therefore a greater chance of success in doing so.

Collective action does not just happen, though. It must be organized through the slow, labor-intensive work of coalition building. Coalition building involves getting groups to agree to work together on a common problem or towards a common goal. Coalition members do not need to agree on all issues. Indeed, successful coalitions will likely include members who disagree, perhaps quite passionately, on issues other than the central motivating issue of the coalition.

Thus, three central tasks in building coalitions are identifying a salient issue that is shared among different groups, facilitating trust building among groups that will disagree on some issues, and persuading groups to commit to work together on shared interests despite their disagreements elsewhere.

The success of such work requires participants in the coalition to be able to hold tensions, accept imperfection, and even to forgive one another. It also requires a collective sense of responsibility for the problems of the system. Blame works against fostering such a collective sense of responsibility, since it assigns responsibility for the problems of the system outside those casting blame and is thus an excuse for not acting oneself.

Once a coalition has begun to form, it proceeds by collaborative action. Collaborative action is action taken by different players and often in different forms towards a common goal. Collaborative action does not mean that all coalition members do the same thing. Indeed, the most effective coalitions employ a diversity of strategies to realize their goals, which allows a diversity of participants to contribute their skills and energy in a diversity of ways. While coordination is necessary, conformity is a sign of the weakness of a coalition, not its strength.

Throughout the whole process, communication is an essential. Communication is necessary to bring coalition members together. It is necessary to identify the salient issues and goals of the coalition. It is necessary to build trust among members. It is necessary to coordinate the disparate actions of members. It is necessary to measure progress towards goals. Communication is the one thing absolutely necessary for successful coalitions.

Like collaborative action, communication involves contributions by many people. The more that information sharing can happen through a network rather than through a hub-and-spoke model of central gatekeeping, the more easily information can be shared throughout a coalition and therefore the more effective the coalition will be.

Those convening, promoting, coordinating, and communicating coalitions need not be formally recognized leaders within the system. It is possible to leverage personal connections, charisma, or other resources to engage disparate groups to come together around a common issue. Formal leadership does not disqualify one from doing such work, but neither does it automatically compel one to engage in such work. Thus, an approach that is based around coalitions, collaboration, and communication is not necessarily one based on leadership.

Yet, leaders can use the power and information at their disposal to contribute to coalitions. This requires leaders to acknowledge their own limitations and prioritize common objectives over personal status or control. Even when formal leaders participate in coalitions, the primary responsibility for progress must remain with the coalition as a whole, not with any leader or leaders associated with the coalition.

The Reform and Renewal Coalition
Arguably one of the most effective political forces within The United Methodist Church since its inception has been the Reform and Renewal Coalition. It is not a coincidence that this has been a coalition, not the work of a single organization, a single leader, or even a handful of leaders.

Instead, the Reform and Renewal Coalition has brought together multiple Traditionalist organizations and individuals with overlapping but distinct foci, but all aligned together around issues of Traditionalist understandings of marriage and theology. These groups and their members have worked separately but in coordination towards agreed upon goals. A variety of means of communication including publications, personal networks, and conferences and meetings have allowed communication to flow throughout a Traditionalist network, thereby facilitating the work of the coalition.

There have been prominent figures associated with the Reform and Renewal Coalition, but the Coalition has had no one single leader. Some bishops have been supportive, but most of the identified leaders are not people with significant formal positions of power within the regular structures of the denomination. Instead, the Reform and Renewal Coalition has operated through coalition-building, collaboration, and communication.

While Progressives and Centrists are likely to see the Reform and Renewal Coalition as contributing to rather than solving the problems of the denomination, that should not detract from recognizing the coalition’s success on its own terms.

Traditionalists have been less well coordinated recently, mostly because of differing ideas about what they should do next in the wake of General Conference 2019 and the launch of the Global Methodist Church. These varying opinions have deprived the coalition of its focus and its coordination and therefore its effectiveness. But these challenges are just further proof of the importance of well-functioning coalitions for success – policy success comes not from one’s ideology but from one’s organization.

Implications for the future UMC
With the exit of many Traditionalist congregations and individuals from the UMC, the splintering of Traditionalist plans, and the shuttering of some of its components (such as the Confessing Movement), it is clear the Reform and Renewal Coalition will no longer continue to dominate United Methodist polity debates in the same way they have historically. What is not yet clear, though, is whether a new coalition will emerge among those who choose to stay UMC that will set the direction for United Methodism for the next several decades.

Whether or not such a coalition emerges will likely depend on whether groups and leaders from disparate parts of the denomination can come together around concrete policy goals. Although the goals of the Reform and Renewal Coalition were primarily related to sexuality, the goals of a future coalition need not be. Other issues such as decolonizing the church, regionalization and contextualization, evangelism, or something else could prove galvanizing for a new coalition. Whether or not an effective coalition emerges depends on many things, but it starts with the identification of a salient issue.

To bring this argument back to its beginning, the recently elected bishops will certainly make an impact on The United Methodist Church, especially in the episcopal areas they serve. But they will have little ability to set the future direction of the denomination on their own. Instead, what will be more significant than any of the recently held elections is what sorts of coalitions emerge to direct The United Methodist Church into the next stage of its life.

Bishops may contribute to such coalitions, but it will take a broad sense of responsibility for the future of the denomination, a commonly agreed-upon set of issues or goals, a willingness to work together among disparate groups, some of whom will disagree on some issues, and extensive communication among a network of partners to really set the direction for the future of the denomination.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Ulrich Bachmann: The Dream of a Life without Violence

Today’s post is by Ulrich Bachmann, CEO of Connexio hope and develop. The peacebuilding activities of The United Methodist Church, East Congo Episcopal Area, described in this article are supported by Conenxio develop. The article originally appeared on the website of the Swiss United Methodist Church. It has been translated by David W. Scott and appears here by permission.

Peace is a costly and at the same time fragile good. In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the churches themselves are part of the conflict, but also search for ways to overcome it. In any case, people there know exactly what they want when they work for peace.

The year that is coming to an end has clearly shown that peace is in no way a self-evident matter and is not obtained without effort. Peace is costly and at the same time very fragile. Many people on this earth are still denied peace.

A narrowing
In the Western world there is the tendency to individualize peace, like so many other things. Yet peace is not a private matter, but rather it always concerns one’s neighbors in one’s immediate and broader surroundings.

Under difficult circumstances
In South Kivu Province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, The United Methodist Church is committed to the peaceful coexistence of the various people groups. It is deeply impressive how people employ themselves for peace despite enormous challenges.

Complex causes
Often the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is portrayed as an interethnic conflict. Even when many conflicts are carried out along ethnic lines, their causes are more complex than the differences that exist between the various ethnic groups. Claims to political power, questions of law, and access to increasingly scarce natural resources mix with regional and international interests into an explosive cocktail.

Moreover, in most cases, the violence is carried out by armed militias that are financed, among other means, through illegal trading of raw materials and by political decision-makers.

Great suffering for many people
Those who end up suffering are the people who live in the region. They are forcibly expelled and lose their livelihoods. They carry the suffering of the many victims that the conflict claims. They are exploited and lose trust in neighbors from other people groups.

Meanwhile, over 1.3 million internally displaced people, who have been forcibly expelled from their homelands, live in South Kivu Province. Women and children are thereby also frequently exposed to increased sexual violence.

Communities with potential
In South Kivu Province, as in other regions of the country, religious communities play an important role in society. Often they are active in the educational and health sectors and make an important contribution to social cohesion. On account of their values and ethics, religious communities are predestined to employ themselves for a good coexistence between the various people groups.

Caught in ethnic violence
The reality is, however, much more complex. The churches are part of the conflict as well as part of the solution to conflict. The chairman of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Uvira says that the churches are also caught in the trap of radicalism and ethnic violence. Ethnic identity does not stop at the church doors. Many churches wear the ethnic labels of their leading figures.

A pastor from the vicinity of Baraka, a region that has suffered greatly from interethnic conflicts, confirms that it can be different: “When our village was attacked by armed groups, we fled to Baraka. We were accepted by the Methodist church and accommodated regardless of ethnic affiliation.” With that, he stressed that a critical discussion of the roll of the church in conflict transformation is important. Only thus can the church contribute to the pacification of the region.

Messages against hate
Since 2018, The United Methodist Church in the East Congo Episcopal Region has been engaged in supporting peaceful coexistence in the highlands of Uvira and Fizi. To work against hate messages on social media, journalists from various people groups were mobilized under the coordination of Michel Kizibisha to formulate messages against hate and for a peaceful coexistence. The messages were broadcast over local radio stations.

Building bridges
The radio messages have been well received in his area, says Jacques Muzingwa, a journalist that worked on the formulation of the radio messages. The messages built a bridge between the various ethnic groups whose relationship was very strongly characterized by mistrust.

Michel Kizibisha, coordinator of the peacebuilding program, says that through the radio campaign a large number of people from all ethnic backgrounds can be reached at the same time. It is a good opportunity to build awareness within the population of respect for human rights and the constitution.

Stopping injustice
The absence of functioning government structures and the multi-layered conflict in the region have led to a situation where the population often resorts to a sort of vigilante justice or lynch justice. That heats up the conflict situation even more. It is often young men, without work and without prospects, that resort to vigilante justice.

Strengthening the law
Under the leadership of Michel Kizibisha, representatives from women’s groups, young men, and officials such as representatives of churches have been invited to discuss the problem of lynch justice in order to make a contribution to sensitizing the population to the negative and inhumane consequences of lynch justice. The problem of a missing or biased system of law cannot be remedied in this way. Yet this is an important step towards ensuring that people are not convicted by the public though innocent and without a fair trial and must often pay with their lives. Women in particular, who have often already experienced earlier violence, become victims of this lynch justice.

Further work
Antoine Muganza, a fuel dealer from the region, took part in a seminar on this topic and said that the Methodist church must absolutely work more on this important topic. It also means that the women and young men must be more strongly included in order to make a difference. Antoine Muganza realized how important a functioning judicial system and the presumption of innocence are.

To be able to live without violence
The situation of people in South Kivu Province is shaped by very many difficulties. The hope remains that conflict will be transformed and a peaceful coexistence is possible. Aline Nansukura from Uvira expressed it in very moving terms: “Peace is for the dream of a life without violence.”

Friday, December 16, 2022

Recommended Viewing: UWF Voices from the Philippines webinar

United Women in Faith recently hosted an episode of their "Voices from the Field" series with Emma Cantor, UWF regional missionary for the Philippines. In the episode, Cantor describes how Filipina women are engaging in mission, especially in mission with women focused on leadership development, economic development, combating gender-based violence, and assisting migrants. The episode also features pre-recorded presentations by other mission leaders from the Philippines, including Andelin Louisa Anolin of the Batis Center and Nora Guevara of Kapatiran Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI). The episode is a good depiction of the many ways in which Filipina Methodist women put their faith into action today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Unrealistic Expectations

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.

In my last post, I argued that The United Methodist Church is a complex system (more so than when it was created) facing a wicked problem. I indicated that this fact has implications for the role of leadership in the UMC, in particular that of bishops. In this post, I will argue that the nature of complex systems make leadership an attractive but ultimately flawed solution to the wicked problems that beset complex systems.

Leadership as an Attractive Solution
By their very nature, complex systems are difficult to control (since inputs do not lead straightforwardly to outputs), and wicked problems are difficult to solve. Furthermore, since complex systems include many actors, most of them will have very little influence over the system as a whole, making it even more difficult for most people to get the results they want from the system. Therefore, many people feel powerless in the face of complex systems, for instance, the global economy, big businesses, or government bureaucracies.

In such a situation, selecting the right leader for the system becomes seen by many as an attractive solution to the problems plaguing the complex system.

Selecting the right leader seemingly simplifies the complex system and its complex problems, and this is its main attraction. We just need to find the right person, and they will solve the problems of the system, goes the thinking.

Rather than needing to understand the complex system itself (which is often beyond the ability of even experts, let alone regular individuals), it is only necessary to understand the (usually limited) choices for leadership candidates. Rather than needing to figure out how to exert influence on the system (which is difficult for well-organized coalitions, let alone individuals), it is only necessary to use one’s power to vote for a leader.

All the better, this line of reasoning often goes, if the leader selected is somewhat antithetical to the system, if they promise to “shake things up,” create “disruption,” or “smash things.” And in order to do that destructive work, the leader should be given as much power as possible. The system is obviously not producing what it should, so doesn’t it need to be shaken up by a strong leader?

This leadership-focused solution to systemic problems also fits with cultural emphases from various cultures, whether it is Americans’ cult of personality or Africans’ tradition of “big man” leadership. The notion of a leader as a hero or savior is deeply rooted within many cultural traditions.

The wave of rising authoritarianism that has swept the globe over the past decade is an expression of how leadership is an attractive solution to complex problems. In many different cultural and political settings, people have elected leaders who have billed themselves as strongmen (and the gendered term is intentional) capable of bending the system to give their voters what they want.

Whether or not United Methodists support such political authoritarian figures (and probably some but not most do), the temptation to look to leaders as rescuers from the morass of wicked problems that bogs down the complex system of The United Methodist Church is still there.

Leadership as a Flawed Solution
But while leadership may be an attractive solution to the wicked problems of complex systems, it is also a flawed solution. Of course, one could point to the moral, ethical, and democratic failings frequently exhibited by authoritarian leaders, but even setting those significant concerns aside, there are real reasons why leadership alone is not a good way to address the problems of complex solutions.

First, while participants in a complex system may be eager to shift responsibility for problem solving onto a leader because of their own limited knowledge of and influence over that system, they often significantly overestimate leaders’ knowledge of and influence over the system.

Complex systems are difficult for leaders to understand, too, even given their additional vantage over and information about the system. Indeed, it is hard for any one person to really have a feel for all parts of a system and how they interact. Leadership in a complex system requires knowledge of many disparate areas of policy and procedure. Moreover, leaders are subject to the same limitations of wisdom, knowledge, and judgment as anyone else. And when leaders are sometimes chosen because they are from outside the system or its current elite, this can limit their understanding of the system even further.

Moreover, because complex systems are characterized by nonlinear relationships and by many different actors with many different motivations, complex systems are difficult to control, even for leaders. There are many opportunities for unintended consequences or for people to resist and obstruct what a leader wants to accomplish. While it many be easy for leaders to exert control over central elements of a complex system, that does not mean that directives will flow completely and easily to all components of a system, especially those farther from the centers of power.

These observations are true of bishops in the UMC just as much as other leaders of complex systems. There are many different areas of responsibility for bishops, and it is difficult to be an expert in all of them. Bishops are often limited in their knowledge of what is happening outside of their episcopal area or jurisdiction. Their powers are geographically and constitutionally limited. District superintendents, pastors, congregations, and agencies all have independent decision-making authority. Bishops can influence, but they cannot completely dictate. Even in Africa where bishops are held in higher regard, they are not complete dictators, and things can and do happen outside bishops’ control.

There are also limitations in the relationship between leaders and followers. The many-faceted nature of issues in complex systems means that for any given leader and any given follower, there will almost always be points of disagreement between them. While in some instances, followers adjust their views to reflect those of their leaders, in other instances, followers are left to decide how to relate to leaders whose work they very much support in some instances and very much oppose in others.

Furthermore, conditions including polarization, distrust, and anger at institutions can make people even less willing to follow leaders. If some group of followers sees a leader as “not my leader,” then they will work to oppose or undermine the work of that leader, further limiting the leader’s power. Even if loyal followers expect leaders to quickly deliver results on all issues, leaders can quickly go from heroes to villains if they fail to perform to what may be unrealistically high standards.

A Methodist Example
To see the attraction and the failure of leadership as a solution to the problems of complex systems, look at The United Methodist Church’s experience with the Commission on a Way Forward. The commission was formed after General Conference delegates, unable to solve the wicked problem of The United Methodist Church themselves, took the unprecedented action of asking the bishops to step in and intervene.

However, the bishops’ ability to do so was quite limited. They were able to convene a group to make recommendations to General Conference, but the bishops themselves were neither able to propose solutions nor able to adopt solutions proposed by others. The size of the group was even limited by financial calculations by GCFA beyond the bishops’ control. Moreover, no bishop has a complete understanding of the entire United Methodist Church and could not know in advance how the work of the Commission on a Way Forward would be received or what unexpected reactions or counteractions it would provoke.

Then, once the commission was formed, it became the target of criticism over a host of issues ranging from its composition to how its work was conducted. Such criticism reflected some genuine concerns, but it also reflected the polarization and lack of trust in the denomination. The commission produced a recommendation, which the bishops then revised, and then the recommendations from the commission and the bishops were rejected by General Conference in a decision that exacerbated rather than solved the wicked problem of the denomination.

In the case of the Commission on a Way Forward, appealing to leadership patently failed as a means to address the wicked problem of the complex system of The United Methodist Church. But I don’t think that was because the bishops made mistakes along the way. They may have made mistakes and thereby worsened the chances of the commission succeeding, but the basic problem was with the nature of the system and the limitations of a leadership-focused solution to its problems.

Fortunately, there are other potential solutions to the problems that beset complex systems. In my next post, I will look at communication and collaboration as potential solutions, ones that can improve the quality of leadership in addition to addressing problems.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Gustavo Vasquez: CIEMAL College of Bishops and Presidents Elects New Board of Directors

Today's post is by Rev. Gustavo Vasquez, Director of Hispanic/Latino Communications at United Methodist News. It originally appeared in a Spanish version on UMNews. It has been translated by David W. Scott and appears here by permission.

In very challenging times due to the effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL (Consejo de Iglesias Evangelicas Metodistas de America Latina y el Caribe; the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean) has elected its new Board of Directors for the 2022-2027 quinquennium.

The election process took place on November 26-27, 2022 virtually via Zoom, where bishops and presidents of the Methodist churches in the Latin American and Caribbean region met to deliberate and choose new officers.

According to an announcement from the group, it is the first time that the process happened virtually, as “this type of election has usually been done in person,” but after the COVID-19 pandemic affected normal air travel and health requirements for international travel, many of the meetings and events have happened online.

The result of the election process has led to a new Board of Directors composed of Bishop Lizzette Gabriel Montalvo, of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, who is the first woman elected as president of this collegial body; Bishop Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos, of the Methodist Church in Brazil, as vice president; and Dr. Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch, of the Methodist Church in Uruguay, as secretary.

Bishop Gabriel had been president of the entire CIEMAL body in the 2012-2017 quinquennium and vice president in the 2017-2022 quinquennium and now appears for the first time as president of its College of Bishops and Presidents. She was recently elected as the first woman to occupy the episcopacy of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

Together with Bishop Gabriel will be Bishop Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos, who for his part was recently elected bishop of the 4th Episcopal Region of the Methodist Church in Brazil. Pereira dos Santos is also the secretary of the College of Bishops of the Brazilian church.

At the same time, Dr. Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch is a lay leader elected as president of the Methodist Church in Uruguay in June 2021 and now will be the new secretary of the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL.

For its part, the Board of Directors which has been in office since 2017 and ended its term in these last elections was made up of the bishops Juan de Dios Peña Gallegos of the Evangelical Methodist Church in El Salvador as president; Samuel Aguilar Cury of the Methodist Church of Peru as vice president; and Hideide Brito Torres of the 8th Episcopal Region of the Methodist Church in Brazil, who was the secretary of the board.

According to the announcement by CIEMAL, the College of Bishops and Presidents “is a body of CIEMAL whose purposes are pastoral accompaniment for the church in Latin America and the Caribbean and to be a prophetic voice in the face of the new challenges and new realities that confront the church and society in the region.”

Brief biographies of the members of the new Board of Directors of the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL are below:

Lizzette Gabriel Montalvo has been a pastor in the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico since July 1989. She has had outstanding leadership in the Emmaus Community of Puerto Rico since her participation in Walk #3 in Mexico (1989). She has actively participated in the opening of new communities in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey.

She was certified as a Spiritual Director at the Academy of Spiritual Formation #22 held in San Antonio, Texas. She led three Academies in her country and was the first woman recognized as Chaplain of the National Guard of Puerto Rico (1994). Currently, she has participated as a volunteer on the Citizen Interaction Committee, Puerto Rico Command of Caguas.

She has been a member of the Alzheimer's Society of Puerto Rico since 2019 and serves as spiritual director for the Caguas chapter of the support group for Alzheimer's caregivers. She was the first spokesperson for the Faith Based Organizations Advisory Committee for the city of Caguas.

Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos is a bishop of the Methodist Church in Brazil assigned to the 4th Episcopal Region, which includes the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.

He is the current secretary of the College of Bishops of the Methodist Church in Brazil, with 20 years of pastoral ministry. In Rio de Janeiro, he was pastor in the capital and the rural areas of the state and was a district superintendent.

Bishop Pereira dos Santos has been married for 18 years and has three children. A member of the church since he was a child, he entered the theological school of the Brazilian Methodist church and received his first pastoral assignment at 21 years old.

Currently, he is studying for a postgraduate degree in theological pedagogy and was homiletics professor at the César Dacorso Filho Seminary for the training of new pastors.

Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch is a lay leader and current president of the Methodist Church in Uruguay.

She was born and raised in Montevideo, the capital of the country. Married, months away from her golden jubilee, mother of four children, and grandmother of five grandchildren, she comes from a Methodist family of several generations.

She has been a member of the church since she was a teenager, member of the committee of directors of Central Methodist Church, representative to national assemblies, vice president of the National Board of Life and Mission (JNVM) between 2012 and 2015, and president of JNVM from July 2021 to this date.

She is a medical doctor with postgraduate experience in internal medicine and nephrology and studies in health management and the management of dialysis centers. She developed her career at the Mutualista Evangelical Hospital, where she was General Manager from 2015 to 2019. She was representative of the mutual sector to the National Resources Fund from 2011 to 2015; co-founder of an acute dialysis center, two chronic dialysis centers, and a kidney transplant center; and president of the medical guild of Mutualista Evangelical Hospital in two separate periods.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Recommended Viewing: UMVIM on Mission amid Division

Rev. Matt Lacey, Executive Director of UMVIM - Southeastern Jurisdiction, released a recent video statement on "UMVIM, SEJ and UMC Conflict" and then hosted a follow-up livestream on that topic and other issues related to UMVIM teams post-pandemic. In both videos, Rev. Lacey states that UMVIM will continue to be a United Methodist entity, as it has been, and will continue to work with constituents from a variety of denominational backgrounds, as it has been. The most moving parts of both videos, however, are the pleas that Rev. Lacey issues for denominational division not to detract or distract from the work of God's mission. Lacey expresses his concern that division will harm mission work or lead to withdrawal of support from mission projects. As a theological alternative, Lacey lays out a vision of mission as a source of unity across boundaries, one which is heartily commended.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Complex Systems

Over the past month, The United Methodist Church has been focused on episcopal elections in the United States, Europe, and the Philippines. United Methodists have faithfully prayed and strategically maneuvered to elect bishops that they hope will lead them into a bright new future for the denomination.

To be sure, episcopal leadership does matter, and new bishops will indeed make a difference for events in the denomination over the next several years.

Yet it is important not to underestimate the challenges that bishops face in exerting effective leadership. These challenges originate not from any shortcomings in bishops individually or collectively but rather from the nature of The United Methodist Church as a complex system and the limits of leadership as a strategy for addressing wicked problems that beset such complex systems.

I will examine these challenges in this and two following articles. In this article, I will describe the nature of The United Methodist Church as a complex system. In the next article, I will explain why leadership is an attractive but usually unsuccessful solution to complex problems. In a third article, I will suggest that communication and collaboration is usually a more effective solution than one focused exclusively on leadership and a strategy that can lead to more effective leadership.

Complex systems
There are many ways to define complex systems, which are an area of research in several academic fields, but one commonly agreed-upon feature is “nonlinearity”: complex systems are not characterized by simple cause-and-effect relationships.

Instead, chaotic, surprising, or unintended consequences are a frequent feature, and effects are usually the result of multiple causes, which in even slightly different combinations may produce wildly different effects. Sometimes, such surprising results occur because seemingly distant (physically or otherwise) components are connected, so action in one place produces effects in another place far removed, thus obscuring lines of cause and effect.

Complex systems are also defined by their “complexity,” that is, they involve many different components interacting with each other in multiple different ways. Cities are a common example of complex systems, so for example, a city’s manufacturing industry and its government may interact on issues of taxation, regulation, business incentives, employment, campaigning, and more. All of these are different matters or issues around which the two sets of actors can interact.

System complexity is also a consequence of different actors within the system having different (and sometimes competing) interests. Thus, the various actors in the system don’t all pull in the same direction but instead sometimes work collaboratively and sometimes work at cross purposes with one another. Moreover, collaboration or antagonism may be determined by the matter or issue at hand.

Finally, different actors within the system all have limited influence over it. Usually, this is because decision-making is widely distributed, so all actors have agency to pursue their own interests, which as noted, will diverge from others at points. Especially in the era of modernity, many processes of life are automated or rule-bound, so individual actors have limited influence over those processes, thus further reducing their influence over complex systems as a whole.

In complex systems, problems are often wicked problems; that is, they are difficult to define and difficult solve, with no single, clear solution. Because of the diversity of interests, there are different ways to frame or understand a problem, even if there is common agreement that something in the system is not right. Because of unclear cause-and-effect relationships and unintended consequences, it is very difficult to intervene in complex systems to effectively address problems, even if a common definition of a problem exists. Wicked problems can often only be mitigated rather than solved.

The UMC as a complex system
The United Methodist Church has become an increasingly complex system over the past 50+ years for several reasons.

There are approximately the same number of actors within the system as when it was created (~12 million members in 1968; ~12.5 million members now). However, their distribution and the ways they interact have changed.

In 1968, the overwhelming majority of members were in the United States. Now, only half are in the United States, a quarter are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and another quarter are in a myriad of other countries. This increases not only cultural and linguistic diversity but also the chances that one component within the system will act without knowledge of another component, multiplying the possibilities for unintended consequences.

Moreover, the ways in which those members interact have changed. There are more ways for actors to relate to one another – not only through official church conferencing, but also through caucuses, coalitions, independent events and networking, church-to-church (or church-to-conference) partnerships, etc. Most of these new forms of interaction are outside of the official structures of the denomination (and therefore not controlled by them).

The number and intensity of divergent interests within the system has increased. Certainly, the increased geographic and cultural diversity just noted has resulted in more divergent interests. But such heightened divergence is evident within the United States as well. When the UMC was launched in 1968, the Traditionalist movement had just begun to form two years earlier. Now, Traditionalist, Progressive, and Centrist are well-established and often antagonistic competing interests in the denomination.

The limits on individual actors have also increased over the course of the denomination’s lifetime. Even with some unfilled US episcopal areas, the number of current active bishops (59) is nearly 50% more than when the denomination was formed in 1968 (41 bishops), one indication of widely distributed decision making. The Book of Discipline has increased by 50% as well, an indication of the increasingly rule-bound nature of many processes in the denomination.

Given the increasing complexity of the United Methodist system, it is perhaps no surprise then that the UMC has a wicked problem. Bob Phillips has written about the UMC and its wicked problem in Methodist Review. One need not accept his Traditionalist solution of denominational division to learn from his application of this term to the UMC. While different groups within the church would frame the problem within the UMC very differently, almost everyone would agree that there is some sort of problem besetting the denomination.

And if there is a problem, then there is a need for a solution. The next post in this series will look at why leadership is an attractive but usually flawed solution to the wicked problems of a complex system.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Christ Above All Podcasts on Liberian UMC

Over the past two years, members of the Liberian United Methodist diaspora in the United States and United Methodists in Liberia have been collaborating on a series of podcasts/webinars featuring United Methodist (and other Christian) leaders in Liberia. These video podcasts, which each run about two hours long, provide an in-depth window into life in the Liberian Annual Conference of the UMC.

While there is great value in the sort of cross-cultural conversations between Americans and Africans as featured in this blog's previous post, the Christ Above All podcasts are an excellent opportunity to hear a variety of African United Methodists (at least from Liberia) speak on their own terms about the topics that matter most to them.

Videos for the webinars are on the personal Facebook page of Goumah Conde, one of the hosts. The organizers, including Ms. Conde, Samuel Barbay Gaye, Jr., and Thomas Teah Swen reflect on the highlights of the show here. Full episodes thus far include the following:

Bishop Arthur F. Kulah on the 30th anniversary of Africa University

Ne-Suah Beyan-Livingstone, Founder and Executive Directive Director of REACH, a program supporting at-risk youths in Liberia

A roundtable on the Zogos crisis of at-risk youths in Liberia

A conversation among former members of the LAC/UMC United Methodist Youth and Young Adult Gathering

Caleb S. G. Dormah, Head Pastor of Metro Harvest-The Church Without Walls, talking about ministry beyond the walls of the church

Mrs. Yei R. Wuor, former principal of J.J. Roberts United Methodist School

Rev. Dr. Levi C. Williams II, historian of Liberian United Methodism

Leaders from the Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Liberia Annual Conference, of the United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Pianapue Early on the church and African culture

Nana Kpaan-Allison on women in church leadership

Rev. Jerry Kulah on whether the church should split over human sexuality

Rev. John N. Punni on his ministry as a pastor, district superintendent, and assistant to Bishop Kulah

A panel including Rev. Margaret Kartwe on whether the church should split over human sexuality

Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, retired bishop of the Liberia Annual Conference, on his life and leadership

Rev. Dr. Julius J. S. Nelson, Jr. and Dr. Muriel Nelson on their ministry

Friday, December 2, 2022

Recommended Viewing: American UMs Interviewing African UMs

The African bishops' statement earlier this fall caught many Americans by surprise. In some instances, though, the release of the statement motivated American United Methodists to want to better understand dynamics in The United Methodist Church in Africa. Two such United Methodists have released video interviews of their conversation with African United Methodist leaders.

Rev. Jeffrey Rickman of Nowata and Delaware UMCs in Oklahoma has started a video podcast called "Plainspoken." As part of that podcast, he has interviewed three African leaders:

Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of the Liberia Annual Conference

Rev. Ande Emmanuel of the South Nigeria Annual Conference

Mr. Simon Mafunda of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference

Rev. Rickman intends to produce more such video interviews as well.

Rev. John Stephens of Chapelwood UMC in Houston has a long-running video podcast, "Pod Have Mercy." Recently, he interviewed Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Area.

The interviewers and interviewees all have distinct views on and vested interests in the present situation in The United Methodist Church, as do many United Methodists. Thus, some claims may need to be taken with a grain of salt or compared with others across the interviews for a comprehensive picture.

What is particularly interesting about the interviews, though, is two things:

First, to see the interactions between American and African United Methodists when Americans come to those conversations with a real interest in learning, as Revs. Rickman and Stephens do. More such conversations need to be happening in the denomination.

Second, it is interesting to see how, although the four Africans interviewed have very different takes on denominational politics, they do affirm some common themes: the need for Africans to have a greater voice in the denomination, the desire to avoid American control or manipulation of the church in Africa, and the potential problems introduced by American money into the relationship between Americans and Africans. They may differ on the politics of realizing such a vision or what the roadblocks to that vision are, but the vision articulated has significant commonalities.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Global Discipleship Webinars

Earlier this year, Discipleship Ministries hosted a series of six Global Discipleship Webinars featuring United Methodist leaders from around the world talking about ministry in their contexts. Videos from several of those webinars are available on Discipleship Ministries' website. In particular, videos from the following webinars are available:

Discipleship and Community Engagement in a Post-Christian Society with Rev. Barry Sloan

This webinar talks about Rev. Sloan's work in Germany

Discipleship Among Immigrant and Diaspora Communities with Rev. Jonavern Lungub

This webinar talks about Rev. Lungub's work with Filipino and African immigrant communities in the Gulf States of the Middle East.

Discipleship and Evangelism in a Christian-Minority Country with Rev. Lun Sophy and Rev. Andrew Lee

This webinar talks about Methodism in Cambodia, which is a fruit of joint ministry by The United Methodist Church, the Korean Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of Singapore, and the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches.

It is hoped that Discipleship Ministries will post the other webinar videos as well.

I found the conversation about immigrant groups in the Middle East particularly interesting, since it represents a growing area of United Methodism, but one that is beyond the experience and outside the information streams of most United Methodists in the United States.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Recommended Reading: Philippines Episcopal Elections

The Philippines Central Conference met last week primarily to elect new bishops for the central conference. Bishops in the Philippines are elected for four-year terms, with the possibility of re-election, though all current bishops in the Philippines had announced their intention to retire at the end of their current (pandemic lengthened) terms.

After 23 rounds of balloting, delegates to the conference elected Rev. Rodel M. Acdal (on the 6th round), Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella (on the 20th round), and Rev. Israel Painit (on the 23rd round) as the new bishops for the central conference. Rev. Estrella is the first woman elected bishop for the Philippines.

Rev. Acdal is President of John Wesley College in the Philippines. He will serve the Baguio Episcopal Area. A candidate profile is available here.

Rev. Estrella is Treasurer of the Philippines Central Conference. She will serve the Manila Episcopal Area. A candidate profile is available here.

Rev. Painit is a Global Ministries missionary and country director in Southeast Asia. He will serve the Davao Episcopal Area. A candidate profile is available here.

You can read more about the candidates from the Baguio Episcopal Area and more about episcopal elections generally from UM News.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Recommended Reading: Give Love Missionary Reflections

Global Ministries is once again sharing reflections from its missionaries as part of an end-of-year giving campaign, Give Love. The reflections are located at the bottom of the Give Love page but are well worth reading in their own right, independent of the campaign.

They are written by missionaries from around the world serving in various settings - a young adult from Honduras serving the poor in Uruguay, a husband and wife from Zimbabwe serving as a doctor and professor in Sierra Leone, a Filipino pastor leading the church in Mongolia, and missionaries from the United States serving nonprofits there, just to mention a few. These stories both share details about some of the work of Global Ministries missionaries and share spiritual reflections from that work.

As United Methodists in the United States gather for Thanksgiving and as United Methodists from around the world begin to prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, take a minute to read some of these reflections and give thanks for the ways in which God is using United Methodist missionaries to prepare for the coming of Christ's kingdom.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Recommended Reading: Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Election

The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference has been meeting the past several days to elect a successor to Bishop Patrick Streiff, along with other business, including discussions about the future of the central conference. After 4 rounds of balloting, delegates to the conference elected Rev. Stefan Zürcher as the new bishop for the central conference. Rev. Zürcher is the District Superintendent for the Northwest Switzerland District and a member of the UMC Connectional Table. Rev. Zürcher was the leading candidate in the first ballot and throughout, though 11 candidates received votes initially, and Rev. Andrea Brunner-Wyss received strong support into the final ballot as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Regionalization and Connectionalism: Healthy Regionalism amid Waning Globalization

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the fifth in a five-part series based on a presentation by Dr. Scott to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. 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 looked at how dynamics related to local relevance and trans-local connection have played out across history, I want to conclude this series of posts by sharing some of what I see going on around the world today in terms of local focus and identity vs. broader connections, both in the secular and religious realms, beginning with the secular context.

Looking at news stories from around the world over the past decade, it appears that we are living in a time of increasing nationalism, authoritarianism, and violence. Appeals to national identity have proliferated, and they are often cast in terms of rather narrowly defined national identity, with boundaries drawn along lines of culture, ethnicity, and religion. In this way, nationalism focuses on local identities and often decries connections to broader groups.

Tapping into and amplifying this trend toward nationalism has been the rise of an increasing number of leaders with authoritarian tendencies, whether that has been in the Philippines, the United States, Italy, Hungary, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, or China.

This increased authoritarianism has also led to increased violence, whether that is in the form of more frequent coups in West Africa, increased religious violence in Nigeria, wars in Ethiopia and Ukraine, or civil unrest in many countries around the world.

Also part of the mix is anti-immigrant agitation, both in the form of anti-immigrant protests, which have spanned from Cape Town to Chemnitz, and questions about the treatment of migrants, which have arisen from Texas to Taiwan.

There is, of course, much we can and should critique in this mix of nationalism, authoritarianism, violence, and anti-immigrant rhetoric. We could raise ethical and moral questions about the oppression of the marginalized, including immigrants, who are targets of authoritarian regimes. We could raise theological protests against the use of violence as a way to assert power or resolve conflict. We could call out the exercise of dominance and control over others in a way that eliminates their voices and their input into society.

We can also point to the inadequacy of this sort of nationalism to adequately address continued and growing global international crises, such as mounting environmental catastrophe; the spread of Ebola, COVID, and other diseases; and even the migration flows that are such a point of ire for these nationalists.

We should and must engage in such critique. But we should also recognize that the rise of this form of destructive nationalism also points to the failures of globalization.

Economic globalization promised that a rising tide would lift all boats, improving the standard of living for everyone. We must acknowledge that was a false promise. Instead, economic globalization served to dramatically increase the wealth of the very rich while neglecting and exploiting others around the globe, leaving them poor or making them poorer. This trend extends from economically neglected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo to rural areas of developed countries experiencing economic abandonment.

Political globalization promised that more integration would lead to more efficient and effective collective action. That may be true in some ways, but for most people, their experience is one in which they have increasingly little control over the circumstances of their lives, with the really important decisions being made in distant government halls or corporate boardrooms where they have no voice.

Cultural globalization promised a new era of cosmopolitan exchange. But without the proper tools for better understanding culture and creating better intercultural interaction, we have experienced instead a McDonaldization of culture, in which the worst parts of American culture are exported to the rest of the world, and/or a backlash that takes the form of a rejection of global multiculturalism.

In all these ways, the globalization of the previous era has failed. Globalization, instead of creating a world of more justice, peace, prosperity, and equality, has instead proven to merely create new forms and degrees of injustice. The current nationalist trends are a consequence of these policy and moral failures of globalization.

Where, then, does this leave the church? The church, too, is moving away from the global and towards the regional or even national. To some degree, this reflects the larger secular context of receding globalization, and to some degree, this is driven by internal dynamics within The United Methodist Church unleashed by conflicts within the church over sexuality, theology, and US dominance.

Unlike the current secular nationalism, I think there is much to be affirmed in the church’s move towards regionalism. Nevertheless, we must also think carefully about this trend toward regionalism: How do we model a healthy regionalism that is an example to the secular world? How do we engage in regional contexts without being subsumed by regional polarizations? How can we remain the body of Christ that extends beyond all the diversity of nations and languages and influences?

This secular context challenges us: How will we speak authentically to our local contexts that cry out for Christian witness? While trends towards nationalism, authoritarianism, and violence cut across secular contexts, these dynamics play out differently in each context and call out for local witness by churches fully engaged in their contexts.

But how do we each engage in our contexts in a way that does not let go of our international connections and devolve into an unhealthy nationalism, such as is all around us? How do we continue to collaborate across contexts on big issues such as climate change, and how we do continue to affirm the ecumenicity, the intercultural, supra-nationality of the church as the body of Christ, which is not limited to any tribe, ethnic group, race, country, or region?

Ultimately, the question that faces The United Methodist Church is not whether we will have more regionalization or more connectionalism, more autonomy or more worldwide structure. The question is how do we have both regionalization and connectionalism?

Moreover, how do we do so in a way that does not merely hold the two in tension with one another but comes to see the interplay between the two, how our understanding of one deepens our understanding of the other? How can creating more regional autonomy make us more united in our connectionalism? How can a stronger practice of connectionalism lead to greater regional autonomy for the components of that connection?

I want to pause here for a moment of epistemic humility. This framing of the question is one I could not have reached on my own. In my initial reflecting on this question, I was caught up in an American cultural way of thinking which emphasizes dualism and conflict. My tendency was to try to put these two values—regionalism and connectionalism, autonomy and unity—into competition with one another. I needed the writings of Argentinian and Filipino Methodists to help me understand another perspective on the issue, to reframe my thinking away from seeing these two values as either/or and instead see them as both/and.

The new situation in the world and in the church, “the changes taking place in those areas” as the Book of Discipline says, calls for a rethinking of how we deploy our means of connection—itinerants, writing, money, bishops, and councils (or as we Methodists would call it, conferencing)—to ensure continued connection and continued relevance to the “conditions that exist in various areas of the world,” as the Book of Discipline charges.

Part of this necessary re-thinking must involve work on our structures, but we must remember the relational component of this work as well. We must plan for the relationships we want to have with one another, not merely the frameworks that we can all agree to.

There are no easy answers in this process, but there is great excitement in this work as well. This is the work to which God calls us as part of our invitation to join in the mission of God. This is how God calls us to be God’s faithful church at this moment as we seek to be a church that is both relevant to the wide array of local and regional contexts in which we are located and at the same time united together in the shared connectionalism of our Methodist faith. May God’s Spirit be with us as we take up this task.

Monday, November 14, 2022

An update on General Conference visas

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.

General Conference will next meet in Charlotte, NC, from April 23 to May 3, 2024, just under 18 months from now. Several details about that meeting have yet to be announced, most notably whether it will be a continuation of the delayed 2020 General Conference, the regularly scheduled 2024 General Conference, or some combination of both, and hence whether existing delegations will attend or whether new delegations will need to be elected.

Although General Conference is still some ways off, since visa availability was a major issue in the further postponement of General Conference from 2022 to 2024, an update on General Conference visas seems worthwhile.

The good news is that, in almost all cases, wait times for visa applications have decreased since the start of the year, in some cases quite significantly. For instance, wait times in Manila have fallen from 639 days at the beginning of February to 120 days as of the beginning of November. Wait times in Kinshasa, DRC, have gone from 441 days to 105 days. Other countries also show significant, if less dramatic, decreases. These decreases are a sign of the US visa system returning to more normal functioning after the disruption of and backlog caused by the pandemic.

If delegates were to apply for visas today, only three countries would see issues with wait times or general availability: Nigeria, where wait times remain 728 days; Russia, where only emergency visas are being issued (in large part because of the Russia-Ukraine war); and Ukraine, where the U.S. embassy is closed because of the war.

Those countries combined send 32 delegates to General Conference, a not insignificant amount, but less than 4% of all delegates, as opposed to the up to 1/3 of delegates who could have had issues at the beginning of this year. Some Nigerian, Russian, and Ukrainian delegates may have pre-existing visas and still be able to attend General Conference (if Russians are able to travel at all). Furthermore, it is important to think about how to adequately represent countries who may have difficulties attending General Conference, regardless of absolute numbers.

While wait times right now are good, there are two additional reasons why visas may still be an issue for General Conference 2024:

1. Since it is not yet clear whether existing delegations will attend General Conference 2024 or whether annual conference will need to select new delegations, it is not yet clear who should be applying for visas. If Judicial Council calls for new delegates, then there is a bit more time pressure for annual conferences to elect new delegates and those delegates to apply for visas, since the annual conference election process will take some time.

2. While wait times in general are not currently a problem, individuals applying for visas may still suffering challenges, hurdles, and failures in their individual applications. This was the case for General Conference in 2019 and all previous General Conferences as well. The question remains whether there will be more difficulties for General Conference 2024 than for previous General Conferences. Indications from other sources are that US visas have become more difficult to obtain in recent years.

As always with visa applications, the rule stands: the earlier one applies, the better chance one has of getting a visa at the end of the process, whatever that process looks like. With more details about General Conference coming into clarity, it is hoped that delegates will be able to begin that process without too much more delay.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Angola and Congo Mission Photos

The Mission Photograph Albums available electronically from the General Commission on Archives and History are a rich visual trove for anyone interested in the history of Methodist mission. Now there is an additional resource of photographic material related to Methodist mission in Angola and Congo. Dr. Paul Blake is a former missionary kid whose parents served in Angola and then with the Methodist Church's mission board and who himself medically treated Angola refugees in the Congo. Out of that legacy of personal and family involvement in mission, Dr. Blake has put together an online collection of photos of Methodist mission in Angola and Congo in the early decades of the 20th century and in Congo and Peru in the middle of the 20th century. The pictures are well worth a look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Regionalization and Connectionalism: The Era of Globalization and World Christianity

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the fourth in a five-part series based on a presentation by Dr. Scott to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Questions of local relevance and trans-local connection and of connection and power within the church have played out for Methodists in three separate historical eras: the colonial mission era, the era of political independence and church autonomy, and the era of globalization and world Christianity.

The last national church to become autonomous as part of the second era indicated was the Methodist Church in India in 1980. One quadrennium later, the UMC would absorb formerly autonomous churches in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Burundi, symbolically ushering in the third era, that of globalization and world Christianity.

Secular globalization has its roots in the 1970s, further developed under the neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and really came into its own as a concept and reality in the 1990s, promoting a wave of critique and backlash by the 2000s.

Definitions of globalization vary, but there is broad consensus that it reflects increasing connections in political, economic, technological, cultural, social, and religious matters. Globalization also entails increased movement of people, goods, money, and ideas around the world, movements that are made possible by new technologies.

Secular globalization has always had its critics, but promoters of globalization have seen it as ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity for all, based on spreading acceptance of free-market liberal democracy and human rights, made plausible by the collapse of Soviet communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Whatever its merits, the increased international connections that were part of globalization certainly ushered in a new awareness of the international sphere, an awareness that was reflected in the increased popularity of terms such as “global” and “multinational.” While globalization was a multinational phenomenon, the role of American power in shaping and promoting globalization must be acknowledged.

Within The United Methodist Church in the United States, this era saw an increased interest in the church outside the United States. The balance between autonomy and international structural connection swung back in the direction of structural connection. The UMC absorbed churches in not only Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Burundi, as mentioned, but also eventually Cote d’Ivoire. In the 1990s, United Methodists began new mission work in other countries for the first time in almost 70 years. That work included post-Soviet Russia and the Baltics, as well as Southeast Asia and other areas of the world.

Along with this renewed appetite for international expansion came growing numbers of members in African branches of the church that had long been part of the UMC. These two trends led to a new discussion of the “worldwide nature of the church” and what it meant to be a “global” denomination, a conversation launched at the 1992 General Conference.

Prior to this conversation, in the 1980s, some structural changes were made to allow for greater equality between US bishops and bishops in the central conferences and to allow the various agencies of the denomination to work internationally. GBHEM was the first additional agency granted authority by General Conference to work outside the United States, in 1984, a move which led to the founding of Africa University in 1992.

More sweeping changes, including the creation of some sort of regional structure for the United States, were put forward multiple times in the course of this work on the “global” or “worldwide” nature of the church. The 2008 General Conference, the same one that accepted Cote d’Ivoire into the UMC, adopted a series of amendments that would have accomplished such a restructuring, but the amendments were voted down at the annual conference level. Conservatives stoked fears that such a restructuring would allow for recognition of gay clergy in the United States, and such fears doomed the amendments.

As the number of missionaries declined and as funding shifted to prioritize the central conferences that continued in structural relationship with United Methodists in the United States, connections with autonomous churches atrophied. Autonomous churches were not absent from conversations about the worldwide nature of the church, but the focus of the conversation was clearly on the structural relationship between the church in the United States and the church in the central conferences.

As in previous eras, alongside these concerns for structural relationships, other means of connection fostered international relationships as well. As the boards became more international, they began to include United Methodists from more regions of the world in their membership.

Migration continued to be an important factor of connection and a key one in launching mission in Southeast Asia. The number of long-term missionaries declined, but the number of short-term mission participants from the United States skyrocketed, capitalizing on faster, cheaper, easier travel. Students from around the world continued to study in the United States, and new educational ventures such as Africa University and the Methodist e-Academy brought together students from across Africa and Europe, respectively.

American, and to a lesser extent, European money continued to create forms of connection and cooperation, and these connections were increasingly directly between annual conferences or churches rather than mediated through the boards and agencies. Writings drawing from the new academic field of world Christianity became a new way for United Methodists in the United States to understand their fellow United Methodists from elsewhere.

For all this increased interest in the worldwide nature of the church and these new initiatives in connecting the church, the church did not make significant advances towards connection without control. There was increasing talk of mutuality and decolonization, but there were little structural changes in how annual conferences (the basic units of the church) related to one another.

While United Methodists worked with other, autonomous Methodist churches to establish a new autonomous church in Cambodia, this did not prompt a larger conversation about the nature or value of autonomy in the church. As scholar Darryl Stephens has argued, although the number of members involved were similar, the joining of Cote d’Ivoire to The United Methodist Church did not provoke the same sort of rethinking of structure as the 1968 merger that created The United Methodist Church. The church in Cote d’Ivoire was absorbed into the UMC; it did not negotiate a merger.

The United States continued to set the parameters in terms of structure, funding, program, and focus for the denomination, with other areas adapting, often in an unofficial manner. Fears persisted in the church that adaptation might go too far and allow freedoms that were opposed by majorities at the General Conference, and thus the General Conference, with its US-dominated membership and its legislative and judicial processes based on US models, continued to be the central decision-making body for almost all major issues.

Yet, burdened by highly conflictual questions from the American context that had no other venue in which to be debated, General Conference itself struggled to function effectively as a decision-making body for an increasingly multicultural, multilingual, and international body.

Thus, the era of globalization and world Christianity saw the church struggle anew with questions about local relevance and trans-local connection, with questions about relationship and structure, but these questions were never satisfactorily resolved. In this regard, this era was similar to those that came before it. Even satisfactory answers to questions about local relevance and trans-local connection would need to be renegotiated anew in each new era.

For three subsequent eras, The United Methodist Church and its predecessors have failed to really resolve such questions even within the context of that era. As we will talk more about in a few minutes, we are coming to a new era, and so the question remains: Will we do better in this new era than we have in the past?

Monday, November 7, 2022

Up Next: Episcopal Elections in Central and Southern Europe and the Philippines

For many United Methodists in the United States, attention was focused this past week on episcopal elections in the five US jurisdictions. Although those elections are now completed, that is not the end of United Methodist episcopal elections this year. Up next are elections in the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference and the Philippines Central Conference.

The Central and Southern Europe Central Conference will meet November 16-20 in Basel. The Central Conference will elect one bishop, with balloting to begin on Thursday, Nov. 17 and continue to Friday, Nov. 18 if necessary (full agenda here). Unlike in the United States, the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference does not provide information about publicly declared candidates prior to the election, a function of its smaller size with more personal connections and differing cultural understandings.

In addition to its episcopal election, the central conference will also discuss its round table process to address the future of the central conference in the light of varying views of sexuality and departures from the denomination (for more, see this article and this fact sheet, both in German).

Next, the Philippines Central Conference will meet November 24-26 to elect three bishops. All three episcopal seats in the Philippines are up for vote in every episcopal election. There are numerous declared candidates for the episcopacy in the Philippines, and the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists and the Philippines Central Conference College of Bishops organized candidates forums so that Filipino United Methodists can learn more about those candidates. Videos of full forums are available here: [1], [2], and [3], and excerpts from each of the candidates are available in this playlist

Note the role of the US-based National Association of Filipino American United Methodists in organizing a candidates' forum for the Philippines. This is a clear indication that many Filipino American United Methodists still have strong ties to their home country and the church there. Episcopal elections always have implications beyond the boundaries in which candidates are elected, and in some instances, this is especially so.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Recommended Viewing: What Is Mission UMVIM Workshop

Rev. Matt Lacey of UMVIM recently hosted an online workshop entitled "What Is Mission?" featuring guest speakers Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin and Dr. David W. Scott, blogmaster of UM & Global. The 50-minute-long video features conversation among the three about the nature of mission, formative experiences in mission, and how congregations can engage in God's mission in the current context. Of particular interest in this workshop was conversation about the relationship between Native Americans and Christian mission. The video is recommended for congregational groups and school settings alike.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Regionalization and Connectionalism: The Era of Political Independence and Church Autonomy

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the third in a five-part series based on a presentation by Dr. Scott to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Questions of local relevance and trans-local connection and of connection and power within the church have played out for Methodists in three separate historical eras: the colonial mission era, the era of political independence and church autonomy, and the era of globalization and world Christianity.

The second era in which questions about local relevance and trans-local connection were fiercely debated was the era of political independence and church autonomy, beginning after World War II, but coming to its full force in the 1960s and early 1970s. In this era, the international structures—whether political or churchly—that had been established in the first era were critiqued as a form of dominance and, in some instances, dismantled.

In the secular context, this took the form of nationalism and decolonization leading to political independence for formerly colonized nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Leaders in politics and society critiqued the structures of European and American empires and the unjust exploitation and lack of self-determination that were a part of these structures.

The solution to this problem was seen as the creation of independent nations, a process that required developing a sense of nationhood within colonies, even when the boundary lines of those colonies cut across historic groupings of tribe and religion.

Thus, while nationalism rejected international connections through colonial systems, new nationalisms in the 1960s often bound people together across religion, culture, and ethnicity. Moreover, nationalist movements in one country drew inspiration from nationalist movements in other countries. There was an international edge to 1960s nationalism. While at times nationalism could result in violence or exclusion, commentators of the age spoke of “healthy” versus “unhealthy” forms of nationalism.

This push toward self-government was reflected in the church as well. Branches of Methodism outside the United States were not content to remain dominated by mostly American missionaries, an American mission board, American bishops, and an overwhelmingly American General Conference.

This same trend would impact British Methodism as well, along with other American expressions of Methodism such as the AME Church, AME Zion Church, Free Methodists, Wesleyan Church, and Nazarenes. The British responded to this movement by eventually granting autonomy to branches outside Britain associated with the British church’s mission agency. Other American denominations all made adjustments to their polities to ensure greater international equity within their structures.

For its part, the Methodist Church launched the Commission on the Status of Methodism Overseas, or COSMOS, as it was called. COSMOS was charged with rethinking the relationship between Methodists in the United States and those elsewhere around the world. Through several quadrennia of study and international conferences in Green Lake, WI in 1966 and Atlantic City, NJ in 1970, COSMOS explored models of international connection and responded to requests for autonomy by branches of Methodism outside the United States.

COSMOS considered several possibilities for international structure: national autonomy for all branches of the church, continued central conference status for churches outside the United States, the creation of a central conference for the United States with corresponding changes to General Conference, and the creation of a worldwide council of Methodist Churches.

Ultimately, only the first two possibilities—autonomy or central conference status—were pursued, and COSMOS recommended its own disbanding in 1972. The Methodist Church/EUB Church merger in 1968 took away attention from COSMOS’ work, and other polity possibilities were seen as too difficult and costly. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters is the successor to COSMOS.

When offered the choice of autonomy or central conference status, most branches of the church in Asia and all branches in Latin American requested autonomy from The Methodist Church or United Methodist Church between 1964 and 1980. For the Evangelical United Brethren tradition, autonomy and ecumenical merger were the expectation for branches outside the United States, though churches in Switzerland and Germany remained part of the newly created United Methodist Church in 1968.

In all countries, autonomy reflected a desire for greater local decision-making to ensure local relevance. In some countries, it also reflected a desire for greater ecumenical connection within that country. In all instances, conferences choosing autonomy were promised that connection with the UMC would continue after autonomy, both through the mission board and the bishops. The World Methodist Council also helped to foster on-going relationships between the newly autonomous churches and the remaining Methodist and then United Methodist Church.

While the focus of this time period was on questions of structure, including what autonomy meant for the ability to choose one’s own episcopal leadership and make decisions locally in one’s own conference, we must not forget other, more relational forms of connection that bound the church together.

As in the earlier era, missionaries, missionary writings, and mission funding continued as important forms of connection, especially after autonomy, though the number of missionaries deployed around the world began to decline, especially outside Africa. Students from outside the United States studying in the United States became an increasingly important form of international connection and relationship-building in this period, as did migrants to the United States following changes in US laws in 1965.

Theological exchange continued to happen through writings, including through the rise of new liberation and contextual theologies around the world. Such theological exchanges again illustrate the connection between means of local relevance and means of trans-local connection. Contextual theologies were developed for the sake of local relevance, but they also generated a great deal of international interest and discussion.

Despite such innovations in maintaining connection and local relevance, the failure of The Methodist Church and subsequently The United Methodist Church to really make changes to its structures of connection meant that, as in the earlier era, the church continued to be characterized by US dominance. Formal, structural connection meant control by US United Methodists. The General Conference, Judicial Council, and Council of Bishops all continued to be controlled by US Americans. The United States continued to set the pattern and the agenda for the denomination, and the church in other areas could perhaps adapt or adjust as they saw fit.

Central conferences did slowly win increased powers of adaptation, but the range of officially recognized adaptation was still small. Moreover, the church continued to operate with a center-periphery style of thinking in which the church in the United States was the center, and all other branches were peripheral.

The next post will look at the era of globalization and world Christianity.

Monday, October 31, 2022

UM & Global Collection on Theological Education

A new UM & Global collection is now available. This collection examines theological education, including its intersection with mission and Methodism, access to theological education, and the ways in which it is changing in various contexts around the world.

The collection includes eleven posts by Ann Hidalgo, Genilma Boehler, Benjamin L. Hartley, Andrew Harper, David N. Field, Robert A. Hunt, Dana L. Robert, and David W. Scott. As with other collections, there is a set of discussion questions at the end of the volume, intended to help church members, students, and others reflect on how theological educators can help prepare their students and the church as a whole to effectively join in God's mission to the world.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Fresh Expressions Webinars

Discipleship Ministries is sponsoring a year-long series of monthly webinars on Fresh Expressions, the movement to start new forms of church in new places for new people. According to the description, "Fresh Expressions UM is a distinctly Wesleyan Spirit-led movement of new Christian communities that serve the present age. We are seeking to cultivate inclusive, accessible, transformative, and connectional communities of love and grace for people currently neglected by the church."

The announcement notes, "The structure of the symposium is a series of free live-streamed events using Zoom. Each speaker will consider a core theological distinction that needs to be reappropriated to “serve the present age,” and then respond live to your questions. The recordings from these conversations will be made available with a study guide for your teams to work through together."

The webinars will occur the first Thursday of each month. The first webinar will be Nov. 3, featuring Michael Beck talking about "The new 'field preaching': Intercultural hermeneutics and dialogical preaching" and Brian Russell talking about "Idolatherapy: Reading Scripture for Deep Formation in the Love of God, Neighbor, and Self." Registration for the entire series can be found here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Regionalization and Connectionalism: The Colonial Mission Era

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. It is the second in a five-part series based on a presentation by Dr. Scott to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries. 

In this and the next two posts, I want to lay out how questions of local relevance and trans-local connection and of connection and power within the church have played out for Methodists in three separate historical eras: the colonial mission era, the era of political independence and church autonomy, and the era of globalization and world Christianity.

The first era is the colonial mission era. This is the age, lasting from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, during which Methodism spread from North America to other places in the world, usually following the lines of secular colonial and commercial expansion.

European colonization of other parts of the globe stretches back to the late 15th century, but the period from the middle of the 19th century through the World Wars is often referred to as the period of “high” colonialism, the era in which Western colonialism achieved its furthest geographic spread and greatest degree of political and economic control over other lands.

Emblematic of this period of high colonialism was the “scramble for Africa,” the competition among European countries to control portions of the African continent, leading to the Berlin Conference in 1884-85, at which Europeans, without African input, agreed among themselves on how to partition Africa.

Of course, colonialism existed in Asia and Latin America as well, and indeed, European colonialism developed in these contexts earlier than it did in central Africa. And we must remember, too, that the United States entered the act of holding foreign colonies in 1898 with its victory in the Spanish-American War.

Along with the extension of European (and American) political control over other areas went the extension of Western economic networks. Often, political control and economic exploitation were deeply intertwined. This phenomenon of economic expansion was one in which the United States participated vigorously after its Civil War, especially in Latin America. As part of both colonialism and commercialism went the extension of various new technologies of transportation and communication: trains, steamships, telegraphs, and even postcards.

This was the context in which American Methodist missions began to spread, first to returned former slaves in West Africa, next to American businessmen in Latin America, then to immigrant homelands in Europe, and then to populous nations in Asia, and so on.

By 1919, when American Methodists from the North and the South celebrated the centenary of their mission agencies, Methodist churches had hundreds of missionaries and tens of thousands of converts in dozens of nations across five continents. Mission work included not only evangelism, but also education, healthcare, literacy, agriculture, and the promotion of democracy and Western culture. This wave of founding new branches of Methodism in new countries crested in the mid-1920s, when financial problems with mission fundraising and budgeting forced consolidation and retrenchment of mission efforts.

These missionaries organized their converts into new branches of their denominational structures, especially in the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South. As mission historian Wade Crawford Barclay wrote, “There is no record of the Missionary Society having given instructions to their missionaries to transfer to their respective fields the exact pattern of church organization existing at home. It was assumed by all, without question, that this would be done.” That is, missionaries, mission executives, and bishops all assumed that connections across geography must include structural connections.

Nevertheless, founding new branches of the church in new geographic and cultural locations did raise questions about the process of trying to establish “the exact pattern of church organization existing at home.” How exactly should these new branches of the church relate to existing branches? What should be done if local conditions made some elements of the home pattern of church organization impractical, or even impossible? How could the church maintain connection—and often, control—over long distances that made travel and communication slow?

The answers that the church developed, slowly, through experimentation, and often outside the boundaries of existing polity, reflected the means of connection and local relevance that characterized the early church. Missionaries were a form of itinerants and the most important link in holding the various branches of the church together. They were not the only such link—migrants, traveling preachers, and even tourists also made connections across geographic regions of the church.

Nevertheless, missionaries were the most important such link, both in their own travel to the mission field and home for furloughs, and in their voluminous amount of writing. They wrote letters, newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, pamphlets, even calendars, and this volume of writing served to communicate about the home field to those they encountered around the world and to communicate about mission, including the lives and customs of people on the mission field, back to their friends, family, and supporters at home.

Often inspired by visits and letters from missionaries, church members in the United States (and Europe) in turn sent money to the mission field, both through denominational mission structures and directly through personal relationships with missionaries. This generosity underwrote the development of the church around the world, though it also often established long-standing traditions of dependence. Some mission leaders such as William Taylor attempted to cultivate self-support on the mission field, opting for local relevance instead of international financial connection.

As the church outside the United States grew, the structures of the church grew there as well, including both conferences and bishops. Annual conferences outside the United States were formed quite early, already in the 1830s, though initially in an adapted form as “missionary annual conferences.” Central conferences were added later in the 1880s, originally on the local initiative of missionaries in India, though eventually adopted into the regular practice and polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and carried over to successor denominations, including the UMC. Jurisdictions in The Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church were modeled in part on central conferences.

Questions about episcopal supervision and the availability of ordination also arose from the church outside the United States, first in Liberia and then elsewhere. This led to a variety of polity experiments in providing episcopal supervision, including travel by general superintendent bishops from the United States, missionary bishops limited to areas outside the United States, and general superintendent bishops appointed to live outside the United States. None of these arrangements were fully satisfactory to both areas of the church outside the United States and to decision-making centers of the church in the United States.

Several branches of the church outside the United States, starting with Japan in 1907 and continuing through Korea, Mexico, and Brazil in 1930, became autonomous churches, structurally separate from their parent denominational bodies, though still connected through missionaries, writings, and money. The desire to unite separate branches of Methodism, local political considerations, and, in the case of Brazil, disputes over episcopal supervision motivated these moves to autonomy. These developments, however, did not initiate a new wave of rethinking the relationship between autonomy and connection. Instead, with the 1939 merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Methodist Protestant Church, the international polity of the new Methodist Church took on a settled character.

In the attempt to ensure both local relevance and trans-local connection, the Methodist churches of this era tended to emphasize trans-local connection over local relevance. Moreover, this was usually connection as a form of control by those in the United States, who in this era exercised dominance over other branches of the church, especially those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Methodists in the United States set the standards, and others were occasionally allowed to adapt those standards to a greater or lesser degree. But Methodists in the United States were slow to recognize the need to adapt the practices of the church to ensure local relevance outside the United States.

When adaptation did happen, it usually did so through American missionaries taking initiative outside the regular system of polity, and even American missionaries were often suspicious of local control by native leaders. American Methodists in this era spread the gospel to others around the world, but the relationships and structures they created to do so stressed connection as control instead of connection as an aid to local relevance.

The next post will look at the era of political independence and church autonomy.