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.

1 comment:

  1. We were blessed in legislative committees by our European delegates as well. They advanced the discussion in helpful ways and held US delegates accountable for reverting to US-centric thinking.