Monday, October 3, 2022

On the African Bishops' Statement, Or, Defining Success in Blogging

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.

About a month ago, the Africa Colleges of Bishops released a statement denouncing the Africa Initiative and the WCA and, by implication, affirming their loyalty to the UMC. The statement lists the bishops present for its adoption and indicates support from other bishops not present. Bishop John Wesley Yohanna of Nigeria is the only active African bishop not in one of these two categories.

When the statement came out, I know that several regular readers of this blog were looking forward to see what we would publish about that statement. Perhaps some have been surprised that this blog has not addressed that statement until now.

A word of explanation is therefore in order, and it gets to not only the statement itself but the role that I hope this blog plays in the wider ecosystem of the UMC.

The tagline for UM & Global is "Dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church." Under that tagline, I have tried to write, recruit, and highlight content that either relates to the UMC outside the United States and/or to mission, broadly defined. I am humbled that readers have responded by regularly tuning in to read the posts that I and others have written here.

Ultimately, though, as much as I am honored by and appreciate the dedicated readership of this blog, it is not an end unto itself. The goal is that there be "conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church." This site certainly serves as a venue for such conversations, but ultimately, it is my hope that those conversations will happen throughout denominational spaces. The goal is not that UM & Global become the premier place to have such conversations; the goal is that more such conversations take place, which requires them to happen in places other than on UM & Global.

UM & Global will ultimately be successful not by dominating the market for international analysis of the UMC but by growing that market to the point where we are just one small player (or even no longer a player) in that market. In missiology, they say that a good missionary works themselves out of a job. My goal for UM & Global is to work ourselves out of a job - to increase the interest in and capacity for talking about the international church such that UM & Global itself is no longer essential to that endeavor.

Thus, I am happy when other people and other venues report on, discuss, and analyze the global church. I myself am deeply dependent on UMNews for the fine work that their stable of international journalists do, and regular readers will have noted various collaborative projects between UM & Global and UMNews over the past couple years.

Similarly, I am deeply grateful for the work Cynthia Astle at United Methodist Insight does to give a place for voices from Africa and elsewhere throughout global Methodism to express themselves. I'm glad that Cynthia regularly publishes commentary by Lloyd Nyarota and others and stories about Nigeria.

So, when I am choosing what to focus on with UM & Global, the question for me is not necessarily, "What are the biggest stories going on in global Methodism?" It's more, "What stories about Methodism around the world are not getting the attention they deserve? What needs to be lifted up and highlighted that people might otherwise miss?"

Which brings us back to the African Colleges of Bishops' statement. That statement got a lot of attention, which it absolutely deserved. It was widely shared on social media. UMNews did a story on it the next day. The Africa Initiative released a response, which was also widely shared. Africa Voice of Unity released a statement in support of the bishops, which was shared as well. Rev. John Stephens invited Bishop Mande Muyombo on his podcast, where they talked about the statement (among other things - it's a good podcast episode and worth a watch). United Methodist Insight published a story and materials related to the fallout of the statement in Nigeria.

In other words, people paid quite a lot of attention to the African bishops' statement, listened to a variety of African perspectives on the statement, and discussed its meaning and implications. And all that happened without UM & Global writing anything. Success!

But for those of you who have read thus far, waiting to see whether I will actually say anything about the statement, here are my few contributions to the conversation that is going on throughout the church, as it should, and not just on this blog:

  • I think the statement reflects the strong leadership of Bishop Nhiwatiwa, currently head of the African Colleges of Bishops. Bishop Nhiwatiwa is deeply loyal to the UMC and has previously indicated his desire for African United Methodists to make their own decisions.
  • Tensions between the bishops and the Africa Initiative/WCA have long simmered. This statement certainly brings those tensions to a new height, but also indicates that the bishops feel like they have the strength to win that contest for influence.
  • Some have wondered whether bishops who have previously been aligned with the Africa Initiative/WCA, especially Bishops Kasap and Quire, "really" supported the statement. The statement should be viewed in light of the African tradition of consensus decision-making. Bishops Kasap and Quire may not have been completely in favor of the gist of the statement, but they were unwilling to go against the consensus of the bishops as a whole. Bishop Yohanna probably felt more freedom to speak out against the statement because he was not present when that consensus was formed.
  • As for what the statement means long-term, time will only tell, but the statement should be taken as a significant inflection point.
Those are my thoughts at least, and I expect and hope that others will have their own interpretations of this statement by the African bishops and will continue to interpret and discuss on their own future such statements as well.

1 comment:

  1. A real question needs to be asked by our group. When we listen to African UM voices, to whom do we talk? For example, do we talk to a western educated liberal pastor who pastors a UCC church in Canada? If so, to what extent does he or the African bishops represent the masses of people who attend UM churches across Africa. I have worked in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Currently, I work with church planters in northern Sierra Leone. I fear that the masses will never be quoted on any press release. Their voices have been lost in favor of voices with whom we are connected. We don't speak for the global church. Neither do western oriented clergy from the global church who have a personal agenda. Instead of relying on interviews with high profile Africans, do a survey of the church so you can validate what the leadership says.