Friday, May 27, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Max Marble's Mission Musings

Many in the United States will be traveling this weekend to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. So, in the spirit of travel, here is a recommended set of video resources related to mission and travel. Rev. Max Marble is a retired member of the Missouri Annual Conference. He is the son of Methodist missionaries to India. Over the past 14 years, he has maintained a YouTube channel. The channel is a mix of content, some of it personal, but much of it related to his involvement in mission. Marble made a long-running series of "MissionCast" videos on topics related to his work and that of the Missouri Annual Conference. He has made videos about his on-going connections to India, including several trips there. Most recently, he has been serving with NOMADS, traveling the country to participate in short-term mission projects with other retirees. In his videos, Marble is a charming and personable voice for a United Methodist life devoted to mission.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

African United Methodists and the Protocol in 2024

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.

Zimbabwean Traditionalist UMC leader Rev. Forbes Matonga recently wrote a piece entitled "Waiting in Africa: The Impact of the Postponement of General Conference." That piece plus additional remarks made by Matonga and others on a recent episode of the WCA's podcast offer fruitful material for thinking about how various African United Methodists may approach the 2024 General Conference.

In the podcast, Matonga states what Bishop Quire of Liberia has previously stated and what Bishops Quire, Kasap, and Yohanna reiterated over the weekend at an Africa Initiative event: Africans allied with US Traditionalists intend to remain in the UMC until the 2024 General Conference. In the podcast, Congolese Traditionalist UMC leader Kimba Evariste expresses a personal desire to leave the denomination before then, which is notable, but the overall Africa Initiative strategy seems to be to stay in the denomination and to push for adoption of the Protocol, as Matonga indicates in his article.

In his article, Matonga expresses confidence that, backed by African support, the Protocol will pass. He correctly notes that if delegate numbers are recalculated between now and General Conference 2024, that recalculation will benefit African influence at the expense of American influence. Based on that math and an assumption that the same global coalition that has turned out for Traditionalist initiatives in the past will turn out for the Protocol in 2024, Matonga confidently asserts that the Protocol will pass.

But Matonga's second assumption bears questioning. As is made more fully clear in the podcast, Matonga is expecting all Africans, most to all Filipinos, all Eastern Europeans, and US Traditionalists to vote together for the Protocol. This is the coalition of votes that has preserved traditional stances on marriage in the UMC Book of Discipline in recent decades.

But Matonga misses the important point that the Protocol is a different issue that the denomination's official teaching on sexuality, and the same coalition will not necessarily support the Protocol just because they believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Matonga himself notes that the number of US Traditionalists at General Conference will be lower than in past years. This will be especially true if Traditionalists leave the denomination and the new delegates are elected, but based on election results for 2020, it will be true regardless.

As Jonathan Razon of the Philippines makes clear in the podcast, Filipino bishops are currently effectively promoting the idea of unity among Filipino United Methodists, including General Conference delegates. A vote for the Protocol could likely be seen as a vote against unity and therefore unacceptable to Filipino voters. Hence, Filipino voters seem less likely to support the Protocol than to support a traditional definition of marriage.

While the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference voted to leave the UMC (and thereby taking their two General Conference votes with them), the indication is that most to all other European branches of the church outside the Eurasia episcopal area intend to stay in the church and thus may be uninterested in the Protocol. Critically, that includes areas of Eastern Europe such as Poland and Estonia that are traditional on questions of marriage but may not be in support of the Protocol.

Then we come to Africa itself. I have yet to hear an African suggest that they would welcome a change in the denomination's teachings on sexuality. However, as the past three years have made clear, there are a variety of African views on the denomination's future that are not at all determined by their (unanimous) opposition to gay marriage and gay ordination.

The Africa Initiative is clearly aligned with US Traditionalists in promoting the Protocol. But even Jerry Kulah of the Africa Initiative was initially critical of the Protocol, and Evariste's remarks indicate that there may be some groups allied with the Africa Initiative that find it difficult to keep up the fight for the next two years and instead leave the UMC in their own mini-schisms.

Moreover, as much as the Africa Initiative would like to present themselves as the sole voice of African United Methodists, the past several years have shown they are at best one of several. African bishops remain a strong force, though views of the Protocol among them seem to vary. Some bishops have expressed allegiance towards US Traditionalists; others have moved against WCA-aligned leaders in their conferences.

The Africa Voice of Unity and the Christmas Covenant network represent two other, largely overlapping, groups of African leaders and General Conference delegates that seem to oppose the Protocol. The extent of this group and its opposition to the Protocol is further indicated by African signatories to the "A Call to Grace" letter.

Thus, with fewer US Traditionalists, without much support by Filipinos, with a few less votes from Eastern Europe, and with less solid support by Africans, the Protocol is unlikely to pass by the force of the same coalition that has prevailed at the previous several General Conferences. If it is to pass, it needs to draw on additional voters.

That does not, however, mean that the Christmas Covenant or a change in denominational stances on gay marriage and gay ordination are likely to pass. On the latter question of denominational teachings on sexuality, there is every reason to believe that the old coalition holds on this question. And because the Christmas Covenant requires a supermajority to pass constitutional amendments, there may be enough of the old coalition that hangs together on this issue to block its passage, as Matonga suggests.

The main takeaways here are two:

First, church observers need to start decoupling UMC leaders' views on sexuality and their views on the future of the UMC. Those are two very different questions that do not promote the same set of answers. Instead, one should think of the UMC as being dominated by a new set of denominational issues that creates a new set of denominational factions.

Second, without clear coalitions among these new denominational factions and with conflicting answers across different factions on different issues, there is a strong possibility that the 2024 General Conference will not accomplish anything major. As much as the denomination is beset by problems crying out for answers, divided factions along with entrenched conflict may mean that no major legislation comes out of General Conference 2024, further hollowing out the church.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Nan McCurdy: Give Ye Them to Eat: Christ’s Mission to End Food Insecurity

Today's post is by Nan McCurdy. McCurdy is a Global Ministries missionary of the United Methodist Church in the state of Puebla, Mexico with Give Ye Them to Eat (GYTTE), a ministry with impoverished rural people that works in community-based health, sustainable agriculture, church and faith development, community development specializing in appropriate technologies and also with mission delegations from the US and Mexico called AWARE – Alternative Work-Study and Reality Experiences. Nan is also the editor of the weekly on Nicaragua, NicaNotes. This post is part of an occasional series on food and mission.

US congregations take Jesus’ words and actions seriously: in 2018, 48% of churches had their own food ministry or supported efforts run by other churches or organizations such as food pantries or food banks. These faith-based ministries often provide immediate help to hungry people with no requirements, unlike government programs. And more than two million people volunteer at a food pantry, soup kitchen, emergency shelter or after-school program in the US, working more than 100 million volunteer hours a year, according to “Hunger in America 2014,” a study conducted by Feeding America.

This wave of charity recognizes a serious problem in the United States: despite being a wealthy nation, food insecurity remains high. One in four people in our nation, the richest nation on earth, do not have adequate access to sufficient nutritious food needed for a healthy life.

In the US, the average percentage of households with food insecurity stayed between 10 and 15% from 1995 until 2020, when the numbers shot up. Despite volunteer and government food aid, hunger grew 9% from 2019 to 2020, when 38 million people were hungry.

In research by the Census Bureau in the week before Christmas 2021, 81 million people experienced food insecurity, and 45 million reported not having enough food. Families with children suffered most: the rate of hunger has been 41% to 83% higher for households with children than adult-only ones.

Twice as many Black households experience hunger than white households. During the pandemic, 19 to 29% of Black homes with children have reported not having enough to eat; 16 to 25% of Latino homes and 7 to 14% of white homes reported the same. 43% of Black households with children have experienced food insecurity during the pandemic – the highest rate in recorded history.

In the face of this pervasive food insecurity, Americans turn to a variety of sources for help.

More than 42 million people rely on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. During Covid, the USDA increased the purchasing power of the plan by 21% for the first time since 1975. There were also emergency allotments that increased the amount of food stamps people got.

In 2019, 35 million people relied on food charity. Undocumented immigrants are more dependent on food pantries because they are excluded from government programs. Church-related food programs make a big difference for these people’s lives, especially for their children.

80% of households receiving food stamps had at least one worker, which indicates that millions of people do not earn a living wage.

US-Related International Food Insecurity
Hunger issues in the United States are connected to hunger issues elsewhere. US foreign policy has had a major effect on hunger and nutrition in developing nations for many years. US agricultural policy aggressively promotes creating markets for our farmers by promoting international reliance on US food exports.

The US subsidizes its own farmers to the point that products like corn and rice are actually sold below what would be the real price. In this way, we put small and medium-scale corn and rice producers out of business in developing nations. Most small farmers end up having to sell their land, leading to more large export-based farms – many now owned by US corporations.

Small and medium-scale farmers plant the food that local people eat like corn, beans, rice, vegetables, fruit, and they also raise farm animals in a much healthier way than corporations. But US policies have contributed to concentrating that land into the hands of large landowners and corporations. The US influences national policies so that it is very difficult for small and medium-scale farmers to get loans or any other kind of government assistance.

US loan policies are never aimed at the food security of the population of developing nations; instead, they promote production and export of products such as bananas, sugar, and coffee to the point that many developing nations are producing and exporting the same things. Thus, the international price stays artificially low which benefits people in wealthy nations, while people in developing countries benefit little from these exports. This whole process also leads to much more migration out of these countries.

An Example of Food Sovereignty for the United States and Other Nations
The small nation of Nicaragua in Central America has worked on ending poverty for the last fifteen years. One of the most important strategies has been to develop food security, and today they have reached approximately 90% food security.

This means that small and medium-scale farmers are producing 90% of the food that Nicaraguans eat. Their population is much more food secure in times of crisis, whether it be a climate-related crisis or a political crisis. There are no factory farms of cattle, pigs or chickens. There are large and corporate producers of export crops like sugarcane; but even coffee production for export is held more in the hands of small and medium-scale producers.

They had a major land reform in the 1980s that put land in the hands of nearly a million people. During three governments by and for the wealthy from 1990 to early 2007, much of that land returned to the wealthy. But government policies are helping poorer people legalize land for free, receive technical assistance and low-interest loans, and little by little more land is returning to small farm families.

Because of current Nicaragua policies that benefit the people instead of US corporations, the US has been doing many things to destabilize Nicaragua politically and even directed and financed a coup attempt in 2018. Although it didn’t fly, it cost the economy billions of dollars, and the US continues to try to destroy the excellent example Nicaragua is giving to the world. Just visit Nicaragua and you will see that another world is possible and that we could be employing similar food sovereignty policies in the US.

Corporate Profits Limit Food Security and Health in the United States
The Nicaraguan example requires envisioning agriculture beyond corporate monoculture. Monoculture production of grains on a large scale is not good for the land and requires enormous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. Whereas sustainable farming practices control weeds, insects, and other pests with ecosystem management, farmers who monocrop are dependent on pesticides. Pesticides are linked to multiple health problems, including neurological and hormonal disorders, birth defects, cancer and other diseases.

Production of cattle, pigs, and chickens on a corporate scale is terrible for the environment, and there are many cases of water sources being polluted. Bacteria, viruses and nitrates can enter the supply; the community can be exposed to disease and nitrate poisoning. Nitrate poisoning is dangerous to infants, can lead to birth defects and miscarriages, and has been associated with esophageal and stomach cancers.

The volume of animal waste produced on factory farms is much greater than that of human waste. Animal waste is often stored in lagoons and applied, untreated, as fertilizer to farm fields. That excrement has pathogens such as E.coli residues of antibiotics, animal blood, bedding waste, cleaning solutions and other chemicals. Manure pit gases with hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane fill the air.

There is great overuse of antibiotics on factory farms – 80% of antibiotics sold in the world today are for corporate farming. Antibiotic overuse leads to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria can jump to humans, causing pandemics. Pandemics are also associated with viral mutations promoted by crowding of animals in very small spaces.

In the United States, along with food charity, it is essential for Christians to become involved in changing food production policies that would support more small and medium-scale farmers who would be encouraged to use sustainable practices through loan policies, for example. We would also need an agrarian reform plan and laws to limit how big a farm can be so that we prioritize the health of our population instead of prioritizing the profits of corporations.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Recommended Reading: Filipino United Methodists Plan Episcopal Elections

The Philippines College of Bishops has announced a special session of the Philippines Central Conference, to be held Nov. 24-26. The main task of the conference will be to elect new episcopal leadership for the Philippines and to certify the retirement of all three current bishops. Additional central conference officers will also be elected. The Philippines had previously indicated an intention to hold episcopal elections before General Conference next meets in 2024, but this is the first instance in the UMC where the election of bishops has officially been announced in what is a world-wide need to replace retiring bishops. The fact that all three bishops will retire is significant as well. Whatever clergypersons are elected as bishops will collectively have a big responsibility for steering the Philippines Central Conference through a tumultuous time in the global church and in Filipino society.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Staying Stuck in UMC Conflict

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.

When it was announced in early March that General Conference would not meet until 2024, but the Global Methodist Church would launch on May 1, 2022, few people were happy, but there was at least for some a sense of relief, even if mixed with disappointment.

Followers of the UMC had been waiting for months to find out whether General Conference would meet in 2022 as previously indicated, or whether there would be yet another delay. That period of waiting was marked with tension and increasing conflict. When the Commission on General Conference's decision was released, at least it was something, rather than continued uncertainty. People could now get on with making plans.

Traditionalists were deeply disappointed that they would not get a chance to pass the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation in 2022. Traditionalist leaders decided, though, that it was best to commence with formation of a new denomination now rather than engage in more waiting for 2024. And among some Traditionalists and some Centrists/Progressives, there was a sense that it was time to get the separation over so as to move on and be able to focus on each group's own ministry rather than continued conflict.

Conflict, however, can be be a hard habit to break. In the two and a half months since the news broke that General Conference was not meeting until 2024 but the Global Methodist Church was launching this year, the UMC has shown itself to be locked in conflict.

There was immediate debate over how (US) congregations should leave the denomination. Centrists and institutionalists have used their control of procedure and process to make departure difficult and expensive for Traditionalist congregations in an attempt to prevent them from leaving. Traditionalist leaders have leaked negotiation documents, derided bishops, and sought polity work-arounds to yield more favorable terms for departure. African episcopal leaders associated with the Traditionalist movement have said they will stay in the UMC until at least 2024. The WCA also announced that it would continue to advocate in the UMC until at least 2024. The Judicial Council has ruled that annual conferences cannot unilaterally leave the denomination. And when the Global Methodist Church launched on May 1st, the only group everyone was sure was joining was Methodists in Bulgaria.

In short, the announcements of further General Conference delay and formation of the Global Methodist Church have done no more to resolve the conflict in The United Methodist Church than did the 2019 General Conference or the Commission on a Way Forward or any of the other many prior attempts to move past denominational conflict.

With harsh attitudes by all sides towards each other, good faith negotiation is difficult to find. The Protocol was a hard won compromise, initiated by a unique figure in Bishop John Yambasu and led by one of the top negotiators in the world in Kenneth Feinberg. After COVID prevented it from being voted on in May 2020, neither side has really been interested in returning to the negotiating table, and there is no visionary African bishop or world-renowned mediator to help this time.

And with US United Methodists unable to solve their conflict, Africans and others around the world who have been enlisted on one side or another of the fight are left to wait to figure out their own fates, yet again relegated to the status of supporting characters in a narrative centered on the United States.

Therefore, the UMC is facing the prospect of a 2024 General Conference (however constituted with whatever delegates attending and whatever legislation before it) that will be just as focused on conflict around the slow-motion separation of the denomination as it would have been had it met in 2020 or 2021 or 2022.

This is all painful to watch and does little to serve the gospel of Christ. There are real consequences to this on-going conflict, too. The structures of the denomination have already been battered by the COVID-necessitated delays in General Conference. There will be especially big consequences if the next General Conference, when it finally does meet, is unable to pass any major legislation, which remains a real possibility. It will lead to the further hollowing out of the denomination and many churches that are part of it.

But conflict is a strong drug. It can be a very difficult addiction to kick. There are practices and strategies that leaders throughout the denomination could implement to move beyond conflict. But right now, it doesn't look likely that the UMC will be doing so anytime soon.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Plan Now: Ukraine Webinar

The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference is hosting a webinar at 12pm EDT on Friday, May 27th entitled "A Faithful Response to the War in Ukraine: It’s Impact and What Makes What Peace?" The webinar will feature Rev. Oleg Starodubets, the UMC district superintendent for Ukraine; his wife, Rev. Julia Starodubets, also a UMC pastor in Ukraine, and Rev. Bill Lovelace, a UMC missionary in Europe, current assigned to work with migrants, formerly serving in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia. The webinar will be of interest to United Methodists who have been following events surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the church's response. Registration is free but does require the creation of an account.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Recommended Reading: Ukraine Moved To Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area

The Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference met in special session on Saturday, April 30th to consider a request from the Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference to be temporarily moved from the Eurasia Episcopal Area, overseen by Russia-based bishop Eduard Khegay, to the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area, overseen by Denmark-based bishop Christian Alsted.

The Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference had requested such a move prior to the start of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, but that development has made the request more pressing. Bishop Khegay and delegates from elsewhere in the Eurasia Episcopal Area had indicated their opposition to the move and boycotted the meeting.

As a press release issued after the meeting indicates, the participating delegates in the Northern Europe and Eurasia special Central Conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the change, 48-0-1. The delegates noted Khegay's objection to the change, but "choose to place decisive emphasis on the wishes of the annual conference in question."

The move has implications not only for United Methodist polity, but also for the provision of aid to Ukrainians during the war. Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, whose office has led United Methodist aid coordination efforts, presided during the vote. Bishop Alsted has already been working with relief efforts in the annual conferences previously under his jurisdiction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Creating a Respectful and Fair Separation

Today’s post is a translation of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Trennung respektvoll und fair gestalten,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. The translation is by UM & Global’s Dr. David W. Scott.

Three United Methodist bishops responsible for European Central Conferences wrote an open letter to the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The reason for the criticism voiced therein was the handling of the recent withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference from the UMC and the simultaneously declared joining in the founding of the Global Methodist Church (GMC).

Open letter criticizes WCA leadership
Christian Alsted, bishop for Northern Europe and the Baltics, Patrick Streiff, bishop for Central and Southern Europe, and Harald Rückert, bishop for Germany, criticize the behavior of the WCA leadership in the public letter.

The conservative lobby group, which is based in the United States and now active worldwide in the UMC, describes itself in its own words as a " global connection of local churches, laity, clergy, and regional chapters that seeks to partner with like-minded orthodox Christians to build a new global Methodist church." In line with its objectives, the WCA supports individuals, groups, congregations, and conferences in many places in their efforts to separate from The United Methodist Church.

The intended withdrawal of the Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference had only been announced shortly before the conference session. Patrick Streiff, the presiding bishop for the conference, declared the request inadmissible in the form submitted because it disregarded the regulations laid down in the Book of Discipline of the UMC. The conference members did not want to wait for a clarification offered by the bishop through the Judicial Council, the highest judicial body of the UMC. Without the chairmanship of the presiding bishop, it was unanimously decided to withdraw from the UMC and to join the Global Methodist Church, effect on the founding date of the new church, announced for May 1 this year.

Against this background and given subsequent commentaries about the events by WCA and GMC leaders, the European bishops chose the unusually public form to express their criticism and disappointment: "We would have expected the Wesleyan Covenant Association and Good News to uphold the discipline and promote respectful ways of separation."

In view of the situation in which the worldwide UMC has found itself, especially since the special General Conference in February 2019, paths to the separation of the church are foreseeable. As bishops, they have therefore “established documents laying out the different decision-making processes on central conference, annual conference and local church level for separation.” As bishops, they are "committed to the United Methodist Church", but "equally" to those "who think differently." According to the three authors of the open letter, this attitude was even appreciatively described as "stellar leadership " in a blog post from Good News Magazine.

Separation: “fascinating” and “courageous”
From the perspective of the three European bishops, the leaders of the WCA and the emerging Global Methodist Church have in turn lacked respectful leadership behavior. Tom Lambrecht, UMC pastor from Wisconsin and vice president of Good News, who had highlighted the "stellar leadership" of the European bishops, commented on the departure of the Romanian and Bulgarian Methodists from the UMC as a "fascinating account". In a blog post, Chris Ritter, a member of the WCA council, described the "recent actions of the Bulgaria-Romania Conference" as a "spunky persistence of traditional, Methodist, Christian faith."

Respect and fairness
Such reactions, in the opinion of the European bishops, raise questions about the leadership behavior of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the Global Methodist Church. It is not about the fact of the separation per se, but about creating the ways to a respectful and fair separation. They want to still be committed to this goal, "even if we are disappointed by what we have experienced."

Judicial Council will clarify the case
In the meantime, the decision of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisions Annual Conference and its circumstances have been forwarded by Bishop Streiff to the Judicial Council for clarification of legal matters in accordance with the Book of Discipline.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Robert Hunt: Methodism Unraveling

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. Robert A. Hunt. Rev. Dr. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education and Director of the Center for Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. This post was originally published on Hunt's blog, The Crossroads of Christianity and Culture, and is republished here with permission.

Polity will never give you unity.

The current United Methodist polity is in crisis, the result of a failure to adopt to emerging global realities. The General Conference is once again delayed, congregations are departing, and denominational finances continue to fall. Most importantly, in the very practical matters of institutional maintenance we face unprecedented hurtles:

Methodism was born on the cusp of the creation of the current international order. As it grew beyond England and the United States, its polities reflected that order, with an organization based on both emerging national boundaries and the essentially colonial nature of the new order. The structures of the American Methodist church were fundamentally colonial, with ecclesial colonies (mission annual conferences within larger mission central conferences) managed by American bishops, run by American missionaries, and reporting to the General Conference funded and dominated by the United States.

The long end of the colonial era offered American Methodists two choices for continuing as a world wide organization. The first would be to develop into a kind of commonwealth of autonomous national Methodist churches related by a common heritage, pledged to mutual support, and engaged when possible in common missions. Such a structure fit well into a decolonizing world, even if it would have its own difficulties related to financing the newly autonomous national churches.

All of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia followed this pattern, and annual conferences became autonomous affiliated national Methodist churches. These churches have thrived, formed their own associations and cooperative ministries, and generally enjoyed the fruit of independence while remaining affiliated with the Methodist and then United Methodist Church.

However, the American Methodist church didn't require or encourage autonomy, and some Methodist central conferences chose to remain part of the Methodist Church and its successor, the UMC. They would elect their own bishops and appoint their own clergy, but remain dependent for both their polity and their funding on the UMC structures, with only minor changes possible. Churches in the Philippines, Europe, and Africa went this route.

There were reasons. In the European social setting, isolation from an international church polity invited being dismissed as a mere sect. You needed to be historical and international to be taken seriously. In the Philippines, long ties to the US of many types, not least a common language (English) for those with a tertiary education and patterns of migration, made staying part of the UMC seem a natural choice.

(The entire story of the complex formation of the central conferences can be found at:

Yet these central conferences (with the possible exception of the Philippines) possessed neither national nor cultural integrity. They were international without having ever been national; multi-cultural without ever having had a culture of their own. And in Africa they were intermixed with autonomous Methodist churches out of a British Methodist tradition.

Most importantly, as the report on episcopal elections above makes clear, they remained financially dependent on US funding for every aspect of not just ministry, but organization. United Methodist business would always be international business and conducted at the same great expense and uncertainty as international business. The COVID pandemic has made this clear.

As Europe rebounded after WWII, European Methodists were largely able to fund themselves. Exceptions in Eastern Europe remained, but stronger Western European economies and the formation of the EU made the European central conferences a more organic expression of unity than in Africa. It also gave them far greater autonomy vis-a-vis the United States.

Africa -- Here we see the real fallout of the failure to create autonomous national Methodist churches. It is almost perfectly characterized by this map. Only the Congo Central Conference possesses national integrity, and that spread over a geographical and cultural area 1/3rd the size of the continental United States. While French is the language of government, there are four other national languages and 400 spoken.

The other African central conferences are each a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural hodgepodge lacking geographical integrity or a common history. What unites them is the fiat of organizational convenience, funding by American Methodists, and the rubric of a global United Methodist Church. These central conference structures possess no organic relationship to their pastors, congregations, and people.

Small wonder then, that with the combined crisis of division within the UMC and the COVID pandemic they are becoming organizationally dysfunctional. And look what happens when they don't function! An American bishop has to be brought in to supervise (in name at least) peoples and congregations he scarcely knows. Colonialism redux.

The idea of a global UMC was misconstrued, based on the false understanding that polity creates unity.

Polity will never give you unity.

As we see even within the US, a common Discipline binds no hearts together and works only so long, and no longer, as it provides political and financial benefit to those who embrace it. When the money and power are gone, and even before, those who can leave, will.

As the UMC now unravels, we are beginning to see what really makes for unity: long established relationships of cooperation and mutual love that manage to transcend and make room for theological disagreement. The unity of the Methodist movement will depend on these, not an outdated and untenable polity held together by American dollars.

Instead of clinging to an unworkable "global" structure we should instead work, at whatever institutional level we are able, to establish real patterns of co-working and cooperation among those of the Methodist tradition.

The General Conference will face the hard task of restructuring the UMC in a way that is financially and organizationally tenable. The recent Christmas Covenant plan offered by the central conferences is certainly a good start, particularly since it comes from those most affected by disunity, most in need of better solutions, and most desirous to build real partnership across differences.

But while we wait for the General Conference, we do not need to wait to build Methodist unity. That must be rebuilt from the bottom up, seeking joint projects and more intimate institutional relationships than can be either managed or even supported by General Conference agencies.

In theological education, where I have been involved for 40 years in both autonomous national Methodist churches and the central conferences, the need is clear. Instead of ad-hoc admission of "foreign students," US seminaries should seek direct partnerships with leaders of United Methodist seminaries in the central conferences to both strengthen those local seminaries and craft the kinds of degree programs and admission standards that best serve particular churches and regions.

The era of a "global" UMC is ending. Let us pray that an era of genuine Methodist unity will begin.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Recommended Reading: Liberia to stay in UMC at least until 2024

Liberian Methodist journalist E. Julu Swen published a piece last Saturday indicating that "Bishop Samuel J. Quire, Jr. said the United Methodist Church in Liberia will remain a United Methodist Church until after the decision of the 2024 General Conference. 'We will not be a part of the Global Methodist Church, but we will pray for them.'" Moreover, General Conference delegate Jefferson Knight is quoted as saying, "There is a possibility that the church in Liberia will remain a United Methodist Church beyond 2024."

This story, which should be read in its entirety, represents one of the most significant developments in United Methodism since the further delay of General Conference to 2024 and the launching of the Global Methodist Church on May 1 were announced at the beginning of March. The Liberia Annual Conference, which is the oldest branch of The United Methodist Church outside the United States, was widely seen as the part of the African church most likely to join the Global Methodist Church. This decision thus likely has implications across Africa.

Moreover, as both Bishop Quire's and Jefferson Knight's quotes indicate, there is still some uncertainty about what Liberia will decide to do come 2024 or even what the range of options will be. Certainly, some of that depends on the actions of General Conference in 2024. But this story is a reminder that the future of United Methodism remains to be written, and the pivotal decisions will happen in Monrovia, not Minneapolis, Memphis, or anywhere in the United States.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The World Is Not My Parish

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.

One of the most beloved John Wesley quotes for many of those engaged in international Methodism is “I look upon all the world as my parish,” which is often recast as “The world is my parish.” The quote continues, “Thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”

I recognize that this is me being contrarian, but I think there are issues in the unreflective use of this quotation, and I want to explain why.

First is the issue of historical intent. The line comes from a letter by Wesley, excerpted in his journal in an entry dated June 11, 1739. The full letter and the context of the journal entry make it clear that Wesley is trying to justify to himself and the recipient of the letter his irregular (by Church of England standards) practices in service of leading the Methodist revival movement, most notably his decision to preach in parishes where he was not the priest in charge. Despite some rhetorical references to other areas of the world, Wesley was not at all talking about international mission.

Actually, other than his very early and rather painful experience in Georgia, Wesley was not that interested in international mission. He was focused on the revival in England. He was initially reluctant to send preachers outside of England. He was skeptical of the international missionary enthusiasm of Thomas Coke, the real father of international Methodist mission.

And that’s okay. We don’t need Wesley to have been a strong supporter of international mission to see that practice as genuinely Methodist. We certainly don’t need to take Wesley quote out of context to feel that there is value in international mission connections among Methodists today.

But the real issue I have with the quote is not the way in which it is used outside of its historical context. The real issue I have is in how the possessive pronoun used – my – has the potential to reinforce some unfortunate tendencies among US Methodists.

Put succinctly, if the world is my parish, then my understanding of the world is centered on me, my ministry, and my actions. It is a view of the religious landscape of the world in which I am the most important actor.

This sort of attitude on behalf of Western Christians is exactly what colonial mindsets are made of. If Western Christians regard their own ministry as the most important thing about global Methodism, if the rest of the world is just a screen onto which to project their own proclamation of the gospel, that ignores and devalues the deep and real faith of non-Western Methodist (and other Christian) leaders and church members. Westerners thinking of the world as their parish perpetuates notions of Westerners as the heroic saviors of the rest of the world.

That does not necessarily mean that there is no valid insight from or application of this Wesley quote. Wesley was saying that mission ultimately overrides structure. This is a point that I wholeheartedly agree with, and this blog has posted numerous articles that make that point, both by me and by others.

But if we accept that mission trumps structure, then we must ask “whose mission”? Here, I point to the slogan Thomas Kemper popularized among United Methodists: “Mission is from everywhere to everywhere.” In this day and age, mission cannot be just regarded as the mission of Westerners or of US Americans.

Nor should it be thought of as an individual’s mission. Mission is God’s mission, which God calls Christians to participate in as a body, not merely as individuals. We each have unique roles in God’s mission, but mission as a calling is shared.

Therefore, if we are going to talk about a world parish, we should say, “The world is our parish.” Yes, let us lift up the value of international mission connections. Let us affirm that mission is more important than structure. But let us recognize that God’s mission is one to which Christians from around the world are called to participate in together.

And, we can also look for other quotes to inform our understanding of and imaginations about our participation in God’s mission. The quote from early Methodism that I most like to use for mission is from Thomas Coke, the person most responsible for early international Methodist mission efforts. He said, “Oceans are nothing to God, and they should be nothing to his people, in respect to the affection they bear one another.”

This quote is perhaps less snappy than “The world is my parish,” but Coke was actually talking about international mission here. Moreover, this quote emphasizes mutual love and affection among Christians, rather than centering one’s view of the world on one’s own sense of ministry. Affirming that “Oceans cannot limit the affection we have for one another” emphasizes the relationship and mutuality that is at the heart of modern missiology.

Ultimately, a good Methodist understanding of mission goes beyond any quick slogan. It looks to inspirations from our Methodist heritage, including the ministries of the Wesleys, Coke, Asbury, and other early leaders, but it also takes seriously what Christians collectively have learned about mission in the several centuries since. Nor does it need to collapse our contemporary understandings of mission with that of our eighteenth-century predecessors. It recognizes that God’s calling continually pushes our understandings of church practices in new, more expansive directions, which after all, was Wesley’s point, wasn’t it?

Monday, May 2, 2022

Øyvind Aske: Bishop Yambasu’s Driver

This piece is written by Rev. Øyvind Aske, Secretary of Metodistkirkens Misjonsselskap (the Mission Society of The United Methodist Church in Norway). The Norway Annual Conference has a long-standing partnership with Sierra Leone Annual Conference. This article originally appeared on the website of Misjonsselskapet. It has been translated by UM & Global’s David Scott and is republished here with permission.

One rainy Sunday morning, August 16, 2020, Bishop Yambasu was on the way to a funeral outside Freetown. The evening before, he had called Abdul Kamara, his driver, and asked him to drive. He had chosen not to drive together with others who were going to the same funeral the day before.

There was little traffic on the road. On the way north, not far outside the city, the unthinkable happened. A car traveling in the opposite direction on the four-lane divided road hit the median, which is at least 20 cm (8 inches) high, bounced up in the air, hovered over the left lane, and hit the bishop’s jeep in the right lane. We know the tragic outcome: this accident caused Bishop Yambasu’s all too early death. Abdul emerged from the accident with serious injuries in his head and leg.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we from Norway had not visited Sierra Leone in mission for over two years. Only now, in March 2022, were we able to see the accident site, meet with Bishop Yambasu’s widow Millicent, visit the grave site, and get to see Abdul Kamara.

Abdul was born in September 1987 and has worked with CELAD (Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development, The Sierra Leone-Norway Partnership) for several years, most recently before 2020 as the bishop’s driver. His education beyond primary school is some car mechanics. There was a good relationship between them, and the bishop put great value on Abdul, who lined up at all hours of the day.

He was a skilled driver. That fateful Sunday, he held a steady course until he saw the shadow of something come in abruptly from the left. The car that came flying met the left side of the bishop’s car with enormous force. The driver’s side door was knocked in, met Abdul, and knocked him unconscious.

He lay unconscious at the hospital a long time but woke up and survived. His vision in the left leg is impaired, and his left leg was broken in several places. The doctor explained that he could no longer drive a car. Abdul has in addition struggled with guilt after the accident. It was he who was the driver for the bishop who died that day.

The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone has not turned its back on Abdul. After the treatment at the hospital, he has gone back to his old workplace and “hung out” with his colleagues. They have tried to take care of him even if he can no longer drive a car. Eventually he got a job as an office assistant and does odd jobs for $100 a month.

On Sunday, March 20, after church service, we traveled up to Leicester Peak where the bishop is buried. The grave is covered with a roof and has brick and mortar walls and a gate that is locked. We had the CELAD staff with; Anne, Tove Odland, and I were there, and Abdul was also along. It was a very emotional moment.

Abdul knelt by the grave and afterwards fetched water and a cloth and washed the grave of dust and dirt. Andrew led the little ceremony. Joe sang, and we Norwegians said some personal words. We finished with the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing. Farewell, Bishop John K. Yambasu. Thanks for all the good memories. Rest in peace, and we will meet again in the heavenly home!

As for Abdul, he offers thanks for all the prayers and support from Norway. He himself says that he is now strong enough in his leg that he can drive cars again and hopes to be able to get the doctor’s statement on this eventually. He has a clear mark on the left side of his face, a dent that he thinks will heal eventually. What about his eye? He does not have the means to seek out an ophthalmologist or optician.

We may continue to pray for Abdul – a fellow human being with extra large challenges in our sister church in Sierra Leone.