Monday, October 3, 2022

On the African Bishops' Statement, Or, Defining Success in Blogging

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.

About a month ago, the Africa Colleges of Bishops released a statement denouncing the Africa Initiative and the WCA and, by implication, affirming their loyalty to the UMC. The statement lists the bishops present for its adoption and indicates support from other bishops not present. Bishop John Wesley Yohanna of Nigeria is the only active African bishop not in one of these two categories.

When the statement came out, I know that several regular readers of this blog were looking forward to see what we would publish about that statement. Perhaps some have been surprised that this blog has not addressed that statement until now.

A word of explanation is therefore in order, and it gets to not only the statement itself but the role that I hope this blog plays in the wider ecosystem of the UMC.

The tagline for UM & Global is "Dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church." Under that tagline, I have tried to write, recruit, and highlight content that either relates to the UMC outside the United States and/or to mission, broadly defined. I am humbled that readers have responded by regularly tuning in to read the posts that I and others have written here.

Ultimately, though, as much as I am honored by and appreciate the dedicated readership of this blog, it is not an end unto itself. The goal is that there be "conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church." This site certainly serves as a venue for such conversations, but ultimately, it is my hope that those conversations will happen throughout denominational spaces. The goal is not that UM & Global become the premier place to have such conversations; the goal is that more such conversations take place, which requires them to happen in places other than on UM & Global.

UM & Global will ultimately be successful not by dominating the market for international analysis of the UMC but by growing that market to the point where we are just one small player (or even no longer a player) in that market. In missiology, they say that a good missionary works themselves out of a job. My goal for UM & Global is to work ourselves out of a job - to increase the interest in and capacity for talking about the international church such that UM & Global itself is no longer essential to that endeavor.

Thus, I am happy when other people and other venues report on, discuss, and analyze the global church. I myself am deeply dependent on UMNews for the fine work that their stable of international journalists do, and regular readers will have noted various collaborative projects between UM & Global and UMNews over the past couple years.

Similarly, I am deeply grateful for the work Cynthia Astle at United Methodist Insight does to give a place for voices from Africa and elsewhere throughout global Methodism to express themselves. I'm glad that Cynthia regularly publishes commentary by Lloyd Nyarota and others and stories about Nigeria.

So, when I am choosing what to focus on with UM & Global, the question for me is not necessarily, "What are the biggest stories going on in global Methodism?" It's more, "What stories about Methodism around the world are not getting the attention they deserve? What needs to be lifted up and highlighted that people might otherwise miss?"

Which brings us back to the African Colleges of Bishops' statement. That statement got a lot of attention, which it absolutely deserved. It was widely shared on social media. UMNews did a story on it the next day. The Africa Initiative released a response, which was also widely shared. Africa Voice of Unity released a statement in support of the bishops, which was shared as well. Rev. John Stephens invited Bishop Mande Muyombo on his podcast, where they talked about the statement (among other things - it's a good podcast episode and worth a watch). United Methodist Insight published a story and materials related to the fallout of the statement in Nigeria.

In other words, people paid quite a lot of attention to the African bishops' statement, listened to a variety of African perspectives on the statement, and discussed its meaning and implications. And all that happened without UM & Global writing anything. Success!

But for those of you who have read thus far, waiting to see whether I will actually say anything about the statement, here are my few contributions to the conversation that is going on throughout the church, as it should, and not just on this blog:

  • I think the statement reflects the strong leadership of Bishop Nhiwatiwa, currently head of the African Colleges of Bishops. Bishop Nhiwatiwa is deeply loyal to the UMC and has previously indicated his desire for African United Methodists to make their own decisions.
  • Tensions between the bishops and the Africa Initiative/WCA have long simmered. This statement certainly brings those tensions to a new height, but also indicates that the bishops feel like they have the strength to win that contest for influence.
  • Some have wondered whether bishops who have previously been aligned with the Africa Initiative/WCA, especially Bishops Kasap and Quire, "really" supported the statement. The statement should be viewed in light of the African tradition of consensus decision-making. Bishops Kasap and Quire may not have been completely in favor of the gist of the statement, but they were unwilling to go against the consensus of the bishops as a whole. Bishop Yohanna probably felt more freedom to speak out against the statement because he was not present when that consensus was formed.
  • As for what the statement means long-term, time will only tell, but the statement should be taken as a significant inflection point.
Those are my thoughts at least, and I expect and hope that others will have their own interpretations of this statement by the African bishops and will continue to interpret and discuss on their own future such statements as well.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Recommended Readings: Reflections from UMC attendees at WCC General Assembly

Over the past several weeks, this website has been sharing United Methodist coverage of the recent World Council of Churches General Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany. As the final part of that coverage, here are links to interviews or reflections about that experience by four United Methodists who participated in the meeting as delegates:

First, Rev. Jean Hawxhurst, Ecumenical Staff Officer for the Council of Bishops, shared this summary of the meeting, including her reflections on it. Rev. Hawxhurst offers three reflections, including this one: "There is a shift happening in the WCC, and it will both help marginalized voices to be heard and reduce the visible leadership of The United Methodist Church. ... It is time for The UMC to humbly live into a place that continues our strong voice but also recognizes equity at the table is necessary for the healthy functioning of the WCC in this time."

Mr. Byrd Bonner, a lay United Methodist from Texas, shared these reflections in his local church's newsletter. Mr. Bonner was particularly struck by the conversation around Ukraine and other global crises, gender justice, and a speech from Dr. Azza Karam, a Muslim woman who addressed the WCC.

Klaus Ulrich Ruof of the German UMC interviewed Rev. Ann Jacobs from Washington, a UMC delegate who was subsequently elected to membership on the WCC's 150-seat Central Committee. In the interview (originally reported in German, Google translated here), Rev. Jacobs talks in particular about the role of youth at the General Assembly.

Finally, Sigmar Friedrich of the Swiss UMC interviewed Rev. Sarah Bach from Switzerland, who also served as a UMC delegate to the General Assembly. In that interview (originally in German, Google translated here), Rev. Bach speaks about the processes used by the WCC, youth voices at the General Assembly, and discussions about climate change.

Now that the WCC General Assembly is over, the question remains, as Rev. Bach points out, how will what happened there make its way back into the lives of churches in the UMC and throughout the world?

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Claudio Pose: The Pastoral Ministry in the Dynamics of Mission

Today's post is by Rev. Claudio Pose. Rev. Pose is a pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

The Bible provides us with abundant material on the image of the shepherd. The context of a rural culture of antiquity, in which shepherding flocks was a common and well-known task, make this figure a pedagogical resource to explain, for example, God's love and care for God’s people. Since the Old Testament, God appears as a shepherd (Ez 34:31). In the New Testament, Jesus declares himself a shepherd (Jn 10:14). Shepherding implies caring for and guiding the flock (as in Ps 23). One can also note that references to the flock may include groups and persons not contained in the immediate group (see Jn 10:16).

The church took the figure of a shepherd from the Scriptures to refer to ministry in church communities, although the New Testament testifies to the use of other figures taken from the culture: elders, teachers, etc. Although some versions translate the word pastor on several occasions, only in Ephesians 4: 11 do we find an explicit mention of the figure of the pastor as a ministry in the congregational task.

The theological controversies of the first centuries within the Church strengthened the figure of the pastor as a doctrinal authority responsible for the administration of the sacraments, to guarantee that those people recognized by the community determined what was correct, amidst the disputes and interpretations that abounded.

The Middle Ages concentrated the regulation of “sacred matters” in the ordained ministry, producing a priesthood of mediation between the people and God. The Protestant Reformation confronted this idea by upholding the universal priesthood of all believers.

Methodism, as a movement that emerged within Anglicanism, maintained the criterion of the ordained ministry and the universal priesthood of believers. However, the plasticity with which Wesley responded to each new challenge led him to maintain the tension between respect and recognition for the ordained ministry of the Church of England and the need to provide answers to the enormous number of people who joined the ranks of Methodism.

In the colonies of America, the process was different, and the arrival of independence posed new challenges that included the ordination of ministers. Although the functions of the elder continued in accordance with Anglican precepts, new ministerial figures emerged for preaching, teaching, and spiritual guidance of communities.

From this background of the rich heritage of the universal church, Latin American Methodism was nurtured, particularly, from the model brought by the missionaries from the United States. Along with their theological training and Methodist identity, but the missionaries also brought their lifestyles and their cultural baggage, which were not always easy to differentiate from the contents of the gospel. I remember in my early adolescence during a congregational assembly, listening to a brother defend the idea that it was necessary to bring missionaries from the United States because together with the wisdom of their faith and their formation, they brought us a lifestyle that we needed. Theology, culture, and even ideological values seemed to be a single package.

The appearance of local seminaries in Latin America produced groups of pastors formed in the light of theological traditions, coming from the northern hemisphere, but now with an eye on the vernacular challenges. Starting in the sixties of the last century, this search for a dialogue between the problems of our continent and our communities became more evident. The nascent processes of autonomy simultaneously accompanied and enriched the process.

New times for mission and ministry

As has been stated in previous articles, the mission of the church in these times requires a review and rethinking. Pastoral ministry is an expression of the mission of the church. This is the order. In its Constitution, the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church defines ordained ministry as follows:

“The Argentine Methodist Evangelical Church recognizes the universal priesthood of believers, as well as the need for an ordained representative ministry, called by God and authorized by the Church for specific functions of the same.” (Art. 7, sub. 3)

The ordained ministry is an expression of the universal priesthood and is representative of it, as well as of the connection of the church. It immediately clarifies that it is for specific functions, so that there is no way to confuse representation with substitution, a phenomenon that we will address below.

In the present, one may detect some tensions produced by the expectations that exist about ordained ministry in the framework of churches with difficulties in rethinking its mission and functioning. In addition, the ordained ministry has traditionally been formally trained in theological institutions and supported, partially or totally, to guarantee greater time dedicated to such tasks. All this appears up for debate in the present. The possibility of revising traditions and purposes is always something beneficial. The question to take into account is where we carry out the debate from.

Next, we present four descriptions of mission and pastoral ministry.

The pastoral ministry as a substitute figure. As stated above, there is an idea rooted in the communities that the pastor concentrates the responsibility for the mission of the church, transferring the universal priesthood from all the believers to one person. The enthronement of the pastor as a kind of “ideal believer” is an underhanded demand that no person, minister or layman, can bear. In some cases, this phenomenon has reached the pastoral family, causing an unbearable burden on spouses and children.

The characteristic of the pastoral task. The General Regulations of the Argentine Methodist Church define the pastoral task as follows: “The elder is an ordained minister for the proclamation of the Word, the direction of worship, and the administration of the sacraments, and to train, guide, and serve the Church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world, through teaching, pastoral counseling, and leadership.” (Article 701)

Ordination encompasses the task of proclamation, direction of worship, and administration of the sacraments. It then indicates that it enables, guides, and serves the church in the fulfillment of its mission in the world. It is important to highlight these last two elements: it is the whole church that must fulfill the mission, and it has the world as its objective.

Pastoring in a continent torn by inequality. In the situation of Latin America, where millions of people are condemned to possess the image and likeness of God disfigured by the conditions in which they are forced to live, it is necessary to ask: What is the shepherd’s flock? What are the limits of pastoral action? Do we limit the pastoral task to the administration of sacred matters, when human life, the most sacred thing, is at risk? These questions touch not only on the scope of the pastoral role, but the entire mission of the church.

The need for a trained pastoral ministry. To the extent that we can understand that the diversity of gifts and services in the church also allows us to discover the diversity of ministries, this will not blur the function of the ordained ministry. David Bosch investigates the relevance of the ordained ministry in the mission of the church and states about the pastoral role, “the guardian who helps the community remain faithful to the teachings and practices of apostolic Christianity. … The priesthood of the ordained ministry exists to facilitate, not to remove, the priesthood of the entire church.”

These times require spiritual, social, political, and cultural discernment. That is why there is a need for an ordered ministry prepared with the tools that make adequate accompaniment of communities possible. Jesus demanded that trained religious leaders be able to discern the times because the church's agenda is in the world and not inside church buildings.

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’” (Mt 16:1-3)

Questions for reflection

  • If the mission of your congregation has already been discussed, you could now discuss what pastoral ministry would be appropriate for that mission.
  • What other ministries does the community have? Discuss how to train and support them. Why is pastoral work important in these ministries?
  • What challenges does the neighborhood or city in which the community is located pose?

Monday, September 26, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Panel on the Challenges of Methodism in Latin America

Over the past several weeks, UM & Global has been running a series of posts about mission and evangelism in Latin American Methodism originally published by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW) of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (IEMA, Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina). The posts were originally published in Spanish and have appeared here in translation through the permission and support of CMEW. Two more translations remain to be published on UM & Global, but the Spanish-language versions are now all available.

As a follow-up to that series of posts, CMEW and IEMA are hosting a free online panel (in Spanish) on the topic of "The Challenges of Methodism in Latin America." The panel will be hosted by Revs. Claudio Pose and Viviana Pinto (both of whose essays in the series will appear on this site soon). It features as panelists Rev. Dr. Daniel Bruno of CMEW along with Rev. Dr. Miguel Ulloa Moscoso of Chile, Director of the Methodist Seminary of Chile, and Dr. Nancy Cardoso of Brazil, Professors of the Study of Religion and Theology at the Methodist University of Angola. The conversation should be excellent.

The panel will be at 7:30pm CST this Friday, September 30. Free online registration can be found here.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Recommended Reading: International Missionary Council Centenary Books

The International Missionary Council, predecessor to today's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC), was founded in 1921 at Lake Mohonk, NY. 2021 thus marked the 100th anniversary of this organization, a milestone that led to a study process, a conference, and the production of two volumes on Christian mission, past and present. At the WCC General Assembly last week, organizers celebrated the publication of those two volumes, both of which are available as free PDFs in the links below.

A Hundred Years of Mission Cooperation: The Impact of the International Missionary Council 1921-2021, edited by Risto Jukko offers some framing remarks on the centenary and then mainly consists of reports from 13 regional centers around the world. The North American regional report was coordinated and written by Association of Methodist Professors of Mission member Dr. Dana L. Robert, and AMPM members Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley and Dr. David W. Scott contributed to the study process as well. While some regional reports are more historically focused, the North American report is focused on the current state of missional collaboration involving North American Christians today.

Together in the Mission of God: Jubilee Reflections on the International Missionary Council, also edited by Risto Jukko, contains a series of historical and theological reflections on the past, present, and future of ecumenical cooperation in mission. This book includes contributions by AMPM members Dr. Dana L. Robert, Dr. Arun W. Jones, and Dr. Luis Wesley de Souza.

Both volumes are recommended for those looking for in-depth analysis of the state of cooperative mission around the world today and insights into how the past century of international developments has influenced that state of mission.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Frank de Nully Brown: The Methodist Church: Institution for Mission or Mission for Institution?

Today's post is by retired Bishop Frank de Nully Brown. Bishop de Nully Brown is a retired bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

The Methodist Church began as a movement based on an incipient network of local societies with the mission of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ for all, with a spiritual and social commitment that challenged the personal transformation and the social reality of its time.

From its origins, the interpersonal connection and the connection with the social environment was something fundamental in the entire Methodist movement. That connection involved mutual support and growth in ministry. This connection was, through time, the foundation that constituted one of the largest and most well-organized denominations in its wide and diverse connections. This organization and structure were understood as a support that allowed the mission to expand throughout the world.

The Methodist churches in our Latin American continent are heirs to the mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became part of the current United Methodist Church.

The autonomy processes did not mean disconnection from the Methodist family, but a greater commitment at the local level. It occurred at the end of the '60s and beginning of the '70s and affirmed this missionary change in Latin American Methodism. For this reason, it generated the organization CIEMAL (Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean) as a space for connection and meaning for our evangelical mission.

Autonomy wanted to affirm our commitment to live and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God in a different cultural and social context, in which we were challenged to give a Christian witness.

Autonomy confronted us with a reality where self-support was presented as a difficult path to follow, taking into account the very ambivalent socioeconomic trajectory in our Latin American countries.

We inherited an organizational structure with its virtues and defects. The organizational aspect always had an important weight for our churches because it had to do with our new way of being a connectional church.

The institutional presence was made concrete in the construction of churches and other buildings in the big cities and in places that were considered strategic, and many times autonomy showed that they could not be sustained or that mission with the people passed through other spaces that were not church buildings but were a symbol of a recognized and established church.

I share the goals of the organization of CIEMAL, written in its regulations, that reflect the dreams of being autonomous churches.

  1. Participate in the Mission of God, giving a testimony of solidarity in preaching, education, and service through the member churches to the Latin American and Caribbean peoples, giving priority to the poor and excluded.
  2. Stimulate the process of maintaining and perfecting the unity of the Church.
  3. Maintain and proclaim Methodist connectionality among its members, cultivating brotherhood and mutual support.
  4. Develop cooperative relationships with world Methodism and the ecumenical movement.
  5. Stimulate and promote awareness and practice of biblical theology in the Latin American and Caribbean context.
  6. Ensure a permanent analysis and evaluation of the political, economic, and religious reality of each country and of each member church at a continental level.
  7. Develop different programs through studies, consultations, seminars, offices, and other means that favor the fulfillment of mission.

Autonomy had its costs for each national church because it meant taking charge of a structure that showed difficulties in being sustained not only financially but also in leadership for the ministry.

So, the churches went along doing what they could, sometimes with great successes and mistakes too. On more than one occasion, autonomy was not seen as an achievement, especially when resources and gifts were limited. Sometimes, even on many occasions, the organization weighed down a congregation when it was associated with a building with a determined structure.

All this led to the dilemma of thinking about the mission of the extended parish, which is always an invitation to look at the surrounding community, our neighborhood, or to support an organization in a pre-determined way: it was difficult to recover the sense of a spiritual and social movement.

Today, there are debates about possible fractures in United Methodism, from which we recognize our origins, fractures that not only affect the church in the United States but throughout the world through the mode of our relations. These fractures are related to differing visions of our pastoral action based on certain biblical and theological interpretations.

Being an autonomous church allows us an exercise in being different and creative, making our own missional decision, building new and old networks of support and growth. We need to reconvert ourselves based on our mission and not just to make our institutional life last a while longer.

I believe that autonomy, throughout our Methodist history in our continent, has a positive balance that we have to refresh in these times of searching for paths of unity, not only with the Methodist family but with the body of Christ as a broader and more ecumenical concept.

It is a constant challenge to recover a concept of community and connectional evangelism in the society in which we have to bear witness. A community evangelism that generates congregations of faith in solidarity that seek the Kingdom of God and its justice, remembering that what is connectional is not to isolate ourselves but to connect ourselves. From there comes an ecumenical attitude in the search for justice and peace for all. We must not recognize ecumenism only as something celebratory and eventually linked to institutional hierarchy, but to adapt the essence of ecumenism, which is to weave networks for transformative mission in the world.

We need to remember that the church is only one instrument for God's mission. It can never be a burden but a tool that facilitates and speeds up the mission of God in the world.

I share some lines to rethink the life of our local congregations, recalling two concepts that appear in the previous writings about the need to rethink the mission from the margins of society and a gospel embodied in reality as Jesus did.

  • Be loving, supportive, inclusive and healing congregations.
  • Be congregations that make new disciples.
  • Be congregations open to the changes and movements that occur in the extended parish where we are inserted.
  • Be prophetic congregations, which join with other social spaces in the search for a more just and egalitarian society.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Klaus Ulrich Ruof: Working for Just Peace

Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.

On the last day of the eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), held from August 31st until September 8th in Karlsruhe, Germany, delegates adopted numerous documents on different subject areas, about which various committees had met in the days before. The documents had then been brought to plenary sessions for remarks and questions, which were incorporated into the final documents. Statements on peace stood out among those adopted.

Don’t think only about Ukraine!

Already at the beginning of the General Assembly, one of the points of contention was the participation of a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is after all the largest of the 352 member churches of the WCC. Before the General Assembly, many called for their exclusion. The hoped-for encounter of dialogue between the delegates of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine, which broke away from it, did not come to pass in the days at Karlsruhe.

Behind the scenes of the event, the leaders of the WCC had contact with both delegations, which was almost “a sort of indirect dialogue,” explained interim WCC General Secretary Ioan Sauca at the final press conference. In critical political or ecclesiastical confrontations there is “a margin between diplomatic negotiations and silence,” explained Petra Bosse-Huber, the foreign-relations bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). For the conflict of these churches, the time in Karlsruhe was “kind of in-between.”

In the end, the statement adopted on this conflict, titled “War in Ukraine, Peace and Justice in the European Region,” denounced the “illegal and unjustifiable” Russian invasion of Ukraine and renewed the call for a ceasefire and the immediate removal of Russian troops. The statement strongly affirms and reiterates the position that “war is incompatible with God’s very nature.” The “love and accompaniment of the WCC global fellowship of churches” stands behind those affected. “We join in praying for all the victims of this tragic conflict, in Ukraine, in the region and throughout the world, that their suffering may cease and that they may be consoled and restored to lives of safety and dignity.”

At the start of the General Assembly, delegates from other parts of the world had reported that the Europe-centered consideration of the war between Russia and Ukraine distorts reality. It is understandable that a statement would be required, but there are still other regions and churches in this world that are affected by massive confrontations, genocide, and persecution. It is therefore only logical if the WCC also makes statements on these. As a result, there were further, shorter statements on ending the war and building peace on the Korean peninsula, consequences of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the situation in West Papua, and Syriac-Aramaic genocide.

A compromise formula saves the statement on the situation in the Middle East

In the run-up to the Karlsruhe Assembly, allegations were repeatedly made that the WCC had taken a one-sided position for the Palestinians. The concrete reason for this was aspirations that the General Assembly would declare Israel an apartheid state. The feared scandal did not materialize.

The document adopted in the end formulated a hastily arranged compromise: “Recently, numerous international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and legal bodies have published studies and reports describing the policies and actions of Israel as amounting to ‘apartheid’ under international law.” Then it mentions that some churches and delegates strongly support the use of this term “as accurately describing the reality of the people in Palestine/Israel and the position under international law.” Others, on the other hand, hold it as “inappropriate, unhelpful and painful.”

During the discussion of the first draft of the document, the EKD foreign-relations bishop Petra Bosse-Huber warned in a passionate appeal “in all clarity” against speaking about Israel as an apartheid state. In a written statement, she explained that a deep connection with Israel was “a priceless and unearned gift” for the German church that was developed “out of the ground of unending German guilt, including the complicity of our own churches.” Against the background of “this double solidarity with Israel and Palestine, in the future, we will fight together with our siblings on both sides of the conflict for a lasting and just peace in the Middle East.”

Despite the adopted compromise formula, the final document also says that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle on the “path towards a just peace” in the region. The expansion of Israeli settlements “in the occupied territories” is “illegal under international law.” The expansion of settlements and the accompanying heightened Israeli military presence have increased the suffering of the Palestinian society, because their lands and possessions are further confiscated and attacks from the Israeli settlers have increased.

However, the document also says that the situation of the Palestinian population is further aggravated by “the grave failings of the Palestinian authorities, including reprisals against opposition leaders and the lack of legal and democratic accountability.”

The situation cannot ultimately be solved by violence, but rather only by peaceful means in accordance with international law. Therefore, the WCC Assembly affirmed “the rightful place of the State of Israel in the community of nations” and recognized “its legitimate security needs.” At the same time, “the right of the Palestinians for self-determination” was underlined. “We believe that it is only through an end to the occupation and a just, comprehensive and lasting peace settlement that the security of both Palestinians and Israelis can be assured.”

Friday, September 16, 2022

Klaus Ulrich Ruof: Christ’s Love Urges Solidarity

Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.

The eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is now history. At the ecumenical summit in Karlsruhe, Germany, around 3,000 participants from 120 countries met for nine days from August 31st until September 8th to discuss the future direction of ecumenism. The meeting ended with a church service.

The World Council of Churches is a community of 352 churches that together represent over 580 million Christians worldwide. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has observer status. This large, ecumenical, worldwide association is headquartered in Geneva and was founded August 23, 1948 in Amsterdam. The WCC General Assembly meets every eight years, according to WCC rules. Where the next General Assembly will take place had not been decided at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting.

Unity is anchored in Christ’s love

In a message at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting last Thursday, the delegates called for the “healing of our living planet.” “We will find a strength to act from a unity founded in Christ’s love,” read the message, which was titled, “A Call to Act Together.” The goal is to create and maintain peace. The message thus ties in with the texts of the General Assemblies of 1948 in Amsterdam and 1975 in Nairobi.

The text of the message warns of catastrophes that originate in an irresponsible and broken relationship with creation that has led to ecological injustice and the climate crisis. At this moment, in which the climate emergency is gathering speed, the suffering of penniless people crowded on the margins is increasing. Referring to the theme of the General Assembly, “Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” the delegates emphasized that Christ’s love urges us to come to Christ in solidarity and “to respond and act for justice.”

WCC Central Committee organized; youth revolt

Fifteen persons from the Methodist church family belong to the 150-member Central Committee, including two from The United Methodist Church: Bishop Sally Dyck, the ecumenical officer of the international Council of Bishops of the UMC, and Ann Jacob, who serves as a pastor at Edmonds, Washington. The Central Committee is the highest governing body of the WCC in the time in between General Assemblies and meets every two years. It carries out the policies adopted by the General Assembly, supervises and directs the program work, and decides on the budget.

As the size and composition of the 150-person WCC Central Committee were being determined for the next eight years, the youth revolted. They put forward a statement signed by 38 youth General Assembly members, including 12 delegates and 9 advisors. As members of the generation affected by present and coming developments in climate and society, and in view of the worldwide number of young people, they clearly demanded more participation and voices in this WCC governing body.

Agnes Abuom, the chairperson of the Central Committee, explained that this was no longer possible in the short term with immediate effect for the current composition of the body. She promised, however, that this issue would be taken up in the coming consultations of the Central Committee and would be taken into account for the future. According to the WCC’s bylaws, changes can be made, at earliest, at the next General Assembly.

The policy committee of the WCC noted that youth must be fully included in all commissions, committees, advisory groups, and reference groups of the WCC. However, some member churches apparently hesitate to nominate youth people for the Central Committee and other committees.

Humility and willingness to serve, after the example of Jesus

The new General Secretary, already elected in June of this year, gave a speech to the members of the General Assembly at the end of the meeting. Jerry Pillay, who comes from South Africa where he was Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, is a member of the Union Presbyterian Church in southern Africa. The 57-year-old will take as General Secretary from Ioan Sauca on January 1, 2023. Sauca took over the vacant position in April 2020 on an interim basis, after the former General Secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, was named head bishop of the Church of Norway.

Pillay stressed his vision that the WCC member churches and their partners work together to “proclaim the good news of salvation and life in Christ” to the world. In addition, the WCC must continue and do more to make the “voices of the marginalized and neglected” heard so that economic influence or the power and authority of individual churches is not decisive, but rather a culture of inclusion, diversity, and equal rights is created.

In organizations, the powerful usually take over command and control. In a biblical sense, the humility and self-understanding of Jesus to be a servant must be an example. That is why Pillay put forward a vision of a WCC “that not only creates safe space, but also room in which the marginalized have equal rights and in which the voices of the neglected are heard, respected, and valued by the community.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Pablo Bordenave: Evangelization in Context: The Great Commission or the Great Omission?

Today's post is by Lic. Pablo Bordenave. Lic. Bordenave is Chaplain at Colegio Ward in Buenos Aires. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” These words from the Gospel of Matthew that carry the title of “the Great Commission” point to one of the most discussed tasks within the Christian churches throughout the centuries. This topic is discussed so much that some have called those words “the great omission,” implying that it is the task that the church has forgotten.

David Bosch, author of the book Transforming Mission, says about this text of Matthew:

“It is inadmissible to lift these words out of Matthew’s Gospel, as it were, allow them a life of their own, and understand them without reference to the context in which they first appeared. Where this happens, the ‘Great Commission’ is easily degraded to a mere slogan, or used as a pretext for what we have in advance decided, perhaps unconsciously, it should mean. … One thing contemporary scholars are agreed upon, is that Matthew 28:18–20 has to be interpreted against the backdrop of Matthew’s Gospel as a whole and unless we keep this in mind we shall fail to understand it. No exegesis of the ‘Great Commission’ divorced from its moorings in this gospel can be valid.” (p. 57)

How good it would be if our ideas of evangelism/mission of the church had as a backdrop, that is, as a general context, the message of the gospel that became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth!

Juan Stam, a Latin American theologian, began an article on theology of evangelism entitled “God as a starting point for a theology of evangelism.” He said, “Where should evangelism start from? From heaven to arrive at the earth? That is what the title would seem to indicate. From the church to go out into the world? That would be another approach. Or from the world to then bring it to the gospel?”

Stam was looking to point out these perspectives, problematizing a little and showing the complexity of the theme of evangelization. These questions are enough to show at least that there is not a single “correct” way to evangelize, that this task can be assumed from different places or perspectives and that each of these different places have their own risks of distorting that message we are looking to transmit.

As you can see, the theme is fundamental.

If Jesus is our example both in works and in his humanity, the first thing we would have to say is that much of our failure to communicate the gospel in our Latin American contexts is largely due to our lack of dialogue with the culture, to our ignorance of it or worse still to the rejection of many historical and cultural traditions.

Jesus not only dialogued with the culture of his time, but he incarnated himself in full humanity to be able to establish that dialogue and that it may be fruitful. Not knowing our Latin American culture and intending to have a discourse more typical of other latitudes or past centuries is not having the person of Jesus as a backdrop.

Imitation of North American models

Stam says in his article, “It is necessary to highlight, in the nineteenth century, due to its projection in Latin America, the gigantic movement of ‘religious revivals’ with its emphasis on repentance and conversion and which was also characterized by its emotionalism and the mobilization of masses around a great evangelist. This is how names like James McGready, Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and today Billy Graham are remembered. It is not surprising that Latin American evangelicalism, born largely in the heat and thanks to the pioneering effort of the North American Church, has always fallen to the temptation of copying the same patterns, reducing ‘evangelism’ to a function that can be called mimetic: of imitation.”

Without a doubt, if those preachers did their job well in those times, it was surely because they understood their cultures and knew how to enter into dialogue with them. We do them little favor when we only seek to imitate them in form and content.

The good news that we have to communicate must be incarnated in the culture of our time and our land in order to bear the fruit of justice. For this reason, as Latin Americans we are called to our own path of incarnation with our cultures. Evangelism is proclamation, but it is also incarnation. For this, our participation in the life of our cultures is indispensable.

On the contrary, the fundamentalist theology that has spread throughout Latin America has managed to live and practice the evangelistic task in fundamental terms of separation between faith and culture.

In Wesley we find a deep link between good news and culture. His concept of good news, deep and radical, led him to fight against the “execrable villainy of slavery,” and also to venture into the economy, health, and medicine, and to criticize those who transformed these tools given by God for the well-being of God’s children into personal gain. For Wesley, just as the Roman Terence mentioned, “nothing human was alien to him,” and we can add, neither was the non-human: for Wesley, animals and the entire creation enter in dialogue with the Good News of salvation. For Wesley, evangelism (although he never used that term) was to open the space for an enriching and salvific dialogue between God and all of his creation. He never thought of the good news as something to be imposed, on the contrary, “Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love.” (Sermon 37, “The Nature of Enthusiasm).

The Uruguayan pastor Emilio Castro said, “The biggest obstacle to evangelism is the Church worried about its own existence. It would be amusing, if it were not pathetic, to see entire denominations preoccupied with completely secondary questions of form or doctrine…while revolutionary ferment rages in the streets and fields of Latin America.”

The good news of Jesus always seeks the horizons, not confinements. It is an encounter, not a hunt for candidates to be “converted.” And if the church remains self-absorbed and silent on this, “the stones will cry out.” It is time to find new questions to answer. That would be a promising start for a new church in Latin America.

Questions for reflection

  1. If to evangelize you have to enter into dialogue with culture as Jesus did, what keys do you think the text of Phil 2: 5-11 gives us to understand Jesus' relationship with human culture?
  2. How do you organize an evangelistic journey in light of these words of Wesley: “Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast. Do not imagine that God has called you (just contrary to the spirit of Him you style your Master) to destroy men's lives, and not to save them. Never dream of forcing men into the ways of God. Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love” (Sermon 37)?
  3. If the context of the Great Commission should be the rest of the gospel of Matthew, look for characteristics to carry this good news today in the following three passages:
    Matt. 5: 1-12
    Matt 12: 1-8
    Matt 15: 21-28

Monday, September 12, 2022

Klaus Ulrich Ruof: “We are ambassadors of reconciliation”

Today’s post is a translation of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Wir sind Botschafter der Versöhnung,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.

Methodist guests from all around the world visited the Karlsruhe UMC on Sunday, September 4. The weekend in the middle of the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly is expressly intended for excursions and congregational encounters. The participants and contributors traveling from the whole world are thereby given the opportunity to get to know the respective life of the churches of the host city and host country.

For the United Methodist Church of the Redeemer, that Sunday was all about international Methodist encounters. Both the morning church service and an evening reception brought together Methodists from four continents, German churchgoers, and guests from other UMC congregations who came just for that day.

It’s about the world, not about one’s own mood

In connection with the theme of the ecumenical gathering (“Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity”), Ivan Abrams made “reconciliation” the centerpiece of his sermon. The General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa encouraged the churchgoers to undertake every effort to heal relationships by offering forgiveness and pardon. This is a biblical command, Abrahams stated clearly!

The South African theologian also referred to Karl Barth, who attributed a central importance to the topic of reconciliation in his extensive theological works. Reconciliation, according to Barth, is not negotiable, but rather stands as a command of the highest order. “We are ambassadors of reconciliation,” Abrahams summarized this command. Therefore, it is about more than just personal well-being. The goal of reconciliation is to renew and transform society and the world.

Being able to sing even amid hopelessness

Christians should not, however, passively wait for better times. Rather they must orient themselves with the almost humorous-sounding sentence that the US American writer and activist June Jordaan (1936-2002) formulated: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Abrahams stressed that again: “We are the ones to bring about change.”

Methodists have always been excellent at displaying this attitude, according to Abrahams. They have had an untamable spirit and could always strike up a song, even in the face of hopeless situations. “The future belongs to us; let us willingly serve it!” the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council challenged his Methodist siblings from around the world.

Two archenemies as examples of real-life reconciliation

At the evening reception, for which many of the international Methodist guests returned to the Church of the Redeemer, Harald Rückert took up the thoughts of the morning sermon. The UMC bishop responsible for the Germany Central Conference combined his greetings and a short report on the situation of church and Methodist work in Germany with the special geographic location of the city of Karlsruhe. Today, people give scarce any thought to the nearness of France, which lies across the Rhein not far from Karlsruhe. It is almost no longer perceptible that Germany and France once faced each other as enemies, even archenemies.

It is like a miracle that, in this originally hostile relationship, reconciliation happened after the second World War. This change can serve as an impressive example of what reconciliation can achieve. Rückert expressly connected that with the situation in which The United Methodist Church finds itself. The worldwide discussion within the church over questions of sexual ethics is tearing the church apart. Many cannot at all imagine that reconciliation with one another is still possible. The example of the region of Karlsruhe, where two deeply hostile nations once faced each other, can offer encouragement, according to Rückert. Today there is no longer even a visible border between the formerly hostile nations. The example underlines the biblical truth: “Reconciliation is possible!”

With these substantive messages, Methodist guests encountered one another morning and afternoon and made new contacts or deepened existing ones. The General Assembly of the WCC thus served as impetus for “worldwide Methodist ecumenism.”

Friday, September 9, 2022

Recommended Reading: Methodists on the Route of Migrants

Back in April, representatives from The United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Mexico traveled to southern and central Mexico to learn about and from various ministries that served migrants as they travel through Mexico from south to north. That trip produced a photo essay by UMNS photojournalist Mike Dubose, "Strangers and Sojourners: Immigration ministry in southern Mexico," and an English-language article by UMNS reporter Joey Butler, "Church leaders explore ways to help migrants in Mexico," both published back in June.

The trip also led to a five-part series of long-form articles in Spanish by UMNS reporter Gustavo Vasquez entitled "Metodistas por la ruta de los/as migrantes (Methodists on the route of migrants)." These pieces cover elements of that trip and the ministries visited in much greater detail and thus are worth a read. They may be found at the following links:

Part 1: original in Spanish / Google translation to English

Part 2: original in Spanish / Google translation to English

Part 3: original in Spanish / Google translation to English

Part 4: original in Spanish / Google translation to English

Part 5: original in Spanish / Google translation to English

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Pablo Oviedo: The Challenge of a Mission that Troubles

Today's post is by Rev. Lic. Pablo G. Oviedo. Rev. Oviedo is a pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina and Professor of Theology at Universidad del Centro Educativo Latinoamericano (UCEL). It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) as part of a series organized by the Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos (CMEW). It appears here in translation with the author's permission and with the assistance of CMEW.

In this series of essays on the challenges facing Latin American Methodism, a key dimension is the theological vision of mission. We are led to review it even more when one of the most dangerous concepts that has managed to implant neoliberalism in our societies is that of “common sense,” that is, the uncritical acceptance of what is given or of what is “politically correct” since it is accepted as truth by many or by the majority.

Common sense in mission?

As has been said, “common sense is the most common of the senses” and leads us to accept the established or the obvious without accepting other alternatives or encouraging us to question. There are many social researchers who call us to question common sense, even when today many of the digital and communication media take care of increasing it.

In this direction, the apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans chapter 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Mission is a divine action, not of the church. Mission is Missio Dei. The church participates in the same work of God in the world, work that seeks to save and liberate humanity and creation from all oppressions. The task of the church, as sent, is to see, hear, call, guide, point, help, incarnate, and show solidarity as part of the testimony of God's work. Mission points towards the horizon of the kingdom of God. Mission demands leaving the church building. It is letting ourselves be challenged by what is happening beyond our congregations and involving the church with those who today suffer the effects of the globalization of the financial system of Mammon and its injustices: racial, gender, socio-economic, etc.

We start from the reality of this Latin American continent, which nominally mostly considers itself “Christian,” but which is the most unequal region in the world.

Let's look at just a few dimensions on which Wesley enlightens us. He does not give us recipes but only tools to reflect together. What is the mission that God entrusts to us today? How do we testify to Jesus today? These are questions that we must answer personally and as a community.

Wesley and mission

As a general framework, we must say that for John Wesley the mission of the church was the reason for the existence of the church, both in its institutional life and in its movement dynamics.

In this framework, his statement “The world is my parish” is understood, one that expressed the purpose of the work that God was doing in his time, not to form a new sect, but to reform the nation, in particular the church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.

A first example where Wesley did not accommodate the common sense of his time, was in open-air preaching. This event forever changed the movement that was beginning. Some believe that the key day of Methodism was April 2, 1739, in Bristol and not just May 24, 1738, in Aldersgate Street. According to Wesley, that day he decided to be “more vile,” to preach in the open air and to incarnate himself in the struggles of his people.

He reports in his diary: “At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. The Scripture on which I spoke was this… ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.’”

Using the text of Luke 4 was inspired, since this event not only started the movement from the four walls of the temples, but also interwove it and embodied it in the struggles of the workers in general and of the miners, who would be protagonists of the Methodist movement. In this sense, Methodism became the religion of the incipient industrial societies and adopted a critical attitude towards the instrumental reason of industrial society. Methodist Christians were among others, founders of trade unions and political parties, social activists and fighters against slavery. If Wesley had relied on “common sense,” he would never have gone to Bristol to preach in the open air.

If Latin American Methodism, which was at the forefront in the fight for secular laws and individual liberties at the end of the 19th century, a pioneer in the ecumenical movement in the mid-20th century, and in the fight against dictatorships and for the defense of human rights in the 70s and 80s, would have followed common sense, it would not have generated these experiences and testimonies of mission. How do our preaching, liturgies, and spirituality express the struggles, the needs of our peoples, and the liberating will of our God?

A second example in which Wesley did not follow the criteria of his time was in relation to economics. Although Wesley was loyal to the King, he strongly criticized the foundations that supported the empire. In relation to this, he wrote his article “Thoughts on the Present Scarcity of Provisions” of 1773. This article arises from the terrible socio-economic reality that England was experiencing towards the end of the 18th century: large rises in prices of essential foods, shortages of basic products, increasing poverty, and social degradation, contrasted with the accumulation of wealth by the new rich, the aristocracy, and the British nobility.

In the same address, Wesley poses the questions that arise from that reality: “Why are thousands of people starving, perishing for want, in every part of the nation? … But why have they no work?... But why is food so dear?” He answers that the State must play a primary role in the economy, because it is the one that must regulate and control to prevent prices from skyrocketing and monopolies from winning, while the popular masses do not participate in that distribution of wealth.

In another writing, sermon No. 61, “The Mystery of Iniquity,” Wesley gives a word to the church. It is a preaching that constitutes a brief treatise on history and theology on the dangers that lurk for the Body of Christ. He goes through all the Scriptures, then continues through the history of the church up to the present. He argues that the love of money, power, and honor are the main reasons that lead the church at different times in its history to its ruin.

He states: “As long as the Christians in any place were poor, they were devoted to God. While they had little of the world, they did not love the world; but the more they had of it, the more they loved it. … But still remember, riches have, in all ages, been the bane of genuine Christianity!”

This issue is key in our time, since we live under the power of a globalized world financial system that generates poverty and destroys creation in all the planet. And as Christians and Methodists, we must face that idolatrous reality. It calls us not only to prophetically denounce the “economic priests” and political governments that are complicit in it, but also to review our priorities in mission, so that our mission objectives and programs are not governed by the love of money, success, or power that is the undoing of the church, as Wesley reminds us.

Another example contrary to “common sense” Wesley marks through the phrase, “Religion must not go from the greatest to the least, or the power would appear to be of men.” (See his diary on May 21, 1764; in 1783, he says it again in his diary.)

For Wesley, “from the greatest to the least” would correspond to the wisdom of the world that is foolishness to God, so that the glory is not for men but for God. It is a radical principle, which is drawn from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians 1:28. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”

It is urgent to take into account this vision of decolonization and assertion of the dignity of those who have been excluded or subdued in the mission of the church, “the least.”

This helps us clear up the false dichotomy between evangelism and prophetic social action, or between “compassionate conservatism” and structural assistance programs.

Seeing the works of mercy as means of grace and not works of paternalistic charity changes everything.

The grace that emerges from new ways of relating to God and other people leads us to a new perspective. In such an individualistic context as the one in which we live, the mere fact of seeking an encounter with the other experiences a new creation.

Being able to live the mission not “from top to bottom” but from the “mutuality” that the Spirit creates, in diversity and equality, is in itself transformative.

“Unless we begin to live our lives mutually and without wanting to control each other in our relationships with God and with each other, the new creation will be just another pious illusion, and we are back where we started.” (Joerg Rieger, Grace Under Pressure: Negotiating the Heart of the Methodist Traditions (Buenos Aires, Aurora, 2015 p. 29) [Quotation translated from the Spanish version].

In other words, a priority of the mission of God today means returning to the works of mercy in a renewed way. Especially service together with others in need renews us in our works of piety, in our relationship with God, and prophetically makes injustice visible.

The mission of the Christian faith today in Latin America is to do it from the margins. God's design for the world is not to create another world but to recreate what God has already created in love and wisdom. Jesus began his ministry by stating that to be filled with the Spirit is to set the oppressed free, to restore sight to the blind, and to announce the coming of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:16-18, the same text that Wesley chose in Bristol).

He undertook the fulfillment of his mission by opting for those who are on the margins of society, and not from a paternalistic charity, but with the aim of challenging and transforming everything that denies life, including the cultures and systems that generate and sustain widespread poverty, discrimination and dehumanization, and exploit and destroy people and the land. Mission from the margins is a call to understand the complexities of global power dynamics, systems, and structures and local contextual realities. So, mission from the margins invites Christian churches to rethink and sense mission as a vocation inspired by the Spirit of God, working for a world in which fullness of life is possible for every person.

Assuming this hermeneutic-theological key of mission from the margins pushes us to encounters of grace and mercy with those who also evangelize us, since they are the face of the crucified and risen Jesus who comes to meet us, to transform us. And in that meeting, claim all the faces and excluded or subordinate groups such as indigenous peoples, women in their fight for gender equality and against gender-based violence, creation as a mistreated common home, and so much more.

In these times of dispute over the Latin American Methodist identity, we dream of a Methodism guided by the Spirit of Jesus the Christ, which troubles us in our “common sense” and allows us to build communities of mission, alternatives to the dominant spirit of our time. So be it.

Questions for reflection

  1. What is “common sense” in the mission of God? How do we look for it and interpret it?
  2. What does it mean to start with mission from the margins? Why should we do so? What is the biblical theological key?
  3. How do we connect the affirmation, “Being able to live the mission not ‘from top to bottom’ but from the ‘mutuality’ that the Spirit creates, in diversity and equality, is in itself transformative,” with our ecclesial practices?

Friday, September 2, 2022

Recommended Viewing: "A New Era of United Methodism" Documentary

J. J. Warren has produced a documentary called "A New Era of United Methodism," documenting his trip along with Helen Ryde and Rev. Kimberly Scott to visit Rev. Kennedy Mwita in Kenya for the dedication of the new sanctuary of First UMC Moheto. First UMC Moheto is the first reconciling congregation in Africa, and Warren, Ryde, and Scott all attended the dedication as representatives of Reconciling Ministries Network. The hour-and-a-half long document shows both exceptional and representative elements of world-wide Methodism, only one of which, though, has to do with the congregation's status as the first reconciling congregation in Africa.

Rev. Mwita and First UMC Moheto are certainly exceptional in some ways, the most notable of which is their work to become a reconciling congregation and to create a space of welcome for LGBTQ persons in a culture that is often not very welcoming.

But Rev. Mwita is also remarkable in the size of the vision he has for what God can do around and through First UMC Moheto. He has big ambitions for how God can use the church and the others in its circuit to be a blessing to its surrounding community. In part, that is through its status as a reconciling congregation, but it also involves a lot more traditional development work - a school, a clinic, water and electricity projects.

While Rev. Mwita's holy ambitions are notable, they are also in many ways representative of the sorts of visions for the church and its relationship to the wider community that many United Methodists hold across countries in Africa. United Methodism in most places in Africa is a form of Christianity that is oriented towards benefiting the community through a holistic gospel that combines evangelism, social justice, education, health, development, and agriculture.

First UMC Moheto and the other circuit congregations under the leadership of Rev. Mwita, his wife Pastor Elnora Mwita, and Rev. Benedict Odiambo -- Christ Chapel United Methodist Church in Oyani and St. Paul’s Giosahi United Methodist Church in Kuria West -- are also representative of so many churches throughout the continent of the Africa in their assets for and their struggles in trying to implement the holistic vision of church and community proclaimed by United Methodism. They have multiple assets - intelligent, hard-working, visionary leadership; enthusiastic and generous members; land; and local resources. Yet they also struggle with obtaining other necessary resources, not always because of poverty but because of a combination of logistics, supply lines, and regulations.

The documentary also show something else remarkable, though, and that is cross-cultural conversation between the three Americans and the Kenyans. Especially around the half hour and one hour marks of the video, there are recorded conversations about the nature of justice in its many forms and about the church's role in development respectively. The future of the UMC depends upon such cross-cultural conversations with equal exchange and mutual learning becoming more common.

Therefore, the feature-length documentary is well worth taking the time to watch -- both for the ways in which what it shows is remarkable and the ways in which it is not.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Elliott Wright: Food Production as a Strategy for Sustaining the African Church

Today's post is by Rev. Elliott Wright. Wright has written for and about Global Ministries for half a century and was for 20 years its public information officer. He is a United Methodist elder of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference. This post is part of an occasional series on food and mission.

Pair “mission” and “food,” and one set of resulting images will include church food pantries and soup kitchens geared toward feeding the poor in response to biblical mandates, notably Mathew 25. While retaining the importance of the act of feeding the physically hungry and sharing table fellowship, another understanding of the importance of food to mission is emerging in Africa today. This is the linking of the humanitarian goals of food security with an economic strategy for sustaining the work of the church in mission on the continent. This brave effort arose from the vison of and bears the name of the late United Methodist Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone. The Yambasu Agriculture Initiative (YAI) is an Africa-rooted mission enterprise in collaboration the General Board of Global Ministries.

Food Production as Church/Mission Economic Strategy
Agriculture was basic to the Methodist and other Wesleyan missionary presence in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As congregations were planted, so were fields— of grain and cassava— in central and southern Africa and parts of West Africa, often on huge tracks of land given to mission agencies and churches by tribes or colonial powers—private or governmental. Farms were endemic to such notable mission stations as Camphor in Liberia, Cambine in Mozambique, Quessua in Angola, and hectare after hectare, many hosting small holder farms, in Zimbabwe. Provision of nourishment for the mission stations and their communities was the historic role of the church lands, with holdings passing from mission agencies to indigenous entities.

Today, Yambasu said in 2019, almost every rural United Methodist church in Africa has “access to vast land resources.” Unfortunately, much of the land, he reported, “has remained unutilized. Tragically, the church is fast losing huge portions of these lands to encroachers and wealthy people who use their wealth to challenge the church’s ownership.”[1]

Food Security and Church Sustainability
Yambasu’s eyes fixed upon the land as he searched for assets to address two contemporary challenges to African United Methodism: poverty/hunger and the need of financial resources to sustain the church in Africa. Some 278 million people in African experienced food shortage in 2021, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. While the church is growing in some areas, especially the French-speaking countries of central and West Africa, American mission money has for decades underwritten much of what is today African United Methodism. The possibility of this pattern of support continuing into the future was unlikely in Yambasu’ thinking, given the US membership decline and the dissention within the denomination.

The bishop called his idea a “therapeutic strategy”—commercial farming enterprises will “end poverty in the church, employment will be created, communities will be empowered and transformed and food security can be achieved.”[2]

At first brush, commercial farming as a “therapeutic strategy” for ending hunger and funding the church hints of religious communitarianism, which has a weak track record in the annals of both faith and economics. But there is a fundamental difference. The YAI is rooted not in communal living but in service to the community within and beyond the congregation.

He saw all of the 13 UMC episcopal areas in Africa taking part, and he was in a good position to lead the way. Bishop Yambasu was president of the United Methodist African College of Bishops, vice president of Global Ministries, and newly elected chancellor (chief ceremonial officer) of the United Methodist Africa University at the time of his death in an automobile accident on August 16, 2020. The university in Zimbabwe, whose chief operational officer is titled vice chancellor, opened in 1993 with two initial departments, theology and agricultural sciences.

The bishop set forth his therapeutic strategy in two papers, one in early 2018 at a gathering of African UMC leaders considering the theme “Visioning the United Methodist Church in the 21st Century,” and the second a year later in Johannesburg at an Africa Agricultural Summit jointly organized by the African bishops and Global Ministries.

Yambasu’s proposal gained traction with his colleague bishops, and one outcome of the Johannesburg summit was a plan for Global Ministries to provide grants for self-determined, sustainable pilot projects in the various conferences. Under the leadership of Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries’ directors made an initial special allocation of $3 million in the fall of 2020 for a grant pool and would in the spring of 2021 add another $3.5 million. The project was named for the bishop following his death. Thirteen grants in a dozen conferences were funded from the first allocation, and several new grants from the second allocation will be considered by Global Ministries at its board of directors’ meeting in October 2022.

Variety of Enterprises
The first YAI enterprises differ from place to place as determined by local or regional factors. Some are crop specific, such as maize and pigs, cassava and peanuts, and fish farming. Others concentrate on vegetables and fruit, general livestock, or chickens. One conference is developing high yield seeds. Another is putting its focus on increasing the capacity of 200 farmers in raising livestock. Some locales are cultivating inherited church land, while others are incorporating other acreage. Conferences in the following countries are involved to date: Angola, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Others are expected to join.

None of the pilots are yet mature enough to provide solid evidence of long-term contributions to either food security or church institutional financial stability. The first pilot was in Sierra Leone and enjoyed a first bountiful crop of rice in February 2022, most of its Global Ministries’ grant of $200,000 going for planting and harvesting equipment.[3]

Training is an essential component in the YAI ’s emphasis on sustainable agriculture. From early in the program, Global Ministries provided a technical advisor in the person of Dr. Kepifri Lakoh, who in August 2022 became director of the program, with a base in Sierra Leone. Lakoh holds a PhD in agribusiness and was for five years director of monitoring and evaluation of Global Ministries. A number of missionaries with academic and practical backgrounds in agriculture are involved in specific places, but most participants are new to agribusiness. In the autumn of 2022, the Initiative will sponsor three two-week training sessions relevant to the work for an estimated 80 conference staff and volunteers.

The success of YAI will depend on multiple factors including weather, markets, financial and social capital, and church commitment.  Bishop Yambasu was convinced that commercial farming can resolve poverty and provide a stable economic future for the United Methodist people of Africa and their churches. It is a bold vision, but one not outside the realm of faith reflected in Psalm 144’s images of barns filled with produce and fields with sheep, or the promise of no more hunger in Revelation 7:16.


[1] Yambasu, John. “The Church and Agriculture in Africa—A Call to Action,” address to Africa Agricultural Summit, Johannesburg, South Africa, January 13, 2019. Typescript, pages unnumbered.

[2] Ibid.

[3] As reported by Jusu, Phileas, “Bishop Yambasu Agricultural Initiative Harvests First Crop,” United Methodist News Service, February 22, 2022. https://umcmission.org/february-2022/bishop-yambasu-agriculture-initiative-harvests-first-crops

Monday, August 29, 2022

Recommended Viewing: David W. Scott on Colonialism and the Church

Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology for Global Ministries and blogmaster of UM & Global, was invited to present to the Council of Bishops last week on the topic of colonialism and the church as part of the council's on-going Task Force to End Racism, led by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling.

In his presentation, Scott offered some remarks about the definition of colonialism, briefly reviewed three ways in which The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have historically been entangled with colonialism -- settler colonialism in North America, European and especially British imperialism around the world, and American expansion around the world in its various forms, looked at how that history continues to impact the church today, and then offered some thoughts on how the church should address that legacy. Scott's presentation also included some question and answer interactions with the bishops.

Scott's presentation can be viewed on the Council of Bishops Facebook page as part of the livestream of that session. It begins at the beginning of the livestream and lasts approximately 50 minutes.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Recommended Reading: German UMC Welcome to WCC

The World Council of Churches (of which The United Methodist Church is a member) begins its General Assembly next week in Karlsruhe, Germany. The General Assembly will bring together representatives from churches around the world under the theme "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity." Various United Methodists will be at the meeting in a variety of capacities, but the event will have special significance for the German branch of the UMC (the EmK - Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche - in German). In advance of the WCC General Assembly, EmK leaders, including Bishop Harald Rückert and retired Bishop Rosemarie Wenner have issues greetings to the local Karlsruhe EmK congregation (the Erlöserkirche - Church of the Redeemer) and through them to the WCC. The Erlöserkirche will have a role in helping to host WCC guests. For a summary of those remarks and additional details about EmK activities related to the General Assembly, see coverage by Klaus Ulrich Ruof (original in German; Google translation to English).

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

5 UMC story lines to follow this fall

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.

Summer is winding down, and the fall looms before us. With the fall will likely come a series of new developments within The United Methodist Church (some already underway) related to major questions about the future of the denomination. Here are five such story lines to follow this fall.

US Disaffiliation

There have already been several recent developments in the increasingly acrimonious fight over disaffiliation from the UMC by congregations in the United States. There have been lawsuits and threats of lawsuits by those seeking to leave the UMC. The WCA has called on US Traditionalists to withhold at least some apportionments and to resume charges against those disregarding Book of Discipline provisions around gay ordination and gay marriage. Both those seeking to leave and those seeking to stay have been waging an information and PR campaign among local churches in the US, with those planning to remain in the UMC asserting that those leaving are spreading falsehoods.

Moreover, the Judicial Council just yesterday ruled on the use of Book of Discipline Paragraph 2548.2 as a means of disaffiliation. That paragraph allows the transfer of congregational property to another "evangelical denomination" with whom the UMC has a "comity agreement." Exiting Traditionalists would have preferred to use its provisions over those of Paragraph 2553, but the bishops requested a Judicial Council ruling on whether 2548.2 is applicable in this case. The Judicial Council answered that the paragraph only applies to property, not members, and only for denominations with which the UMC already has an General Conference-adopted agreement. This ruling precludes its use for transfer of congregations to the Global Methodist Church and represents a significant blow to Traditionalists.

In addition, many annual conferences have scheduled special sessions to act on requests for disaffiliation. These sessions will be a test of the numbers of departing congregations, the terms on which they will depart, and the atmosphere in which they will do so.

Plans for General Conference 2024

When the Commission on General Conference announced its decision to further postpone General Conference to 2024, it acknowledged that "the further postponement raises a number of additional questions not specifically addressed in The Book of Discipline 2016." The Commission left it up to the Judicial Council to determine "which preparations and processes are based on the postponed 2020 General Conference and which would need to be enacted should this be seen as a new 2024 General Conference."

Should that ruling come this fall, it will set the direction for the UMC relative to General Conference on issues such as which delegates will attend the next General Conference and what legislation will be before it, both questions that may well shape what happens at that meeting.

Proposals for the future of the UMC

With General Conference 2024 possibly coming into greater focus this fall and disaffiliation well underway, there is an opening for new proposals about the future of the denomination to emerge. In his address to the Council of Bishops earlier this week, Bishop Thomas Bickerton spoke of the UMC needing to pivot towards "a conversation about what it is we want and dream about as a church moving forward." Look for new proposals to emerge this fall from those intending to stay UMC about what they envision the denomination to look like beyond the current conflict over disaffiliation.

While some of these new proposals for the future of the denomination may come from episcopal leaders or US Centrists and Progressives, it is also quite likely (indeed, it should be expected) that leaders from the central conferences will contribute to this debate, even if it is just to reiterate the principles of regionalization embodied in the already-proposed Christmas Covenant.

Episcopal elections

There are episcopal elections currently scheduled for late this year in the United States and the Philippines. The results of these elections will be an indication of what sort of direction leaders from the US and the Philippines want to see the denomination take. Especially with new proposals for the future of the denomination likely to emerge earlier in the fall, episcopal elections will serve as a stand-in referendum on these various visions of the church.

European disaffiliation

Earlier this year, Methodists in Bulgaria became the first to leave en masse to join the Global Methodist Church. At the time, Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference ruled that the vote by the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference to do so violated the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council just released its ruling in the case: While the Council agreed that it did not have jurisdiction in this instance, members clearly expressed their opinion that Streiff had been right and that the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference had indeed disregarded the Book of Discipline.

The church in Bulgaria has already made its departure effective. What remains to be seen is what routes the churches in Romania and in Estonia, which has also voted to leave the denomination, will take. While both have indicated that they will leave, they are not doing so immediately. Romania expects to leave by the end of the year. Both have chosen to work with their supervising bishops to follow some sort of process. The question remains to be answered this fall what that process will look like.

The larger significance of questions about European disaffiliation is what sorts of precedents it will set that could be influential if branches of the church in Africa or other branches of the church in Europe choose to disaffiliate as well. Traditionalist African leaders have indicated that they will not leave before General Conference 2024, but it remains unclear what will happen at that point, and developments in Europe this fall may well have an influence on those decisions.