Thursday, October 26, 2023

Recommended Viewing: Rev. Musi Losaba on African Assets and Aspirations

A couple months ago, the Methodist Church in Britain released a video interview with Rev. Musi Losaba. Rev. Losaba is the Director of the Mission Unit of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. The MCB and MCSA have a historic relationship and an on-going partnership.

The first part of the ~11-minute interview described the situation of the MCSA and some of the current challenges the church is facing, including recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, a common theme for churches around the world. This first part of the interview is certainly worth watching for a better sense of the global Methodist family.

Then, at 5 minutes into the video, Rev. Losaba begins to talk about what he sees as the church's assets and its aspirations. He talks about the church's land and its people as important assets that the church possesses for mission. He talks about the need to redefine partnership among African churches and churches in the West, away from a focus on finances in which the West gives to Africa and towards a mutuality of sharing of various gifts by all partners. Rev. Losaba names relationship as the ultimate goal of mission partnership.

Rev. Losaba's vision of mission theology is one to be affirmed. It's also strikingly similar to themes raised up by United Methodist leaders at the African Partners Consultation convened by Global Ministries in Maputo, Mozambique, in April. Leaders there also talked about African assets, including land and people, and the need for more mutual partnerships.

The vision for a new approach to mission is not lacking. It only remains for all of us - regardless of location and denomination - to live into it.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: Celebrating 150 Years of Methodism in Mexico: Napoleon, Cinco de Mayo, and Reform

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Rev. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Professor of Missiology, World Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary.

What does Cinco de Mayo have to do with Methodism in Mexico? Restaurants, schools, and breweries in the U.S. have made the holiday popular—mostly for commercial gain. However, few can articulate the history or significance of the Cinco de Mayo holiday. Some people wrongly assume that it is Mexican Independence Day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mexico launched its war on September 16, 1810, and won its independence from Spain in 1821, while the Battle of Puebla happened over 50 years later on May 5, 1862. Mexico’s victory was against the French army. 

Now what were the French doing in Mexico? This brings us to our topic of Methodists in Mexico. But first a little background.

Ever since Hernan Cortez and Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztecs and Emperor Moctezuma in 1521, politics in Mexico have been intimately intertwined with religion. The Spanish arrived with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other. The Roman Catholic Church and clergy enjoyed broad ranging power, influence, and wealth – owning approximately 1/3 of Mexican land.

This began to change when President Benito Juarez (1806-1872) and the liberals advocated for the separation of church and state and freedom of religion. They fought for a constitutional federal state, subjugation of the army to civil authorities, public education, freedom of religion, and the equal distribution of wealth through the sale of unused church property. In 1856, the liberal government headed by Juarez passed the Ley Lerdo, which ordered the sale of church lands (monasteries, cemeteries, etc.) not used for religious purposes. The Catholic Church and clergy fought back in the War of Reform (1858-1860). The liberals won this war and recaptured Mexico City in 1860, passing the freedom of religion law, which allowed other denominations besides Catholics to legally operate in Mexico. The government carried out reforms, nationalizing Catholic properties and secularizing charitable institutions (e.g., hospitals). The liberals turned around and sold these properties to the public, which allowed for the creation of a Mexican middle class.

The Roman Catholic clergy and conservative allies were on the losing end of these reforms and encouraged French Emperor Napoleon III to intervene, which he did under the pretext of an outstanding national debt to France. The French invaded Mexico in 1862, and Napoleon named Maximiliano I to be emperor of Mexico. A sense of national pride and sovereignty rallied Mexican troops, who initially defeated the French army on May 5 at the Battle of Puebla. The victory was short-lived as the better-equipped army advanced and entered Mexico City in 1864. Maximiliano I tried to create a unified government, but he was caught between the competing claims of liberals and the coalition of conservatives and clerics. In 1867, Maximiliano was defeated by Benito Juarez and executed, marking a victory for the liberals and for the Reform. 

What does this have to do with Methodism? 

The liberal government found an ally in North American and European Protestants who believed in literacy, public education, health care, democracy, and ministry in rural areas—especially to the indigenous populations. A former Franciscan convent on Gante Street in Mexico City was one once of the properties confiscated and sold by the liberal government. It was and is a majestic site. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the lands had been used by Emperor Moctezuma as a garden before it became the first and largest Franciscan convent in New Spain. Between 1862 and 1873 after being sold during the Reforma, this building had various owners and was used for different purposes. In 1865, it was home to the Chiarini Circus, which Emperor Maximiliano once attended with his wife, Carlota. While the National Palace was under repair during 1868-9, this site became a place of legislation as temporary home to the Chamber of Deputies. It was also used as a theatre, restaurant, and cantina, among other functions. 

In 1871, the Missions Committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church approved $10,000 for missions in Mexico. The following year, William Butler, missionary and founder of the Methodist Church in India, was named secretary of the American and Foreign Christian Union and was tasked with mission work in papal lands, specifically in Latin America. Ms. Matilda Rankin, a Congregationalist based in Brownsville, Texas, invited the Butlers to go to Mexico, and so on February 1, 1873, the family sailed for Veracruz and took a train to Mexico City. The Butlers purchased the former Franciscan monastery for $16,300 to start the first Methodist Church. They began an orphanage with 37 girls, and Mrs. Butler established a support group for mothers every Tuesday night. 

Alejo Hernández became the first Mexican to be ordained by the MEC, South in December of 1871. Born in Aguascalientes, Hernández came to Brownsville, Texas, in search of a Protestant Bible and was ordained a deacon by Bishop Enoch Martin in Corpus Christi, Texas, and then he traveled back to Mexico City to assist Butler to help the new Methodist mission on Gante Street in 1873. The same year, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South sent Bishop JC Keener, and he purchased the former chapel of St. Andrew on the corner of San Andres and Callejon 57 streets in Mexico City. 

The liberal reforms and defeat of the French army created a window of opportunity for the Methodists, along with the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other Protestants, to begin mission work in Mexico—150 years ago this year. To honor this history, the Methodist Church of Mexico will hold a celebratory conference later this year with the theme “Renovation and Future,” to be held at the Santisima Trinidad Methodist Church at Gante Street 5, November 30 – December 2.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

David W. Scott and Filipe Maia: Methodism and American Empire

The following is a preview excerpt from the Introduction to Methodism and American Empire: Reflections on Decolonizing the Church, edited by David W. Scott and Filipe Maia. The forthcoming book will be published by Abingdon Press in January 2024 and is available for pre-order now:

Methodism and American Empire: Reflections on Decolonizing the Church investigates historical trajectories and theological developments that connect American imperialism in the post-World War II period on the one hand and Methodist and Wesleyan traditions on the other. Methodist and Wesleyan traditions have been shaped by the imperial practices and mindsets of their American members, even when they aspire to be global denominations united by a shared Methodist conviction in connectionalism as an ecclesial principle. 

The United Methodist Church, the largest denomination in the Wesleyan family, was founded in 1968 and strove to uphold the connectional principle in an ecclesial structure that was global in scope. United Methodists are unique in both the fact that they represent a typical example of an originally Unites States-based denomination and that they currently embody the distinct tensions and fractures of a global church. The complex negotiations that take place across different national, cultural, and political contexts have set up the historical backdrop for the imminent schism of The United Methodist Church. They might also be perceived as symptoms of lingering forms of American imperialism that persist in global Methodism.

The guiding question that informs the reflections in this volume is: to what extent is Methodism’s vision of global connection marred by American imperialism? To tackle this question, Methodism and American Empire offers a series of historical and theological analyses that focus on the entanglement of Methodism and empire in the second half of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century. This chronological focus recognizes the significance of the recent wave of globalization in shaping American empire, Empire writ large, and global Methodist denominations such as The United Methodist Church. It also seeks to capture the intersections between global and American tensions in church and society. With this volume, we seek to provide a historical perspective to understand the specific context of The United Methodist Church while also raising ecclesiological questions about the impact of imperialism on how United Methodists have understood the nature and mission of the church over the last century.

From the start of North American colonies of European powers, empire has characterized the American experience. The role of empire in shaping the United States extends far beyond its origins as an imperial hinterland itself or its turn-of-the-twentieth-century heyday of possessing its own colonies. Empire as concentrated, top-down power that seeks to control others for the sake of its own agendas is a constant within U.S. history. The impulses and perspectives of empire have characterized and continue to characterize American politics, economics, culture, and religion in a thorough-going way. Empire is a basic strategy by which those with power in the United States have sought to unite larger groups for the sake of asserting power over others, even as those within these in-groups often act against their own interests by participating in such imperial projects. Thus, empire is a technique of exploitation of those within and beyond the empire, especially those on the margins.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the category of Empire became an important concept in political philosophy with the publication of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire.[1] The book traces changes in the political constitution of sovereignty over the last decades of the twentieth century to suggest that we no longer live in the age of imperialism. In contrast to it, the concept of Empire speaks to a political and social situation that lacks a clear center of power and where national imperialist interests give room to transnational corporations and political alliances. For Hardt and Negri, Empire represents a new dispensation of sovereign power “composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule.”[2] Under the conditions of Empire, sovereign power no longer rests at the seat of the monarch or the head of government; it has been dispersed throughout transnational entities that, though still potentially connected to nation-states, transcend the agency of any one nation. Empire is quite adept in accepting and incorporating regional and cultural differences while proliferating structures of power that remain more homogenous, more widespread, and more global. Empire is more insidious because it is more subtle, more incisive because it does not rely exclusively on imposition, and more ubiquitous because it shapes people’s subjectivities on a deeper level.

The passage from imperialism to Empire is therefore a central aspect of Hardt and Negri’s analysis of power in the latter portion of the twentieth century. Yet if Empire today can operate beyond the central control of a nation-state, it remains true that concentrations of power continue to be clustered around the United States and its wealthy global partners. Whether as symptom of a passage to Empire or as the stubborn nature of sovereign power, the force of the nation-state remains steadfast and has been reclaimed by nationalistic movements as of late.

This book demonstrates that global Methodism is an example of the complex interplay between imperialism and Empire, between a U.S.-centric perspective on globalization and a transnational ecclesial body that lacks an exclusive center of power but that nevertheless finds itself structurally caught up in a typically American mindset. By paying close attention to the impact that the United States had in the shaping of global Methodism, specifically The United Methodist Church, this book will point out that ecclesial developments can be situated in this larger context of Empire. 

That is to say, when Methodists in multiple settings negotiated a common understanding of a “global denomination,” they did so in a “globe” that was being created in the image and likeliness of empire. We will show that these negotiations were always tied to the central role the United States played in global Methodism. At times, it is possible to observe Methodist traditions that have too quickly been subsumed by the logic of Empire. In other instances, we hope to demonstrate, Methodist voices might be perceived as resisting imperial forces and shaping what might be understood as a subversive view of the globe.

This volume provides a critical perspective on the efforts of The United Methodist Church and other Methodist bodies in constructing a global denomination. Through archival research, historical analyses, and theological reflections, this volume chronicles the formation of a global ecclesial ethos amongst United Methodists since the mid-twentieth century. These accounts demonstrate how the denomination has struggled to find a balance between centralized ecclesial authority and local and national autonomy. The authors in this volume suggest that this ecclesial tension ought to be understood in the context of imperialism.

Methodism as a denominational tradition has historically resisted U.S. imperialism even as it has often also succumbed to it. That process of struggle and contestation is on-going, as references to an on-going split in The United Methodist Church indicate. We hope this volume will give encouragement to those engaged in that struggle

This volume contains contributions from the following:

A Foreword from Joerg Rieger

David W. Scott and Filipe Maia: “Introduction: Methodism and the Spirit of Empire”

Joon-Sik Park: “The Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church: A Historical and Missiological Reflection”

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: “The Autonomous Process of Latin American Methodism: A Critical Review”

David W. Scott: “American Power in the Global Church in Ecumenical Methodist Perspective”

Jørgen Thaarup: “The UMC Discipline: A Parallel Power Structure to the American Administration of the Nation”

Darryl W. Stephens: “A Global Ethic for a Divided Church”

Taylor Denyer: “Ecclesiastic Empires: American Conflict and the African UMC”

Lloyd Nyarota: “The Struggle of African Voices in The United Methodist Church”

Cristine Carnate-Atrero and Izzy Alvaran: “The Christmas Covenant: Toward Decolonizing UMC Polity”

Filipe Maia: “Whither Global Methodism?”

[1] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

[2] Hardt and Negri, xii.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Recommended Readings: Methodist Marriage Debates in Norway

There's been a significant debate in Norway in the past month about Methodist marriage, but it has nothing to do with whether the UMC in that country should consecrate same-sex marriages. Instead, the discussion has been among Methodists, the government, and law experts over whether minor changes to the Methodist marriage liturgy since 1991 invalidated the approximately 800 marriages performed by Methodist clergy since then.

Here's the background: In Norway, church bodies are required to submit their wedding liturgies to the government in order to get government approval in order for church-performed marriages to be recognized by the government. The Methodist Church in Norway did that in 1970, and the government approved the liturgy and agreed to recognize marriages performed by the church. Then in 1991, 2009, 2017 and 2019, the church made minor changes to the liturgy to modernize it. The church, however, considered these changes sufficiently minor that they did not require re-approval from the government.

Then, at the beginning of September, one of the major newspapers in Norway, Dagen, published an article which included an interview with a law professor who asserted that these changes to the marriage liturgy of the Methodist Church in Norway could make the weddings performed invalid in the eyes of the state. This set off a debate across multiple publications about the professor's claims.

Methodist theologians and church leaders worked with the relevant government body (Bufdir) to explain the changes and reassure them that these changes did not constitute significant revisions that would require re-approval from the government. The government now seems satisfied with this response, and the marriages should not be invalidated.

This story is worth sharing for two reasons:

1. It's always good to know about and sympathize with in prayer the challenges that fellow Methodists around the world are experiencing.

2. It's a fairly dramatic example of just how differently people think about church, marriage, and law in different national contexts around the world. To many US Americans, the idea of the government approving church liturgies is likely incomprehensible. But it's an accepted reality for Norwegians.

To read more, see the following links (use a web translator to translate from Norwegian):