Hats off to the General Board of Church and Society for undertaking the monumental task of revising the United Methodist Social Principles. It’s the first time in fifty years that the Social Principles have been looked at holistically! (Our usual practice is to argue over individual sections every four years at General Conference — writing and rewriting them by committee. It works about as well as you would expect.)
The goal of this holistic revision is to make the new Social Principles:
- More succinct
- More theologically grounded
- More globally relevant
While I have critiques of each of the ways in which the proposed revision falls short, the draft is overall a phenomenal improvement over what currently exists. This revision expands the vision of the 1972 Social Principles (and their subsequent piecemeal amendments). Hallelujah!
I especially appreciate the deliberately global perspective throughout the document. This particularly comes out in “The Political Community.” As a U.S. citizen, I need to be regularly reminded that the U.S. is not the normative (or only) way of structuring political community.
My remaining comments are shared with the caveat that my social location is as a middle class white woman in the U.S. I am grateful that the proposal is being reviewed by United Methodists around the world, and I humbly recognize the limitations of my own feedback compared to the perspectives that others bring.
Everything in the revised Social Principles should implicitly have “Global” in front of it. When this is truly the case, there is no need to add that to any of the heading titles. “Global Communication,” therefore, should just be “Communication.” It’s like when I’m called a “lady pastor” — people who say that are implicitly telling me that their normal use of the word “pastor” does not include me.
Similarly, a fully global Social Principles should make it irrelevant to separate one section out as “The World Community.” This concluding section could therefore be worked into the sections that precede it. It would be easy to combine “The World Community” with “The Political Community” and “The Economic Community,” as these three sections all deal with (un)just systems in the midst of powers and principalities.
One example of the need to combine sections and paragraphs is on the topic of migration. I see great possibility for a unified section on migration, combining the disciplinary paragraphs on “Global Migration” (under “The World Community”) and “Rights of Migrants, Immigrants, and Refugees” (under “The Social Community”). I hope the authors ask United Methodists who are migrants (immigrants/emigrants) to read and provide input on the migration section. And, as is always appropriate when a dominant group asks marginalized people to provide intellectual labor, the people providing this valuable perspective should be compensated.
Similarly, all statements on migration need to be reviewed by indigenous peoples. Decolonizing our Social Principles will mean naming settler colonialism, how citizenship is a construct (and how our “citizenship of heaven” is unmerited), and how borders are the products of colonialism.
There was great attention paid to indigenous communities in the section “The Community of All Creation” — yay! But each of the other sections needs to have that same level of inclusion. Currently, it sounds as if only one person involved in the revision was concerned about indigenous issues — and that person was on the “Community of All Creation” sub-team, not the other sub-teams. We need to honor and respect indigenous knowledge — not just “acknowledge” it (see the section on “Wisdom”). We further need to bring out the impact of colonialism by adding the phrase “colonial history” under “Environmental Justice.”
Decolonizing my faith is a growing edge for me, and I am sure that there are many other examples that I am missing. I don’t know what I don’t know. But these are a few small changes I could identify:
- The section on “Medical and Genetic Experimentation” talks about “persons in less affluent societies” but it also needs to discuss poor people & racial/ethnic minorities within relatively affluent Western societies. Specifically, the US and other historically slaveholding societies still need to repent of medical abuses on enslaved persons and their descendants.
- The section “Restorative Justice” does not officially say that we urge governments, communities, and individuals to practice restorative justice. It seems to be implied, but it should be made explicit.
- In the final paragraph on “Restorative Justice,” we need to add “citizenship status” to list of reasons that people are discriminatorily targeted.
- The conversation on childhood marriage (under “Marriage and Divorce”) needs to change “girls” to “disproportionately affecting girls and women,” since childhood marriage also affects their children, husbands, and extended families.
- In “Governments and Church,” we should use the term “refugees” to describe “those who are rendered stateless.”
These are some easy changes — in addition to the larger structural changes — that would help the Social Principles become even more globally relevant. But we won’t get to true global relevance by centering white U.S. voices. I hope that the proposed UMC Social Principles are carefully reviewed by indigenous and postcolonial theologians who are appropriately reimbursed for their expertise.
In conclusion, I am hopeful about the proposed Social Principles. I deeply affirm the goals to make them more succinct, theologically grounded, and globally relevant. We have come a long way from the original Social Creed for Workers in 1908, and from the 1972 Social Principles. The possibilities in those statements have expanded the church, and the limitations of those statements have limited the church. May what we do now positively shape our social witness for another 50+ years into the future.
This post is the final part of a five-part series on the United Methodist Social Principles:
- Part 1: A New Structure for a New Era
- Part 2: The Inadequacy of “Rights”
- Part 3: Theological Grounding
- Part 4: Succinct, Organized, and Accessible
- Part 5: Global Relevance
If you would like to comment on the proposed Social Principles revision (deadline: August 31, 2018), you can submit your feedback here.