Wednesday, August 31, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] As reported by Jusu, Phileas, “Bishop Yambasu Agricultural Initiative Harvests First Crop,” United Methodist News Service, February 22, 2022.

Monday, August 29, 2022

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2022

Recommended Reading: German UMC Welcome to WCC

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

5 UMC story lines to follow this fall

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

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

US Disaffiliation

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

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

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

Plans for General Conference 2024

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

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

Proposals for the future of the UMC

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

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

Episcopal elections

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

European disaffiliation

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2022

Daniel Bruno: Methodism in Latin America in Times of Neoliberalism: Some Themes

Today's post is by Rev. Lic. Daniel A. Bruno. Rev. Bruno is a pastor of the Argentina Methodist Church and Professor of Church History. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) and appears here in translation with the author's permission. It is the second of a two-part translation of the original piece.

In an earlier post, I described the context of neoliberalism in Latin America and its effect on the churches there, including Methodism. In this post, I will point out briefly some aspects that deserve to be debated to glimpse a new horizon and a possible future for our Methodist churches.

The challenge of community evangelization in context

For decades we have been concerned, and continue to be, with the question of the numerical growth of our churches. And that's okay; it is a genuine concern. The problem has been linking the concern for numerical growth with the concept of “evangelization,” which is much broader and more challenging. Today commercial marketing uses the word "evangelize" as a method to sell a product and generate customer loyalty. Without a doubt, we have done something wrong if it has learned this from the churches that speak of “evangelizing.”

The model of evangelization that came to us through the missions was effectively a client model. They had to grow in number in order to not close the mission post. Thus, the terms began to melt together: growth and evangelization. Added to this is the subjectivist and individualistic character that was imprinted on the evangelistic action.

Wesley's practice was very different. His phrase "spread the good news of salvation and reform the nation" demonstrates his broad concept of the task that the witnesses of the good news have in the society in which they live. Wesley created what we might today call a community network of evangelism. The space in charge of spreading the good news was given, not to an individual, but to community spaces, such as the societies, classes and bands that, as a connective network, nourished the believers in all their needs and also gave them a horizon of testimony. Wesley was never concerned with "growing", but rather with giving witness to the love of God in the lives of people. The enormous growth of the Methodist movement was a consequence of working in networks and witnessing in society.

Growth arises as a consequence of a committed mission, not as an end in itself. This is reflected in the book of Acts 2: 46-47, when the first Christians lived the gospel and as a consequence of that testimony: "The Lord added every day to those who were going to be saved." The testimony comes first; growth accompanies a good testimony. When we ask ourselves why we are not growing, we should ask ourselves what witness we are bearing to the Good News.

The challenge of a mission that troubles

This leads us to revise our mission. One of the most dangerous concepts that neoliberalism has managed to implant in our societies is that of "common sense," that is, the uncritical acceptance of what is given or of what is "politically correct" since it is accepted as true by many. It is the way of accepting what is established, without accepting other transgressive alternatives.

The concept has penetrated our churches and without a doubt, applying it to mission is a contradiction. If Wesley would have based himself on "common sense," he would never have gone to Bristol to preach in the open air. If Jesus would have based his ministry on "common sense," he would not have left Joseph's carpenter's shop. The gospel demands a mission that troubles.

The challenge of a “two-way” mission

During the 19th century, Protestantism used the term "mission" disconnected from the task of the witness of churches in their places of origin. It continued to use it as an expression of a special action of missionary expansion (accompanied many times, it must be said, by colonialist military expeditions) to reach regions where the gospel was not known, establishing a "mission" there.

Today it is necessary to strip the concept of mission of the idea of "going and bringing," and change it to that of "meeting and dialoguing." Latin American Methodism must necessarily seek its mission outside of common sense or sometimes against it. Mission in Latin America, a land shaped by so many and varied cultures, must know how to open spaces for dialogue, letting the Spirit act and in many cases allowing oneself to be evangelized by “others,” as Jesus did with the Syrophoenician woman. And in that encounter, claim all the faces and excluded or subaltern groups such as: indigenous peoples, women in their fight for gender equality and against violence against women, creation as a mistreated common home, etc.

The challenge of returning to being a movement

If Wesley had something very clear, it is that he never wanted to be a church institution. That was what the Anglican Church was for. He always perceived Methodism as a movement. Does this mean the absence of organization? Certainly not; Wesley was quite strict with habits and discipline. But he was very clear that the entire organization and structure had to be at the service of and be functional for mission.

The missions that organized Methodism in Latin America had a different vision. For them, mission consisted of marking territory, through the construction of large and beautiful churches, by endowing the mission with an institutional structure copied from the Methodist Episcopal Church, which, by the way, the autonomy processes tried to modify, but without a doubt it was not enough.

This heritage, which by the way we must value and which at some point was necessary for external visibility and internal organization, today in many cases has become a burden. In many cases the institutional structure stifles the mission. The roles were reversed.

And that must necessarily be revised. The Latin American Methodism of the not-so-distant future will have to be wise to reorganize itself in its context. It must transform itself with an embodied spirituality and a renewed liturgy, which maintains all its historical richness but appeals to the new generations. May it build communities of abundant life in times of institutional disbelief and exacerbated individualism.

The challenge of a broad ecumenism

Large historical Methodist churches of our continent are retreating from a pioneering path of ecumenical leadership to close themselves in an atmosphere of self-pleasure intolerant of difference. Undoubtedly, this is part of the "climate of the times" in which we live, a conservative, intolerant wave that affects all areas of life – social, cultural, economic and, of course, religious – in our region.

The strange thing for Methodism is that, having a rich history that since its origins points to a path of openness of view and mind, today it tries to twist the obvious with conservative and orthodox positions with which Wesley would never have agreed. In a large number of sermons and tracts, Wesley refers to "thinking and letting think" as applied to various aspects of the Christian life. Sermon 39, “The Catholic Spirit,” which could well be translated as “The Ecumenical Spirit,” also reveals his fight against intolerance.

This invites us to think about the forms and attitudes that, as people and as a church, we adopt in the face of differences. We must recognize that, at the beginning of the 20th 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 for territory.

Neither do certain Methodisms have it in mind today when they abandon ecumenism and deny both thinking, as a free and critical action of reason, and letting think, as an action of tolerance in the face of difference. 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 that helps to revise our affirmations, our judgments, and our prejudices.

The challenge of speaking clearly and loudly

The prophetic task of the church has been a characteristic of Methodism. What we know today as public theology, for Wesley was part of the works of mercy. His concept of good news, deep and radical, led him to fight against the "execrable villainy of slavery," to dabble in economics, in health, in medicine, and to criticize those who transformed these tools given by God for the well-being of God’s children into matters of personal profit. Latin American Methodism also knew how to speak clearly and loudly at different hard times in the history of its peoples.

In this current context, the prophetic attitude is dissipating. Why? Why, right at a time with so much injustice, inequality, violence, and hunger, does it seems that we are returning to "winter quarters"? Why do we close ourselves in the churches and transform public theology into private theology? Perhaps it is because of what we said before, have we put the institutional structure before the mission? Have we given in to the temptation to elaborate a mission from “common sense”?

These are some of the challenges we face as Latin American Methodists. it is time to start working on them. We invite you to follow our posts for the month of August on the Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina’s website, where these aspects will be deepened by additional authors.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Recommended Readings: Methodist Church in Britain on Agriculture in Zimbabwe

This blog has been running an occasional system of posts on mission and food throughout this year. In that vein, several recent blog posts from the Methodist Church in Britain's Global Relationships team on agricultural project in Zimbabwe. Andrew Ashdown, MCB's Partnership Coordinator for Africa, has been visiting Africa and the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (an autonomous church from the British tradition). Part of the joint work between the MCB and the MCZ has involved agricultural projects. Ashdown has written about such projects in the following posts:

Mission through Education, Agriculture and Development. Waddilove Schools and Farm. Zimbabwe

Income generation for Education and Church growth. Moleli Goat-rearing Project

The hardships of rural ministry in Africa. Mbembesi Chicken Rearing project. Matabeleland, Zimbabwe

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Recommended Reading: Soundings Towards an Intercultural Identity for The United Methodist Church

The journal Methodist Review recently published another article that may be of interest to UM & Global's readers. It draws on history and theology to comment on the intercultural nature of The United Methodist Church. Hendrik R. Pieterse and David W. Scott wrote "Soundings Towards an Intercultural Identity for The United Methodist Church: Some Historical and Theological Resources." The piece can be found for free, with registration, on Methodist Review's website. A full abstract for the piece is below.


Hendrik R. Pieterse and David W. Scott, "Soundings Towards an Intercultural Identity for The United Methodist Church: Some Historical and Theological Resources"

The United Methodist Church today is in an identity crisis rooted in the role of culture, power, and agency in the negotiation of denominational identity. To confront these challenges, the UMC must recognize the extent to which white American understandings of Methodism have functioned as normative in debates over Methodist identity. To illustrate the intercultural dynamics at stake, we analyze the history of Italian and Japanese immigrants’ struggle to find a place within American Methodism in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These case studies show that Methodism flourished when there was room for intercultural conversation about its nature. Thus, United Methodists need an alternative understanding of our collective identity that evolves out of intercultural conversations that remain alert to the role of culture, power, and agency in identity formation. We suggest that one promising resource in this task is the Methodist practice of conferencing or dialogue.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Daniel Bruno: The Challenges for Methodism in Latin America in Times of Neoliberalism

Today's post is by Rev. Lic. Daniel A. Bruno. Rev. Bruno is a pastor of the Argentina Methodist Church and Professor of Church History. It originally appeared (in Spanish) on the website of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) and appears here in translation with the author's permission.

The context
About fifty years ago, it was decided by the centers of world economic power that Latin America should not continue down the path of economic growth and development, of expanding the middle class and industrialization. It was necessary to implement a plan to redirect the wealth. Instead of benefiting the majority and achieving equitable development, the "think tanks" of the new economic model called neoliberalism began to outline plans so that this wealth would drain away and accumulate in a few hands. The first tests of this plan were through the coups d'état that added up in Latin America starting in 1971.

All these violent democratic interruptions had a single purpose: to implement economic models that would allow a redirection of resources and money from the majority to the Latin American elites and their international partners and to repress popular resistance. That model of coups d'état exhausted itself in the mid-1980s. They generated a lot of resistance and, in the long run, were rejected by the population.

The plan was adjusted and now the model is much more subtle.

Economic power acquired the principal mass media of the continent; great economic emporiums now model the subjectivity of the population; and in this way, coups d'état are no longer necessary to discipline the population by force of arms. Media manipulation of subjectivities achieves this effect without generating resistance.

In this way today, in all the countries of the continent, the real power, which goes beyond the shifting governments, is mechanized through three specialized spheres: the economic-financial power, the concentrated mass media, and the judicial powers. This three-pronged pincer is the one that for approximately twenty years has been executing synchronously on the continent a model of exclusion, poverty, deindustrialization, and accumulation of wealth in a few hands that increasingly deteriorates the quality of life of the population. Judicial powers, meanwhile, imprison opponents, and population is deceived by the media, generating false disputes and dividing the peoples to achieve their objectives.

This situation is increasingly cruel, neoliberalism or neocolonialism, is destroying the expectations of life, of the future, and of the development of millions of Latin Americans. And the possibilities of resistance are becoming ever more difficult to implement and more stigmatized by the media.

This oppression and manipulation of subjectivities operates on consciences, managing to dilute the capacity of resistance of the masses. This is one of the most dangerous facets of neoliberalism since it affects the self-awareness of human beings, deceives about their options, and permeates deeper into false beliefs, preventing the possibility of visualizing the real causes that cause their postponement.

A recurring phrase of the Argentine economist Bernardo Kliksberg helps us to understand the consequences of this model. He says: "Latin America is not the poorest continent, but it is the most inequitable." A continent rich in natural resources, it has almost forty percent of its population below the poverty line. How is it possible? This is the result of a model of accumulation for the elites and the active contributing role of the hegemonic media and the judiciary that favor this situation. Now, to this phrase by Kliksberg, we can add… but Latin America is the most Christian continent. How can we understand this?

And the church?
At this point we must recognize that religion has also been co-opted to join this model of new post-modern oppression. Certain evangelical groups have been the most receptive and functional. Due to Latin America’s Christian layers, neoliberalism needed Christian language and symbology to penetrate the population. Indeed, this neocolonial siren song has formatted the theological profile of various evangelical expressions. How? Perhaps one of the best-known examples is that of the prosperity gospel, a theological version of neoliberal capitalism, where the one who “invests” more with money, receives more blessings from “God.”

However, this theological neoliberal culture has managed to impact not only these extravagant phenomena, but also historical Protestant expressions with a wide presence of testimony on the continent.

Anti-ecumenism, for example, has penetrated Protestant traditions that until quite recently had a fruitful dialogue with other traditions. This attitude of reactionary withdrawal is explained by the penetration of conservative fundamentalist currents that have been eroding the more liberal and progressive positions of the historical churches. Already in 1973, the well-known Rockefeller report advised and suggested to the government of Richard Nixon that, in order to curb the most protesting and progressive expressions of the Latin American churches, both Catholic and Protestant, money and programs should be invested to foment the penetration of individualistic theologies, of personal salvation, with contempt for the historical-social views and that fed conservative positions. Undoubtedly, these programs have been successful and the result is in sight.

Today, the vast majority of the Protestant camp has been transformed into a conservative force both theologically and politically, offering its votes to right-wing parties and coalitions in exchange for perks and favors, also acting as a shock force against any attempt at progressive change in Latin American societies.

Methodism in Latin America is not exempt from these temptations
Methodism, as part of the Protestant field in Latin America, has been and is seduced by this model. There are currently many attempts by conservative sectors of North American Methodism to finance projects of this type. A great temptation for churches with meager budgets such as the Latin American Methodists! The imminent breakup of the United Methodist Church in the United States frees some economically powerful groups that seek to finance and co-opt Latin American Methodist churches, in order to turn them into conservative forces in their countries.

This would be a sad end to a Methodism that was at the forefront of the struggle for secular laws and individual liberties at the end of the 19th century; a pioneer in the ecumenical movement in the mid-20th century; creators, along with other denominations, of movements such as FALJE (Federación Argentina de Ligas Juveniles Evangélicas – Argentine Federation of Evangelical Youth), and its later version of ULAJE (Unión Latinoamericana de Juventudes Ecuménicas – Latin American Union of Ecumenical Youth), mobilizing Protestant youth to a deep commitment to unite the good news of the gospel with the historical demands of the Latin American peoples; participation in ISAL (Iglesia y Sociedad en América Latina – Church and Society in Latin America); the fight against dictatorships and the defense of human rights in the 70s, 80s; etc.

We trust that this will not be the case and that Methodism in Latin America will know how to preserve these values. We trust that we are not going to sell our birthright, that is, our fidelity to the gospel embodied in the history of our peoples, for a plate of lentils poisoned with coins from Caesar. For this, it is essential to revisit the origins of our movement with Latin American eyes. To look critically at the cultural clothing with which that tradition came to us in the 19th century, after passing through the religious-cultural atmosphere present in the United States.

We appreciate those missions that made our presence here possible, but today more than ever, it is necessary that the autonomies declared in the 1930s and 60s finish taking root to free the evangelical power of a movement that changed a nation and now, in our context, must change ours.

During August, the Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina through its Methodist Center of Wesleyan Studies is going deeper into these issues through a series of posts. For my part, I will point out briefly in a next post some aspects that deserve to be debated to glimpse a new horizon and a possible future for our Methodist churches.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Recommended Reading: Ulrike Schuler Farewell Lecture on Connectionalism

Dr. Ulrike Schuler retired as Professor of Church History, Methodism and Ecumenical Studies at Reutlingen School of Theology at the end of July. Reutlingen is the seminary for German (and sometimes other European) United Methodists. As is the tradition in German academia, Schuler concluded her service with a farewell lecture. The title of her address was, in English, "Staying connected: a Methodist model of life and church." The lecture touched on several themes of interest to this blog: connectionalism, mission, the nature of Methodism, and current reform efforts in The United Methodist Church. The EmK website published a summary of Schuler's address (here in the original German and here in a Google translation into English), and video of the lecture (in German) is available as well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Recommended Readings: On Evangelism as the Heart of Mission

The journal Methodist Review recently published an article and a response that may be of interest to UM & Global's readers. Both concern the relationship between evangelism and mission. Mark Teasdale wrote "Extending the Metaphor: Evangelism as the Heart of Mission Twenty-Five Years Later," in which he commented on Dana L. Robert's 1997 essay, "Evangelism as the Heart of Mission." Dana Robert then wrote a response to Teasdale's essay. Both pieces can be found for free, with registration, on Methodist Review's website. Full abstracts for both pieces are below.

Mark Teasdale, "Extending the Metaphor: Evangelism as the Heart of Mission Twenty-Five Years Later"

In 1997, Dana Robert published “Evangelism as the Heart of Mission” to provide a conceptual framework to resolve the theological debate within The United Methodist Church about the relationship of evangelism to mission. She did this by using a heart-and-body metaphor that demonstrated that each was distinct from yet interdependent with the other, appealing to the example of John Wesley’s holistic ministry. Drawing on developments in the field of evangelism and in scholarship related to Wesley’s understanding of inspiration that have taken place in the twenty-five years since Robert’s work was published, her metaphor can be clarified and extended in ways that will allow it to remain a helpful missiological framework for Methodists to think about both their evangelistic outreach and their life together as a community of believers in Jesus Christ.


Dana L. Robert, Response to Mark Teasdale

In a recent issue of Methodist Review, Mark Teasdale revisited Dana L. Robert’s image of “evangelism as the heart of mission.” In this response, Robert reflects on the historical setting in which she proposed the idea, focusing on events within The United Methodist Church and academic associations of professors of evangelism and mission. She then interacts appreciatively with aspects of Teasdale’s reframing, specifically his rejection of narrowing evangelism to a practice of the church, and his call to focus more strongly on the Holy Spirit. She concludes by exploring Methodist D. T. Niles’s reflections on the Spirit in mission.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Bishops Etchegoyen and Nacpil on Autonomy and Connectionalism

Given current separations from the denomination and questions about the future for those who stay, The United Methodist Church is in a time of reconsidering what it means to be connected as a church. Therefore, past reflections by two former Methodist Bishops - Aldo Etchegoyen of the Evangelical Methodist Church Argentina and Emerito Nacpil of the UMC in the Philippines - on the relationship between connectionalism and autonomy struck me (David) as once again relevant, especially for the question of how remaining United Methodists should relate across national and continental boundaries.

Bishop Etchegoyen, writing in 1997 in "Connectionality and Autonomy" in The Ecumenical Implications of the Discussions of "The Global Nature of The United Methodist Church" rooted the concept of connectionalism not in Methodist history but in theological principles: "We believe in a connectional God who has moved outside himself to create all things. God's creation is a connectional phenomenon in which earth, sun and water serve the plants, the flowers and the fruits, as also the animals and humanity." "The opposite of connectionalism," he continued, "is separation." (p. 163)

Therefore, Etchegoyen wrote, "We cannot speak of connectionality and autonomy in the same breath. Each of these terms excludes the other. I believe this contradiction has done us much harm." (p. 164)

In contrast, he proposed, "I am defending a connectionality with responsibility in which each church may take account of its own identity, may be able to perform its own government but at the same time may show clearly its historical, theological and ecclesial unity, which we already have. On the opposite side of this conception is the dangerous possibility of falling into an irresponsible autonomy of which we have several examples. ...

"We must come to a moment when we will not be autonomous churches seeking to express our connectionality, but connectional churches on an equal footing. This, by no means signifies a leap backward into the past, but rather a leap forward in search of a new situation in which we can truly express our genuine connectionality in service of life, in maturity and in coherence with the Gospel. A connectionality that surges up from our national roots and is enriched by the diversity of world Methodism in the setting of the great ecumenical family." (p. 165)

Bishop Nacpil, in a 1994 Episcopal Address entitled "Developing a Truly Global Church," contained in The Secularity of the Word, Vol. III of A Spirituality that Secularizes, took up similar themes:

"The vision of a global church relates or links autonomy and connectionality organically and essentially. In a global church one cannot have the one without the other. They mutually entail each other in a global vision." (p. 440)

Speaking in the context of Filipino debates over voting to become autonomous, he continued:

"Connectionalism connects the local and the global. Connectionalism does not stop connecting one local church with another church within a nation which is what a purely autonomous structure will do! It goes on connecting with all the local churches of the one global United Methodist Church which is what globalization seeks to do. Moreover, it does not only connect one local church to another local church, but the local to the global and the global to the local. That is to say: between parts and whole and between the whole and its parts! Connectionalism entails globalization. And there cannot be globalization without some form of connectionalism which is expressed locally with autonomy. But autonomy alone restricted by national boundary cannot and can never be global and connectional!" (p. 450)

After commenting on a then-current plan for restructuring the UMC along lines similar to those proposed in the present-day Christmas Covenant, he concludes, "One can see that connectionality starts from the charge conference and moves vertically and horizontally through annual, regional, and general conference levels. Autonomy also is exercised from the local, annual, regional, and general levels within the framework of global connectionality."

While the two use the term autonomy differently, what both bishops argue for is an understanding of Methodism that entails local and national decision-making alongside international connection. One is making that argument from within the UMC and one from outside its formal structures, but both believe such a balance of local freedom and international connection is essential to Methodism.

Such a vision is relevant both as The United Methodist Church considers how to structure itself going forward and as it considers how to relate to historically-connected churches, such as those Methodist churches in Latin America and parts of Asia.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Recommended Reading: Methodist Church of Brazil discusses relations with UMC

There was a debate at the recently-held General Conference of the Methodist Church in Brazil about whether to continue the church's long-standing relationship with the UMC, amid concerns about differing theologies of sexuality. UMNews has published a story about the Brazilian General Conference in Portuguese, with a Google translation available here.

The Methodist Church in Brazil has its roots in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, one of the forerunners of The United Methodist Church. Currently, the UMC invites non-voting delegates from the Methodist Church in Brazil to attend General Conference in recognition of the historic and fraternal ties between the two churches. The two denominations also collaboration on mission and other projects and are both members of the World Methodist Council.

The debate in the Methodist Church in Brazil's General Conference reflects that denomination's conservative stance on sexuality. As the UMNews article makes clear, the Brazilian General Conference also discussed pro-environmental and anti-racism measures, so the Brazilian church does not easily equate to any one theological or political position held in the United States.

Nevertheless, this debate is an indicator of the sort of ecumenical tensions that the UMC/GMC split is causing within world Methodism but beyond the UMC. Such debates, which also arose at the recent Methodist Church of Mexico General Conference, are presenting themselves because of strong GMC outreach beyond the UMC, outreach that often carries an anti-UMC message.

Bishop Jaoa Carlos Lopes and Prof. Paulo Roberto Garcia persuaded the Brazilian General Conference not to take any action regarding its relationship with the UMC until after the next UMC General Conference in 2024, arguing that the UMC has not changed its teachings on sexuality.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

MLK vs. the Prophets, or, a Word on Hope in History

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

There is a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that is much beloved by US American progressives: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” As employed by American progressives, this quote implies two elements of belief:

First, that the world as a whole system (and the United States as the part of the world with which the speakers are usually most familiar) is on a trend towards greater equality among and prosperity for all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other salient element of identity. This is the “bends towards justice” part of the quote.

Second, that this trend occurs inevitably. It may work through human organizing and efforts, but it is not dependent on human actions. Instead, it results from an intrinsic divine or social or natural law. This is the “arc of the moral universe” part of the quote.

From MLK’s vantage point when making this remark in the mid-20th century, or from the vantage point of his quoters at the end of the 20th century, looking back over the past couple hundred years of human history, there was good evidence for the two beliefs implied by this quote and its use.

Over that time span, there had been amazing and significant steps towards this understanding of justice, especially in the Western world: chattel slavery was abolished; modern medicine substantially reduced suffering and disease and extended lifespans; child labor was abolished in the West and working conditions were substantially improved for adults; women gained the right to vote, various other rights, and access to increased choices in life; the Civil Rights movement (including MLK) gained various rights for African Americans; Majority World countries became independent of Western colonialism; and queer folks gained increased recognition and rights in society.

Moreover, all these steps towards greater justice came about not as the result of one centralized movement but rather a plethora of movements that sprang up, as if from some central animating spirit that was beyond the individuals involved.

Yet as obvious as such a belief in inevitable human progress was in the mid- to late 20th century, there are abundant reasons to question such a belief by this point in the 21st century. Indeed, we might conclude that this belief in inevitable human progress reflects a particularly modern outlook on the world – modern both in its setting, its belief in progress, and its projection of an evolutionary grand narrative onto human history.

Postmodernism has, of course, raised questions about all such metanarratives, but one need not buy fully into postmodernism to question the narrative of inevitable progress towards greater justice as understood by modern Americans. The rise of autocracy and decline of democracy around the world, the revival of racism and anti-Semitism and rollback of women’s rights in the United States, and the existential threat to all human flourishing represented by climate collapse should raise serious questions about any overly sunny accountings of certain human progress.

At very least, the past couple decades should show us the significance of effective, strategic, and long-term organizing and movement building in influencing the direction of history. While liberal forces had that momentum at their back from the 1930s through the 1970s, it is conservative forces that have most recently been reaping the fruits of such organizing. Whatever direction history takes, it is unlikely to get there outside of well-organized and coordinated effort on the part of very dedicated people willing to be patient and make sacrifices.

Climate change further shows us that the past two hundred years may not be the ramp up to a premillennial paradise of justice and equality but rather a very particular historical moment that is not sustainable as it has played out thus far and therefore may well not last.

A longer historical frame suggests additional possibilities: If we look at the first ten thousand years of human history, leading up to the modern era, we see less of a pattern towards justice, or at least we see a very long incubation period before that pattern towards justice sets in. Instead, we might see waves of progress and regression set against a backdrop of (slowly) increasing societal complexity.

Fortunately, belief in the arc of the moral universe is not the only way to hold out hope for the future. I’d like to suggest another: that of the biblical prophets.

MLK was influenced by and drew upon the biblical prophets, as his rhetoric frequently showed. King and the prophets shared a deep concern for justice.

Where MLK (or at least his oft-repeated quote) and the prophets disagreed is on their understanding of history. While King’s quote suggests a generally upward trajectory to history, the prophets were often quite blunt about their conviction that history was headed in a downward direction.

When Amos declared that “the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste and [God] will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” or Hosea proclaimed that “Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,” they were announcing anything but sunny optimism about the direction of the future.

The biblical prophets took seriously the possibility that the future would be worse, not just for the enemies of their people, but for their people themselves. Sometimes, like Jeremiah, they even lived through the fulfillment of their prophecies of destruction.

Yet even amid their clear-eyed facing of the possibility and even inevitability of disaster for their communities, the prophets maintained hope. This hope was built not on the assumption that things would keep getting better, but on the belief that they would not always get worse. It was a hope built on trust that God’s mercy would have the last word beyond whatever disaster was impending. “[God] will restore of the fortunes of [God’s] people Israel,” wrote Amos, “and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them.”

For me, in this historical moment, this understanding of hope in history feels more true than the hope implied by the use of the MLK quote. Our cities (or our churches, our institutions, our rights, our ways of life) may indeed become heaps of ruins, either because we tear them down as we tear each other apart or because climate disasters will make them so. But that will not be the end. God’s mercy will still prevail, and we will eventually “rebuild the ruined cities.” That is a bleaker expectation for the future, but more honest and more accurate in my eyes. And, if the prophets are our guides, it is just as faithful.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Jonathan McCurley: FoodLife - Life and Food at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan, Part II

Today's post is by Rev. Jonathan McCurley. Rev. McCurley is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church serving through Global Ministries as a missionary in the community life of the Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara, Japan. This post is part of an occasional series on food and mission.

At the Asian Rural Institute, the whole school community daily participates in the practices of foodlife work. From the sowing of the crops and feeding of the livestock to the food processing and meal preperation, the community comes together to give of their lives to create food that will sustain life. Not agriculture, or farm work, but this is foodlife work. It reminds us that food is the life God has given us and that our work is part of the process to bring life to the whole world.

Foodlife gives community members of ARI a spiritual experience of connecting and reconnecting to each other, even amidst the conflicts and misunderstandings of everyday life. The ARI Training Handbook states, “Foodlife is a vital activity for human beings to maintain their lives and it connects God, the earth, and human beings – working as a medium for reconciliation and peace building.”[1]

Behind this word foodlife is an understanding of the world and of God.

Foodlife is a term that ARI says was coined by Rev. Dr Toshihiro Takami, or Tom as he was affectionately known by many. Dr. Takami is often known as the founder of the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) and in fact was our first director. For many of the original supporters of ARI, he was also often the face of ARI.

Dr Takami coined the word foodlife in that he took two words that while connected deeply, have become increasingly separated in modern society and joined them into one.

When talking about the reason for coining a new word, Dr Takami talks about agriculture and what it has become. He says:

“Agriculture in a broad sense of the term may be the only human enterprise which would help sustain our planet’s food chain. Almost all other industries are destructive of natural environment. Industrial products as we know them today, especially petroleum based ones, do not help nature’s recycling process. Modern agriculture using science and technology makes agriculture destructive of nature like most other industries. Agriculture destructive of nature is destructive of life. Food produced by destructive agriculture is destructive of human lives. Modern technology which is detached from the art of science is making agriculture destructive.

“Food producing is fast becoming part of big industry on a global scale, and consumers and farmers are being alienated from each other and from the act of food production. Food in this case is no longer a linkage between human beings and nature or creation, nor between consumers and farmers. Food is becoming an agent of alienation.”[2]

That was said almost three decades ago, and in reality, if we think about life today, if you go into a grocery store in almost any modern city in the world, especially in the Global North, you will find a plethora of food. Much of it either has no visual connection to the life it came from, or it has been perfected to the point that it looks more plastic than edible. This 21st century reality is not just about disconnection in the sense that the ARI philosophy speaks of, but it is also a major cause of environmental degradation, the lack of food security in many places, and even regional violent conflict.

For ARI, the reality of the world all comes down to our understanding of food and life. What is the relationship between the two and how are we as humans supposed to relate with them? Genesis tells us God’s ideal. We see humans naming animals, getting their food from the land, being told to subdue, control, or as we say at ARI, be stewards of the world. In God’s ideal world, we see humans interacting with creation in order to see life flourish.

According to Dr Takami, what we call agriculture did not seem so much interested in seeing life flourish anymore. As countries of the world have sought to use technology and business in order to respond to the wants of the consumers of the world, the focus is no longer on life. Instead, he was worried that the work to create food was becoming more and more disconnected from life. He says in the same article:

“When this kind of scheme of meeting the food needs of the world population establishes hegemony, the already energy-intensive agriculture (which would destroy the food chain), will become increasingly energy intensive not only in the method of production but also in transportation, distribution, preservation, processing and consumption. All matters concerning FOOD would become an integral part of giant monopolistic industries controlled by the powerful few. When such takes place, no human person makes profit but only inhuman world wide trading systems make profit. We would do great injustice to the present and future generations and to the whole creation if we allow this to happen.”[3]

Dr Takami ends by saying what an injustice it would be to the future and to all of creation if we allowed this to happen. This then becomes the question before us.

Through its fifty years of practice, ARI has sought to offer an alternative view of how food, life, God, and creation should be connected and how each and every one of us can relate. I believe that in that connection, there is the deep meaning of foodlife. Dr Takami’s question is really a call for you and me, all of us, to participate in the practice and process of foodlife. So, what do you think? How can we best join in the work of creating food that sustains life for tomorrow? We as part of creation have a responsibility to God, ourselves and the rest of creation to respond to this question.

[1] Asian Rural Institute, “The Heartbeat of Takami: A book of Toshihiro Takami’s words”, (Japan, Asian Rural Institute, 2018), 58.

[2] Sharing Food is Sharing Life: In Search of a Genuine Life was a speech given on June 29, 1998 at the United Nations Dialogue on the Impact of Globalization in New York, New York. In this speech, Rev. Takami shared the above words. A copy can be requested from the Asian Rural Institute by contacting

[3] Sharing Food is Sharing Life: In Search of a Genuine Life.