Thursday, June 29, 2023

UM & Global 10th Anniversary Stats: Contributors

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

This blog is sponsored by the Association of Methodist Professors of Mission (formerly United Methodist Professors of Mission). At the AMPM meeting two weeks ago, I (David) offered an update on the blog, as I usually do at those meetings.

This update, however, was a special one, as it is now just over 10 years since the blog launched. Therefore, I took the opportunity to compile some special statistics to share with the AMPM, which I also want to share with you, the readers of this blog. I will share statistics and reflections about contributors in this piece and additional statistics in a future piece.

Contributors

Since its start on March 3, 2013, UM & Global has functioned on a three-stranded model of content contribution. It features pieces written by David W. Scott as blogmaster, pieces written by other contributors (AMPM members and beyond), and "Recommended Reading" (or similar) pieces with links and short rationales for reading whatever is linked to. You can see how those three strands of content have varied over the years here:

From all these sources, UM & Global has published 1217 articles so far from 116 authors from 24 countries!

Just over half of authors have come from the United States (reflecting the blog's home within a US academic group), with several authors also coming from Germany, Argentina, the Philippines, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, and the DRC.

Just over half of the authors were white, either white Americans or white Europeans. About 1/6 were Asian or Asian-American, 1/6 were Black African or African-American, and 1/8 were Latin American or US Hispanic. These are, of course, overly broad categories. Moreover, total authorship does not reflect the full diversity of the global church. It is, however, significantly more diverse than its sponsoring body.

2/3rds of contributors have been men, with the remaining 1/3 women. Again, this is less than the parity to which the church and academy should strive, but significantly more gender balanced than the AMPM.

Since not all contributors have written the same number of blogs, with white, American, men contributing more pieces per author, and since I as a white, American, man write the largest number of pieces, the content on this site is less well-balanced than the contributor pool as a whole.

Again, high quality theological reflection depends on contributions from a multitude of perspectives, and the content on UM & Global has not given space, and certainly not equal space, to all possible perspectives, and this representation (or lack thereof) matters.

There are many ways to norm what the distribution of content on the blog should be. Is the comparison point global church membership? US professors in general? US missiology professors in particular? Relative to global church membership, women are underrepresented, Europeans are overrepresented, and Africans are underrepresented. Relative to US professors as a whole, women are underrepresented but racial/ethnic minorities are a larger percentage of blog authors than US professors. I am not familiar with data on the composition of missiologists, but based on my personal sense of the American Society of Missiology, relative to that group, UM & Global authors have been at least equally female and more likely to be racial and ethnic minorities in the United States or to come from outside the United States.

If there's a consolation for me as the editor in these numbers, it's that the blog has gotten better and more representative over its run. When I last compiled such number in fall 2014, the blog contributors were 3/4 men, 71% American, and 61% white. The increase in contributors who are women, not from the United States, and people of color has been the result of conscious and often extensive effort to invite contributions from these groups.

That's the takeaway I'd like to end with. It's easy to get white American men to write stuff about the church. They do it all the time. It takes more work to identify and cultivate alternative voices. But this is critical work that all in church leadership need to be engaged in.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Robert Hunt – Response to Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Implications of Online Education for the Future of the Church, Part II

Today’s post is by Dr. Robert A. Hunt. Rev. Dr. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education and Professor of Christian Missions and interreligious Relations This post responds to an earlier series of posts by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, which can be found here: [1], [2], and [3].

In my last post, I suggested that the move to online-only M.Div. degrees is another sign that theological education across-the-board must be completely rethought in a radical way. Only by so doing can we respond to the fundamental changes in the self-understanding of contemporary people and thereby hope to present a comprehensible gospel to the contemporary world.

There are ways that theological education can address some of these challenges, and they go hand in hand with the new possibilities for online learning.

First, we must recognize that while a set-apart community life is an important phase in preparation for ministry, it is not necessarily its heart. Instead of assuming that putting students in proximity with one another will manufacture community life, we need to build intentionally constructed retreat-like experiences combining learning, worship, and spiritual formation as part of the theological education experience. There are multiple possible models for this, and any and all will need to be operative depending on specific needs and circumstances.

Moreover, we must take seriously the possibilities for real, virtual communities, many of which already exist. This isn’t simply a matter of capturing the imaginations of Millennials and Gen Z. One of my differently abled students pointed out to me that the best-intentioned disability access programs are still burdensome compared to entering a virtual world in which he and his friends can meet without navigating any physical restraints. For many “virtual” worlds are at least in part better and more fulfilling than “real” worlds, assuming that this distinction is even valid.

Second, given the unsettled state of our churches and church institutions, it is unfair to ask students to commit to a degree program as their initial engagement with a theology school. We’ll need to accept and move toward what are commonly called “stackable” credentials based on focused training in particular skills or realms of inquiry that persons already in ministry need to master. These could then be built up to credit for a full semester course and so-on to a degree. And we need to accept that many competent pastors will not need to complete a degree to begin and carry on good ministry.

Third, we’ll need to recognize that online pedagogy is completely different from classroom pedagogy, but it does match much of what has been accepted in higher education for the last 15 years or more. The “sage on the stage” isn’t dead, but for the most part needs to be replaced by the “guide on the side,” a model suited to online and hybrid education. And after all, I had incredible sages in seminary at Perkins who were no more available to me emotionally and spiritually than if I’d been watching a video of the lecture. People of my generation reveled in the sage on a stage. That simply isn’t true of millennials and Gen Z.

Fourth, this means that credentialing for teaching needs to be seriously reconsidered. American PhD programs are designed to reproduce 20th century scholars, researchers, and authors of monographs, not necessarily teachers and leaders. The church needs professional theologians, but seminaries also need teachers and guides.

Fifth, we must master the emerging digital media as means of communication and interaction.

One of the things most difficult to accept, but absolutely necessary to understand in a rapidly changing multi-cultural context, is that there is no universal standard for either ordering information so that it constitutes understanding and knowledge or conveying that understanding in a comprehensible way. We must become open to the fact that a standard academic essay is only one of many possible models of thinking rationally from question to answer, and thus only one of many possible models of conveying understanding achieved to others. We are training pastors to engage the world with the gospel, not to become members of the academic guild. They must speak the languages of the people to whom they minister.

Sixth, and following from the above, theological educators must create curricula and course content relevant to a rapidly changing social and cultural situation. Precisely because the socio-cultural situation is rapidly changing, there is no fixed model for theological education that won’t soon be out of date. Instead, theology schools will need to create models for learning that have clear goals but are internally flexible -- with the capability of changing on a semester by semester, or at most year by year, basis. There will be no comfortable place where we have mastered our field of study and the ways in which to communicate our knowledge to students.

Similarly, pastors and church leaders cannot be trained just to become competent spiritual guides and denominational functionaries. United Methodist theological education in the 20th century assumed a stable organization within which changing theological expressions would address a changing society. That stability is gone. Now, pastors and church leaders will need to be prepared to foster creativity and manage change within congregations. Critical theological reflection will need to be supplemented by teaching more practical forms of leadership.

Finally, balancing this focus on teaching with the need for faculty to pursue longer term research projects will require new ways of thinking about how research requiring commitment over years fits with the need for constantly changing subject matter in courses. A tenure system that rewards only monographs that take years to write will exclude the necessary faculty who are willing and even desire to engage the edges of change in a field or many fields. Dilettantes and non-credentialed experts have an important role in theological education and shouldn’t be pushed into second tier positions.

There is a church in County Durham in England called the old Saxon church. It has stood for 1250 years. It was built from stones taken from Hadrian’s Wall, which was no longer relevant to the defense of England. Stones intended for one purpose were used for another.

Modern theological educators must look at the stones we have, look at the challenges we face, and begin to both tear down and rebuild. It will not be easy. The old barbarians remain a danger. And yet our defenses against them convey no gospel, no good news to rising generations.

Suggested Readings: Raymond Martin, John Barrisi, The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self; Charles Taylor, A Secular Age; Calvin Schrag, The Self in Post-Modernity; Jeffry Bishop, Anticipatory Corpse; Meghan O’Gieblyn, God, Human, Animal, Machine; Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Robert Hunt – Response to Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Implications of Online Education for the Future of the Church, Part I

Today’s post is by Dr. Robert A. Hunt. Rev. Dr. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education and Professor of Christian Missions and interreligious Relations. This post responds to an earlier series of posts by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo, which can be found here: [1], [2], and [3].

In his recent posts, Phil Wingeier-Rayo has brought our attention to the United Methodist University Senate’s recent decision to allow fully online M.Div. degrees for United Methodist ministry candidates. Phil asks what the implications of this decision will be for students, the denomination, and seminaries and suggests a hybrid model as an alternative to a fully online degree.

In my comments about online teaching and the future of theological education, I will essentially make two points.

The first is that modern hybrid theological education actually goes way back to the 1960s and 70s. There are well formed pedagogical models for bringing students together over a period of one or two weeks, and then interacting with them remotely over the rest of the semester. This is classic theological education by extension (TEE). It was pioneered by Pentecostals in the Netherlands, conservative Christians from Texas and California, and others extending theological education to underserved areas.

I was the Director of such theological educational programs in both Malaysia and Singapore. The key feature of these programs was that they focus on forming proven leaders rather than young people who thought they might potentially be leaders. The TEE model allows men and women already in ministry to gain the education and professional skills they need to lead more effectively. Allowing fully online degrees simply makes it possible to do in the United States what has already been well done for many decades in some places.

The second and more radical point is that higher education across-the-board must be rethought. The idea that degrees are necessary to the preparation of persons or ministry must be abandoned. The Master of Divinity degree is declining because it is seen as irrelevant. It is irrelevant to The United Methodist Church, and it is irrelevant to people who are seeking to serve Jesus Christ. Indeed, the very concept of academic credentials needs to be rethought, as it is being rethought across many fields and industries.

Further, in rapidly changing times every possible question that can be asked must be asked. Do pastors actually need to be theologians? Why is critical thinking important for ministry? Why teach people to think theologically, and then demand that they pass tests for doctrinal correctness?

Are pastors entrepreneurial leaders and potential missionaries, or are they functionaries with defined tasks in relation to the congregation and its maintenance? Are the contemporary fields of study in a theological school actually relevant to contemporary Christian ministry? Are PhD programs in theology relevant to creating teachers for men and women entering Christian ministry?

Is it not possible that the entire system linking preparation of pastors to institutions of higher education is no longer useful or relevant? Is it not possible that we should be taking the resources that we have and deploying them in completely new and different ways to serve the church?

Ultimately, I would suggest that Philip is not radical enough. Contemporary theological education is based on an enlightenment understanding of both religion and the human person. We are in the midst of a sea change in which those understandings are being swept away, and along with them, the institutions that served their intellectual and spiritual needs.

We are moving into an era in which changes in the self-understanding of contemporary people will rival and surpass those changes created by the Enlightenment and modernity. These factors at the least are changing human self-understanding. 1. The rise of AI and, related to it, changes in psychology and neurobiology. 2. Advances in medical science, particularly related to the manipulation of genes and the mechanization of the body. 3. Cultural shifts with regard to sexuality. 4. Emergent understandings of the human biome in relation to the biosphere under the influence of evolving evolutionary theory. 5. Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic environments as the norm for human experience. 6. Changing ways in which contemporary people construct their human identity.

These factors are rapidly making Enlightenment era models of human personhood obsolete. As a result, articulations of the meaning of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ for 21st century persons must inevitably change to address them as they are.

In this situation, all past theological work, from the apostolic witness in the New Testament to the theologians of the 20th century, is better understood as normative examples of the process of faithful contextualization rather than as generators of normative doctrines. And that alone tells us that all Enlightenment era constructions of theological school curriculum and even individual courses need to be reworked.

As importantly, the church must learn to speak the contemporary vernacular, a vernacular that is either missing or transforms the theological language of 20th century Christianity. And it is the task of theological educators to prepare pastors to learn that vernacular, which means first that theological educators themselves learn it, something that many if not most appear reluctant to do.

In my next post, I will suggest some of the ways in which theological schools and theological educators can engage in that very task.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

News Roundup - June 1, 2023

Below is a run-down of significant (United) Methodist stories from the past month.

Council of Bishops Recommended 2026 General Conference: At their May meeting, the Council of Bishops recommended the UMC hold a five-day General Conference in 2026. That session would count as a regular General Conference and also be focused on making significant changes to the denomination: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/bishops-call-for-general-conference-in-2026.

Much Lower UMC Budget Proposed: GCFA and the Connectional Table agreed to send a much lower denominational budget proposal to General Conference: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/as-church-exits-rise-proposed-budget-drops.

United Methodist Africa Forum Organizes: The United Methodist Africa Forum held its first meeting in Johannesburg in April, where it organized itself, elected leaders, and adopted policy positions, including support for greater regionalization in the church: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/new-caucus-supports-african-bishops-regionalization.

Global Ministries and East Africa Episcopal Area Announce End to Embargo: Global Ministries and the East Africa Episcopal Area announced the end to a decade-long embargo of funds from Global Ministries to East Africa. The embargo arose out of disputes over audit issues, which have been resolved: https://umcmission.org/may-2023/joint-announcement-the-general-board-of-global-ministries-and-east-africa-episcopal-area-restore-relationship/.

UMC Council of Bishops Meets: The United Methodist Council of Bishops met for its first in-person meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The council sought to set a forward-looking tone amid church conflict and disaffiliations: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/amid-rupture-bishops-called-to-renew-church.

Connectional Table Reconsiders Restructuring: The Connectional Table voted at an April 27th meeting to reconsider an earlier proposal for restructuring itself and reducing the number of members of the body: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/leadership-body-reconsiders-restructuring-plan.

Global Ministries Africa Consultation Promotes Mission Partnership: Global Ministries’ African Mission Partners Consultation, held in April, brought together African UMC leaders and Global Ministries board members and staff to strengthen mission partnerships in Africa: https://umcmission.org/may-2023/consultation-charts-way-for-missional-church/ and https://umcmission.org/may-2023/partnership-in-mission-with-mutual-respect-and-accountability/.

BMCR Forges Connections with Africa: Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Black caucus in the US UMC, worked to develop closer ties with Africa during its annual meeting, inviting Dr. Peter Mageto of Africa University to address the group: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/black-caucus-draws-closer-to-african-partners.

Irish Methodists and Polish United Methodists Continue Partnership: Polish United Methodist leaders visited Ireland to continue a partnership with the Methodist church there: https://irishmethodist.org/world-mission-news/visit-from-world-church-family.

North African United Methodists Affirm Connection: United Methodist pastors and a church leader from UMC congregations in Algeria and Tunisia met with UMC Bishops Patrick Streiff and Stefan Z├╝rcher to reaffirm the role of those congregations in the future of the church: https://www.umc-cse.org/en/liste_552612-1028104/when-uncertainty-gives-way-to-new-courage-of-faith.html.

Korean-American UMCs Support Mongolia Amid Divisions: The Mongolia Mission held a recent summit for its Korean-American supporters. Despite the decision of some supporting churches to disaffiliate, the event stressed unity in mission: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/korean-churches-hope-to-continue-shared-mission-work-in-mongolia.

Czech United Methodists Vote to Become Autonomous: At the annual conference of the Czech UMC, participants voted to leave the denomination to become autonomous. They will follow the autonomy process laid out in the Book of Discipline, which requires General Conference approval: https://www.umc-cse.org/en/liste_552612-1030316/setting-the-course-in-czechia.html.

United Methodists Prepare for Changes to Migrant Ministries in the United States: After the end of the Title 42 migrant regulations, United Methodists involved in ministry with migrants have been preparing for possible increases or changes to the flow of migrants to the United States: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/amid-policy-changes-church-keeps-faith-with-migrants.

Chilean Methodists Support Migrants: With help from Connexio develop, the Swiss United Methodist development agency, Chilean Methodists have been working to support migrants to Chile: https://connexio.ch/index.php/2023/05/17/als-kirche-fuer-migrantinnen-da-srf-1-zeigt-reportage-aus-chile/.

Global Ministries Celebrates Historic Ministry of Asian and Pacific Islander Immigrants: In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Global Ministries has been shared stories of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants who have contributed to United Methodist mission: https://umcmission.org/asian-american-and-pacific-islander-contributions-within-methodist-mission/.

Philippines UMC Promotes Conversations about Religion, Race, Gender, and Ability: The National United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines, the Philippines Board of Women's Work, and the General Commission on Religion and Race are launching an initiative called #CloseTheGap to promote conversations about religion, race, gender, and (dis)ability: https://www.gcorr.org/news/closethegap-initiative-launches-in-the-philippines.

Yambasu Agricultural Initiative Reinvests in Second Season: The various projects across Africa associated with Global Ministries’ Yambasu Agricultural Initiative are planning to reinvest profits from their first growing season into a second season: https://umcmission.org/may-2023/reinvestment-in-yambasu-initiative-projects-leads-to-growth/.

UMC Ministers to the HIV-Positive in Congo: The United Methodist Church in the Kivu Annual Conference, with support from Global Ministries, is supporting women living with HIV/AIDS as part of the Maternal and Child Health Program: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/church-gives-hope-to-people-living-with-hiv-in-congo.

United Methodists in Zimbabwe Combat Drug Abuse: At UMC-run high schools in Zimbabwe, church and school leaders have worked together to discourage drug abuse by students: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/united-methodists-join-fight-against-drug-abuse.

East Congo UMC and UMCOR Respond to Flooding: The Disaster Management Office of the East Congo Episcopal Area and UMCOR have begun responding to significant flooding in South Kivu, which killed several people: https://umcmission.org/may-2023/united-methodists-killed-in-congo-flooding/.

UMNS Supports Press Freedom: In an editorial published on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, Tim Tanton, Director of United Methodist News, explained what press freedom means to the church and why the church should support it: https://www.umnews.org/en/news/why-church-should-care-about-press-freedom.