Thursday, May 30, 2024

Recommended Reading: Bishop Nhiwatiwa's Autobiography

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, the soon-to-retire bishop of Zimbabwe, has recently published an autobiography with Abingdon: By the Grace of God: My Life as an African Bishop. The book is well worth a read, especially for US United Methodists. Here are six reasons why:

1. Bishop Nhiwatiwa's loyalty to The United Methodist Church and his leadership in the African Colleges of Bishops were an important factor in preparing African delegates to General Conference to support regionalization. You get a sense of this in his sermon at General Conference. His autobiography explains how he grew up in The United Methodist Church and where his loyalty to that church comes from. His story is an important window for US United Methodists into understanding similar African perspectives as we work together for the ratification of regionalization.

2. As African United Methodists come to compose more of the denomination's members and much of its areas of growth, it's important for United Methodists in the US to understand the variety of perspectives and experiences among African United Methodists so that together we can work for the good of the denomination and the kin(g)dom of God. Bishop Nhiwatiwa's autobiography represents a significant opportunity to do that in English in a format that's readily available in the US.

3. In his autobiography, Bishop Nhiwatiwa is reflective on how cultural practices in Zimbabwe shaped his life and his faith. Thus, his autobiography is an opportunity to learn not just generally about African perspectives but also more specifically about the relationship between culture and faith in Zimbabwe and in a broader sense, Africa generally.

4. Bishop Nhiwatiwa studied in the United States in college. Thus, the book also contains his reflections on his experiences in the US and on US culture. This opportunity to learn how some of our fellow denominational members see us is an important opportunity for US United Methodists to better understand ourselves and how we come off to those with whom we are in partnership.

5. In his work as bishop, Bishop Nhiwatiwa is famous for promoting the concept of "chabadza" mission partnerships. This is a significant contribution to mission thinking by a practical United Methodist mission leader. Bishop Nhiwatiwa's concept of chabadza partnership deserves more attention and study, especially as the church ponders what a decolonial mission future looks like.

6. Bishop Nhiwatiwa is also a student of leadership, and he reflects throughout the book on his understanding of leadership. Leadership is both a universal human experience and a culturally-conditioned practice. For both of those reasons, Bishop Nhiwatiwa's insights into leadership are worth exploring.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

UM & Global Resources on Regionalization

One of the significant decisions taken by the recent General Conference was the passage of the Worldwide Regionalization legislation. The legislation, some of which still needs to be ratified by annual conferences over the next year, would restructure the church to convert existing central conferences into regional conferences, create a regional conference for the United States, and give regional conferences greater local control in adapting structures, ministries, and policies for maximal missional effectiveness in their contexts.

Since regionalization will now go to the annual conferences for ratification, and since, if ratified, the church will need to go through a process of living into regionalization, there is more discussion of regionalization that needs to happen, even with General Conference approval. Therefore, UM & Global offers the following resources to assist in conversations about regionalization and what it means to strive to be a church that structures itself in internationally equitable ways:

A brief description of David Scott & Filipe Maia's recent book, Methodism and American Empire

All UM & Global articles tagged with the term "regionalization"

A collection of UM & Global articles on "The UMC as a Global Church," with study questions

A collection of UM & Global articles on "Culture, Context, and the Global Church," with study questions

A collection of UM & Global articles on "The Global UMC in Ecumenical Perspective," with study questions. Some of these articles served as early drafts for David Scott's chapter in Methodism and American Empire.

A collection of UM & Global articles on "Church Autonomy and the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS)," with study questions. These articles provide additional background information on the COSMOS process described by Joon-Sik Park and Phil Wingeier-Rayo in their chapters of Methodism and American Empire.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

It Was a Good General Conference for Europeans

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.

The recently concluded General Conference was an historic one, marking a dramatic shift in tone from previous General Conferences and a clear (if not universal) consensus on the direction for the church in the future. Among the General Conference's many accomplishments were passage of the "3 R's": regionalization, revised Social Principles, and removal of the restrictive language on ministry with and by LGBTQ+ persons in the denomination.

As the wide vote margins on most issues showed, this work of turning from conflict toward a renewed focus on future ministry was carried forward by delegates from all over the world.

In particular, the Africa Forum showed its significance as an organizing body. Heading into the conference, many observers in the United States were uncertain how African delegates would vote on key issues. But the hard work by leaders in the Africa Forum was key in African support for regionalization and the revised Social Principles. Also key was the Africa Forum's grace-filled decision to allow US United Methodists to embrace inclusive ministry in the US context while maintaining a traditional religious and cultural understanding of marriage in the African context.

Regionalization also owes so much to Filipina/o leaders in the denomination. Many of the early leaders of the Christmas Covenant were Filipinos and Filipinas, and it was an annual conference from the Philippines that sent the Christmas Covenant legislation to General Conference, legislation which became the basis for the Worldwide Regionalization proposal that was passed. Drawing on a history of thinking deeply about autonomy and connectionalism, Filipina/o writers have also had some of the most eloquent reflections on and arguments for regionalization.

But I found myself thinking at General Conference how European United Methodists have had a special role in much of what happened at this General Conference. European United Methodists also contributed to the Christmas Covenant and advocating for regionalization. We saw Bishop Rückert's leadership repeatedly in making presentations to General Conference on regionalization and other topics, and Bishop Streiff and others were leading that work before him.

The revised Social Principles arose because of a request from European delegates to a previous General Conference for more globally-relevant statements of the denomination's social teachings.

Removing the restrictive language both is an important step for Western Europeans and validates the general European approach of seeking local control over marriage and ministry, with the understanding that Eastern and Western Europeans will have different approaches.

Even the departure of the Eurasia Episcopal Area, bittersweet though it may have been, was a validation of local decision making about future connectional arrangements by European leaders.

I say this not to lionize European United Methodists or to suggest that they deserve more credit than others. Certainly, there is credit enough to go around for all that was accomplished in Charlotte.

But I think the contributions that European United Methodists made to this General Conference show something important, as do Filipino contributions to the Christmas Covenant. European United Methodists are a very small group spread out over many countries in languages. In many ways, they are functionally marginal to a denomination that is overwhelmingly African and North American.

Yet, it is often from the margins that the most important ideas and innovations come. Without the contributions of European United Methodists to a vision of global equity and a structure that works for all around the world, and without Filipino/a leadership in advancing the project of regionalization, we would not have the church we are now celebrating. Good ideas and insights come from the margins.

The bulk of United Methodists live in the United States and in various African countries, especially the DRC. The relationship between United Methodists in the US and those in Africa will continue to be a critical focus for the denomination, especially as the drive for ratification and implementation of regionalization proceeds.

But as Africa and the United States rightfully receive a lot of attention going forward, the contributions of European and Filipina/o United Methodists remind us that we depend as a connection on the generous offering of gifts, ideas, and insights from our entire connection. Who knows where the next big ideas that will shape the future of the denomination will come from? If the past is any guide, we should continue to look to the wisdom and insight of small groups with unique perspectives.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Filipe Maia: Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology: Theological Engagements from the Underside of Methodism

The following is a preview excerpt from the Introduction to the recently published Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology: Theological Engagements from the Underside of Methodism, edited by Filipe Maia: This excerpt is used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers,

In August 2018, a group of scholars, pastors, and ecclesial leaders met at Wesley House in Cambridge, UK, to imagine and plot the decolonization of Methodist and Wesleyan traditions. Standing on British territory and under the shadow of the prestigious Cambridge University, the gathering embodied the ambivalent legacy of the Wesleyan tradition, birthed in the midst of British imperialism while cherished by Methodist communities in the postcolonial world. We were Methodist scholars and leaders from the Global South, immigrants in the diasporas of the Global North, all coming to Wesleyan theology via the complex entanglement between missionary movements and western colonialism.

While steeped in Wesleyan traditions, the group gathered in Cambridge embodied a Methodism that could not have been envisioned by John Wesley nor the missionaries who set out to spread “scriptural holiness” to all corners of the planet. In those corners of the world, Methodism gained new edges. Those of us meeting in British territory had returned to the birthplace of our theological and spiritual tradition with a difference. We noticed that claiming our Methodist roots demanded a reinterpretation of the tradition. The gathering showed that the Wesleyan theological tradition has been pluralized in the context of colonial and neocolonial expansion.

One of the ideas suggested by the group in Cambridge was the organization of an edited volume under the working title, Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology. This was more than a title: it was a task.

This volume is one response to that task. It gives testimony to the Methodist roots that grow in territories and bodies that uproot longstanding colonial forces. It has been envisioned, nurtured, and curated as a work of decolonial love. Authors in this volume write from multiple locations in the Global South where our Wesleyan heritage is giving new contours to the tradition.

Readers will most likely notice that the language of decline, so common in Methodist circles in North America, is rarely, if ever, mentioned. This is no indication that Methodism flourishes without difficulties in the Global South, but rather a statement about how contributors are less interested in thinking about the numerical decline of Christendom and more committed to a renewed Wesleyan theology that meets the harsh realities of a world still embedded in the structures of colonialism.

The decolonial approaches to Wesleyan theology offered in this volume give witness to a tradition that gains strength and vitality in decolonial struggles and in the engagement with traditions and ways of knowing that have been suppressed by western modernity.

The essays in this volume offer perspectives into a Methodism that lives and flourishes on the underside of colonial powers. From all corners of the planet, communities of faith in the Wesleyan tradition experiment with theological imaginaries and ecclesial practices that are transforming the face of global Methodism. Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology gives voice to these experiments while seeking to deepen the reflection in decolonial theologies and spiritualities.

As authors revisit the history of the Methodist movement, they witness to the different shapes Methodism gained in the colonies—old and new. As they revisit Wesley’s own writings and other important themes in Wesleyan theology and practice, they inhabit the cracks of our founder’s theology and turn it in unforeseeable directions.

It is worth mentioning that the volume that you are now engaging is but one element of the ongoing task of decolonizing Wesleyan theology and traditions. In fact, it is appropriate to approach this volume as a snapshot of an ongoing conversation. This book is the fruit of a larger project that involves monthly conversations among a global network of Methodist theologians and leaders.

The “World Parish Webinar” has been a platform where we have been shaping conversations in the direction of a decolonial Methodism. Since January 2020, we have been gathering monthly and our group has grown into a global parish, a “people on the move,” to borrow the expression from J. C. Park, developed in his essay later in this volume. This group has been called out as an assembly—an ekklesia—to retrain our theological ways of knowing and to conjure up a decolonial Wesleyan theology.

We have been put on the move through these webinars: we have become a migrant church, pilgriming through many locations as we pursue the task of decolonizing the Wesleyan tradition. The World Parish Webinar became a Pentecost of sorts, a place where we share good news with the accents of a multitude of locations, where we do not pursuit the homogeneity of Empire, but relish on the difference that resists the colonial dream of sameness, of a single voice, of one Wesley, of one homogenous church body. The webinar is ongoing and is convened through Wesley House in Cambridge. If you would like to join the conversation you are welcome to do so. Information can be found at Wesley House’s website.

Decolonizing Wesleyan theology entails the appreciation of difference and alternative forms of knowledge production, different modes of theological imagination, the recognition and negotiation of alternative inheritances. The essays included in the volume embody these principles as they construct a decolonial Wesleyan theology. Combining Wesleyan theology and decolonial theories, this volume offers a unique contribution to Methodist studies, global Methodism, and decolonial theologies.

Decolonizing Wesleyan Theology presents eight reflections that lead readers into deeper engagements with Methodism. They are as follows:

Filipe Maia: "The Wesleyan Quartet: Wesleyan Theology in the Decolonial Turn"

Pablo Guillermo Oviedo: "Grace that Liberates and Unites in the Mission of God: Liberation Theology and Wesleyan Theology in Latin America"

Pablo Manuel Ferrer: "A Decolonial Physic: Medical Science, Healing, and the Ecology of Knowledge in Methodism"

Elvira Moisés Cazombo: "Wesleyan Methodism and the Interruption of Ancestral Bodies in Angolan Liturgical Practices"

Virgínia Inácio dos Santos: "Ministering While Single: An Angolan Perspective on Methodism and Marriage"

Lilian Cheelo Siwila: "Trapped between the Pew and the Altar: Wesleyan Traditions and Decoloniality; An African Feminist Perspective"

J. C. Park: "Decolonizing the Church of Empire: The Church on the Move for Justice, Peace, and Life"

Amelia Koh-Butler: "Water and Sand: Illuminating Native Theologies with a Wesleyan Lens of Spiritual Experience"