Wednesday, June 29, 2022

A global re-negotiation of separation?

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.

As I wrote last week, US Centrists and Progressives recently publicly pulled their support of the Protocol in a move meant to send a message to US Traditionalists and US Institutionalists. US Centrists/Progressives would like the three groups to work together to create minimally expensive pathways for US Traditionalist congregations to exit the denomination by the end of 2023.

While many US Traditionalists would like to exit quickly and cheaply, some are committed to staying in the UMC until 2024 to push for the Protocol as a better alternative, in their eyes, to current exit provisions. US Institutionalists, on the other hand, would like to proceed with departures under current patchwork arrangements led by the bishops, while holding onto the possibility of the Protocol as a way to limit current conflicts. Thus, these three groups in the United States each have different policy objectives over the next two years.

It is possible that these different policy objectives could overlap sufficiently to allow a resolution of conflicts around disaffiliation within the US annual conferences. It is also possible that one or more of these groups could end up weak enough that their policy preferences do not ultimately matter. But more likely is that each group retains sufficient strength to continue to contest for its own position and that the differences in objectives and low level of trust among the three groups means that there is no (successful) attempt to resolve these conflicts in a mutually agreed upon way.

This opens the possibility of a General Conference in 2024 where not much happens because a large segment of the denomination remains stuck in conflict.

Moreover, even if the various US interests are able to reach agreement among themselves on how to handle disaffiliations in the United States, this does not resolve questions about disaffiliations outside the United States in what has become a uniquely international church split.

There is, however, a third possibility beyond a US-based settlement of terms and a failure to reach further agreement before General Conference 2024. That possibility is a newly negotiated global plan of separation. Such a plan would require participation by and likely leadership from United Methodists from the central conferences, most notably central conference bishops.

Such a third possibility remains remote, but not unimaginable. This piece will examine why this approach to resolving The United Methodist Church’s disaffiliation dilemmas might work and also why it probably won’t.

Why This Approach Might Work
The first reason why central conference bishops might be interested in leading negotiations for a new global plan of separation is that there are strong incentives in central conferences for creating such a plan. A global plan of disaffiliation would provide a means to resolve questions about disaffiliation in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, and it would also potentially shield United Methodists from the central conferences from some of the conflict and dysfunction in the American branch of the church. Thus, a new round of global negotiations could allow Africans, Europeans, and Filipinos to achieve two policy objectives: resolve their own conflicts and protect themselves from US conflicts.

Europe is already experiencing the impacts of abrupt and piecemeal departures from the church. Traditionalist Africans have indicated that they intend to stay in the denomination until 2024, and Africans from both pro-UMC and pro-GMC parties are likely to be watching how disaffiliation plays out across Europe over the next two years. If it goes poorly, that increases their incentive for an orderly rather than patchwork approach to disaffiliation.

Second, while conflicts originating in the United States have spread to the rest of the United Methodist world, United Methodists from elsewhere are not intellectually and emotionally entrenched in those conflicts in the same ways that Americans are. This means that United Methodists from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines may have the flexibility to think creatively about solutions to conflict that are not apparent to United Methodists in the United States.

Indeed, there are indications from central conference bishops that they are already engaged in such innovative thinking. The European bishops have done a lot to think creatively and strategically about the future of the UMC. The Filipino bishops have strongly supported the Christmas Covenant as an innovative way to think about the future of connectionalism. The African bishops have indicated their desire to think for themselves about the future of the UMC.

Third, in several instances there are pre-existing relationships among central conference bishops that might allow for joint leadership and action across central conferences. Such joint action by central conference bishops has previously been apparent, for instance, in a joint statement on vaccinations and General Conference.

Fourth, an initiative to re-negotiate division that came from the central conferences would carry a moral weight that such an initiative from the United States would not. At a time when all branches of the church are paying at least lip service to acknowledging the legacies of colonialism in the church, it would be difficult for United Methodists in the United States to outright reject central conference leadership in calling for new negotiations without that seeming like an insistence on American supremacy in church matters. At a time when both the GMC and the continuing UMC are trying to make their case to fellow United Methodists around the world, such a charge of colonial attitudes would be damaging.

The final reason to think that such an initiative from the central conferences could succeed is that it did before. Bishop John Yambasu was in a unique position to call for negotiations in 2019 to address church conflict. But Bishop Nhiwatiwa or Bishop Alsted or, more likely, a group of central conference bishops working together could follow and expand upon the path set by Bishop Yambasu.

Why It Probably Won’t Work
There are strong reasons to think that if there is a re-negotiation of division, it would have to originate in the central conferences. But there are also strong reasons to think that such an initiative will not happen.

In the Philippines, all three current bishops will retire in half a year. That means that the window for them to exercise leadership on world-wide matters is small. Newly elected bishops might be interested in shaping the world-wide nature of the church, but they will also need to tend to local concerns as they settle into their new roles. Thus, Filipino/a bishops might play a supportive role in the next year, but they are unlikely to be the main source of initiative.

There are significant differences of opinion on the future of the UMC among the thirteen African bishops, and that is the main factor mitigating against African leadership on a re-negotiation of terms of division. African United Methodism is large and diverse, including multiple and often conflicting positions within it,  enough so that it would require a good deal of negotiation to come to agreement just within Africa, even without trying to bring in additional voices from around the world to reach a world-wide settlement. It might be to each African bishop’s advantage to try to resolve conflict locally and not search for a wider resolution.

A similar dynamic may be at play in Europe. Between disaffiliations currently happening in Europe and developing plans for managing conflicts and diversity of thinking within the branches of the church staying United Methodist, European leaders may feel that their own conflicts can be dealt with regionally and it is not their responsibility to try to solve conflicts in other regions. Moreover, Bishop Patrick Streiff may yet retire soon, leaving the state of European episcopal leadership up in the air.

Local efforts that resolve (or don’t) debates over division that play themselves out in primarily local ways may end up being both necessary and sufficient. An international re-negotiation of the future of the church remains unlikely. But if such a re-negotiation does happen, look for leadership to come from the central conferences. And if and when it does, it will be another sign that the future of the church in terms of ideas as well as membership lies not in the United States but elsewhere around the world.

Monday, June 27, 2022

European Annual Conferences Update

Here is a short run-down on recent developments at European annual conferences related to the future of the UMC in those contexts:

Czechia and Slovakia, May 19-22
At their annual conference meeting, the Czech and Slovak Annual Conference acknowledged that the two parts of the annual conference may be moving in different directions regarding the future of Methodism. The Czech district intends to stay UMC; the Slovak district intends to join the GMC, though they have some outstanding questions they want answered first, "on the employment of pastors, on the adaptation possibilities of the church order or also on the administration of assets in the GMC."

Estonia, June 17-19
The most significant news comes from the Estonia Annual Conference, which voted by 96% to leave The United Methodist Church. It is not immediately clear whether they intend to join the Global Methodist Church or become autonomous, nor is it clear what this decision means for the Lithuania and Latvia districts (neither of which have mentioned the decision on their Facebook pages). The process is envisioned to take a year and be completed at next year's annual conference.

Switzerland, France, and North Africa, June 15-19
The Switzerland/France/North Africa Annual Conference approved (with only four dissenting votes) a resolution to continue working on a plan entitled, "Kaleidoscope – living the mission." The Kaleidoscope proposal would allow the annual conference to remain together despite divergent views on sexuality by acknowledging those differences and allowing congregations and pastors to follow their own consciences. In this regard, it is similar to the plan approved by the German church executive committee. The Kaleidoscope plan has not been finalized; the vote merely approves further work on it.

Norway, June 24-26
The Norway Annual Conference passed a resolution stating that they would stay in the UMC but would develop a means for any congregations wishing to depart to do so by 2025. They also resolved not to make decisions against the Book of Discipline but to continue to work towards a more open and inclusive church and to hold in abeyance complaints against clergy performing same-sex weddings.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Recommended Reading: Missionaries and Justice

Andy Dye, Programme Team Leader with Global Relationships for the Methodist Church in Britain, wrote a recent blog post entitled, "My Justice Journey." In it, he reflects upon his experience as a white British mission partner (the British term for missionary) serving in the Caribbean. He acknowledges the historical ties between missionaries and European imperialism and other forms of injustice. He also acknowledges the ways in which missionaries historically worked for justice. Dye uses this tension to question his own experiences, those of other missionaries, and trends within world Christianity today. He concludes appropriately, "Seeking justice for the past, present and future raises so many questions yet the journey is essential." This reflection by someone who has served as a mission partner and continues to serve to connect the church in mission is a good model of what grappling with those questions looks like.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Centrist/Progressive message to Traditionalists and Institutionalists

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

The announcement two weeks ago that the Centrist and Progressive negotiators behind the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation no longer supported that legislation was received as a major development in the on-going struggle for the future of The United Methodist Church. But to fully understand that announcement and its aims and implications for the church, one must look past a binary understanding of current UMC politics.

As I have argued before, new issues in the UMC have resulted in a variety of coalitions and interest groups. To view UMC controversies as driven solely by a liberal/conservative dyad is an oversimplification, though one Americans are apt to make, given the shape of current US politics.

In this particular instance, it is important to understand the difference between US Centrists/Progressives and US Institutionalists, their interests, and the interests of US Traditionalists. It is the dynamic between these three groups that is behind this announcement, though other groups outside of the United States are critically important for what will happen in its wake, as I will lay out in a future post.

To begin with, US Traditionalists would like to leave the denomination and to do so as quickly, easily, and cheaply as possible. However, without the Protocol or any other plan of separation, quick, easy, and cheap exit paths are not universally available. Despite some negotiations this March between Traditionalists and US bishops, no universal exit path was agreed upon. This created a patchwork of different annual conference procedures for disaffiliation, some cheaper, some more expensive.

This left some US Traditionalists feeling “stuck” in the UMC, as Tom Lambrecht put it in late April. Therefore, in early May, the WCA resolved to continue to advocate within the UMC for the Protocol and better exit terms generally for those Traditionalists stuck in the UMC.

Traditionalists have blamed Centrists/Progressives for keeping them stuck in the UMC. To some extent, that may be fair. There are some Centrists/Progressives who are stuck in conflict and unwilling to let Traditionalists go without making them pay for the pain they’ve caused in the eyes of these Centrists/Progressives.

But a better read of the story would make a distinction between Centrists/Progressives, as represented by prominent pastors and General Conference delegates, and Institutionalists, as represented by many US bishops. These two groups have different motivations regarding a Traditionalist exit, and that difference is key to understanding the announced withdrawal from the Protocol.

While there are some Centrists/Progressives that want to make Traditionalists pay as they leave the denomination, the major force that is acting to keep Traditionalists in is Institutionalists, mainly in the form of bishops and cabinets. Institutionalists, as their name suggest, are motivated to protect and preserve the institutions of the church, including their financial health. They tend to be comfortable with the status quo.

Thus, Institutionalists have a dual incentive to make Traditionalist departure difficult and expensive: It protects the financial interests of the annual conferences to require significant payments or to keep on-the-fence congregations in the denomination to continue to contribute apportionments. And it also preserves the status quo as much as possible to keep as many congregations as possible.

Centrists/Progressives, however, do not have preserving the status quo as their main goal. Instead, they would like to make changes to the rules and structures of the UMC (to create a “Next” UMC), and the continued presence of Traditionalists in the UMC is a hindrance to making those changes. Therefore, Centrists/Progressives have an incentive to let Traditionalists go, though they also want to make sure that departure does not significantly damage the denomination in the process so that there is a sufficiently strong remaining church to lead into their envisioned new day.

This is where the Protocol announcement comes in. Centrists/Progressives realized that, given the high costs they were being asked to pay in some annual conferences, sufficient Traditionalists were likely to stay in the UMC until 2024 that it would reduce the possibilities for using that General Conference to focus on creating a constructive path forward for the denomination and would instead ensure a fight over disaffiliation that might likely fail to resolve the issue to anyone’s satisfaction.

This is the scenario that Centrist/Progressive delegates Rebekah Miles and David Livingston contemplate in a UMNS commentary published the same day as the announcement about the end of Centrist/Progressive support for the Protocol. Miles and Livingston argue that to avoid such a debacle, it is important for parties to recognize how bad their “best alternative to negotiated agreement” is. In other words, parties are much more likely to negotiate when they consider what might happen if they don’t.

In this context, the announcement of the end of Centrist/Progressive support for the Protocol is not necessarily a new development. That lack of support has been voiced behind closed doors for some time. Instead, making such lack of support public sends a message. The Protocol announcement sends messages from Centrists/Progressives to both Traditionalists and to Institutionalists.

By publicly rescinding support from the Protocol, Centrists/Progressives are saying to Traditionalists that they should seriously consider the possibility that they won’t get a better exit deal by waiting until 2024 and advocating for passage of the Protocol. Therefore, Centrists/Progressives are calling on Traditionalists to either take the terms currently available or renegotiate apart from the Protocol.

At the same time, Centrists/Progressives are calling on Institutionalists to allow Traditionalists to leave on minimally expensive terms. The Protocol announcement stated, “We, therefore, implore bishops, district superintendents, and conference trustees [i.e., Institutionalists] to facilitate amicable departures after congregations pay their required pension liabilities.”

Miles and Livingston summarize the dual message thus: “We believe that Paragraph 2553 provides a reasonable path for local churches to disaffiliate. United Methodist annual conferences should uniformly adopt the minimum standards in 2553. Excess demands by leaders in The United Methodist Church delay departures and increase hostility. At the same time, churches and clergy that plan to exit the denomination should use the existing processes to do so before it expires on Dec. 31, 2023. Promises by the Wesleyan Covenant Association to remain active in The United Methodist Church at least through 2024 increase hostility, undermine negotiations, and hinder them from focusing on their mission.”

Both Traditionalists and Institutionalists (in the form of the bishops) initially publicly rebuffed this message from Centrists/Progressives. In a post for the WCA, Jay Therrell claimed the negotiators were acting in bad faith and then reiterated the usual Traditionalist litany of ways they have been victims of evil Centrists/Progressives (including bishops). This response was to be expected. Traditionalists have spent so much time advocating for and defending the Protocol that they could not be expected to accept its death quietly.

On the other hand, the bishops involved in the Protocol reiterated their public support for it. That announcement protects them from the criticisms of the WCA and allows them to preserve the status quo of the abeyance on church trials. At the same time, in its final paragraph, the announcement holds open the door to possible further negotiations among Traditionalists, Centrists/Progressives, and Institutionalists, without taking leadership in calling for such negotiations.

The real question is what US Traditionalists and US bishops will actually do in response to this message from the Centrists/Progressives beyond their initial written responses. Will bishops decide (individually or as a whole) to let Traditionalists go with minimal expenses? Will Traditionalists be willing to take the terms of BOD Paragraph 2553 and exit by the end of 2023? Will both parties be willing to open up further negotiations with Centrists/Progressives?

It is more likely, and easier, for US disaffiliation to be resolved through compromises between Institutionalists and Traditionalists at the US annual conference level. A negotiated compromise would require including not only the three US groups described in this piece but also various groups from outside the United States. That process would be more difficult, but potentially yield additional benefits in terms of resolving questions about the church outside the United States. I will explore that possibility in a future post.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Maria Van Der Maaten: With Bread

Today's post is by Dr. Maria Van Der Maaten. Dr. Van Der Maaten is a sociologist of food and agriculture and community development expert. She is also a United Methodist layperson, clergy spouse, mom of two, and currently serves as the coordinator for the Iowa chapter of MFSA. This post is part of an occasional series on food and mission.

Food has always been important to my family: my grandma was famous for her Sunday lunches, my parents’ dinner parties are always amazing, and now, as a parent, I’ve been learning to make my mother-in-law’s rice-dough tamales for birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations. As humans, many of us tend to see food as not just nourishment for our bodies, but our souls, connecting our emotions to what we put into our bodies. When our household celebrated All Saints Day for the first time, I knew the one thing that was missing wasn’t Mexican sweetbread, which is something many other altars had, but instead my grandmother’s saucisjes (a type of Dutch-immigrant food) or some almond patties (a Dutch letter-like pastry).

As someone who grew up eating most meals as a family, the idea that sharing a meal was something special or unique to holidays always surprised me. Perhaps it was because sharing a meal is such a familiar act to me, but mealtime is my favorite piece of the Sister Parish experience: I love to try new foods, I love to eat, and I love to talk with people (win, win, win).

For more than twenty years I have been involved in the work of Sister Parish, Inc. as a delegate, staff member, board member, and supporter. Sister Parish is an international non-profit organization that partners communities of faith in the U.S. with communities of faith in El Salvador or Guatemala to establish long-term relationships based on solidarity, ecumenism, reconciliation, and consciousness-raising.

These relationships focus on fomenting mutual understanding and a commitment to peace and justice among partners in both countries. Although other more traditional mission projects (i.e., construction, education, outreach) may follow once a relationship is well-established, creating and maintaining connections is the sole purpose of Sister Parish; any other projects are meant to further the community-to-community relationship, not replace it.

Sister Parish delegates travel North and South, staying in one another’s homes as an essential component of enhancing awareness and understanding and nurturing these personal relationships. As a staff person and delegate, one of the greatest privileges of Sister Parish experience and model was to be invited to someone else’s table. It was at the dinner table where I would learn more about the lives and histories of delegates and host families and see the connections between their seemingly dissimilar lives be forged, clarified, and relationships solidified.

At the Sister Parish dinner table, I learned intimate details about how families in El Salvador survived the armed conflict and the simultaneous suffering they endured; how they experienced the stages of grief and loss as their family members migrated to the U.S., but also the gratitude and relief at these family members’ sacrifice for them; I also learned how to make some of the foods they have shared with me, the time, effort, prayers, and luck that goes into planting and harvesting the corn that ultimately makes the tortillas; and how sharing a meal is an act of radical love and hospitality.

This act of radical love and hospitality, inviting someone unknown (or hardly known) into your home, your kitchen, to try your cooking, is hard to replicate in other ways. Understanding this has also given me a new appreciation for the words “compañero” or “compañera,” which are usually translated as “companion” or “friend.” As I learned more Spanish, I also learned more about the Latin roots of the words: com = with, pan = bread.

I have a deep appreciation for the Spanish word “compañero,” because it is a friendship that goes beyond simply being one’s neighbor or fellow committee member or colleague; there is an intimate relationship that comes from having broken bread together. I don’t know that we have a word with the same depth of meaning in English. Or maybe, sadly, in our hurried U.S. culture, in which shared meals are reserved for holidays and special events, we simply don’t understand what true compañerismo could mean.

While many of us continue to isolate awaiting vaccines for young children and lower rates of transmission, we miss participating in these extended family gatherings and celebrations that include food. Sister Parish delegations were moved to a virtual platform for everyone’s safety as well. There is a sense of loss and a need to mourn the connections we previously shared and opportunities to learn, even if temporary.

However, this hiatus also serves as an important reminder of the joy of a simple, shared meal and deep conversation, especially with people who would have otherwise been strangers. Because those who are part of the Sister Parish family understand the transformative power of food. Once we break bread together, we aren’t strangers, but compañeros.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Recommended Reading: Christianity Today on Yambasu Agricultural Initiative

Christianity Today, one of the United States' premier Christian publications, has written an article about Global Ministries' Yambasu Agricultural Initiative (YAI). The article emphasizes how the YAI reflects a focus on Africa by Global Ministries and how the YAI is designed to increase self-sufficiency within the African church. The Christianity Today article comes after additional reporting on the Yambasu Agricultural Initiative by United Methodist News Service (see [1], [2], [3], and [4]) and Global Ministries itself (see [1], [2], and [3]). Not only is the Christianity Today article worth a read for United Methodists, it is likely to spread word of the YAI beyond The United Methodist Church.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Daniel Bruno: An Anti-ecumenical Methodism?

Today’s post is by Rev. Daniel A. Bruno of The Argentine Methodist Church. It was originally written as a Facebook post for CMEW (El Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos – The Methodist Center for Wesleyan Studies of The Argentine Methodist Church, in English translation). It is translated by David W. Scott with assistance from Facebook Translate and republished here with permission.

"A phantom travels Latin America, the ghost of anti-Ecumenism." This paraphrase of that old manifesto may help synthesize the worrying situation which is traversing the evangelical world in Latin America and unfortunately a good part of Methodism too.

Large and historic Methodist churches on our continent are descending from a pioneering path of ecumenical leadership to lock themselves in an atmosphere of intolerant self-pleasure against the different.

No doubt, this phantom doesn't come alone. It is part of "a climate of the time," a conservative, intolerant wave that affects all walks of social, cultural, economic and of course also religious life of our region.

The strange thing for Methodism is that, having a rich history that points from its origins to a path of opening of eyes and of mind, today it intends to twist the obvious with conservative and orthodox stances with which Wesley would never agree.

We will shortly point out some of those characteristics of Wesleyan thought that made it different amidst an atmosphere of intolerance that persisted from the previous century and against which Wesley wanted to fight.

In a wide array of sermons and treaties, Wesley refers to “thinking and letting thinking,” applied to various aspects of Christian life. We’ll briefly stop on Sermon 39, “The Catholic Spirit,” which could well be translated as “The Ecumenical Spirit.”

Wesley takes as his base the text of 2 Kings 10:15 where Jehu meets Jehonadab son of Rekab and instead of reprimanding him for certain worship practices not shared by Jehu (see Jeremiah 35), he only asks him, “Is your heart as mine?” “Then give me your hand.”

Wesley also had his "climate of the time," but he managed to avoid it. The 17th century was the scene of fierce wars and bloodbaths for religious matters. Religious wars had divided and separated theologically and ecclesiastically a myriad of Christian expressions. In Wesley’s time, that remorse of the past had led to building great walls of containment both in doctrinal and ecclesiastical practices and regulations to keep churches and estranged groups separate and “conflict free” within the same church or between different denominations.

In this context, in 1750, Wesley published Sermon 39, after he and his preachers had experienced misunderstanding and persecution by the leaders of the Anglican Church. Wesley emphasized that persecution arose from lack of tolerance, and one of the reasons was the absence of freedom of thought in the Church. Wesley says:

“Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, ‘Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?’”

Wesley is clearly not making a call to single thought (orthodox), but neither, on the other extreme, to doctrinal laissez faire, laissez passer. The oneness he seeks is not at the level of doctrines or customs, where, he admits, everyone can hold that which he finds most true. The oneness he seeks is found on the human level of love and tolerance.

This attitude entails a double challenge, on the one hand, that holding one's own ideas demands a constant attitude of self-criticism, because “although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true; yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true. Nay, every thinking man is assured they are not, seeing humanum est errare et nescire: "To be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some, is the necessary condition of humanity." This, therefore, he is sensible, is his own case. He knows, in the general, that he himself is mistaken; although in what particulars he mistakes, he does not, perhaps he cannot, know.” And on the other hand, this attitude demands respect for the other, although they are considered mistaken. This would prevent what Wesley would call the “inquisition,” that sectarian and condemnatory attitude that was the origin of the bloodiest and most embarrassing passages in church history.

“We may, secondly, observe,” Wesley claims, “that here is no inquiry made concerning Jehonadab’s mode of worship; although it is highly probable there was, in this respect also, a very wide difference between them.... Nor has any creature power to constrain another to walk by his own rule. God has given no right to any of the children of men thus to lord it over the conscience of his brethren; but every man must judge for himself, as every man must give an account of himself to God.”

All of this invites us to think about the habits and attitudes that we, as individuals and as the church, adopt in the face of differences. We must recognize that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all Latin American Methodisms did not have this sermon in mind at all when they made the controversy against Catholicism a battle for ideas, for membership, and territory.

Neither do certain Methodisms that abandon ecumenism and deny both “thinking”, in both free action and criticism of reason, and “letting think”, as an action of tolerance in the face of difference, have this sermon in mind today.

Without a doubt, Wesley's tremendous phrase: " God has given no right to any of the children of men thus to lord it over the conscience of his brethren," should be a guide to help revise our affirmations, our judgments and prejudices.

It's a call to the churches to return to preaching a gospel of grace that frees. It is also a call to people to defend their right to a free conscience, freedom of conscience that should not be feared as a threat to the church, but on the contrary, value it as a loving gift from God.

When the subjectivities of peoples are increasingly manipulated by powerful media corporations creating false realities, this Wesleyan assertion is good news to be preached and an inalienable human right to be defended.

In this sense, the "catholic spirit" is not exhausted in good relations with brothers and sisters in faith who think differently, but advances through territories of global ecumenical values, both in the religious field, as well as scientific, ethical, and politic fields.

In times of the resurgence of conservative fanaticism, yesterday and today, Wesley, in his Sermon 37 “The Nature of Enthusiasm” advises us not to act like the "enthusiasts" who are persecuting others:

“God did not call us to destroy other people's lives but to save them. Don’t you ever think of forcing others to get into the ways of God. Neither, others should be forced to think like you. ... “Think and let think.” Do not force anyone on matters of religion, nor forces to enter by means other than reason, truth and love.”

Monday, June 13, 2022

Daniel Bruno: ¿Un metodismo antiecuménico?

La publicación de hoy es del Rev. Daniel A. Bruno de la Iglesia Metodista Argentina. Originalmente fue escrito como una publicación de Facebook para CMEW (El Centro Metodista de Estudios Wesleyanos). Se vuelve a publicar aquí con permiso.

“Un fantasma recorre América latina, el fantasma del antiecumenismo”, esta paráfrasis de aquel viejo Manifiesto tal vez ayude a sintetizar la preocupante situación por la que está transitando el mundo evangélico en América Latina y lamentablemente buena parte del metodismo también.

Grandes iglesias metodistas históricas de nuestro continente están desandando un camino pionero de liderazgo ecuménico para encerrarse en una atmósfera de autoplacer intolerante a lo distinto.

Sin duda, este fantasma no viene solo. Es parte de “un clima de época”, una ola conservadora, intolerante que afecta todos los ámbitos de la vida social, cultural, económica y claro también religiosa de nuestra región.

Lo extraño para el metodismo es que, teniendo una rica historia que señala desde sus orígenes un camino de apertura de mirada y de mente, hoy se pretenda torcer lo evidente con posturas conservadoras y ortodoxas con las que Wesley jamás hubiese acordado.

Brevemente señalaremos algunas de esas características del pensamiento wesleyano que lo hizo distinto en medio de una atmósfera de intolerancia que perduraba del siglo anterior y contra la cual Wesley quería combatir.

En una amplia cantidad de sermones y tratados, Wesley se refiere al “pensar y dejar pensar”, aplicados a diversos aspectos de la vida cristiana. Nos detendremos brevemente en el sermón 39 “El espíritu católico”, el cual bien podría ser traducido como “El espíritu ecuménico”.

Wesley toma como base el texto de 2 Reyes 10, 15 donde Jehú se encuentra con Jonadab (recabita) y en lugar de reprocharle ciertas prácticas culticas no compartidas por Jehú (ver Jeremías 35), este solo le pregunta: “¿Es tu corazón como el mío?”, “Entonces, dame tu mano”.

Wesley también tuvo su “clima de época” pero supo evitarlo. El siglo 17 fue escenario de feroces guerras, y baños de sangre por asuntos religiosos, las guerras religiosas habían dividido y separado teológica y eclesialmente a un sinnúmero de expresiones cristianas. En la época de Wesley, aquella rémora del pasado había llevado a construir grandes murallas de contención tanto doctrinal como de prácticas y reglamentaciones eclesiales para mantener separadas y “sin conflicto” a las iglesias y a grupos distanciados dentro de una misma iglesia o entre denominaciones distintas.

En este contexto, en 1750, Wesley publicó el sermón 39, después de que él y sus predicadores habían experimentado la incomprensión y la persecución de los líderes de la Iglesia Anglicana. Wesley enfatizó que la persecución surgía de la falta de tolerancia, y una de las razones fue la ausencia de libertad de pensamiento en la Iglesia. Dice Wesley:

“Toda persona sabia por lo tanto permitirá a otros la misma libertad de pensamiento que desea que ellos le permitan; y no insistirá en que ellos abracen sus opiniones más que lo que admitirá que ellos insistan para que él abrace las de ellos. Tolera a quienes difieren de él, y solamente plantea a aquel con quien desea unirse en amor una sola pregunta: ‘¿Es recto tu corazón, como el mío es recto con el tuyo?’”

Es claro que Wesley no está haciendo un llamado al pensamiento único (ortodoxia), pero tampoco, en el otro extremo, a un laissez faire, laissez passer doctrinal. La unidad que busca no está en el nivel de las doctrinas o las costumbres, las cuales, admite, cada uno puede sostener la que le parece más verdadera. La unidad que busca se encuentra en el nivel humano, del amor y la tolerancia.

Esta actitud conlleva un desafío doble, por un lado, que sostener las ideas propias demanda una constante actitud de autocrítica, porque las ideas propias hay que sostenerlas “salvo que usando la razón descubras que están equivocadas”, y por otro lado el respeto por las del otro/otra, aunque se las considere equivocadas. Esto evitaría lo que Wesley llamará la “inquisición”, esa actitud sectaria y condenatoria que fue origen de los pasajes más sangrientos y vergonzantes en la historia de la iglesia.

“En segundo lugar, podemos observar”, afirma Wesley, “que no hay ninguna inquisición acerca del modo de adoración de Jonadab, aunque es muy probable que hubiera en este aspecto una amplia diferencia entre ellos….ninguna criatura posee poder alguno para constreñir a otro a andar según sus propias normas. Dios no ha otorgado derecho alguno a ninguno de los humanos a enseñorearse así de la conciencia de sus hermanos, sino que cada uno debe juzgar por sí mismo, pues cada uno de nosotros dará a Dios cuenta de sí.”

Todo esto nos invita a pensar sobre las formas y actitudes que, como personas y como iglesia, adoptamos frente a las diferencias. Debemos reconocer que, a principios de siglo XX, casi todos los metodismos latinoamericanos no tuvieron para nada presente este sermón cuando hicieron de la controversia contra el catolicismo una batalla por las ideas, por la feligresía y por el territorio.

Tampoco lo tienen presente hoy ciertos metodismos que abandonan el ecumenismo y reniegan tanto del pensar, en tanto acción libre y critica de la razón, como del dejar pensar, en tanto acción de tolerancia ante lo diferente.

Sin duda, la tremenda frase de Wesley: “Dios no ha otorgado derecho alguno a ninguno de los humanos a enseñorearse así de la conciencia de sus hermanos”, debería ser una guía que ayude a revisar nuestras afirmaciones, nuestros juicios y prejuicios.

Es un llamado a las iglesias para volver a predicar un evangelio de gracia que libera. Es también un llamado a los pueblos a defender su derecho a una conciencia libre, libertad de conciencia que no debe ser temida como amenaza por la iglesia, sino por el contrario, valorarla como un don amoroso de Dios.

Cuando las subjetividades de los pueblos se encuentran cada vez más manipuladas por poderosas empresas mediáticas creadoras de realidades falsas, esta afirmación wesleyana es buena noticia a ser predicada y un derecho humano inalienable a ser defendido.

En este sentido “el espíritu católico” no se agota en las buenas relaciones con hermanos/as en la fe que piensan distinto, sino que avanza por territorios de valores ecuménicos globales, tanto en el ámbito religioso, como también en el científico, ético y político.

Para los tiempos de resurgimiento de fanatismos conservadores, de ayer y de hoy Wesley en su tratado contra los entusiastas, aconseja que no actuemos como los “entusiastas” que andan persiguiendo a los demás.

Dios no nos llamó a destruir la vida de los demás sino a salvarla. “Nunca se te ocurra forzar a otros a entrar en los caminos de Dios.” Tampoco, se debe forzar a otros a pensar como tu. … “Piensa y deja pensar. No obligues a nadie sobre cuestiones de religión, ni los fuerces a entrar por medios que no sean la razón, la verdad y el amor”.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Recommended Reading: Sahr Yambasu on Ministry at the Margins

For the past year, Rev. Dr. Sahr Yambasu (no relation to the late UMC Bishop John Yambasu) has been serving as President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. The MCI has a one-year, rotating Presidency as its primary leadership office. Yambasu is an immigrant to Ireland from Sierra Leone and the first Black person to hold the Presidency of the MCI. In his final blog post as President, Yambasu reflects back on a life of ministry "Called from the Margins to the Margins." The piece is well worth a read for those interested in the life of a great contemporary Methodist leader, ministry in an ecumenical Methodist partner church, and/or reflections on the missiological concept of "mission from the margins."

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Worldwide Methodism amid Waning Globalization

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

In my first book, Mission as Globalization, I argued that the spread of Methodism around the world in the late 19th and early 20th century was bolstered by a wave of globalization and itself a form of globalization as well. Drawing on a case study of Methodism in Southeast Asia, I argued that thinking of the historical environment for Methodist expansion as one of globalization (and not just colonialism, though that was a significant part of the pre-WWI wave of globalization) helped highlight the way in which various technological, financial, social, and cultural elements supported the spread of Methodism.

The late 19th/early 20th century wave of globalization saw major technological and financial developments that allowed for humans to send money, goods, and information around the world much more quickly than previously. These developments included the steamship, telegraph lines, and various financial instruments that facilitate the international transfer of money. Quicker and cheaper transportation also made travel and migration around the world much easier for people.

While the technological, financial, and social elements of globalization are important, the cultural is as well. I argued that Methodism "served as a vehicle for a set of cultural attitudes that emphasized autonomy, self-determination, social and economic ambition, discipline, and moral control" (p. 54), values that appealed to people around the world seeking to fashion new identities in the emerging "modern" world. Methodism appealed to people who believed (or wanted to believe) that by their actions they could do good for others and do well for themselves at the same time. Such views correlated well with education, democracy, and moral reform, values that Methodists championed not just in Southeast Asia but around the world.

This early era of globalization ended with World War I, which also marked the apogee of the spread of Methodism in the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South traditions. By the 1920s, both globalization and American-based Methodism were in retreat.

Although this goes beyond the scope of my book, I think a similar lens can be used to interpret the last 30-60 years of worldwide Methodism. The world has seen an increasing trend towards globalization since WWII, with an special uptick since the early 1990s and the fall of Communism. This era of increased globalization has correlated with the resumption of mission in new countries by the United Methodist Church (starting in post-Soviet Baltic nations and Russia) and the continued spread to additional countries by other Methodist traditions. In the case of the AME Church and others, increased migration, a key feature of the most recent wave of globalization, has been an important factor in the spread of the church.

But it is not only increased migration that has driven the spread of Methodism in the past 30 years. New forms of travel (cheap airfare) and communication (via the Internet) and additional integration of the world's financial systems has again made it easier in a variety of ways for American-derived Methodism to spread internationally. Africa in particular became much better integrated into the world system in the late 20th century, correlating with Methodism's expansion in that continent.

The same patterns of increased globalization and spreading Methodism that were active at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries were thus again active at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st.

This is a very broad argument, and it needs to be nuanced and clarified as it applies to various specific contexts in different countries, regions, and decades. But I do believe that, in general, Methodism does well in contexts that are characterized by a strong civil society and democracy in which personal effort and moral behavior are generally rewarded. I further believe that a sort of internationalism is generally good for Christian mission of all forms. While there have certainly been ugly and exploitative sides to both waves of globalization, those eras have also been characterized by internationalism and have created, at least for some people, the sorts of contexts in which Methodism has thrived.

If this thesis is generally true, though, it should perhaps give us some pause about our current world historical moment. Globalization as such has not collapsed in the same way it did following World War I. But cooling indicators of globalization, rising nationalism and authoritarianism, and the impacts of the pandemic all raise questions about the future of the world system in which various forms of Methodism have thrived in the past several decades.

Globalization has at least become less popular to talk about since 2006, according to Google's Ngram Viewer, while nationalism has continued to increase in popularity. Global foreign direct investment, a frequently-used indicator of globalization has dropped since then as well. Following steep growth in the 80s and 90s, worldwide exports have leveled off since 2011. The number and percentage of migrants has continued to increase, however, though data from the most recent years is not available.

Culturally, there has been a well-noted trend towards nationalism and authoritarianism around the world since at least the middle of the 2010s. This trend has been documented in countries as diverse as Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Brazil, and the United States. Authoritarianism, which is often paired with nationalism, tends to undercut the sorts of democratic, education-affirming, strong civil society context in which Methodism does well and tends to reward those with connections to the ruling junta, rather than rewarding those showing initiative and effort.

The pandemic has, of course, prevented a lot of travel and trade, which has put at least temporary brakes on some forms of globalization. It remains to be seen how long-lasting those effects are, though, and the pandemic has also led to new forms of global connection via widespread teleconferencing.

Therefore, the indicators do not clearly point to declining globalization, though they do seem to point to rising nationalism. The future is not given. That nationalism may begin to eat into various measurements of globalization. Or the pandemic recovery may unleash a new wave of economic globalization, or collaboration in support of Ukraine may promote a new wave of international cooperation and promotion of democracy. We cannot yet say.

There are also episodes within the history of Methodism around the world in which increasing nationalism led to different forms of Methodist flourishing. The wave of political and church autonomy that swept Asia, Latin America, and Africa in the 1960s and 70s led to new growth in autonomous, indigenous-led branches of Methodism. Thus, Methodism is far from doomed, even if globalization does end up in retreat and nationalism continues to rise.

But for those with a cosmopolitan understanding of Methodism, one that values the worldwide nature of the connection, one that believes in a gospel that affirms the worth of all regardless of background and believes in a religion of respectability wherein God wants us to do good and do well, one that values Methodist engagement in the public sphere, the present historical moment feels, if not foreboding, at least precarious.

Methodism has achieved much as a worldwide tradition over the past 30 years. Whether it can continue and even expand on the successes of the last generation remains to be seen.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Temba Nkomozepi: Mission and Food – The Mujila Falls Perspective

Today's post is written by Temba Nkomozepi. Nkomozepi is a Global Ministries missionary and an agriculturalist at Mujila Falls Agriculture Center in Kanyama, Zambia. This post is part of an occasional series on food and mission.

Mission and food are inseparable, and the interaction between them is inevitable. A study of the early Church in Corinth found that sharing food was significant as a way to show love and helped to displace former conceptions which tolerated inequality and uneven distribution (Blue, 1991).

Often, missionaries would have to give out food to the poor after delivering sermons. Instead of giving out food, many missionaries introduced and demonstrated new techniques to improve the local agriculture. From as early as 1822, in the tribal hilly areas of Odisha in India, a group of missionaries introduced the sloping agricultural land technology which allowed locals to sustainably grow crops and harvest good yields on steep slopes, which was previously attempted without success (Nayak, 2018). In the 1920s, Emery Alvord, an American missionary, successfully promoted the use of the plough and integrated crop-livestock farming in Zimbabwe. More recently, another agricultural missionary, Brian Oldrieve, through Foundations for Farming, is a proponent for a technique known as conservation agriculture based on crop rotation, minimum-tillage and retention of crop residues (Baudron et. al, 2012).

The Mujila Falls Agriculture Center (MFAC), a United Methodist Church mission center also promotes and demonstrates good agriculture practices and works to promote rural development. This purpose of this article is to present the fusion of mission and food from the perspective of us at the MFAC.

The Mujila Falls Agriculture Center lies in a typical rural area at about 50 km away from a small district town called Mwinilunga in the North – Western Province of Zambia in Southern Africa. (11°29'34.8"S 24°48'27.6"E). The region is predominantly occupied by the Lunda people. The area receives high rainfall and has high temperatures that are suitable for most crops and livestock.

The project started in 1999 when its founder, Rev. Paul Lee Webster was evacuated from Musokatanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo following civil strife. The project’s motto is derived from the second part of John 10:10 that says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. The initial objectives were to increase access to food with high protein and vitamin content, but later morphed to include rural and church development.

The interactions of mission and food at the MFAC have been multifaceted as a result of the diverse skills of the missionaries and the circumstances surrounding the formation of the project. One of the biggest successes to date has been the teaching and demonstration on growing maize. Despite that maize is the staple in Zambia, cassava is the staple food in the vicinity. For years, locals had been unsuccessfully trying to farm maize without much success. It was only after training and demonstration on critical factors such as seed selection, land preparation, weed control and harvesting that the yields grew and more people were encouraged to cultivate maize as a cash crop. Over the years government also increased support in input supply (subsidies) and marketing.

Mujila has been successful in providing fresh milk and eggs. The project provides the community with over 80 liters of fresh milk and between 1,500 to 2,700 eggs per day. The eggs are sold at an affordable price, while the milk is distributed free of charge as a response to the need and requests from several health practitioners. Efforts to have the local farmers produce their own milk and eggs are hindered by lack of access to improved cattle and chicken breeds, poor road network, support services and lack of funds for investment.

In addition, Mujila has seen both success and failure in introducing various appropriate technology and types of small livestock and vegetables. For example, in appropriate technology, the bicycle frame cultivators were a big success largely because they are effective and old bicycle frames are widely available without much utility.

On the other hand, introducing the use of animal draught power was not adopted much because of the high entry cost barrier. Even those who can afford cattle rear them long distances away from their homes and fields. Similarly, experience has also proved that vegetables or foods that go along with the main starch (Nshima) such as cabbage are usually accepted, whilst those that do not like rhubarb/beetroot are not easily adopted. Experiencing local food has helped the missionaries at MFAC to develop cross-cultural understanding and intelligence (Sterkenburg, 2013)

MFAC does not only help with food practices as practical decisions influenced by nutritional needs but sometimes in ways that are fundamentally social or cultural (Reddy & van Dam, 2020). An example is how the Mama Roxanne Day Care center was introduced as an intervention for child safety and protection.

The mission center received reports of incidents where minor children under the watch of older siblings would injure themselves trying to heat or prepare food. In most cases, the mothers who are normally the primary caregivers to children would be out preparing cassava flour. Processing cassava has not changed much over the last few decades; it is laborious and time consuming which involves soaking, chipping, drying and pounding (Alamu et al., 2019).

On the surface, it is unclear why families prefer to use the old ways to process cassava, also why they chose cassava to be a food security crop and maize to be a cash crop. Key informants have revealed that the reasons are largely traditional and are also linked to the status of a wife or family. It is against this background that MFAC started a day care center where children between the ages of 4 and 7 can be looked after while receiving basic education.

Similarly, MFAC has also strengthened local congregations by providing opportunities to the church and church members through employment or income generating agricultural projects. The work done at Mujila provides a platform where people who gather for any program such as training and employment can be part of religious services led by missionaries. The advantage is that it makes it possible to reach to people who would not normally respond to an invitation to church.

Overall, the interactions of mission and food at MFAC are complex, and the approach is distinctive because of the diverse skill set of the missionaries and the uniqueness of the local area. Food provides a platform for exchange because it can be used to mark religion, ethnicity (or tribe) and gender (Bonnekessen, 2010).

Furthermore, understanding the food value chain; what a society eats; how it is produced and processed, how it links to tradition and status can also help mission centers to bring much needed interventions such as the Mama Roxanne Day Care Center. On one hand, the missionaries train and demonstrate how people could possibly eat better and earn a little more, while on the other, they also teach how people may have life, and have it abundantly!

Alamu, E.O., Ntawuruhunga, P., Chibwe, T. et al., 2019. "Evaluation of cassava processing and utilization at household level in Zambia." Food Security, 11:141–150.

Baudron, F., Andersson, J.A., Corbeels, M., Giller K.E., 2012. "Failing to Yield? Ploughs, conservation agriculture and the problem of agricultural intensification. An example from the Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe." The Journal of Development Studies, 48 (03):393-412. 10.1080/00220388.2011.587509. hal-00807097.

Blue, B.B., 1991. "The house church at Corinth and the Lord’s Supper: Famine, food supply, and the present distress." Criswell Theological Review, 5(2):221-239.

Bonnekessen, B., 2010. "Food is good to teach: an exploration of the cultural meanings of food." Food, Culture & Society, 13(2):279+. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 19 May 2022

Nayak, S., 2018. "Role of Missionaries in Development of Sloping Agricultural Land Technology in Odisha: A Historical Study." The Researchers' International Research Journal; Jharkhand, 4(1): 27-32.

Reddy, G. & van Dam, R.M., 2020. "Food, culture, and identity in multicultural societies: Insights from Singapore." Appetite, 149, 104633.

Sterkenburg, D.R., 2013. "Teaching Cultural Awareness Through Food Traditions." Business Administration Faculty Presentations. 21.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Recommended Reading: Jack Martin on the UMVIM Journey

Rev. Dr. Jack Martin, a retired clergyperson from the Virginia Annual Conference, recently wrote a lengthy piece entitled "The UMVIM Journey." The piece is an extensive first-hand recounting of the history of the rise of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) movement in the Southeast Jurisdiction from someone who was personally involved as a leader of and advocate for that movement. Among other forms of involvement, Rev. Dr. Martin was president of the UMVIM board from 1988 to 1996. As Martin acknowledges, the definitive history of the development of UMVIM remains Rev. Thomas L. Curtis’ book, From the Grassroots: A History of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. However, Martin's narrative deserves to take its place as an important additional historical source on the history of this significant mission movement.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Autonomy, international division mark United Methodist tradition

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. This piece originally appeared as a commentary on the United Methodist News Service site and is republished here with permission.

In April, the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference voted to leave The United Methodist Church and join the Global Methodist Church upon its launch on May 1.

This action created a disagreement with Bishop Patrick Streiff, the bishop of the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference, over the proper procedure for the Bulgarians and Romanians to leave The United Methodist Church.

While Bulgarian leaders claimed authority to make such a decision via conference vote alone, Bishop Streiff pointed to Book of Discipline Paragraph 572 as laying out the proper and only means by which an annual conference within the central conferences can leave The United Methodist Church.

Paragraph 572 spells out the process by which a portion of the church outside the United States may become autonomous. Streiff's ruling of law, which references Paragraph 572, is now up for review by the Judicial Council, The United Methodist Church's top court. In the meantime, the Council of Bishops has voted to affirm Streiff’s ruling.

This current debate and its implications for the ongoing process of denominational division have piqued interest in Paragraph 572 and the history of church autonomy in the United Methodist tradition. What branches of Methodism outside the United States have become autonomous, and why? Yet as a review of the history of autonomy shows, there are no easy analogies for the present situation.

The very first example of an international branch of a predecessor to The United Methodist Church becoming autonomous is the Methodist Church in Japan in 1907.

At the time, the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Canadian Methodist Church all conducted mission work in Japan. Japanese church leaders and missionaries came to agree that the divisions between the three churches were not relevant in Japan. Autonomy allowed the three different missions to separate from their home denominations and unite with one another as a new church. The new Japan Methodist Church continued to maintain collaborative relationships with the three denominations from which it was birthed — a trend that would continue in subsequent instances of Methodist autonomy.

The motivation of autonomy for the sake of intra-Methodist merger was repeated in 1930 in Korea and Mexico. In both instances, the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South, supported mission work in the same country. That mission work had grown, developed indigenous leadership, and had taken on increasing internal structure. While those two U.S. denominations were at the time in talks to merge, local leaders and missionaries agreed that it made sense for the branches of the church in Korea not to wait for the U.S. church but instead to separate from the U.S. church and unite with one another. The same decision was reached in Mexico.

In later years, especially in the 1960s, this impulse to seek autonomy for the sake of local merger would extend beyond the Methodist tradition. In Belgium, Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Pakistan and Spain, in Evangelical United Brethren work in the Philippines, and most recently in Sweden in 2012, branches of The Methodist Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church or The United Methodist Church outside the United States decided to separate from international (and predominantly U.S.-based) denominations for the sake of local ecumenical merger with Christian churches from other Protestant traditions.

If the desire for ecumenical merger represents one major impetus toward autonomy, the desire or need for local independence represents the other major force for autonomy. The first such instance was the decision by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to grant autonomy to its mission work in Brazil, a decision also made in 1930. Methodists in Brazil and the United States agreed that the Brazilian church would flourish better if able to make more of its own decisions locally, though the process by which the general church acted to establish an autonomous Brazilian Methodist Church received mixed reactions in Brazil. At issue was the desire among Brazilians for some sort of continued connection with Methodists in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in the United States.

In the mid-20th century, the push for local decision-making was often entangled with the desire or need to be seen, for political reasons, as separate from Western-dominated church structures. Countries around the world were throwing off the shackles of colonialism, and this extended to the church as well. Churches desired more autonomy from Western decision-making structures or found that they needed such autonomy to escape local political suspicion. As in Brazil, this did not mean Methodists wanted a complete cessation of ties to U.S.-based denominations, and negotiations over the specific form of continued connection were sometimes contested.

This push for national independence kicked off a great wave of autonomous Methodist churches branching off from The Methodist Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and The United Methodist Church, especially in Latin America and Asia. This wave began in The Methodist Church in 1964 with Myanmar and Indonesia.

As part of the 1968 merger that created The United Methodist Church, all conferences of the Evangelical United Brethren Church outside the United States became autonomous, though the churches in Sierra Leone and Nigeria have subsequently rejoined The United Methodist Church.

Many national branches of The Methodist Church became autonomous in 1966, 1968 and 1972, including Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Malaysia and Singapore, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Panama and Taiwan. This wave continued through the autonomy of the Methodist Church in India in 1980 up to the autonomy of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico in 1992.

The current disciplinary provisions for conferences outside the United States to become autonomous date to this era. While affiliated autonomous churches were first recognized in The Methodist Church’s 1940 Book of Discipline, a regular process for becoming an affiliated autonomous church was not added until 1964. What is now Paragraph 572 was added to accommodate either local ecumenical mergers or moves to national autonomy, but its origins are in the era of postcolonial rethinking of what sorts of international relations should characterize Methodism.

The challenge in applying Paragraph 572 to the current situation of international division between The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church is that the separation is neither a local ecumenical merger nor a move toward national independence. This does not mean that Paragraph 572 cannot or should not be applied in the current situation. That is a question for the Judicial Council and other denominational leaders to sort out. It does mean that historical moves toward autonomy are poor analogies for the sort of situation in which the church now finds itself.

If there are no good analogies for the division between The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church in the history of autonomy, neither are there many good analogies in the history of denominational division. As has been widely noted by other commentators, there are plenty of precedents for denominational division in the Methodist tradition. However, almost all the examples frequently cited are limited to the United States. They were not international divisions of an international church.

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Methodist Protestant Church all separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church before it operated missions outside the United States.

When the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Free Methodist Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church, the denomination’s foreign mission work stayed with the Methodist Episcopal Church, though each of these new denominations would go on to develop their own foreign mission work. When the United Evangelical Church split from the Evangelical Association in 1891, existing denominational foreign mission work stayed with the Evangelical Association, though again the United Evangelical Church quickly established international work of its own.

To these American splits, one could add a history of denominational divisions in other countries, a process that continues to the present. Church splits in the Philippines, Chile, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and elsewhere are also part of the heritage of division in the United Methodist tradition. Yet these splits occurred within a single country and were not international in scope. Therefore, they are also limited as historical analogies.

The only denominational split of which I am aware in which church members in more than one country had to choose which side to take was the 1889 split in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, which originated in the United States but extended to mission work in Sierra Leone and China. This case certainly deserves additional attention, but there is not space to expand on it here.

To say that there are no good historical precedents for the sort of international division that The United Methodist Church is beginning to undergo does not mean that such division is impossible. The recent decision of the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference shows that an international division of The United Methodist Church is not only possible, it is already happening.

What the lack of historical precedents does mean is that the process of international division is likely to be unpredictable, and existing processes and polity provisions may not be well suited to the purpose. Polity is a system of rules, and rules are predicated on an assumption of regularity. Unprecedented circumstances, whether those are a global pandemic or an international church split, challenge existing polity precisely because they are irregular and therefore do not fit within existing practices and procedures.

Therefore, leaders in all parts of The United Methodist Church will be challenged to think creatively about how best to respond to situations for which there are no provisions in existing church law and very few historical models to guide them.