Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Can We Really Equip and Empower United Methodists Outside the U.S.?

General Conference, the quadrennial event in which United Methodists make big (and not so big) decisions that affect the entire denomination, starts this week. (Today, actually. Happy General Conference Day!) As usual, the Institute on Religion and Democracy is hard at work stirring things up.

This time around, the IRD's primary emphasis is "empowering the international church." About 30 percent of United Methodists reside outside of the U.S., most of them in Africa, and the IRD rightly believes that the international church should be fairly represented in the UMC's general boards and agencies.

The IRD's primary motivation for empowering the African church is putting into positions of influence persons who share the organization's opposition to homosexuality. (The IRD is obsessed with homosexuality.) Though the IRD's reasons are misguided, I agree with Mark Tooley and company that the UMC has done a poor job of equipping and empowering UMs outside of the United States.

Here's the problem: The United Methodist boards and agencies, many of which are based here in Nashville, Tennessee, lack the resources and expertise to serve the international church in a meaningful way. Adding a board member from Ghana or hiring a few Liberian staff persons will not change this. The cultural, linguistic, economic, and geographic barriers are too great.

If we are serious about equipping and empowering United Methodists abroad, we need parallel boards and agencies: for instance, an African Publishing House, an African Board of Discipleship, and an African Board of Church and Society (or, perhaps, smaller boards and publishing houses in each of several African nations or regions). Boards and Agencies in Africa, Europe, and Asia could turn to their American counterparts for counsel and support, but the entire church would look to the leaders of these new institutions as experts on evangelism, social activism, resource developent, and so forth in the regions they serve.


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