Monday, February 28, 2022

Jay Choi: Jubilee Mission and Poverty in the Philippines

Today’s post is by Rev. Jae Hyoung Choi. Rev. Choi is Missionary in Residence with the General Board of Global Ministries. It is part of an occasional series on mission and jubilee.

In my past post, I said that unity is important for mission but not the ultimate end of the church. The raison d’e tre of the church always has something to do with the plan of God’s salvation for the world. In order to save the world, the unity of church becomes one important means.

What does it mean for the church to save the world? Solving the most urgent and universal problems of the world through God’s will and way! When the church is fully committed to this task, only then can it boldly speak the truth, receive credibility in the world, radiate the real meaning of eternity it propagates, and be acknowledged for its origin of divine revelation and commission.

Poverty in the Philippines
Then what is the most urgent and universal problem that Philippine society now faces? Needless to say, it is poverty. A kind of poverty from which the masses suffer, requiring a call for the church to be one.

Like many Latin American and African countries, the Philippines is full of natural and human resources. Also, the Philippines is the only majority Christian country in Asia. Nevertheless, many in the Philippines have long been affected by poverty and socioeconomic polarization. The coexistence of countless church buildings and widespread poverty is the dilemma of the country.

Unfortunately, at the outset of this dilemma, there was Christian mission. When the early Spanish missionaries brought the gospel, they introduced Jesus, but without Jubilee. What arrived with Jesus at that time was the Roman concept of absolute private ownership. Before the Spaniards arrived, a local indigenous people had had their own ownership philosophy and practices.


Exclusively mine (things produced or traded)


Exclusively ours (like villages and rice terraces)


Inclusively ours (like mountains, rivers, and ocean)

As reflected in their everyday languages, the indigenous people had a clear distinction between private and communal ownership, and they had been able to practice it organically. That local ownership was similar to the biblical principle of Jubilee.

Early Spanish missionaries were pious and committed people, but at the same time they were the people of their own time who took the Roman ownership for granted. The indigenous Filipinos could not fully understand the Roman concept of ownership. Onofre Corpuz, a Filipino scholar, said that from the colonization in 1500 to the Revolution in 1900, for 400 years, except for a few local elites, almost all Filipinos were still confused about the concept of Roman absolute private ownership.[1]

For me, this Roman ownership that was bundled with Jesus was the first button put in the wrong place in Christian mission in the Philippines. What if, the missionaries introduced Jesus who proclaimed Jubilee in his inauguration sermon?

As the old giant Goliath horrified God’s people, so too does poverty scorn the people of God. What we need is a small stone that can eradicate it, just as David defeated Goliath by hiting the dead center with a small stone. And the stone is the “Law of Jubilee.” God has put this law in the hand of the church to throw at evil.

Misunderstanding Jubilee
But does the church understand this? There are many churches, and many of them are large, powerful, and influential; but they seem to have no will to comprehend and proclaim the principles in Jubilee. Churches are too busy with heavenly concerns and earthly businesses. Their energies are divided and wasted.

But if they pull themselves together; tighten their grip; and in unity, with resolution, stare at the Giant, then the Spirit of God, who is able to make the impossible, possible; will come and work through them. Then the world will know God through the church in action.

My spirit is depressed, however, with the way people misunderstand Jubilee. According to my personal experience, there seems to be two main understandings of Jubilee: spiritualized Jubilee and idealized Jubilee.

First, spiritualized Jubilee is representative of a mere religious or spiritual symbol. One example is the 50-year Jubilee cycle, which is used for periodical celebration. The danger in this approach dissolves the historical and social significance of Jubilee.

This phenomenon happened frequently in the history of Israel. During the Second Temple period, most people were accustomed to such spiritual Jubilee that they used the cycle as an apocalyptic tool to predict the future. We know how the socio-economic and political conditions were during the time when they were holding the husk without the kernel of Jubilee, and why Jesus proclaimed Jubilee in his inauguration sermon; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me … to proclaim Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor).” (Luke 4:18-19)

There have been numerous theories on the cause of poverty in the Philippines. But Christians should be able to discern the correlation between spiritualization of Jubilee and the prolonged socio-economic and political extortion and injustice. In other words, the real culprit for such problems is neither corrupt politicians nor unjust social structure, it is Christians!

The second misunderstanding is to see Jubilee as an impractical ideal. Ironically, this attitude is found among many church leaders who are well versed in Scripture and is more serious than laypeople spiritualizing Jubilee. Christian leaders treat Jubilee as a mere ideal; an impracticable, utopian vision; or a culture of a specific ethnic group in antiquity, analogous to those who cut their own hair but still believe that they are Samson.

Nevertheless, the Counsellor, the Spirt of Hope, always reminds us of the vision the Prophet foresaw, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

Churches in the Philippines, converging all their energy to solving the most urgent and universal problem of society, poverty, through the law of Jubilee, while journeying toward unity in the Triune God, is ecumenical Jubilee mission. Such mission has been a constant call from those who are in dark, lonely, and marginalized corners of society. It is a wake-up call from the suffering people who yearn for the epiphany. It is an invitation from the suffering world to the church to be faithful to God’s call. The church should make this mission its own again, lest it is too late.

[1] Onofre D. Corpuz, An Economic History of the Philippines (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1997), 63.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Methodists React to Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine yesterday, Methodists from around the world, and especially from across Europe, have condemned the action and called for peace. Here are some of the developments:

United Methodist News Service published a piece sharing reactions to the invasions, including one from Rev. Oleg Starodubets, a district superintendent of The United Methodist Church in Ukraine. UMNS compiled several other reactions as well, including some of those listed below. Methodist news in Germany and Switzerland also compiled reactions. The Swiss story includes reports from United Methodists in Poland that Ukrainian refugees have already started to arrive in that country.

The World Methodist Council, acting with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and the Conference of European Churches (CEC, condemned the attacks on Ukraine, called for prayer for peace, and announced a special Ash Wednesday prayer service for peace.

Following the invasion, the European Methodist Council issued a prayer for peace in Europe. The Methodist Church in Great Britain posted their own prayer, along with additional worship resources.

UMC bishops in Europe also called for peace. Bishop Eduard Khegay, whose episcopal area includes both Russia and Ukraine, posted on Facebook the day before the attack calling for prayers for peace, condemning war, and lifting up in particular the UMC congregation in Luhansk. United Methodist news outlets in Germany and in Switzerland also compiled reactions.

Following the attack, the websites of the UMC in Germany and in Switzerland published articles sharing Bishop Khegay's words and calling for peace. The piece from Germany added comments from Bishops Patrick Streiff (Central and Southern Europe Central Conference) and Harald Rückert (Germany Central Conference).

Bishop Christian Alsted of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area, much of which borders Russia, also posted on Facebook to condemn war, express solidarity with Ukraine and with the Baltic countries, pray for peace, and pray for United Methodists in both Ukraine and Bishop Khegay.

Global Ministries issued a statement calling for "the peace and security of United Methodists in Ukraine and Russia" and indicating that UMCOR is in communication with partners in the region about humanitarian response to the conflict in Ukraine. The Swiss Connexio develop is also collecting money to assist with humanitarian dimensions of the conflict.

In the United States, Bishop Ken Carter of the Western North Carolina and Florida Annual Conferences and Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences (among other leaders) issued prayers for peace.

Prior to the invasion, the Connectional Table affirmed a WCC statement on Ukraine expressing concern, calling for dialogue to resolve the conflict, and calling for prayer. The CT noted that the UMC has members in both Ukraine and Russia.

Around the world, prayer poured in from Methodists as far away as Uruguay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Recommended Readings: Ukrainian United Methodists

As the world anxiously watches developments in Ukraine, here are some pieces about the history of the ways in which the conflict between Ukraine and Russia have shaped The United Methodist Church in Ukraine over the past decade.

On United Methodists and the 2014 conflict:

The Present Political Crisis in Ukraine

German United Methodists seek peace for Russia, Ukraine

Ukrainian United Methodists feel strain of war

On United Methodist peacemaking between Ukraine and Russia in 2015 and following years:

Religious leaders from Ukraine, Russia try peace effort

Russian, Ukrainian women seek peace together

Recognizing women as peacemakers

Taking the lead for peace

Monday, February 21, 2022

Jay Choi: Ecumenical Mission and Jubilee in the Philippines

Today’s post is by Rev. Jae Hyoung Choi. Rev. Choi is Missionary in Residence with the General Board of Global Ministries. It is part of an occasional series on mission and jubilee.

Looking from the conventional view of Christian mission, doing mission work in the Philippines is ambiguous. Does the view of mission as establishing the church through conversion by spreading the gospel make much sense in the Philippines? The archipelago accepted the first missionaries from Spain almost 500 years ago, and Protestant mission has been active for more than a century.

The slogan “believe in Jesus!” will put both evangelists and hearers in an awkward situation. The same with “church.” If “church” means a space for worship, almost every barangay has it. If the “church” means an order, the Philippine has a state of art order from the Vatican to the barrio. The recent growth of some Protestant denominations is overwhelming, especially that of Pentecostals.

Thus, this tension between the “Christianized Philippines” and the “Christianizing mission” demands an answer. As a missionary who served this land, I find the answer in ecumenical jubilee mission.

The most famous biblical foundation of mission is the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. The verses, however, have suggested a rather aggressive expansion of the institutional church. According to Karl Barth’s exegesis, its meaning is rather closer to “filling the world with new ethical beings that are transformed in the gospel of Christ as the disciples were.” Its Old Testament parallel could be Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Another problem is that most Christians have tended to take this verse as the sole foundation of mission. As a result, the other Great Commission has been overlooked and neglected. The other Great Commission is unity among Christians, found in John 17:11. Jesus willed his followers to be one.

Christian unity and mission are like two sides of one coin. We can never overemphasize the missional meaning of Christian unity. That is, mission is not only “going out to preach the gospel” but also “loving one another to be one in Christ.”

This pursuit of inner cohesion that may look somewhat passive becomes, in fact, a very active social kerygma toward the world. The apathy of the world is exposed through agape in the church; the violence of the world is disclosed by peacefulness in the church; the injustice of the world is indicted through equality in the church; and conflict and division in the world are questioned through the unity of the church. Thus, unity of the church pro-vides a profound and practical guideline for mission.

Sadly, church today seems to devote itself too much for centrifugal mission (going out, reaching out, and preaching to) while neglecting the centripetal aspect of mission (forming a model within so that others come and see). The balance between propagation and unity has been severely damaged.

Figuratively speaking, it is like children from a dysfunctional family yearning for recognition and acceptance outside their family. Or it is like troubled spouses wandering outside searching for immoral satisfaction. Looking for the solution from the outside while the problem is from within is a paradox. The more they roam outside, the worse their situation will be, and in the end, they will be the objects of censure from others.

Likewise, many churches are busy with various outreach programs while pretending their inner relations are normal. What about the universal church? Is it healthy enough as one body? If we understand how the early Christians wrestled to keep unity within the church, we will surely be ashamed of being called Christians today.

Throughout history, when disunity of the church reached an unbearable level, the church was no longer the subject of God’s mission. Instead, the church itself turned into the object of God’s mission, which meant severe judgment. How many innocent people had to suffer and shed their blood because of the disunity of the church! Therefore, mission should always include the church’s looking within through genuine metanoia (repentance) and kenosis (self-emptiness). Isn’t this the mandate for the universal church, to be one in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit the essence of ecumenical movement?

By looking at mission from this ecumenical perspective, doing mission in the Philippines is never ambiguous. Christians from all traditions should be aware of this unity and strive for this unity with all their hearts and strength. All missionaries should be fertilizers for this unity. Churches, instead of revealing other churches’ weaknesses, should strengthen their own weaknesses by seeing others’ strengths until all of them may grow into maturity through Christ together. Then the churches will be the agents of love, justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation to the world.

Although unity is important, it is not the ultimate end of the church. The clue for unity should not be sought in “doctrine” or “belief” anymore; instead it should be found in the joint action of solving the most urgent and universal problem. I will talk more about the role of Jubilee in this sort of joint action in my next post.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Missionary Interviews

United Methodist Communications and United Methodist Women have both recently posted interviews with United Methodist missionaries and mission leaders serving around the world.

As it has in years past, the "Get Your Spirit in Shape" podcast produced by United Methodist Communications has recently featured a series of interviews with Global Ministries missionaries. The podcasts, which range from 20 to 36 minutes, feature a range of missionaries doing a range of work. The three recent episodes are as follows:

Desiree Segura-April, a Resource Person for Children at Risk Ministries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Helen Roberts-Evans, director of the Department of General Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church in Liberia

Rev. John Calhoun, who pastors the English-Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna (ESUMC)

In addition, United Methodist Women recently posted the latest episode in its "Voices from the Field" series. This 20-minute episode features women leaders from Mozambique.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Sun-Ah Kang: Culture and Interpreting the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31:10-31

Today's post is by Rev. Sun-Ah Kang. Rev. Kang is a doctoral student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a GBHEM Angella P. Current-Felder Woman of Color Scholar, and an elder in the UMC.

“I am not a faithful Christian woman. I know I am called to be a good mom and wife, but I love my work. I can’t pick one. And this gives me guilt.” A friend of mine shared her struggle after participating in a woman’s bible study group, mainly learning from Proverbs 31:10-31.

Proverbs 31:10-31 is one of the most widely loved scriptures—it has been used to recognize mothers and wives during Mother’s Day sermons, to celebrate women in Jewish weddings, and in Jewish and Protestant funerals. Indeed, Proverbs 31:10-31 is a female lead scripture, a rare case compared to well-known biblical stories and heroes.

In my doctoral work, I study the dynamic hermeneutical relationship of culture and scripture through a cross-cultural reading of scripture, specifically how certain cultures and traditions influence reading the Bible. I raise the case of Proverbs 31:10-31 to examine how Korean Confucianism and Christian churches impact the reading of Proverbs 31 and how this reading affects women’s identity. Because of the centrality of gender in this passage and in the process of cultural reproduction, it can provide us with key insights into the relationship between culture and the Bible.

The main character is translated into English variously, such as a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “capable wife” (NRSV). The Korean Bible (Korean Revised Bible, revised in 1998) translates the Proverbs 31 woman as a virtuous woman, an equivalent to the virtuous woman of Confucianism. Due to the cultural value of virtue, this translation fits well in the Korean Confucian context. In Korean Confucianism, a virtuous woman is a woman of the feminine virtues who sacrifices and devotes herself as a housewife and a mother.

Accordingly, based on the translation, which supports the Confucian ideal of virtuous wife and mother, predominant preaching and bible studies reproduce a Christian ideal of virtuous wife and mother. By complimenting sacrificial women and using them as a pedagogical tool, male leaders often create a norm to judge and criticize women. The norm naturally became internalized in Christian women’s lives deeply, and women are cultivated to fit their behaviors to be Proverbs 31 wannabes.

Indeed, Proverbs 31:10-31 becomes the standard to evaluate faithful and praiseworthy women. The primary knowledge of the Bible comes from preaching, bible studies, or devotional reading that predominantly transmits the patriarchal ideal of women from Confucian culture that is read into the text.

In my doctoral work, I problematize the reproduction of the patriarchal ideal of woman in Christianity, deeply influenced by Confucianism and conservative Protestant theology, which affects women’s identity formation in a harmful and toxic way.

Even today, Korean churches legitimate women’s sacrificial service for granted limiting women’s leadership within churches as teacher and babysitter at Sunday school, server, cook of the meal, or greeter. This hierarchical and patriarchal church culture phenomenon is easily found in churches of Korea and Korean churches in the United States. Accordingly, such culture forms the reading of scripture and identity. I problematize the church cultures/customs to legitimize women’s service, using scripture as a reference that eventually benefits men.

A thorough examination of Confucian understanding of human beings provides a different picture of womanhood. Specifically, one of the Confucian textbooks for women in the Joseon dynasty, Naehun—Instructions for the Inner Quarter (1475), proposes that a virtuous Confucian ideal is a woman of wisdom and intelligence who can advise and guide and even rebuke her husband for pursuing the sagehood.

Stereotypical assumptions of Confucian women are rooted in the practices and publications of late Joseon and the byproduct of the western missionary movement in the late nineteenth century—Joseon women are passive, oppressed victims of patriarchal Confucian cultures. These assumptions must be counteracted by bringing other Confucian voices to the reading of the text.

The conventional understanding of a woman as a housewife and a mother hinders Christians from revealing the true identity of the Prov 31 woman. However, the rediscovery of the Confucian virtuous woman provides an alternative way to encounter Prov 31 woman: “She is a professional who finds success in her field of work. She is an artisan of textiles (vv. 13, 19, 22), an international merchant (vv. 14, 17, 24), an entrepreneur (vv. 15, 18, 21, 24–25, 27), an adventurous investor (v. 16), euergetes and philanthropist (vv. 20–21), a human resource administrator for her husband (vv. 23, 27–29), a professor or guru (v. 26), an educator (v. 28), a deaconess (v. 30), and a celebrity (vv. 28–31).”[1]

A Prov 31 woman is a professional woman, exerting full abilities and wisdom, better than her husband and any person. A Prov 31 woman does not limit her domain to the household but expands herself internationally.

What Michel Foucault said about power represents the dynamic relationship between culture, scriptural reading, and the formation of one’s identity. Foucault said, “In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.”[2]

Patriarchal culture in Korean society continually affects the way of reading scripture. Prov 31:10-31 is an obvious example of how this dynamic relationship is utilized and benefits patriarchal interests that deprive nurturing women to develop potential and establish positive woman’s selfhood in Christianity.

However, there is redemption. When women read the scripture differently, as I propose, it can produce power to impact reversely. To do so, readers need to stay out of their comfort zone and listen to the Bible, other cultures, and traditions.

We, Wesleyans, are privileged to have a tremendous hermeneutical tool of the quadrilateral. Reason must be considered when we read the scripture to ask, for instance, will my reading empower and promote other people’s image of God, especially their self-image and dignity?

May God bless us to discern God’s voice in scripture and use us to promote other people’s well-being!

[1] Sun-Ah Kang, “REREADING “A VIRTUOUS WOMAN” (’ĒŠET HAYIL) IN PROVERBS 31:10–31” in Landscapes of Korean and Korean American Biblical Interpretation, ed. John Ahn (SBL Press, 2019), 139.

[2] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. I (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 94.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Jay Choi: Reimagining Christian Mission with Jubilee

Today’s post is by Rev. Jae Hyoung Choi. Rev. Choi is Missionary in Residence with the General Board of Global Ministries. It is part of what will be an occasional series on mission and jubilee.

Today, one of the most common understandings of Christian mission is mission as “helping.” Helping is an integral part of mission, but it is not the entirety of mission. The Church also faces a challenge that the world tends to show apathy and antipathy towards churches’ attempts at helping.

One reason for this could be that people are looking for a fundamentally different approach from the Church. With the increase of technology and efficiency, goods and services overflow, and yet poverty still overburdens a majority of the population. This is a constant human condition that calls for a particular Christian response.

What we learn from Moses, the prophets, and Jesus is that their responses were radical, penetrating the core of the problem. Starting backward from the apostles, to Jesus, to the prophets, and to the Law of Moses, we reach to the Law of Jubilee. What I am going to talk about in this piece is the biblical Jubilee, specifically its land ownership principle and its relationship to Christian mission.

Jubilee Spirit
The Law of Jubilee is the culmination of the Sabbatical regulation, which is central to the Torah. It was promulgated for sustainable justice and equality through periodic restoration of land ownership. In Leviticus 25, Jubilee is defined to include the laws on land, labor, housing, and lending and the foundation is the law concerning land. Verse 23 shows the great principle of Jubilee, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.”

Without doubt, the overarching spirit in this ancient law is “fairness and justice.” The kind of society Jubilee envisions and embodies is (1) that clothing, food, and shelter for all people are secured, (2) that there should be no human bondage, and (3) that out of this social security, all the members of society flourish socioeconomically, ethically, and spiritually.

The Law of Jubilee was akin to a “Silver Bullet” God provided for the liberated Israel so that they could eradicate poverty and oppression and pursue a peaceful life. The Bible depicts God’s Jubilee people as a holy salvific people since it radiates God to the world through their life that stands in contrast to that of the world.

Jubilee Ownership
The Jubilee ownership principle is an organic mixture of private and communal ownership. That is, what a person produces out of his/her labor becomes his/her possession. Likewise, what God creates belongs to divine possession. Ecclesiastes 5:9 clarifies the meaning of divine possession, “The increase from the land is taken by all.” In short, according to the Law of Jubilee, ownership, usership, and tradership of land ought to be ruled by the principles of “fairness, equality, and justice.”

About 2,000 years after Moses, Basil the Great, who was from Cappadocia of modern-day Turkey and became the bishop of Caesarea, revisited the Jubilee ownership and stated it thus: “There are [Ownership] between ta idia (one’s own) – what is one’s private property in virtue of one’s having brought it into being, as the product of one’s labor, and ta koina (common goods) which are just ‘there’, which have been created by God for the use of all. Natural productive elements are not ‘there’ due to anyone’s merit or labor.”[1] When the bishop saw the land monopoly pervasive in the empire drove commoners out of their lands into poverty and slavery, he denounced it by saying that whether you are a first settler or a conqueror, if you privatize the land God created for all people, it is “robbery.”[2]

Henry George and Jubilee
In late 19th century, about 1,500 years after Bishop Basil, a poor young man from San Francisco visited New York City. While witnessing the coexistence of skyscrapers going up high and pauperism below, this bewildered young man was determined to understand “the law which associates poverty with progress, and increases want with advancing wealth.”[3] This man was Henry George. After arduous days of labor, he would visit the public library in the evening for self-study and finally came to the conclusion that the root cause of poverty amid progress was derived from land monopoly. Then he proposed a remedy based on the Law of Jubilee.

George knew that it was utterly impossible to redistribute the land in modern societies. So, he proposed to tax the value of land and return the revenues for all the members of society. He got this idea from the tithe, shared by the landed to help the landless, like the Levites, orphans, and widows. Because Henry George advocated levying a tax on land value increase while removing all other taxes upon human exertion, people called his Land Value Taxation the “Single Tax Movement.” From today’s perspective, this Single Tax Movement was tantamount to socioeconomic structural reform to eradicate poverty and polarization of wealth. The important takeaway is that George’s thought was based on the principles of biblical Jubilee.

Mesmerized by George’s philosophy, Leo Tolstoy included the spirit of Jubilee in his novels to enlighten his fellow Russians, especially peasants. Influenced by Tolstoy, Sun Yat Sen, the first president of China, included Henry George’s idea in his book Three Principles and wanted to implement Jubilee principle as the economic foundation of China. When Mao Zedong’s the Red Army succeeded, Sun’s successor Chiang Kai Shek retreated to Formosa, today’s Taiwan, and implemented Sun Yat Sen’s economic plan. Although Taiwan is a Buddhist country, at its economic base there is the biblical principle of Jubilee. We know that Taiwan was the only country in Asia that could withstand the Asia financial crisis in 1997.

Jubilee and Mission
In Hwang Gee, Gang-won-do, South Korea, there is a place called “Jesus Abbey.” It was established by an American Anglican missionary, Reuben Archer Torrey III. Father Torrey served in Korea for 50 years. He read Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty. Later, he translated the book into Korean with the title How to Escape from Poverty? For his entire life, he prayed for Korea and preached Jubilee.

Many Korean young people followed him. When they gather, they pray earnestly for Jubilee Korea, Reunified Korea, and Mission Korea. And when they scatter, they become the evangelists of Jesus and Jubilee. I have been fortunate enough to meet several among them who have been actively working to apply the Jubilee principles to Korea’s national land policy.

Christian mission needs helping the poor, and it also needs solving the root causes of poverty. As we are going through this crucial transition period in history, the Church should be able to reimagine its mission with Jubilee because God’s suffering people and groaning creation thirst for justice.

On his deathbed, Father Torrey left this final word, “Go up to the rooftop and proclaim Jubilee.” We need to remember that the boldest mission John Wesley did was to denounce the English Enclosure, which expelled farmers from the land and made them into a lumpenproletariat during the Industrial Revolution.[4] At the same time, we need to remember that such courageous social action was from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that empowered Jesus to proclaim the Year of Lord’s favor, Jubilee.

[1] Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 135.

[2] Avila, Ownership, 135.

[3] Henry George, Progress and Poverty (New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1997), 12.

[4] Francis McConnell, John Wesley, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1939), 251.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Recommended Reading/Viewing: Love Beyond Borders Campaign

The United Methodist Church's involvement with UNICEF's push for global vaccine distribution, called Love Beyond Borders, was announced last October and received press coverage at the time. Now, there are two additional ways to learn about this initiative.

First, the podcast Get Your Spirit in Shape has released an episode featuring Dr. David Boan, a member of First United Methodist Church of Boise, Idaho, who pushed for United Methodist involvement in Love Beyond Borders, and Kathleen Griffith of the General Board of Global Ministries' Global Health team, who has helped coordinate Global Ministries' pandemic responses. The two discuss the Love Beyond Borders campaign.

Second, next Thursday at 7pm EST, there will be a public webinar about Love Beyond Borders as an expression of an interfaith movement to end the pandemic. Interested viewers can register online.

Finally, you can get a sense of how Love Beyond Borders fits into Global Ministries' larger COVID-1i pandemic response in this recent statement outlining that response.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

High conflict and the need for new Methodist narratives

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

I recently read Amanda Ripley's book High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Got Out. It was an interesting and informative read. She defines high conflict as "a conflict that becomes self-perpetuating and all-consuming, in which almost everyone ends up worse off. Typically an us-versus-them conflict."

The applicability of that definition and other concepts throughout the book to The United Methodist Church were clear. The UMC, especially its American branch, has been trapped in an increasingly high conflict over the past several decades, a conflict that has turned into an all-encompassing, two-sided battle for control of the denomination and claim to the title of true Methodism.

The high conflict within United Methodism seems to be heading toward some sort of separation within the denomination, though uncertainties abound about how and when exactly that separation will happen, especially given obstacles to holding a globally inclusive General Conference. Given an impending separation, some of Ripley's ideas about escaping high conflict are less relevant.

But one idea still stood out to me. Ripley writes about how one of the attractions of high conflict is that it provides a clear narrative that provides a sense of identity and purpose in the world. When that is true, she writes, many people will not want to let go of high conflict "if it means they will have to let go of an apocalyptic narrative than has become part of their identity." To escape from high conflict requires "develop[ing] other, competing identities."

The conflict within the UMC has been extremely important to many United Methodist's sense of identity and narrative about (American) Christianity, both those on the Traditionalist and Progressive sides. Identifying oneself as a Traditionalist or as a Progressive (and therefore not the other side) has been an important part of many United Methodists' self-understanding in recent decades.

Moreover, both sides of the conflict have a sense of how this conflict plays into larger narratives about the trajectory of (American) Christianity, narratives with apocalyptic elements of good vs. evil and a promised ultimate triumph for one's own side.

For Traditionalists, it is a story about evil Progressives abandoning the faith, but the Traditionalists will triumph in the end through numerical growth because they have held to the true faith, while Progressives dwindle and die out because of their apostacy.

For Progressives, it is a story about evil Traditionalists perpetuating oppression against LGBTQ+ persons, but Progressives will triumph in the end because the arc of the universe will bend towards justice and inclusion, vindicating their views and relegating the views of Traditionalists to the dustbin of history.

The animating power of these identities and these narratives mean that we should be wary of assuming that a separation will bring an end to the high conflict in The United Methodist Church. It is entirely possible for the two different groups within the church to become separate denominations but still be consumed by competition and conflict with one another.

For example, the separation between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South did not end conflict between the two groups but rather intensified conflict in border regions where congregations of or sympathizers with both traditions were present. A similar fate is possible for The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church.

For the eventual Global Methodist Church and The United Methodist Church to leave behind high conflict with one another will require both of them to develop new senses of identity that are not predicated on defining themselves in opposition to one another. They will both need some sense of purpose in the world that is not directly a function of continuing their historic conflict.

Those behind the Global United Methodist Church has put forth a variety of reflections and statements about what they see as the purpose of their new denomination. Most of those have to do with spreading revival and true Christianity. The focus on revival is good. Depending on how true Christianity is defined and who it is defined against, the potential still exists there for continued high conflict.

Those who intend to remain within the UMC have recently recognized the importance of such work crafting new identities and narratives. The bishops' "A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church" and the #BeUMC campaign are both products of that realization. A two-page document and a social media hashtag don't constitute a fully articulated vision for the denomination post-separation, but the recognition of the need for new identities and new narratives is a step in the right direction.

Two of Ripley's five strategies for leaving behind high conflict are "reduce the binary" and "complicate the [existing] narrative." If the UMC and its successors are to get beyond our current high conflict, we must generate new stories about Methodism that supersede current simplified, binary views of Methodism as a theater for conflict.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Sung Il Lee: How Shall They Believe?

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.

What does Wesley’s understanding of religions, as I described in my last post, mean for our practice of mission and evangelism? Wesley is concerned that “there are many heathen nations in the world that have no intercourse either by trade or nay other means with Christians of any kind” (#63. §24). Wesley, quoting Romans 10:14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” emphasizes how God miraculously sends his gospel message to the unevangelized in the form of a negative question:

Yea, but is not God able to send them? Cannot he raise them up, as it were, out of the stones? And can he ever want means of sending them? No: Were there no other means, he can “take them by his Spirit,” as he did Ezekiel. (Ezek. 3:12) or by his angel, as he did Philip, (Acts 8) and set them down wheresoever it pleaseth him. Yea, he can find out a thousand ways to foolish man unknown. And he surely will: For heaven and earth may pass away; but his word shall not pass away.” (#63. §24).

In relation to this, the unevangelized cannot be blamed for failing to accept Christ, since they have never heard of him. So, Wesley believes in an impartial God who “never, in any age or nation, ‘left himself’ quite ‘without a witness’ in the hearts of men; but while he gave them rain and fruitful seasons imparted some imperfect knowledge of the Giver. He is the true light that still, in some degree, enlighten every man that comes into the world” (#113. The Difference Between Walking by Sight and Walking by Faith. §9). Here Wesley carefully expresses the possibility of salvation for the unevangelized but leaves the possibility of salvation to their own Master, saying:

Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is “the Father of the spirits of all flesh;” who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made. (#125. On Living without God. §14).

In another sermon, Wesley said that “if there be no true love of our neighbor that springs from the love of God, … does it not follow that the whole heathen world is excluded from all possibility of salvation?” (#91. On Charity. VI. §3). On this basis, he argues:

I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, no man shall see the Lord; but I dare not add, or clear ideas. (#125. §15).

Chester Gillis evaluates that even though concern for salvation is unique to religion, to John Wesley, “ethics, moral discourse and behavior, and ritual are not exclusively the domain of religion.”[1]

In the light of Wesley’s views, when it comes to Christian witness in a pluralist world, I hold the view that if we put our trust in Christ, we can listen to others without fear of losing our faith. And we can share with them the new life that we ourselves have found.[2] The way Wesley witnessed to the skeptic in his days gives us an example of how to share our testimonies with people of other faiths today. Wesley urges us to avoid replying with rational arguments, because even if rational arguments were successful in convincing, they would nonetheless leave the skeptic imprisoned within the realm of previous experience. Instead, he told us to let “experience speak to experience.”[3]

Wesley invited the skeptic to attend the meeting of a local society and become a member of a class, which proved to be the best apologetic method, because it invited a skeptic to be open to a new community of experience. Runyon said that Wesley shared his daily experiences of God's presence in his life and appealed to the testimonies of members of society, which opened up the existence of a reality where rational arguments can be met in reality. “Testimony functioned as a temptation to believe. Experience speaks to experience, not in some arbitrary way but as a catalyst that may trigger a response in those willing to risk participating in the same reality.”[4] And when participation in spiritual reality happens, it is experienced as self-certification. “Reason can then function … to compare the new faith-relation with the understanding of other members of the community, with the wider tradition, and with the Scriptures. In this process faith will grow and be enriched and the range of experience expanded.”[5]

In conclusion, I like Wesley’s humble attitude toward other religions, and I love to see his evangelistic enthusiasm that nevertheless leaves the possibility of salvation in other religions in the hands of God, beyond the limits of evangelism and mission. I like to interpret his inclusivistic attitudes as the enthusiasm of an evangelist who has the heart of Christ, who wants all men to be saved and know the truth of God.

In writing these articles, what I paid most attention to was doing my best not to let my intentions or greed distort what Wesley intended. In the case of theologians who insist on dialogue with other religions, I have often experienced that their intentions or greed distort their understanding of someone else’s intentions.

After being a Georgia missionary, the young Wesley returned to England to become a missional leader who revitalized the nominal Church of England. It should be remembered that Wesley considered that, in any era, more harmful than any other religion was Christianity that had lost its moral character (holy tempers), that is, a nominal Christianity that was too institutionalized to give room for the Holy Spirit to work.

[1] Chester Gillis, Pluralism: A New Paradigm for Theology (Louvain: Peeters Press, 1993), 131.

[2] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 224.

[3] Theodore Runyon, The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 158.

[4] Ibid., 158

[5] Ibid., 158

Friday, February 4, 2022

Up to a third of General Conference delegates can't get visas in time

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.

There has been a lot of recent debate about vaccine requirements as a bar to participation in General Conference by delegates from outside the United States. This debate has surfaced important issues about international equality and equity within the church. It has, however, overlooked the second big bar to participation in General Conference by delegates from outside the United States: visas.

Heather Hahn's recent article about UMC debates emphasizes, though, that visas are just as important as vaccinations for allowing General Conference to happen. And new data show that it may be visas, rather than vaccinations, that are the more insurmountable obstacle. Up to a third of General Conference delegates (and three-quarters of those from outside the United States) may not be able to obtain visas in time to participate in an August 2022 General Conference.

Visas are difficult to obtain even in normal times, as previously reported. But the pandemic has created anything but normal times over the past two years, making the process much slower and more difficult.

The wait times for visa processing depends on both the demand for visas from a country and the capacity of the consulate in that country to process visas. Visa wait times vary somewhat by country and from year to year, but normally, they are around two months.

COVID has disrupted normal wait times in many countries, however. During some parts of the pandemic, the US government was not issuing visas at all, at least to particular countries. This has created a backlog of demand for visas in some countries. COVID may have also diminished the capacity of various consulates to process visas in some cases.

The result is that in a number of countries, including countries where UMC General Conference delegates reside, wait times for obtaining visas have become quite long. Moreover, visas are still completely unavailable in a few countries where General Conference delegates reside. Other countries have returned to fairly normal wait times.

Based on the visa appointment wait times reported by the US State Department, there are up to 286 General Conference delegates who, if they were to start the process today in the US consulate in the capital of their country, would not even be able to get a visa application interview before General Conference is scheduled to meet. This is approximately a third of the total number of delegates and just over three quarters of the delegates from outside the United States.

Moreover, having a visa application interview is no guarantee of getting a visa, and in some cases there is additional processing time required to issue the visa. That additional processing time could mean that several more delegates would not be able to get visas before General Conference is scheduled to meet in August if they started the process today.

This group includes all of the delegates from the DRC (the country with the second highest number of United Methodists) and the Philippines (representing an entire central conference). It also includes a variety of other African and European countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Russia, all of which have substantial delegate counts. If they start now, at current rates, Nigerian delegates couldn’t get visas in time for General Conference in 2024.

Of course, some of these delegates may already have started the visa process. The US government began processing visas again in most countries three months ago. Not only did that represent an earlier start to the process, if delegates applied then, the timing of their interview would be based on wait times at that point, which may have been lower.

Some delegates may already have visas for other purposes. In a typical General Conference year, some delegates have visitor visas already because of travel to the United States for other church meetings or business or personal travel. That number is likely to be lower this year because of the pause in travel due to the pandemic.

It is possible that the visa application wait times could come down, though in many cases, they would need to come down substantially to allow delegates to participate. There are also sometimes other work arounds – for instance, applying in another nearby country (which is not allowed in all cases).

Part of the challenge of visas is that, because the process is controlled entirely by the US government, the UMC has little leverage to affect the outcome or timing. UMC leaders can advocate on behalf of delegates, and the Commission on General Conference is undoubtedly doing so, but such advocacy has limited effectiveness even in normal times.

Thus, even with the exceptions noted above, an in-person General Conference held in the United States in August would likely not allow representatives from a substantial portion of the church to participate.

Obviously, I cannot speak for the Commission on General Conference. But given their previous statements about their desire to have an in-person General Conference with representation from a wide and representative array of United Methodists, the outlook for holding General Conference this year does not look good.