Monday, January 31, 2022

Sung Il Lee: Wesley’s Attitude towards Other Religions

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee. Rev. Dr. Lee is a missionary of Global Ministries and Missionary Practitioner in Residence at Candler School of Theology.

In Wesley’s sermons, I found that his concept of “religion” was very different from the term we use today in missiological and theological circles. Philip R. Meadows confirmed that: “The idea of ‘true religion’ has specific content, informed by the Christian scriptures … So. Wesley asserts that as there is one God, so there is one religion and one happiness for all men. God never intended there should be any more; and it is not possible there should.”[1] Thompson correctly says that Wesley “combined the Catholic accent of ‘work’ and the Reformation emphasis of ‘faith alone’ into ‘faith working in love.’ Thus, Wesley transformed Christianity from the personal and philosophical exercise of a few into a practical and public witness of many for Jesus Christ.”[2] Wesley concluded “that true religion, in the very sense of it, is nothing short of holy tempers. Consequently, all other religion, whatever name it bears, whether pagan, Mahometan, Jewish, or Christian; and whether popish or Protestant, Lutheran, or Reformed, without these is lighter and vanity itself” (#91. On Charity. III. §12).

According to Randy Maddox, Wesley was not only acquainted with the comparative studies of the four major religions—Christianity, Judaism, Mohametanism, and paganism, but also tended to organize religions in these categories.[3] Wesley sorted faith into several categories: materialist faith, deist faith, the faith of a Jew, and that of a heathen or Mahometan. In relation to the faith of Jew and that of a heathen, he viewed them as the “faith of servant.” “There is no reason why you should be satisfied with the faith of a materialist, a heathen, or a deist; nor indeed with that of a servant” (#106 On Faith. I. §13). However, he said that “we cannot doubt that many of them, … still retain (notwithstanding many mistakes) that faith that worked by love” (#106 On Faith. II. §6).

Wesley had two different attitudes toward other religions: First, he judged religions in terms of morality. In relation to this, all religions, including Christianity, have inward experience and outward practice. Outward practices are supported by inward experiences of religions. “True Christianity cannot exist without both inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth; and this alone is given in morality” (#125 On Living Without God. §14).

Thompson mentions that Wesley placed unchanged Christians and heathens on the same level. In other words, he gave equal level of standing between those who experience the holy regardless of their religion.[4] Wesley affirmed that this mystery of iniquity made these Christians little better than heathen nations, asking “have they more justice, mercy, or truth, than the inhabitants of China or Indostan?” (#61. §29) and that it was one of the “causes of the inefficacy of Christianity” (#116. Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity). In terms of morality, he judged with careful observations that there is no superiority of Christianity over other religions, for he saw how Western Christianity was far from true Scriptural Christianity, in that “true Christianity cannot exist without both the inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth; and this alone is given in morality” (#125. On Living Without God. §14).

Many of us do not want to compare in this way, but Wesley rooted out the sprout of pride from unchanged Christians. During Wesley's experience as a missionary in Georgia, he observed deeply how formal and nominal Christians’ low morality and atrocities toward Indians and black slaves were hindering the progress of the gospel. Wesley deplored the lower morality of many so-called Christians more so than that of people of other religions. Here we see how Wesley thinks importantly of Christian sanctification.

Second, Wesley viewed religions in terms of revelation. In the sermon entitled The Case of Reason Impartiality Considered, he argued that “the foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It built upon the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone” (#70 The Case of Reason Impartially Considered, I. §6). According to Wesley, other religion also has truth, and God works in other religion,[5] though Wesley could be critical of other religion’s understanding of truth as well. In Sermon #63 The General Spread of the Gospel, Wesley viewed Islam as “miserable delusion,” “a disgrace to human nature,” and “a plague to all that are under their iron yoke” (#63. §3). He also placed “the faith of a Jew above that of a heathen or Mohometan” (#63. §5), but he judged that “the veil is still upon their hearts when Moses and the Prophets are read” (#63. §6).

Still, Wesley does not argue for an absolute discontinuity between Christianity and other religions. Instead, he emphasizes the “imperfection of human knowledge” (#69. The Imperfection of Human Knowledge). “Although we are well apprised of this general truth that all things are governed by the providence of God, … how little do we comprehend of God’s providential dealings with them?” (#69. II. §3). In addition, the mystery of iniquity “still hardens their heart, and still blinds their eyes, lest at any time the light of the glorious gospel should break in upon them.” (#106. On Faith. I. §6). The gods of this world “make the heart of this people waxed gross, their ears dull of hearing and their eyes closed” (#106. I. §6). For this reason, creation, including religions, is groaning to perfection. Both the imperfection of human knowledge and the works of the gods of this world keep them under the veil upon their hearts in order not to know the mystery of Christ, even though prevenient grace is available to all equally through God’s creation.

Here I want to search an answer from Wesley for a question: “What do other religions make to stand upon the oracles of God, that is, the foundation of true religion?” He surely did not draw a clear demarcation between Christian and other religions but made it clear that “true religion is heart religion, a religion of love, which Wesley describes as scriptural Christianity or possessing a faith that worketh by love.”[6] Most importantly, he emphasizes the religion of the heart as the essentials of true religion. In “On Charity,” Wesley concludes “that true religion, in the very essence of it, is nothing short of holy tempers. Consequently, all other religion, whatever name it bears, whether Pagan, Mahometan, Jewish, or Christian; and whether Popish or Protestant, Lutheran or Reformed; without these, is lighter than vanity itself (#91. III. §12). In terms of emphasizing the religion of the heart, the religion of holiness, Wesley is open to interreligious dialogue.

Wesley puts no emphasis on institutional religion, but rather on the inner religion or the religion of the heart. In general, looking at Wesley's understanding of religion in its own way, perhaps Wesley viewed from the point of view of revelation that true religion is a religion that not only knows the miserable reality of humanity and provides a solution, but also helps to restore the image of God. Wesley seems to understand that a religion that does not know the reality of humanity and cannot offer a solution is a false religion “which does not imply the giving of the heart to God (#114. The Unity of the Divine Being. §15), and a religion that knows the reality of humanity but cannot provide an exact solution is called a pseudo-religion. “If it does not lead to the recovery of the soul, even if it is called Christianity, it is just a false religion and pseudo-religion.”[7]

In my next post, I will describe what Wesley’s understanding of religion means for our practice of mission and evangelism.

[1] Philip R. Meadows, “Candidates for Heaven: Wesleyan Resources for a Theology of Religions,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 35:1 (2000): 110.

[2] Nehemiah Thompson, “The Search for a Methodist Theology of Religious Pluralism.” In Ground for Understanding: Ecumenical Resources for Responses to Religious Pluralism, 93-106. Edited by S. Mark Heim (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 95.

[3] Randy L. Maddox, “Wesley as Theological Mentor: The Question of Truth or Salvation through Other Religions” Wesleyan Theological Journal 27 (1992): 7–29.

[4] Thompson, 99.

[5] Thompson, 106.

[6] Meadows, 110.

[7] Dong-whan Kim, “Original Sin,” 8/1/2017.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Recommended Readings: Filipino and European UMC Self-Descriptions

The Connectional Table has been sponsoring an initiative entitled "Imagining the Future." While the initiative is playing out differently in different branches of the church, essentially it is an attempt to promote regional discussions on the current context of the church and the hoped-for future of the church. As part of that initiative, regional leaders have published "Background and Contextual Information" statements for both the Philippines and Europe. These statements situate The United Methodist Church in these contexts in light of societal, political, and intra-church dynamics currently at play. If the UMC is ever to become a more successfully global denomination, honest sharing and receptive listening to such recounting of the situation of the church in various contexts will need to become a more regular practice. Therefore, these short reflections are highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Norma Dollaga: Doing Human Rights in the Philippines as a Church amid Shrinking Democracy

Today's piece is written by Norma Dollaga, a deaconess from the Philippines Annual Conference of the Manila Episcopal Area - Philippines Central Conference. Her episcopal appointment is at Kapatirang Simbahan Para a Bayan (KASIMBAYAN) / Ecumenical Center for Development.

The violation of human rights did not start when people, rising against tyranny or oppression, were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned, disappeared, harassed and killed. It began when the powerful few accumulated, stock-piled and privatized the resources, wealth and property of the people and calcified their strength through social-economic-political order. Laws, colonization, wars of aggression, and prison cells were later harnessed to ensure power.

The inception of human rights violations came when foreign colonizers violently occupied our lands and made us their slaves. When our ancestors rose and revolted, the colonizers mis(used) and exploited laws, religion, and their political system to justify their assault against those who dissented or resisted. The laws and the rules that they invented labelled the revolutionaries as plain bandits and criminals, so they were punished and executed.

In the Philippines, the centuries-old hacienda and feudal bondage is the main reason why the farmers go hungry even during the harvest season. At present, nine out of ten Filipino farmers do not own the land they till compared to seven out of ten landless farmers twenty years ago.[1] The minimum daily wage in the Philippines is P537 (USD 10.74), while the estimated family living wage is P1,022 (USD 20.44). The minimum wage may be legal, but the wide gap manifests the violation of economic rights.

Human Rights and the Duterte Regime
The human rights situation in the Philippines is worsening. Violations have been further aggravated amid a climate of impunity. The impact of the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics program, counterinsurgency campaign, and its efforts to implement and enact policies that undermine its commitments to international and domestic human rights framework are among the stark indications of this spiraling situation. Extrajudicial killings (EJKs), enforced disappearance, illegal arrests and detention, torture, forcible evacuation and other rights violations were committed with impunity against families, communities, and human rights defenders (HRDs) in the course of the implementation of these policies.[2]

KARAPATAN, a human rights group, reported that between July 2016 and November 2021, there are 470, 647 cases of forced evacuation, 424 victims of extrajudicial killings, and 1,159 cases of illegal arrest and detention. Political prisoners were slapped with trumped-up charges, in many instances, using planted evidences. They are justice and peace workers, activists and community organizers who have devoted their most precious time, talent and life serving others.

Rise Up for Life and For Rights, a network of families of victims of the War on Drugs and church-based human rights advocates reported, “Over five years of Duterte’s so-called ‘War on Drugs’ have glaringly bared its inherent anti-poor and anti-people design. Duterte’s brazen ‘Kill, Kill, Kill’ policy provided carte blanche permission for state forces and other agents to commit extrajudicial killings, mostly of Filipinos in urban poor communities. The impunity is evident in the death toll: from government reports of 6,215 victims in police operations (as of 31 October, 2021) to as many as 30,000 per human rights groups estimates.”

Even before COVID, Pres. Duterte has been flaunting extravagantly a terrorizing threat. In his second year in the office, he threatened to arrest the communists and their legal fronts: “‘You're terrorists and even your legal fronts are terrorists, I know, …’ said Duterte in a speech in front of soldiers in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.”[3]

This rhetoric has legitimized increased violence. He ordered the soldiers to shoot female rebels in their vagina.[4]

The institutionalization of the Whole-of-Nation Approach is a counter insurgency campaign that dealt a heavy blow to human rights work and human rights defenders. According to Esperanza de la Paz, “The ‘whole-of-nation approach’ (or WONA) being bannered by the AFP as the ‘new paradigm’ that would ‘end the local armed conflict’ or the ‘communist insurgency’ … institutionalizes and declares the government’s total abandonment of its commitment to and obligations in implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (CAHRHIL) and in forging basic political, social and economic reforms that would address the roots of the armed conflict and bring about a just and lasting peace.”[5]

Human Rights in the Time of Covid
The pandemic has further aggravated and exposed tyranny and fascism. The pandemic has only intensified the hardship of the marginalized, increased the braggadocio of the authorities with tyrannical cover, and has exposed the inhumane, anti-poor, anti people character of the state in responding to and managing the current health crisis.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has marked the Philippines as exhibiting a “toxic lockdown culture” in response to the pandemic.[6] Thousands have been arrested and detained for violation of confinement measures linked to the pandemic. The Philippines topped the list among countries that declared emergency, with 120,000 apprehended for curfew violations in the past 30 days.[7]

The weaponization of the law has exacerbated the narrowing of democratic spaces. The Anti Terror Law, swiftly passed at the height of pandemic, mocks the very fundamentals of the Constitution. Several groups have questioned the constitutionality of the law, including individuals from churches and church-related organizations.

One Faith, One Nation, One Voice, an ecumenical network for truth, justice and peace, opposed the Anti-Terrorism Act 2020 on multiple grounds, including “an overly broad and amorphous usage of the term ‘terrorism,’ which will surely be utilized by state forces for attacks on dissent and curtailment of human rights and civil liberties,” “a weakening of the judicial system and the constitutionally enshrined function to check-and-balance the actions of other branches of government, including state forces under the executive branch,” and “a removal of financial penalties to be awarded to persons detained under false pretense as well as other safeguards against abuse by police officers and soldiers, thus increasing the likelihood of gross impunity to be committed by state forces.”

Continuing Challenge to Church
Red-tagging, maligning and persecution of prophetic voices in the Philippines continue. The democratic space and the mission and ministries of the Church with poor and marginalized communities are endangered. Activists and persons associated with left-leaning views and organizations are being tagged as suspected members of “terrorist groups.” Organizations and institutions with long and credible histories/record who are engaged in humanitarian service work with the vulnerable have been subjected to scrutiny and malicious tagging, calling them front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or New People’s Army (NPA).

Doing relief work used to be a “safe” ministry. You would not get into trouble if you give soup to the hungry. Today, you become a suspect, and you can even be jailed.

We are witnesses to the weaponization of the law that was used to harass, persecute and punish the faithful ones, seeking to defend the rights of the poor and pursue the cause of JUSTICE.

Human rights violations are innate to the power block in society’s structure to achieve and perpetuate its goals. It uses military might to sustain its power founded on exploitation, oppression and violence. It weaponizes the law in order to threaten, harass, and imprison the dissenters. If legal measures are not enough, human rights defenders become victims of torture, enforced disappearance and extra judicial killings.

The very foundation of structure and system that is unjust and oppressive must be replaced by a system where “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)

The Church needs to fulfil its prophetic role to denounce injustice, to proclaim the gospel’s wisdom, to work for ethical alternatives to poverty and the sufferings of the many.

The church like The United Methodist Church faces challenges as it chooses to serve the people. There is an attack on church only because it is doing what it needs to do in defense of the poor and of people’s dignity. The church work is to promote peace and human rights, it is not to defend itself but to defend the flock against oppression and exploitation.

Democracy is always at risk under an authoritarian rule. The church can either speak out prophetically or be an accomplice to the authoritarian rule.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Sung Il Lee: Korean and Western Experiences of Religious Pluralism

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee. Rev. Dr. Lee is a missionary of Global Ministries and Missionary Practitioner in Residence at Candler School of Theology.

Most Koreans, including myself, are exposed to the gospel of Christianity for the first time in a religiously pluralistic world. Korean religious culture includes elements of Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity. In my last post, I examined the personal questions that this religious pluralism raises. In this post, I want to contrast the Korean context with the Christendom context in the West.

Becoming church members, Koreans come to think that Christianity, to which they belong, is one of many religions in Korea; that is, they have a relativistic view of religion. Evangelists did not regard Shamanism or Confucianism as religions, so they are eager to share the Gospel with people. However, Buddhist monks who were clearly regarded as Buddhists would pass without evangelism. However, through many miraculous experiences of meeting Jesus Christ personally, Korean Christians became exclusive and aggressive evangelists in the eyes of non-believers, but they acknowledge that Jesus is the only King of kings and Lord of lords and show zeal to evangelize to all people.

As such, the experience of Korean Christians started in the world of religious pluralism, and through hearing the Christian gospel and receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, Christianity developed into a religious relativism that is one of many religions in Korea. Then, through a miraculous religious experience, they also made the same confession that Moses' father-in-law Jethro confessed after hearing Moses' testimony. "Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, and he has overcome those who behaved proudly toward Israel" (Exodus 18:11).

This confession of Korean Christians becomes an absolute confession of faith that only Jesus Christ is the God of all gods and the Lord of lords in the context of religious pluralism. Experiencing maturity through the experience of the Holy Spirit, it develops into what Wesley called “religion of the heart, faith that works by love” (Section 1 of the preface series § 6, #7 Path to Heaven I. §6). In the eyes of others, it appears to be a religiously exclusive attitude, but over time, while ethically considerate of other religions, those Korean Christians embrace people of other religions with love. In the end, we can see the heart of Christ, who endures all persecution and misunderstanding and leads us to the Lord with love, in the hearts of Korean Christians.

Western Christians' experience of religious pluralism is fundamentally different from Korean Christians. They traditionally lived in a Christian world (Christendom) and considered themselves true Christians. Perhaps in Wesley's eyes, they would have looked like “nominal Christians” (#63. The General Spread of the Gospel. §1) with a formal and outward religion, but the sad thing is that they think themselves true biblical Christians. The Western world has traditionally viewed evangelism as a domestic activity targeting non-believers and nominal church members and missions as targeting unbelievers in the non-Christian world. However, surprised by the vast scriptures of Eastern religions and their piety, Western Christians, starting with the missionaries who served on the mission field, gradually changed from the belief that Christianity is the only absolute religion to a religious relativist teaching and finally took over a pluralistic teaching, wherein they became accepting of the existence of other religions. By a relativistic teaching of religion, I mean one that is based on the premise that you should not impose your religion on me; and by pluralistic teachings, I mean those that assume that all religions represent only one path to salvation.

Although the Western world has now embraced a religious pluralism that has always characterized Korea, Koreans have not found Western views on pluralism helpful. Korean Christians are generally conservative. Out of thankfulness to the church in USA, which sent missionaries to Korea, Korean Christians have put more trust in American theologians than others. Yet, those Korean theologians who have accepted a religiously pluralistic theology developed in the United States have shaken the Korean Christian faith fundamentally. In this sense, the religious pluralism developed by Western theologians has been damaging to the churches in Korea. What is necessary is for Korean Christians to develop their own understandings of other religions and to be trained to have an ethical attitude toward peoples of other faiths so as not to demand social conflicts due to the lack of ethical attitudes that deserve respect in a religiously pluralistic Korean society.

In future posts, I will read Wesley’s sermon series from a Korean perspective on religious pluralism, examining how John Wesley understood religions, including Christianity, and their salvation.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Juan Gattinoni: Methodism and Democracy

Today's post is written by Rev. Juan Gattanoni, pastor of la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (the Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina).

The themes of Methodism and democracy have sailed together in harmony since ancient times. I belong to a family with a long history of Methodism in Argentina. In fact, hymns and the Wesleyan spirit accompanied me from the cradle. For more than 180 years, the Evangelical Methodist Church has been accompanying the history of Argentina with its presence, being one of the first Protestant Churches to develop a missionary task.

My intention is to speak from a testimonial perspective and from the facts that show the commitment of the Methodists in Argentina to democracy.

I would like to make a preliminary distinction. We talk about "politics" and "the political." Politics is the set of activities that people associated with a group (political party) do to accumulate power that allows them to govern, make decisions, and direct the destinies of a society. The political is what "happens in the polis" and therefore is of concern, interest, or need to the people in their daily lives. I understand that the church is not called to govern and get into the tug-of-war of politics. But she is called to get into the political, that is, with what happens to the people.

We speak of democracy when we say that the populace (demos), the people, have participation in the decisions that govern them. Elect and be elected. Delegate authority to exercise on your behalf.

The Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church) (as well as others in the world) is conceptually democratic and it has been since its inception. We would say that we value democracy as a system of government "in its own flesh."

The Iglesia Evangelica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), already autonomous since 1969, takes for its own government a broadly democratic system, where its representatives (bishops, superintendents, work commissions, etc.) are elected by the representatives of the churches gathered in General Assembly.

Argentina since 1816 (its Independence) has had different governments, some with "a certain level" of democracy (only in 1950 was the female vote and its participation approved), and a large number of coups d'état, softer or harsher dictatorships, but nothing democratic. Probably the most ferocious dictatorship in Argentina was during the years 1976 to 1983, with more than 30,000 people kidnapped and disappeared, and that came to an end involving us in war with Great Britain for the recovery of our Malvinas Islands, which, as was supposed, was lost, leaving a balance of 650 Argentine troops dead.

That said, it is worth affirming that democracy in Argentina really begins in December 1983. And uninterruptedly since that date, not without various crises, we have lived under a democratic government regime for 39 years! This means that democracy as a way of life, for Argentines, is something very desired, valued, and necessary.

I keep a clipping from the conference journal of 1938, where the Methodist Episcopal Church South America Conference, gathered in the 46th annual conference, tells us through its Bishop Juan E. Gattinoni (my grandfather): "The Methodist Church must fight to maintain democracy and therefore will resist dictatorships, as they decapitate the opposition. On the contrary, the former dignifies the latter. Creative minds are destroyed by dictatorships, and the entire nation marches under such regimes to the most absolute mental sterility. On the contrary, in democracy, the creative mind is protected and preserved, because it wants freedom, equality and fraternity to be a fact of life consciously enjoyed by all." ... "We must fight for democracy, so that within this regime of coexistence, men can use their freedom to obtain economic justice for all" ... "The Methodist Episcopal Church does not endorse, sustain, or participate in war. Its components are convinced that good understanding and goodwill can bear better fruit and can save precious lives." It is worth mentioning that this statement of the MEC arose in a context in which, in Europe, Communism and Nazism were firmly and violently questioning democracy as a system of government.

Each Assembly of the IEMA since autonomy has spoken in favor of democracy, the participation of the people, and the inclusion of those most in need in the objectives of government in the country.

But it is not only a question of pronouncing oneself in favor of democracy, but of having an action/mission that has to do with the needs of the people. It is in this sense that the Missionary Strategy outlined and approved in the General Assembly in 1973 by the IEMA pointed out that it is the state that must meet the needs of its people and that the church is called to cover in a supplementary way what the state would not be able to attend to, that is, education, health, social problems, etc.

The coup d'état and dictatorship of March 1976 in Argentina was one of the many that spread throughout Latin America. In Argentina, it was really tragic as we mentioned above. The IEMA not only did not support that dictatorship (it is worth mentioning that other churches did, including the official Roman Catholic Church), but also committed several of its leaders in the struggle for human rights, as a form of struggle for the restitution of the democratic system.

The coup d'état in Chile in September 1973, which ended democratic life, was also bloody and immediately generated thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. Most found their way out more accessible in Argentina, mainly in Mendoza, but also other cities in Argentina.

The IEMA was inevitably compelled to get involved in the political and risk organizing refugee care committees together with other churches (not many). Bishop Federico J. Pagura (elected in 1977) tells us what that experience was, being a pastor in the city of Mendoza. "In view of the reality of thousands of Chilean refugees who crossed the mountain range claiming refuge in our country, with the risks involved[1] at that time to receive, accompany, and defend them against the dictatorship that was already beginning to show its teeth and claws, I asked my Bishop Carlos Gattinoni (first bishop of the autonomous IM) for an urgent visit to Mendoza, and in a more than secret conversation, I asked him if he and our Methodist Church would be willing to support us and accompany us in this dangerous adventure to which we were challenged. And he answered me, 'Go ahead Frederick, with those who are willing to commit out of love for Christ and the people. We will accompany them to the end, whatever the consequences.'"

The IEMA, with the firm decision of its bishop, not only understood that the cause of human rights and political refuge has to do with the democratic conception of life, but also encouraged the formation of different human rights organizations that played a very important role in politics in our country. The church understood it this way, in her fidelity to the Lord and other Protestant churches accompanied this position as well. Resonating behind this firm decision is that "the world is my parish." This was the way to get involved in "the political." Other evangelical churches did NOT understand it that way and continued to worry about "heavenly things."

One of the things that distinguish Argentina from other countries that went through oppressive dictatorships is that, once democracy returned, the genocide perpetrated by the dictatorship was judged in national courts (76-83). The genocidal dictators were found guilty and convicted under Argentine law. The Methodist Church also has something to do with this process. It happened that, with the advent of the new democratic government, on December 10, 1983, President Alfonsín made an important decision just 5 days after his inauguration (December 15, 1983). By Decree of Necessity and Urgency, he created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), whose objective was to investigate the issue of disappeared persons and violations of human rights that occurred in the period 1976-1983.

It was composed of a group of 10 people, known for their honesty, among whom were three religious leaders: a rabbi, a Catholic bishop, and Methodist Bishop Carlos Gattinoni. CONADEP was based in Buenos Aires, but several subcommissions were created in different cities of the country, in which there were Methodist pastors serving as well. The importance of CONADEP's investigative work lies in the fact that its report was a fundamental input for the Civil Court that tried the dictators months later.

The concern for the decline of democracy in recent times fundamentally goes through the judicial power.[2] With the advent of the "low fare” widely practiced in judicial venues and the power of media corporations that shamelessly practice "fake news," confusing and manipulating the thinking of the people, the role of the judicial branch (one of the three branches of the democratic system) has effectively taken preeminence over the other two powers. This shakes the democratic system in our country. If justice is not there to protect the right of the weak, it is not justice.

As Psalm 85:10-13 says:

"Mercy and truth meet; justice and peace kiss. Truth will spring from the earth and justice will look out from the heavens. Jehovah will also give good and our land will bear its fruit. Justice will go before him, and his steps will set us on the road."

[1] On September 5, 1975, at 3 am, a bomb was placed in the Methodist Temple of Espejo 423, in the heart of Mendoza, destroying five doors and all the glass in front of the building.

[2] When the military dictatorship was established (1976-83), all the judges were forced to sign fidelity to the "Acts of the National Reorganization Process," led by the military junta, and that was the way they made sure to commit all the abuses they wanted.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Juan Gattinoni: Metodismo y Democracia

La publicación de blog de hoy está escrita por Juan Gattanoni, pastor de la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina.

La temática Metodismo y Democracia navega en armonía desde tiempos lejanos. Pertenezco a una familia de larga trayectoria en el Metodismo en Argentina. De hecho, himnos y espíritu wesleyano, me acompañan desde la cuna. Hace más de 180 años la Iglesia Evangélica Metodista viene acompañando la historia de Argentina con su presencia, siendo de las primeras Iglesias protestantes que desarrolla una tarea misionera.

Mi intención es hablar desde una perspectiva testimonial, y a partir de los hechos que muestran el compromiso de los metodistas en Argentina con la Democracia.

Quisiera hacer una distinción previa. Hablamos de “LA política” y de “LO político”. La política es el conjunto de actividades que hacen las personas asociadas en grupo (partidos políticos), para acumular poder que les permita gobernar, tomar decisiones e ir dirigiendo los destinos de una sociedad. LO político es aquello que “sucede en la polis” y por ello resulta lo que es de preocupación, interés o necesidad de la gente en su diario vivir. Entiendo que la Iglesia no está llamada a gobernar y meterse en los tires y aflojes de LA política. Pero sí es llamada a meterse en LO político, o sea con lo que le sucede a la gente.

Hablamos de Democracia, cuando decimos que el pueblo (demos), la gente, tiene participación en las decisiones que le gobiernan. Elegir y ser elegido. Delegar autoridad para ejercicio en su representación.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (así como otras en el mundo) es conceptualmente democrática. Diríamos que valoramos la democracia como sistema de gobierno “en carne propia” Y así lo ha sido desde sus inicios.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), ya autónoma desde 1969, toma para su propio gobierno un sistema ampliamente democrático, en donde sus representantes (obispos, superintendentes, comisiones de trabajo, etc.) son elegidos por los representantes de las iglesias reunidos en Asamblea General.

La Argentina desde 1816 (su Independencia) hasta la fecha ha tenido distintos gobiernos, alguno que otro con “cierto nivel” de democracia (recién en 1950 se aprobó el voto femenino y su participación), y una gran cantidad de golpes de Estado, dictaduras más blandas o más duras, pero nada democráticas. Probablemente la más feroz dictadura en Argentina fue durante los años 1976 a 1983, con más de 30,000 personas secuestradas y desaparecidas, y que llega a su fin involucrándonos en Guerra con Gran Bretaña por la recuperación de nuestras Islas Malvinas, la cual, como era de presuponer, se perdió dejando un saldo de 650 fallecidos de las fuerzas argentinas.

Dicho esto vale afirmar que la Democracia en la Argentina en rigor de verdad comienza en Diciembre de 1983. Y hasta la fecha ininterrumpidamente, no sin diversas crisis, hemos vivido bajo un régimen de gobierno democrático por 39 años! Esto quiere decir que la Democracia como forma de vida, para los argentinos, es algo muy deseado, valorado y necesario.

Conservamos un recorte del Diario Crítica del año 1938, donde la Iglesia Metodista Episcopal del Este de Sud América, reunida en la 46va. Conferencia Anual, nos dice a través de su Obispo Juan E. Gattinoni (mi abuelo): “La Iglesia Metodista debe luchar para mantener la democracia y por lo tanto, resistirá a las dictaduras, pues éstas decapitan a la oposición. En cambio aquella, dignifica la última. Las mentes creadoras son destruidas por las dictaduras y la nación entera marcha bajo tales regímenes a la más absoluta esterilidad mental. Por el contrario, en la democracia, la mente creadora es protegida y conservada, porque ella quiere que sea un hecho en la vida, la libertad, la igualdad y fraternidad conscientemente gozadas por todos.” … “Debemos luchar por la democracia, a fin de que dentro de dicho régimen de convivencia, los hombres puedan usar su libertad para obtener justicia económica para todos” … “La Iglesia Metodista Episcopal no endosa, no sostiene ni participa en la guerra. Sus componentes estamos convencidos que el buen entendimiento y la buena voluntad pueden dar mejores frutos y pueden ahorrar vidas preciosas”. Vale mencionar que esta afirmación de la IME, surge en el contexto en que en Europa, Comunismo y Nazismo estaban cuestionando firme y violentamente la Democracia como sistema de gobierno.

La Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Argentina (IEMA), ya autónoma desde 1969, toma para su propio gobierno un sistema ampliamente democrático, en donde sus representantes (obispos, superintendentes, comisiones de trabajo, etc.) son elegidos por los representantes de las iglesias reunidos en Asamblea General.

Cada Asamblea de la IEMA desde la autónoma ha pronunciado a favor de la democracia, de la participación del pueblo y de la inclusión de los más necesitados en los objetivos de gobierno del país. Pero no se trata sólo de pronunciarse a favor de la democracia, sino de tener una acción/misión que tenga que ver con las necesidades del pueblo. Es en ese sentido que la Estrategia Misionera delineada y aprobada en Asamblea General en 1973 por la IEMA apuntaba a que es el Estado que debe atender las necesidades de su pueblo y que la Iglesia está llamada a cubrir de manera supletoria lo que el Estado no estuviera pudiendo atender, esto es educación, salud, problemáticas sociales, etc.

El golpe de Estado y Dictadura de marzo de 1976 en Argentina, fue uno de los tantos que se esparcieron por toda Latinoamérica. En Argentina, fue realmente trágica como mencionáramos más arriba. La IEMA no sólo no apoyó esa Dictadura (vale mencionar que otras Iglesias sí lo hicieron, incluyendo la Iglesia Oficial, Católica Romana), sino que comprometió a varios de sus dirigentes en la lucha por los Derechos Humanos, como forma de lucha para la restitución del sistema democrático.

El golpe de Estado en Chile, en septiembre de 1973, que acabó con la vida democrática, fue sangriento también y generó de inmediato miles de refugiados que huían para salvar sus vidas. La mayoría encontraban su salida más accesible en Argentina, principalmente en Mendoza, pero también otras ciudades de Argentina.

La IEMA se vio inevitablemente compelida a involucrarse en LO político, y arriesgarse a organizar junto con otras Iglesias (no muchas) Comités de Atención a Refugiados. El Obispo Federico J. Pagura (elegido en 1977) nos relata lo que fue esa experiencia, siendo él pastor en la ciudad de Mendoza. “Ante la realidad de miles de refugiados chilenos que cruzaban la cordillera clamando refugio en nuestro país, con los riesgos[1] que entrañaba en ese tiempo el recibirlos, acompañarlos y defenderlos ante la dictadura que ya empezaba a mostrar sus dientes y garras, yo le pedí a mi Obispo Carlos Gattinoni (primer obispo de la IM autónoma), una urgente visita a Mendoza, y en una conversación más que secreta le pregunté si él y nuestra Iglesia Metodista estarían dispuestos a respaldarnos y acompañarnos en esa peligrosa aventura a que se nos desafiaba. Y él me respondió: “sigan adelante Federico, con los que estén dispuestos a comprometerse por amor a Cristo y al pueblo. Nosotros les acompañaremos hasta el fin, cualesquiera sean las consecuencias”.

La IEMA, con la decisión firme de su obispo, no sólo entendió que la causa de los Derechos Humanos y el refugio político tiene que ver con la concepción democrática de la vida, sino que además animó la formación de distintos Organismos de Derechos Humanos que jugaron un rol muy importante en lo político en nuestro país. La Iglesia lo entendió así, en su fidelidad al Señor y otras iglesias protestantes acompañaron esta posición también. Resuena por detrás de esta firme decisión aquello de que “el mundo es mi parroquia”. Esta fue la manera de involucrarse en “lo político”. Otras iglesias evangélicas NO lo entendieron así y siguieron preocupándose por las “cosas celestiales”.

Una de las cosas que distinguen a Argentina en cuanto a otros países que pasaron por dictaduras opresivas es que, una vez vuelta la Democracia, se juzgó en tribunales nacionales el genocidio perpetrado por la Dictadura (76-83). Los dictadores genocidas fueron encontrados culpables y condenados según la ley Argentina. También la Iglesia Metodista tiene algo que ver con este proceso. Sucede que, con el advenimiento del nuevo gobierno democrático, el 10 de diciembre de 1983, el Presidente Alfonsín toma una decisión trascendente a solo 5 días de su asunción (15 de diciembre de 1983). Por Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia crea la Comisión Nacional sobre Desaparición de Personas (CONADEP) cuyo objetivo fue investigar el tema desaparecidos y violaciones a los DDHH acaecidas en el período 1976-1983. Estaba compuesta por un grupo de 10 personas, conocidas por su honestidad, entre los que había tres religiosos: un rabino, un obispo Católico y el Obispo Metodista Carlos Gattinoni. La CONADEP tenía su sede en Buenos Aires, pero se crearon varias subcomisiones en distintas ciudades del país, en las cuales hubo pastores metodistas sirviendo también. La importancia del trabajo de investigación de la CONADEP radica en que su informe fue un insumo fundamental para el Tribunal Civil que juzgó a los dictadores meses más tarde.

La preocupación por el decrecimiento de la democracia en estos últimos tiempos fundamentalmente pasa por el Poder Judicial[2]. Con el advenimiento del “Low Fare” ampliamente practicado en sedes judiciales y el poder de las corporaciones de medios de comunicación que practican sin pudor las “fake news”, confundiendo y manipulando el pensamiento de la gente, el rol del Poder Judicial (uno de los tres poderes del sistema democrático) ha tomado en la práctica preeminencia sobre los otros dos poderes. Esto hace tambalear el sistema democrático en nuestro país. Si la justicia no está para proteger el derecho del débil, no es justicia.

Como bien dice el Salmo 85: 10-13

"La misericordia y la verdad se encontraron; la justicia y la paz se besaron. La verdad brotará de la tierra y la justicia mirará desde los cielos. Jehová dará también el bien y nuestra tierra dará su fruto. La justicia irá delante de él y sus pasos nos pondrá por camino."

[1] El 5 de septiembre de 1975 a las 3 am, una bomba fue puesta en el Templo Metodista de Espejo 423, en pleno centro de Mendoza, destruyendo cinco puertas y todos los vidrios del frente del edificio.

[2] Cuando se instaura la Dictadura Militar (1976-83), todos los jueces fueron obligados a firmar fidelidad a las “Actas del Proceso de Reorganización Nacional” liderado por la Junta Militar y esa fue la manera que se aseguraron cometer todos los atropellos que quisieron.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sung Il Lee: The Unspoken Questions of Religious Pluralism in Korea

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee. Rev. Dr. Lee is a missionary of Global Ministries and Missionary Practitioner in Residence at Candler School of Theology. It is the first of a four-part series.

In this series of posts, I will first share my wrestling with unspoken questions of Korean Christians in the religious and historical context of Korea. Next, I will contrast Korean and Western experiences of pluralism. Then after sharing Wesley's understanding of religion, I, as a Korean missiologist, will continue to examine how Wesley understood mission and testified to the gospel from a multicultural and religious background.

As in any Asian country “culture and religion or culture and ideology are intertwined,”[1] Korea has been a religiously pluralistic society that has seen a history of conflict between national spirituality and foreign religion or cultures. Korean religious culture was formed through the union of these elements, including Shamanism (BC 5th century), Buddhism (6-14th centuries), Confucianism (15-19th centuries), and Christianity (19-20th centuries). In other words, “there is no strong line of demarcation, and each of these religions has borrowed much from the others.”[2]

This means that Koreans, including myself, are living a religiously pluralistic society. Let me start with my personal experience of religious pluralism. I entered a seminary with my parents’ conviction that God has called me to be God’s servant. During my second year of seminary education, I was exposed to religious pluralism, which challenged the foundations of my faith. I almost lost sight of why I had come to seminary and became very discouraged. It was during this struggle that I encountered the One who called me by my name. He was Jesus. This spiritual encounter with Jesus led me to confess that Jesus was my Lord and Savior and to commit my life to Christ.

In a pluralistic world of religions, all Koreans, including myself, who encountered the gospel and became a Christian, have unspoken questions in their minds. These are questions that no one is willing to answer and are reluctant to ask: My father, who accepted Jesus on the day I was born, always held a memorial service on the anniversary of my great-grandparents and grandparents. I still remember his prayer, which he said while shedding tears after the sermon. It was a plea to “have mercy on our ancestors who would be in a place (hell) they did not want now because they could not have heard the gospel.” He was not ignorant of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, but I knew that it was an earnest prayer that came out of the mouth of a child to an ancestor who did not believe in Jesus.

There are many heroic and altruistic people that Koreans respect. Among them, Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), who saved my country by preventing Japanese invasion, and Sejong the Great (1397-1450), who created Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) to help poor people protect their rights. If you are preaching the gospel outside the church or preaching on “salvation through faith in Jesus” within the church, there is a question you are always asked. “You mean they went to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus?” “I do not know. Only God knows. I'll find out more about it in the future.” If you answer honestly, you'll pass, but if you say, “They must have gone to hell because they didn't believe in Jesus,” the situation will get worse for a moment.

Before the missionaries came to Korea, I thought that there was no God but only idols and demons in Korea and God had tailgated the missionary who came to Korea. However, I was very surprised when I found out that Koreans were using the word “Hana-nim” for the only and one God before the Scottish missionary John Ross, who made a Korean translation of the New Testament in 1887, walked around the borders of Korea to spread the gospel, and before the American missionaries Allen (1884) and Appenzeller and Underwood (1885) set foot on Korean soil. Before the missionaries came, God already existed in Korea. That is why God is called “Jehovah Shammah” (Ezekiel 48:30-35).

In high school, I was once surprised to watch Hudson Taylor's documentary film preaching the gospel to the Chinese with the Chinese character Ui (義) for “righteousness or justification” that comes from the death of the lamb of God. Then, through C. H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson’s The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979) and other books,[3] I came to confirm the meaning of the gospel contained in the pictograms called Chinese characters through the Chinese characters created by Korean ancestors.[4] I became convinced that Korean people were not people who did not know God and the Gospel without a constant supply of God's revealed word.

During this time, a new spiritual change took place. While studying the history of Christian missions in Asia, I found much evidence that showed that the Apostle Thomas' visits to India, China, and even Korea and Japan is not a theory but a reality.[5] Among them, evidence was also confirmed that Hwang-ok Heo (32-189), an Indian princess who came to the kingdom of Gaya (42-542) after hearing the Apostle Thomas' visit to India and became the queen of King Kim Suro (42-199), testified to the gospel of Christianity in Korea. After a few centuries, there is no denying that Buddhism in Silla was influenced by Nestorian Christianity of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). After a brief intermission, the Christian gospel was heard again through the Mongol Empire and the Great Yuan (1271-1368). However, it disappeared from the stage of East Asian history again with the collapse of the Yuan dynasty.

I want to say that God was illuminating all Korean people through Christ, who came as the true light to our Korean ancestors in various ways (John 1:9). Despite this historical evidence, the questions and answers about the salvation of so-called “good people” who have not yet heard the gospel are like hot potatoes. Of course, were there good people in Adam's descendants? As our inner self testifies, it is true that we are all “a brood of evildoers” (Isa.1:4) who must hear the Gospel.

[1] Donald L. Stults, Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology (Manila: OMF Literature, 1989), 106.

[2] Roy E. Shearer, Wildfire: church growth in Korea (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1966), 31.

[3] Ethel R. Nelson & Richard E. Broadberry, Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve (Concordia, 1994). Ethel R. Nelson, God's Promise to The Chinese (Read, 2014).

[4] Regarding the origin of Chinese characters, the Chinese academic community also acknowledges the historical fact that Chinese characters were not made by the Han Chinese ancestors, but by the Korean ancestors Dongi people (東夷族). Dongi is a term used by Chinese people to refer to Koreans.

[5] Jeong Hak-bong, The Story of Apostle Thomas (Dongseonambuk, 2009). Lee Yong-bong, The Apostle Thomas and the Asian Church (Visionsa, 2017). Dongwook Yeom, Silla and Gaya-the New Kingdom of Israel. (Shinil Choolphansa, 2017).

Friday, January 14, 2022

Recommended Reading: Wespath CEO's introductory blog

As of January 1st, Wespath, the retirement investments and benefits agency of The United Methodist Church, has a new General Secretary and CEO, Andy Hendren. Hendren replaces Barbara Boigegrain, who retired after 27 years as General Secretary. While Wespath often receives less attention than other boards and agencies, the amount of resources it holds makes it a significant means for United Methodists to carry out connectional ministry, and the transition from Boigegrain to Hendren is a major transition for this important institution. Therefore, Hendren's introductory blog post as CEO is well worth reading.

Hendren's blog post contains two piece of particular interest. First, he explains his philosophy of investing:

"I think of our sustainable investments approach as a 'yes and.' We focus always on our core fiduciary obligation to our participants and investors to maximize returns—seeking alpha, or excess returns compared to our performance benchmarks, wherever we can. And we seek to 'raise the beta'—a strategy to reduce the systemic risks of financial markets and improve market-wide returns—in hopes of lifting all boats in a way that reaps the additional returns needed to care for those we serve."

Within the investment-speak of "alpha" and "beta" in these sentences, Hendren indicates that he sees good investment returns for investors and a positive impact on the broader society not as competing goals but as compatible goals. Given that the relationship between these two goals has periodically been a debate within the UMC, this is a significant statement.

Second, Hendren connects that belief in the compatibility between what's right for investors and what's right for the broader society with John Wesley's teachings. He writes, "To me, our commitment to sustainable investment embodies John Wesley’s general rules: first to 'do no harm' and second to 'do good of every sort, and, as far as possible to all.' In this sense, I think of sustainable investing as our brand of stewardship evangelism."

While it's not necessary for the CEO of Wespath to be a theologian, it is a very positive sign to see the CEO being able to speak the language of the church and to make connections between the church's theological articulation of values and Wespath's investment philosophy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Great Resignation, the Great Retirement, and the Great Reconsideration among Clergy

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.

Many commentators have written about how the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed clergy in the United States to think about resigning from ministry, including a previous post on this blog. While much of the evidence for this trend is anecdotal, there has also been survey research to back it up. A Barna Group study released in November found that 38% of all clergy, including 46% of pastors under 45 and 51% of mainline clergy have considered leaving ministry in the past year. This commentary about clergy resignations comes on top of news from the Lewis Center that the number of young United Methodist elders in the U.S. is lower than ever.

What has not been much emphasized in the reporting on clergy resignations or on United Methodist clergy age trends is trends among older clergy. The Lewis Center report acknowledged that after decades of a growing number of older clergy, that trend has reversed over the past two years, with the number of older clergy now falling. A Washington Post article looking at the labor shortage across job sectors found that the largest declines in labor force participation from pre-pandemic to the present were among older workers, many of whom opted for earlier retirement. Both these data points suggest there may be an increased retirement rate among clergy, though more specific data is needed to prove that.

Thinking about the dynamics of age and career stage leads to a more complex understanding of the multiple crises facing denominations trying to supply congregations with enough clergy. We can think of three related but distinct crises: the Great Resignation, the Great Retirement, and the Great Reconsideration.

The Great Resignation is one of several terms that have been used to describe a trend across job sectors over the course of the pandemic for people to quit their jobs. In some instances, people have not taken new jobs, but the Washington Post evidence suggests that most people under 55 have found other work. Applied to clergy, the Great Resignation describes the trend of clergy to leave ministry before the end of their careers. While this trend applies across age brackets, the Barna and Lewis Center data suggests this trend is most pronounced among clergy in the first half of their career lives, who have more time to build a career in an alternate field. Late middle aged clergy may feel a greater compulsion to stay in their current occupation, rather than attempt to switch careers in their 50s.

The Great Retirement describes people who, because of the pandemic, denominational uncertainty, or other reasons, are leaving ministry to retire earlier than they would have otherwise. Rather than continuing to pastor until they are at the UMC mandatory clergy retirement age of 72, they retire earlier, perhaps at 62 when Social Security benefits become available. Not all may be retiring a full decade early, but this category captures all whose retirement schedules are moved up because of larger systemic (rather than entirely personal) issues. While losing an older clergyperson with 5 years of service left to early retirement is not the same as losing a young clergyperson with 35 years of service left to another career, given the number of older clergy in the UMC, a trend towards earlier retirement nonetheless has the potential to be significant.

The Great Reconsideration, then, describes people who are considering or might have considered a career in ministry but decide not to pursue that sense of calling because of the same set of COVID-related, denominational, and other external factors negatively impacting clergy work for existing clergy. They reconsider their sense of calling. While the Great Reconsideration impacts people across age brackets, it is likely a significant factor impacting the decline in the number of younger clergy. Faithful young people are finding means to serve God with their careers other than as clergy.

Again, more data would be helpful to establish the scope and extent of each of these three clergy challenges, but the existing data suggests it is fair to think of there being three related but distinct clergy crises.

Thinking of these crises as related but distinct helps clarify the sorts of responses required by denominational leaders to address these crises and ensure an adequate supply of clergy for existing and new congregations. Some of the drivers of these crises are common across categories: the ways in which the pandemic, denominational conflict, and societal polarization have made the experience of ministry more difficult and decreased clergy well-being. But the contexts that shape how these external factors impact individual's sense of vocation, career, and alternative options are distinct according to stage of life and ministry.

Thus, efforts to increase clergy well-being are likely to make a positive impact on each of these three clergy crises. But denominational leaders should also be mindful of the unique needs of clergy at different stages of their lives and careers and seek to provide stage-appropriate resources as well.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Recommended Reading: Prayers for Kazakhstan

Bishop Eduard Khegay has issued a prayer for Kazakhstan on his Facebook page (in Russian; translation available through Facebook). Kazakhstan has experienced a week of instability, including protests, riots and government crackdowns, set off by a rise in gas prices and underlying concerns about corruption and domination of the country by elites. NPR offers a brief summary of the situation, and the UMC in Germany offers background information for the bishop's remarks (in German). Much of the unrest has occurred in Almaty, the country's largest city and former capitol and Bishop Khegay's hometown. Today, Jan. 10th, has been designated as a special day of mourning for those who have died in the recent events.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Recommended Reading: Doug Wingeier biography

The Michigan Annual Conference has published a lovely biography of Douglas E. Wingeier, a retired United Methodist missionary to Southeast Asia and professor of Christian education and practical theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The thorough biography gives testimony to one who has served faithfully "as a teacher, mentor, peacemaker, advocate for justice, for the health of the planet, as a witness for the love and grace of Jesus, as a relationship builder between cultures around the world." This summary of the life and work of a great mission thinker is well worth a read.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Mission and play

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.

The world is beset by many problems, but for the first UM & Global post of 2022, I wanted to begin by looking at something a bit more lighthearted and delightful. I want to draw some parallels between the practice of Christian mission and the act of playing. Here are four such parallels:

1. They are both collaborative endeavors.

It is possible to play certain games by oneself, but most forms of play are social; that is, they involve multiple people. Social play is inherently collaborative. You cannot play for someone; you can only play with others. Play requires contributions by all participants for it to really work. If someone's contributions to the process of playing are not recognized or accepted, they will likely leave the game.

In the same way, one cannot do mission by oneself; it is an inherently social practice. Mission is therefore collaborative. And mission done rightly is done not for others but with others, in a way that recognizes and accepts the contributions of all involved.

2. They are both open-ended processes.

Play, whether in formal games or in improvised imaginative play, is open-ended. The outcome of play is not pre-determined, and especially in the case of imaginative play, there is no clear goal towards which play is going. Play is about the process rather than the output. It develops out of the contributions of all involved.

While one could easily make the case that mission does have a teleological goal in the kingdom of God, we as humans have limited knowledge of what that goal will actually look like and how or when it will be achieved. Thus, while mission may be teleological from a divine or theological standpoint, from the perspective of those participating in mission, it is open-ended and on-going. Individual projects may come to a close, but we can never say that we have reached the goal of mission and thus are done with it. Instead, it continues to unfold in a non-predetermined way based on the contributions of all involved.

3. Neither can be reduced to extrinsic economic or social value.

One of the defining features of play is its intrinsic value. We play not to produce economic or social value, but because we enjoy playing in its own right. Play may have economic or social benefits, but these are side benefits of play. They are not why we engage in play. We engage in play for its own sake.

Similarly, mission may produce economic or social benefits that can be quantified and justified in secular terms, but these worldly benefits are not the main point of mission. We engage in mission because of our relationship with God, not because of mission's utility in secular terms. Mission is not a means to some other end; it is an activity worthwhile in its own right.

4. They both contain a sense of joy.

Play is enjoyable, or should be, and that joy is a main motivator for engaging in play. Play is fun. It brings delight. It connects us to others and helps us to live in the goodness of the moment.

Mission, too, is, or at least should be, a joyful act. Whether or not it is "fun" in a conventional sense, participating in mission should bring delight, a delight grounded in the goodness of God. Mission should connect us to others and help us experience God's goodness present in the activities of life.

I am sure that 2022 will bring its share of troubles and worries. But my prayer for you, readers, at the beginning of this year, is that these troubles and worries will not prevent you from experiencing the joy and delight of mission and of play.