Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2022 Year in Review

There's no secret about it: the topic UM & Global readers were most interested in during 2022 was developments related to the future of the church.

The most-read story of the year came in February when UM & Global alerted readers to the problem of securing visas in sufficient time for General Conference to be held in 2022. UM & Global had previously written about the challenges of securing visas after General Conference 2019 and then returned to the issue in November of this year, looking ahead to the 2024 General Conference.

After General Conference was further delayed to 2024 and Traditionalist leaders announced the formation of the Global Methodist Church, UM & Global helped orient readers to how these developments were playing out globally, including in the United States, in Africa, and in Europe.

With these developments related to separation and intra-church fights, this blog also highlighted the dangers for United Methodists of staying stuck in conflict and explained how new narratives can help move the church past such conflict.

Amid this focus on church politics, mission was not entirely overlooked. Readers also resonated with a post from May that suggested that rather than following John Wesley in talking about the world being our parish, we should instead follow Thomas Coke's affirmation that “Oceans cannot limit the affection we have for one another.”

While this was not reflected in the readership stats for the year, 2022 also saw an all-time high mark for the amount of translated material on UM & Global, including posts from Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Norway, and the Congo (which also yielded the first French-language post on UM & Global). As the church seeks to live into its intercultural, multilingual future, such posts that facilitate discussion across linguistic barriers are an important part of strengthening the connection.

Finally, on a technical note, several regular readers have noted that they are no longer receiving emails notifications about new posts. This is due to some technical changes in the blog's current platform. We are aware of the problem and looking into possible solutions. Stay tuned for more updates in 2023.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Coalition-Building as a Way Forward

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.

My past two posts have explained how The United Methodist Church is an increasingly complex system beset by a wicked problem and how, given those conditions, leadership is an attractive approach to addressing the problems of the denomination. Leadership alone, however, is a flawed solution given the complexity of the system and the limitations of knowledge and power possessed by a single individual within the system, even if that person is a leader within the system.

As this post will explain, though, while leadership may be a flawed solution, that does not leave us without hope. An approach focused on coalition-building, collaboration, and communication can be effective in effecting change in complex systems. Moreover, when leadership is oriented towards contributing to such an approach along with larger groups (rather than towards the top-down exercise of power by an individual), coalition-building, collaboration, and communication can strengthen and enhance the exercise of leadership.

All of this has implications for The United Methodist Church as it moves towards the next stage of service to which God is calling it.

Coalitions, collaboration, and communication
The problem with a leadership-focused approach to the wicked problems of complex systems is that the complexity of the systems exceeds the ability of any one individual to understand how the system works and the ability of any one individual to control the system. The solution to this limitation is to locate understanding and control of the system not with any one individual but with coalitions of individuals and groups working together to address the problems of the system.

Having more individuals committed to finding solutions means more collective knowledge of the system, both of its individual parts and of how those parts interact with one another. It also means a greater ability to influence the system via more pressure points. This greater collective knowledge and greater influence means a greater ability to effectively address the problems of the system and therefore a greater chance of success in doing so.

Collective action does not just happen, though. It must be organized through the slow, labor-intensive work of coalition building. Coalition building involves getting groups to agree to work together on a common problem or towards a common goal. Coalition members do not need to agree on all issues. Indeed, successful coalitions will likely include members who disagree, perhaps quite passionately, on issues other than the central motivating issue of the coalition.

Thus, three central tasks in building coalitions are identifying a salient issue that is shared among different groups, facilitating trust building among groups that will disagree on some issues, and persuading groups to commit to work together on shared interests despite their disagreements elsewhere.

The success of such work requires participants in the coalition to be able to hold tensions, accept imperfection, and even to forgive one another. It also requires a collective sense of responsibility for the problems of the system. Blame works against fostering such a collective sense of responsibility, since it assigns responsibility for the problems of the system outside those casting blame and is thus an excuse for not acting oneself.

Once a coalition has begun to form, it proceeds by collaborative action. Collaborative action is action taken by different players and often in different forms towards a common goal. Collaborative action does not mean that all coalition members do the same thing. Indeed, the most effective coalitions employ a diversity of strategies to realize their goals, which allows a diversity of participants to contribute their skills and energy in a diversity of ways. While coordination is necessary, conformity is a sign of the weakness of a coalition, not its strength.

Throughout the whole process, communication is an essential. Communication is necessary to bring coalition members together. It is necessary to identify the salient issues and goals of the coalition. It is necessary to build trust among members. It is necessary to coordinate the disparate actions of members. It is necessary to measure progress towards goals. Communication is the one thing absolutely necessary for successful coalitions.

Like collaborative action, communication involves contributions by many people. The more that information sharing can happen through a network rather than through a hub-and-spoke model of central gatekeeping, the more easily information can be shared throughout a coalition and therefore the more effective the coalition will be.

Those convening, promoting, coordinating, and communicating coalitions need not be formally recognized leaders within the system. It is possible to leverage personal connections, charisma, or other resources to engage disparate groups to come together around a common issue. Formal leadership does not disqualify one from doing such work, but neither does it automatically compel one to engage in such work. Thus, an approach that is based around coalitions, collaboration, and communication is not necessarily one based on leadership.

Yet, leaders can use the power and information at their disposal to contribute to coalitions. This requires leaders to acknowledge their own limitations and prioritize common objectives over personal status or control. Even when formal leaders participate in coalitions, the primary responsibility for progress must remain with the coalition as a whole, not with any leader or leaders associated with the coalition.

The Reform and Renewal Coalition
Arguably one of the most effective political forces within The United Methodist Church since its inception has been the Reform and Renewal Coalition. It is not a coincidence that this has been a coalition, not the work of a single organization, a single leader, or even a handful of leaders.

Instead, the Reform and Renewal Coalition has brought together multiple Traditionalist organizations and individuals with overlapping but distinct foci, but all aligned together around issues of Traditionalist understandings of marriage and theology. These groups and their members have worked separately but in coordination towards agreed upon goals. A variety of means of communication including publications, personal networks, and conferences and meetings have allowed communication to flow throughout a Traditionalist network, thereby facilitating the work of the coalition.

There have been prominent figures associated with the Reform and Renewal Coalition, but the Coalition has had no one single leader. Some bishops have been supportive, but most of the identified leaders are not people with significant formal positions of power within the regular structures of the denomination. Instead, the Reform and Renewal Coalition has operated through coalition-building, collaboration, and communication.

While Progressives and Centrists are likely to see the Reform and Renewal Coalition as contributing to rather than solving the problems of the denomination, that should not detract from recognizing the coalition’s success on its own terms.

Traditionalists have been less well coordinated recently, mostly because of differing ideas about what they should do next in the wake of General Conference 2019 and the launch of the Global Methodist Church. These varying opinions have deprived the coalition of its focus and its coordination and therefore its effectiveness. But these challenges are just further proof of the importance of well-functioning coalitions for success – policy success comes not from one’s ideology but from one’s organization.

Implications for the future UMC
With the exit of many Traditionalist congregations and individuals from the UMC, the splintering of Traditionalist plans, and the shuttering of some of its components (such as the Confessing Movement), it is clear the Reform and Renewal Coalition will no longer continue to dominate United Methodist polity debates in the same way they have historically. What is not yet clear, though, is whether a new coalition will emerge among those who choose to stay UMC that will set the direction for United Methodism for the next several decades.

Whether or not such a coalition emerges will likely depend on whether groups and leaders from disparate parts of the denomination can come together around concrete policy goals. Although the goals of the Reform and Renewal Coalition were primarily related to sexuality, the goals of a future coalition need not be. Other issues such as decolonizing the church, regionalization and contextualization, evangelism, or something else could prove galvanizing for a new coalition. Whether or not an effective coalition emerges depends on many things, but it starts with the identification of a salient issue.

To bring this argument back to its beginning, the recently elected bishops will certainly make an impact on The United Methodist Church, especially in the episcopal areas they serve. But they will have little ability to set the future direction of the denomination on their own. Instead, what will be more significant than any of the recently held elections is what sorts of coalitions emerge to direct The United Methodist Church into the next stage of its life.

Bishops may contribute to such coalitions, but it will take a broad sense of responsibility for the future of the denomination, a commonly agreed-upon set of issues or goals, a willingness to work together among disparate groups, some of whom will disagree on some issues, and extensive communication among a network of partners to really set the direction for the future of the denomination.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Ulrich Bachmann: The Dream of a Life without Violence

Today’s post is by Ulrich Bachmann, CEO of Connexio hope and develop. The peacebuilding activities of The United Methodist Church, East Congo Episcopal Area, described in this article are supported by Conenxio develop. The article originally appeared on the website of the Swiss United Methodist Church. It has been translated by David W. Scott and appears here by permission.

Peace is a costly and at the same time fragile good. In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the churches themselves are part of the conflict, but also search for ways to overcome it. In any case, people there know exactly what they want when they work for peace.

The year that is coming to an end has clearly shown that peace is in no way a self-evident matter and is not obtained without effort. Peace is costly and at the same time very fragile. Many people on this earth are still denied peace.

A narrowing
In the Western world there is the tendency to individualize peace, like so many other things. Yet peace is not a private matter, but rather it always concerns one’s neighbors in one’s immediate and broader surroundings.

Under difficult circumstances
In South Kivu Province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, The United Methodist Church is committed to the peaceful coexistence of the various people groups. It is deeply impressive how people employ themselves for peace despite enormous challenges.

Complex causes
Often the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is portrayed as an interethnic conflict. Even when many conflicts are carried out along ethnic lines, their causes are more complex than the differences that exist between the various ethnic groups. Claims to political power, questions of law, and access to increasingly scarce natural resources mix with regional and international interests into an explosive cocktail.

Moreover, in most cases, the violence is carried out by armed militias that are financed, among other means, through illegal trading of raw materials and by political decision-makers.

Great suffering for many people
Those who end up suffering are the people who live in the region. They are forcibly expelled and lose their livelihoods. They carry the suffering of the many victims that the conflict claims. They are exploited and lose trust in neighbors from other people groups.

Meanwhile, over 1.3 million internally displaced people, who have been forcibly expelled from their homelands, live in South Kivu Province. Women and children are thereby also frequently exposed to increased sexual violence.

Communities with potential
In South Kivu Province, as in other regions of the country, religious communities play an important role in society. Often they are active in the educational and health sectors and make an important contribution to social cohesion. On account of their values and ethics, religious communities are predestined to employ themselves for a good coexistence between the various people groups.

Caught in ethnic violence
The reality is, however, much more complex. The churches are part of the conflict as well as part of the solution to conflict. The chairman of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Uvira says that the churches are also caught in the trap of radicalism and ethnic violence. Ethnic identity does not stop at the church doors. Many churches wear the ethnic labels of their leading figures.

A pastor from the vicinity of Baraka, a region that has suffered greatly from interethnic conflicts, confirms that it can be different: “When our village was attacked by armed groups, we fled to Baraka. We were accepted by the Methodist church and accommodated regardless of ethnic affiliation.” With that, he stressed that a critical discussion of the roll of the church in conflict transformation is important. Only thus can the church contribute to the pacification of the region.

Messages against hate
Since 2018, The United Methodist Church in the East Congo Episcopal Region has been engaged in supporting peaceful coexistence in the highlands of Uvira and Fizi. To work against hate messages on social media, journalists from various people groups were mobilized under the coordination of Michel Kizibisha to formulate messages against hate and for a peaceful coexistence. The messages were broadcast over local radio stations.

Building bridges
The radio messages have been well received in his area, says Jacques Muzingwa, a journalist that worked on the formulation of the radio messages. The messages built a bridge between the various ethnic groups whose relationship was very strongly characterized by mistrust.

Michel Kizibisha, coordinator of the peacebuilding program, says that through the radio campaign a large number of people from all ethnic backgrounds can be reached at the same time. It is a good opportunity to build awareness within the population of respect for human rights and the constitution.

Stopping injustice
The absence of functioning government structures and the multi-layered conflict in the region have led to a situation where the population often resorts to a sort of vigilante justice or lynch justice. That heats up the conflict situation even more. It is often young men, without work and without prospects, that resort to vigilante justice.

Strengthening the law
Under the leadership of Michel Kizibisha, representatives from women’s groups, young men, and officials such as representatives of churches have been invited to discuss the problem of lynch justice in order to make a contribution to sensitizing the population to the negative and inhumane consequences of lynch justice. The problem of a missing or biased system of law cannot be remedied in this way. Yet this is an important step towards ensuring that people are not convicted by the public though innocent and without a fair trial and must often pay with their lives. Women in particular, who have often already experienced earlier violence, become victims of this lynch justice.

Further work
Antoine Muganza, a fuel dealer from the region, took part in a seminar on this topic and said that the Methodist church must absolutely work more on this important topic. It also means that the women and young men must be more strongly included in order to make a difference. Antoine Muganza realized how important a functioning judicial system and the presumption of innocence are.

To be able to live without violence
The situation of people in South Kivu Province is shaped by very many difficulties. The hope remains that conflict will be transformed and a peaceful coexistence is possible. Aline Nansukura from Uvira expressed it in very moving terms: “Peace is for the dream of a life without violence.”

Friday, December 16, 2022

Recommended Viewing: UWF Voices from the Philippines webinar

United Women in Faith recently hosted an episode of their "Voices from the Field" series with Emma Cantor, UWF regional missionary for the Philippines. In the episode, Cantor describes how Filipina women are engaging in mission, especially in mission with women focused on leadership development, economic development, combating gender-based violence, and assisting migrants. The episode also features pre-recorded presentations by other mission leaders from the Philippines, including Andelin Louisa Anolin of the Batis Center and Nora Guevara of Kapatiran Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI). The episode is a good depiction of the many ways in which Filipina Methodist women put their faith into action today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Unrealistic Expectations

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 last post, I argued that The United Methodist Church is a complex system (more so than when it was created) facing a wicked problem. I indicated that this fact has implications for the role of leadership in the UMC, in particular that of bishops. In this post, I will argue that the nature of complex systems make leadership an attractive but ultimately flawed solution to the wicked problems that beset complex systems.

Leadership as an Attractive Solution
By their very nature, complex systems are difficult to control (since inputs do not lead straightforwardly to outputs), and wicked problems are difficult to solve. Furthermore, since complex systems include many actors, most of them will have very little influence over the system as a whole, making it even more difficult for most people to get the results they want from the system. Therefore, many people feel powerless in the face of complex systems, for instance, the global economy, big businesses, or government bureaucracies.

In such a situation, selecting the right leader for the system becomes seen by many as an attractive solution to the problems plaguing the complex system.

Selecting the right leader seemingly simplifies the complex system and its complex problems, and this is its main attraction. We just need to find the right person, and they will solve the problems of the system, goes the thinking.

Rather than needing to understand the complex system itself (which is often beyond the ability of even experts, let alone regular individuals), it is only necessary to understand the (usually limited) choices for leadership candidates. Rather than needing to figure out how to exert influence on the system (which is difficult for well-organized coalitions, let alone individuals), it is only necessary to use one’s power to vote for a leader.

All the better, this line of reasoning often goes, if the leader selected is somewhat antithetical to the system, if they promise to “shake things up,” create “disruption,” or “smash things.” And in order to do that destructive work, the leader should be given as much power as possible. The system is obviously not producing what it should, so doesn’t it need to be shaken up by a strong leader?

This leadership-focused solution to systemic problems also fits with cultural emphases from various cultures, whether it is Americans’ cult of personality or Africans’ tradition of “big man” leadership. The notion of a leader as a hero or savior is deeply rooted within many cultural traditions.

The wave of rising authoritarianism that has swept the globe over the past decade is an expression of how leadership is an attractive solution to complex problems. In many different cultural and political settings, people have elected leaders who have billed themselves as strongmen (and the gendered term is intentional) capable of bending the system to give their voters what they want.

Whether or not United Methodists support such political authoritarian figures (and probably some but not most do), the temptation to look to leaders as rescuers from the morass of wicked problems that bogs down the complex system of The United Methodist Church is still there.

Leadership as a Flawed Solution
But while leadership may be an attractive solution to the wicked problems of complex systems, it is also a flawed solution. Of course, one could point to the moral, ethical, and democratic failings frequently exhibited by authoritarian leaders, but even setting those significant concerns aside, there are real reasons why leadership alone is not a good way to address the problems of complex solutions.

First, while participants in a complex system may be eager to shift responsibility for problem solving onto a leader because of their own limited knowledge of and influence over that system, they often significantly overestimate leaders’ knowledge of and influence over the system.

Complex systems are difficult for leaders to understand, too, even given their additional vantage over and information about the system. Indeed, it is hard for any one person to really have a feel for all parts of a system and how they interact. Leadership in a complex system requires knowledge of many disparate areas of policy and procedure. Moreover, leaders are subject to the same limitations of wisdom, knowledge, and judgment as anyone else. And when leaders are sometimes chosen because they are from outside the system or its current elite, this can limit their understanding of the system even further.

Moreover, because complex systems are characterized by nonlinear relationships and by many different actors with many different motivations, complex systems are difficult to control, even for leaders. There are many opportunities for unintended consequences or for people to resist and obstruct what a leader wants to accomplish. While it many be easy for leaders to exert control over central elements of a complex system, that does not mean that directives will flow completely and easily to all components of a system, especially those farther from the centers of power.

These observations are true of bishops in the UMC just as much as other leaders of complex systems. There are many different areas of responsibility for bishops, and it is difficult to be an expert in all of them. Bishops are often limited in their knowledge of what is happening outside of their episcopal area or jurisdiction. Their powers are geographically and constitutionally limited. District superintendents, pastors, congregations, and agencies all have independent decision-making authority. Bishops can influence, but they cannot completely dictate. Even in Africa where bishops are held in higher regard, they are not complete dictators, and things can and do happen outside bishops’ control.

There are also limitations in the relationship between leaders and followers. The many-faceted nature of issues in complex systems means that for any given leader and any given follower, there will almost always be points of disagreement between them. While in some instances, followers adjust their views to reflect those of their leaders, in other instances, followers are left to decide how to relate to leaders whose work they very much support in some instances and very much oppose in others.

Furthermore, conditions including polarization, distrust, and anger at institutions can make people even less willing to follow leaders. If some group of followers sees a leader as “not my leader,” then they will work to oppose or undermine the work of that leader, further limiting the leader’s power. Even if loyal followers expect leaders to quickly deliver results on all issues, leaders can quickly go from heroes to villains if they fail to perform to what may be unrealistically high standards.

A Methodist Example
To see the attraction and the failure of leadership as a solution to the problems of complex systems, look at The United Methodist Church’s experience with the Commission on a Way Forward. The commission was formed after General Conference delegates, unable to solve the wicked problem of The United Methodist Church themselves, took the unprecedented action of asking the bishops to step in and intervene.

However, the bishops’ ability to do so was quite limited. They were able to convene a group to make recommendations to General Conference, but the bishops themselves were neither able to propose solutions nor able to adopt solutions proposed by others. The size of the group was even limited by financial calculations by GCFA beyond the bishops’ control. Moreover, no bishop has a complete understanding of the entire United Methodist Church and could not know in advance how the work of the Commission on a Way Forward would be received or what unexpected reactions or counteractions it would provoke.

Then, once the commission was formed, it became the target of criticism over a host of issues ranging from its composition to how its work was conducted. Such criticism reflected some genuine concerns, but it also reflected the polarization and lack of trust in the denomination. The commission produced a recommendation, which the bishops then revised, and then the recommendations from the commission and the bishops were rejected by General Conference in a decision that exacerbated rather than solved the wicked problem of the denomination.

In the case of the Commission on a Way Forward, appealing to leadership patently failed as a means to address the wicked problem of the complex system of The United Methodist Church. But I don’t think that was because the bishops made mistakes along the way. They may have made mistakes and thereby worsened the chances of the commission succeeding, but the basic problem was with the nature of the system and the limitations of a leadership-focused solution to its problems.

Fortunately, there are other potential solutions to the problems that beset complex systems. In my next post, I will look at communication and collaboration as potential solutions, ones that can improve the quality of leadership in addition to addressing problems.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Gustavo Vasquez: CIEMAL College of Bishops and Presidents Elects New Board of Directors

Today's post is by Rev. Gustavo Vasquez, Director of Hispanic/Latino Communications at United Methodist News. It originally appeared in a Spanish version on UMNews. It has been translated by David W. Scott and appears here by permission.

In very challenging times due to the effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL (Consejo de Iglesias Evangelicas Metodistas de America Latina y el Caribe; the Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean) has elected its new Board of Directors for the 2022-2027 quinquennium.

The election process took place on November 26-27, 2022 virtually via Zoom, where bishops and presidents of the Methodist churches in the Latin American and Caribbean region met to deliberate and choose new officers.

According to an announcement from the group, it is the first time that the process happened virtually, as “this type of election has usually been done in person,” but after the COVID-19 pandemic affected normal air travel and health requirements for international travel, many of the meetings and events have happened online.

The result of the election process has led to a new Board of Directors composed of Bishop Lizzette Gabriel Montalvo, of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, who is the first woman elected as president of this collegial body; Bishop Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos, of the Methodist Church in Brazil, as vice president; and Dr. Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch, of the Methodist Church in Uruguay, as secretary.

Bishop Gabriel had been president of the entire CIEMAL body in the 2012-2017 quinquennium and vice president in the 2017-2022 quinquennium and now appears for the first time as president of its College of Bishops and Presidents. She was recently elected as the first woman to occupy the episcopacy of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

Together with Bishop Gabriel will be Bishop Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos, who for his part was recently elected bishop of the 4th Episcopal Region of the Methodist Church in Brazil. Pereira dos Santos is also the secretary of the College of Bishops of the Brazilian church.

At the same time, Dr. Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch is a lay leader elected as president of the Methodist Church in Uruguay in June 2021 and now will be the new secretary of the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL.

For its part, the Board of Directors which has been in office since 2017 and ended its term in these last elections was made up of the bishops Juan de Dios Peña Gallegos of the Evangelical Methodist Church in El Salvador as president; Samuel Aguilar Cury of the Methodist Church of Peru as vice president; and Hideide Brito Torres of the 8th Episcopal Region of the Methodist Church in Brazil, who was the secretary of the board.

According to the announcement by CIEMAL, the College of Bishops and Presidents “is a body of CIEMAL whose purposes are pastoral accompaniment for the church in Latin America and the Caribbean and to be a prophetic voice in the face of the new challenges and new realities that confront the church and society in the region.”

Brief biographies of the members of the new Board of Directors of the College of Bishops and Presidents of CIEMAL are below:

Lizzette Gabriel Montalvo has been a pastor in the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico since July 1989. She has had outstanding leadership in the Emmaus Community of Puerto Rico since her participation in Walk #3 in Mexico (1989). She has actively participated in the opening of new communities in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey.

She was certified as a Spiritual Director at the Academy of Spiritual Formation #22 held in San Antonio, Texas. She led three Academies in her country and was the first woman recognized as Chaplain of the National Guard of Puerto Rico (1994). Currently, she has participated as a volunteer on the Citizen Interaction Committee, Puerto Rico Command of Caguas.

She has been a member of the Alzheimer's Society of Puerto Rico since 2019 and serves as spiritual director for the Caguas chapter of the support group for Alzheimer's caregivers. She was the first spokesperson for the Faith Based Organizations Advisory Committee for the city of Caguas.

Bruno Roberto Pereira dos Santos is a bishop of the Methodist Church in Brazil assigned to the 4th Episcopal Region, which includes the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.

He is the current secretary of the College of Bishops of the Methodist Church in Brazil, with 20 years of pastoral ministry. In Rio de Janeiro, he was pastor in the capital and the rural areas of the state and was a district superintendent.

Bishop Pereira dos Santos has been married for 18 years and has three children. A member of the church since he was a child, he entered the theological school of the Brazilian Methodist church and received his first pastoral assignment at 21 years old.

Currently, he is studying for a postgraduate degree in theological pedagogy and was homiletics professor at the César Dacorso Filho Seminary for the training of new pastors.

Evelyn Wibmer Murdoch is a lay leader and current president of the Methodist Church in Uruguay.

She was born and raised in Montevideo, the capital of the country. Married, months away from her golden jubilee, mother of four children, and grandmother of five grandchildren, she comes from a Methodist family of several generations.

She has been a member of the church since she was a teenager, member of the committee of directors of Central Methodist Church, representative to national assemblies, vice president of the National Board of Life and Mission (JNVM) between 2012 and 2015, and president of JNVM from July 2021 to this date.

She is a medical doctor with postgraduate experience in internal medicine and nephrology and studies in health management and the management of dialysis centers. She developed her career at the Mutualista Evangelical Hospital, where she was General Manager from 2015 to 2019. She was representative of the mutual sector to the National Resources Fund from 2011 to 2015; co-founder of an acute dialysis center, two chronic dialysis centers, and a kidney transplant center; and president of the medical guild of Mutualista Evangelical Hospital in two separate periods.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Recommended Viewing: UMVIM on Mission amid Division

Rev. Matt Lacey, Executive Director of UMVIM - Southeastern Jurisdiction, released a recent video statement on "UMVIM, SEJ and UMC Conflict" and then hosted a follow-up livestream on that topic and other issues related to UMVIM teams post-pandemic. In both videos, Rev. Lacey states that UMVIM will continue to be a United Methodist entity, as it has been, and will continue to work with constituents from a variety of denominational backgrounds, as it has been. The most moving parts of both videos, however, are the pleas that Rev. Lacey issues for denominational division not to detract or distract from the work of God's mission. Lacey expresses his concern that division will harm mission work or lead to withdrawal of support from mission projects. As a theological alternative, Lacey lays out a vision of mission as a source of unity across boundaries, one which is heartily commended.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Contemporary Challenges of Leadership: Complex Systems

Over the past month, The United Methodist Church has been focused on episcopal elections in the United States, Europe, and the Philippines. United Methodists have faithfully prayed and strategically maneuvered to elect bishops that they hope will lead them into a bright new future for the denomination.

To be sure, episcopal leadership does matter, and new bishops will indeed make a difference for events in the denomination over the next several years.

Yet it is important not to underestimate the challenges that bishops face in exerting effective leadership. These challenges originate not from any shortcomings in bishops individually or collectively but rather from the nature of The United Methodist Church as a complex system and the limits of leadership as a strategy for addressing wicked problems that beset such complex systems.

I will examine these challenges in this and two following articles. In this article, I will describe the nature of The United Methodist Church as a complex system. In the next article, I will explain why leadership is an attractive but usually unsuccessful solution to complex problems. In a third article, I will suggest that communication and collaboration is usually a more effective solution than one focused exclusively on leadership and a strategy that can lead to more effective leadership.

Complex systems
There are many ways to define complex systems, which are an area of research in several academic fields, but one commonly agreed-upon feature is “nonlinearity”: complex systems are not characterized by simple cause-and-effect relationships.

Instead, chaotic, surprising, or unintended consequences are a frequent feature, and effects are usually the result of multiple causes, which in even slightly different combinations may produce wildly different effects. Sometimes, such surprising results occur because seemingly distant (physically or otherwise) components are connected, so action in one place produces effects in another place far removed, thus obscuring lines of cause and effect.

Complex systems are also defined by their “complexity,” that is, they involve many different components interacting with each other in multiple different ways. Cities are a common example of complex systems, so for example, a city’s manufacturing industry and its government may interact on issues of taxation, regulation, business incentives, employment, campaigning, and more. All of these are different matters or issues around which the two sets of actors can interact.

System complexity is also a consequence of different actors within the system having different (and sometimes competing) interests. Thus, the various actors in the system don’t all pull in the same direction but instead sometimes work collaboratively and sometimes work at cross purposes with one another. Moreover, collaboration or antagonism may be determined by the matter or issue at hand.

Finally, different actors within the system all have limited influence over it. Usually, this is because decision-making is widely distributed, so all actors have agency to pursue their own interests, which as noted, will diverge from others at points. Especially in the era of modernity, many processes of life are automated or rule-bound, so individual actors have limited influence over those processes, thus further reducing their influence over complex systems as a whole.

In complex systems, problems are often wicked problems; that is, they are difficult to define and difficult solve, with no single, clear solution. Because of the diversity of interests, there are different ways to frame or understand a problem, even if there is common agreement that something in the system is not right. Because of unclear cause-and-effect relationships and unintended consequences, it is very difficult to intervene in complex systems to effectively address problems, even if a common definition of a problem exists. Wicked problems can often only be mitigated rather than solved.

The UMC as a complex system
The United Methodist Church has become an increasingly complex system over the past 50+ years for several reasons.

There are approximately the same number of actors within the system as when it was created (~12 million members in 1968; ~12.5 million members now). However, their distribution and the ways they interact have changed.

In 1968, the overwhelming majority of members were in the United States. Now, only half are in the United States, a quarter are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and another quarter are in a myriad of other countries. This increases not only cultural and linguistic diversity but also the chances that one component within the system will act without knowledge of another component, multiplying the possibilities for unintended consequences.

Moreover, the ways in which those members interact have changed. There are more ways for actors to relate to one another – not only through official church conferencing, but also through caucuses, coalitions, independent events and networking, church-to-church (or church-to-conference) partnerships, etc. Most of these new forms of interaction are outside of the official structures of the denomination (and therefore not controlled by them).

The number and intensity of divergent interests within the system has increased. Certainly, the increased geographic and cultural diversity just noted has resulted in more divergent interests. But such heightened divergence is evident within the United States as well. When the UMC was launched in 1968, the Traditionalist movement had just begun to form two years earlier. Now, Traditionalist, Progressive, and Centrist are well-established and often antagonistic competing interests in the denomination.

The limits on individual actors have also increased over the course of the denomination’s lifetime. Even with some unfilled US episcopal areas, the number of current active bishops (59) is nearly 50% more than when the denomination was formed in 1968 (41 bishops), one indication of widely distributed decision making. The Book of Discipline has increased by 50% as well, an indication of the increasingly rule-bound nature of many processes in the denomination.

Given the increasing complexity of the United Methodist system, it is perhaps no surprise then that the UMC has a wicked problem. Bob Phillips has written about the UMC and its wicked problem in Methodist Review. One need not accept his Traditionalist solution of denominational division to learn from his application of this term to the UMC. While different groups within the church would frame the problem within the UMC very differently, almost everyone would agree that there is some sort of problem besetting the denomination.

And if there is a problem, then there is a need for a solution. The next post in this series will look at why leadership is an attractive but usually flawed solution to the wicked problems of a complex system.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Recommended Viewing: Christ Above All Podcasts on Liberian UMC

Over the past two years, members of the Liberian United Methodist diaspora in the United States and United Methodists in Liberia have been collaborating on a series of podcasts/webinars featuring United Methodist (and other Christian) leaders in Liberia. These video podcasts, which each run about two hours long, provide an in-depth window into life in the Liberian Annual Conference of the UMC.

While there is great value in the sort of cross-cultural conversations between Americans and Africans as featured in this blog's previous post, the Christ Above All podcasts are an excellent opportunity to hear a variety of African United Methodists (at least from Liberia) speak on their own terms about the topics that matter most to them.

Videos for the webinars are on the personal Facebook page of Goumah Conde, one of the hosts. The organizers, including Ms. Conde, Samuel Barbay Gaye, Jr., and Thomas Teah Swen reflect on the highlights of the show here. Full episodes thus far include the following:

Bishop Arthur F. Kulah on the 30th anniversary of Africa University

Ne-Suah Beyan-Livingstone, Founder and Executive Directive Director of REACH, a program supporting at-risk youths in Liberia

A roundtable on the Zogos crisis of at-risk youths in Liberia

A conversation among former members of the LAC/UMC United Methodist Youth and Young Adult Gathering

Caleb S. G. Dormah, Head Pastor of Metro Harvest-The Church Without Walls, talking about ministry beyond the walls of the church

Mrs. Yei R. Wuor, former principal of J.J. Roberts United Methodist School

Rev. Dr. Levi C. Williams II, historian of Liberian United Methodism

Leaders from the Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Liberia Annual Conference, of the United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Pianapue Early on the church and African culture

Nana Kpaan-Allison on women in church leadership

Rev. Jerry Kulah on whether the church should split over human sexuality

Rev. John N. Punni on his ministry as a pastor, district superintendent, and assistant to Bishop Kulah

A panel including Rev. Margaret Kartwe on whether the church should split over human sexuality

Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, retired bishop of the Liberia Annual Conference, on his life and leadership

Rev. Dr. Julius J. S. Nelson, Jr. and Dr. Muriel Nelson on their ministry

Friday, December 2, 2022

Recommended Viewing: American UMs Interviewing African UMs

The African bishops' statement earlier this fall caught many Americans by surprise. In some instances, though, the release of the statement motivated American United Methodists to want to better understand dynamics in The United Methodist Church in Africa. Two such United Methodists have released video interviews of their conversation with African United Methodist leaders.

Rev. Jeffrey Rickman of Nowata and Delaware UMCs in Oklahoma has started a video podcast called "Plainspoken." As part of that podcast, he has interviewed three African leaders:

Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of the Liberia Annual Conference

Rev. Ande Emmanuel of the South Nigeria Annual Conference

Mr. Simon Mafunda of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference

Rev. Rickman intends to produce more such video interviews as well.

Rev. John Stephens of Chapelwood UMC in Houston has a long-running video podcast, "Pod Have Mercy." Recently, he interviewed Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Area.

The interviewers and interviewees all have distinct views on and vested interests in the present situation in The United Methodist Church, as do many United Methodists. Thus, some claims may need to be taken with a grain of salt or compared with others across the interviews for a comprehensive picture.

What is particularly interesting about the interviews, though, is two things:

First, to see the interactions between American and African United Methodists when Americans come to those conversations with a real interest in learning, as Revs. Rickman and Stephens do. More such conversations need to be happening in the denomination.

Second, it is interesting to see how, although the four Africans interviewed have very different takes on denominational politics, they do affirm some common themes: the need for Africans to have a greater voice in the denomination, the desire to avoid American control or manipulation of the church in Africa, and the potential problems introduced by American money into the relationship between Americans and Africans. They may differ on the politics of realizing such a vision or what the roadblocks to that vision are, but the vision articulated has significant commonalities.