Global Relevance (Social Principles, Part 5)

Image: “Decolonize” written over planet earth. Source.

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:

  1. More succinct
  2. More theologically grounded
  3. 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: 

If you would like to comment on the proposed Social Principles revision (deadline: August 31, 2018), you can submit your feedback here

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Succinct, Organized, and Accessible (Social Principles, Part 4)

When my spouse and I went to get our marriage license, the county clerk asked us how many years of schooling we’d each had. When we told her, she didn’t believe us!

“Not how old you are,” she clarified. “How many years were you in school?”

“No, seriously,” we insisted, “We’ve been in school for that long!”

When you’ve been in school for a long time, you risk sounding more academic than accessible. And this is a problem. Deep thinkers must communicate clearly. 

The revised Social Principles are relatively inaccessible. There were sentences that I had to read multiple times in order to understand them — and I know that I am in a very privileged position compared to many United Methodists. 

The Social Principles need to be run through a readability checker that looks at both sentence length and word length, aiming for a 4th-8th grade reading level.

Without watering down the academic rigor, the following suggestions will help make the Social Principles more accessible. They may also achieve the stated goal of making them more succinct.

Words

Replace passive verbs with active verbs.

Define technical terms like “precautionary principle” and “food sovereignty.”

Use inclusive language for God (e.g., “God saw everything that GOD had made”) and God’s work in the world (e.g., “reign of God” instead of “kingdom”). Our Book of Resolutions calls us to eradicate sexism and engage feminist theologies. Doing no harm means listening to women who have been calling for inclusive and expansive language for multiple generations. 

Sentences

This draft features long sentences. Shortening sentences would help with the accessibility of the document. For example, this cumbersome sentence was part of the section on “Food Systems”: “The land, food, and water rights of all people, and the food cultures that rely on knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, must be respected.” It would be easy to turn this sentence into two sentences. Even better would be to use active verbs!

We can delete each instance of the words “We believe.” Just say what you want to say — it’s more succinct and more powerful! This can be found, for example, in the section on the “Death Penalty.” 

Throughout the document, there are inappropriate commas and quotation marks. I assume that these will be cleaned up before the next iteration that the public sees. 

Paragraphs 

Paragraph headings could be more clearly titled to reflect the structure that follows. For example, “Ecosystems: Air, Water, Land, Plants, and Animals” would clearly indicate that the paragraphs within the disciplinary paragraph would cover first air, then water, then land, etc.

Thesis/topic sentences would be a help throughout the document. For example, the section “Wisdom” needs a thesis sentence like the following: “Wisdom emanates from God and can be known through indigenous ways of knowing as well as through science and technology.” 

Delete the “a” and “b” division in the “Suicide, Death, and Dying” section; they can be woven together into one coherent unit. It is also the only example of divisions that I saw within the Social Principles draft.  

Many of the paragraphs should be combined and condensed. I write more about this here. At the very least, the paragraphs that cover similar topics should have cross-references.

In addition to merging whole paragraphs, the sentences under “Marriage and Divorce” on infertility and unplanned pregnancies need to be moved to “Reproductive Health.” 

Sections 

Shorten the six sections to just three sections:

  1. Community of All Creation
  2. Loving Communities (combining Nurturing and Social)
  3. Communities of Justice and Righteousness (combining Political, Economic, and Global)

Then add a conclusion to each of these three sections. For example, the final paragraph under “Space” appears to be a conclusion to the entire “Community of All Creation” section, and could easily be set off as such.  

person uses pen on book
[Hand writing on paper] Source: Pexels.com

Your Turn 

What would you change in the proposed Social Principles?

Comment here before August 31, 2018!


This post is the fourth part of a five-part series on the United Methodist Social Principles: 

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Theological Grounding (Social Principles, Part 3)

What sort of theology could we see in the Social Principles? In part two of this series, I argued that political discourses are inadequate for theologically grounding our Social Principles. Better theological themes include:

  • unmerited grace of God
  • conviction of the Holy Spirit
  • individual and social sin, as well as sins of commission and omission
  • repenting of evil (see Baptismal Covenant)
  • liberation by the God of the oppressed
  • prophetic themes of justice and righteousness
  • the “already / not yet” reign of God
  • beloved community
  • citizenship in heaven, pilgrim people in this world
  • missio Dei (mission of God) in which we participate
  • forgiveness, reconciliation, and living in right relationship (see liturgies of “confession and assurance,” “passing the peace,” and “offering ourselves and our gifts to God” in our services of Word & Table)
  • becoming the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood, for the sake of the world (see Great Thanksgiving)
  • ecumenical positions, such as the teaching offered by the Roman Catholic Church, World Council of Churches, and World Methodist Council, with special attention to those churches with whom we are in full communion

Those are some of the broad themes that could be woven throughout the Social Principles. What follows is a list of specific theological ideas for each of the current five sections. (Please note, however, that I advocate for a new structure for a new era that would reduce the total number of sections).

The Community of All Creation

  • Explore themes of possession and stewardship: Are we humans “renters” of God’s possession? Or tenants? Is there autonomy of created creatures? (e.g., Does a tree belong to itself? Or does a tree belong to God and then God gives it to humans?). Metaphors of possession — even God’s possession — can become problematic.

  • Highlight sacrifice and vulnerability. For example, the first paragraph under “Environmental Justice” would better fit “The Community of All Creation” section preface, where it could also introduce the theme of vulnerability for all of the topics that follow.

  • “Balance” is rarely the theological principle we’re looking for (see the section on “Climate”), although perhaps paradox is.

The Nurturing Community

  • Claiming that nurturing environments is “our highest value” is too strong. Making disciples for the transformation of the world could be our highest value. Or loving God and loving neighbor could be our highest values. Creating nurturing environments is only one aspect of these values of loving discipleship.

  • “Culture and Identity” needs to talk about the “scandal of particularity” (The God beyond culture entered into a specific Jewish Palestinian culture at a particular time and place — this is scandalous! What does this say about culture?).

  • Niebuhr in the West and many postcolonial theologians in the Global South could add really valuable theological reflection to sections on “Culture and Identity.” Scripturally, this section could engage the early Christians’ struggle over Jewish & Gentile cultures, as well as Johannine engagement with “the world.” The phrase “recreate cultural norms” sounds like imitating the world, rather than “creating new cultural norms.”

  • In the “Reproductive Health” discussion of one’s (in)ability to conceive and intended/unplanned pregnancies, Hannah would be a great Scriptural example (1 Samuel 1) of a woman navigating this!

  • Our liturgy is an important (and thus far, unused) resource for theological and ethical thinking. For “Marriage and Divorce” and “Death and Dying,” the United Methodist Hymnal and United Methodist Book of Worship have amazing resources on both marriage and services of death and resurrection. It would be great to echo that language. Specifically look at the rubrics (in red) and the introductory sections. What do we think theologically happens in marriage and resurrection?

  • “Suicide, Death, and Dying” needs to emphasize both prevention and response. Theologically, forgiveness is an important category that needs to be included.

The Social Community

  • God’s choosing of vulnerability (in Jesus Christ) is an important topic to raise in the section on “Disabilities.” See Nancy Eiesland’s The Disabled God and other touchstones in (dis)ability liberation theology. 

  • Under “Religious Minorities,” we need to add a statement of repentance: “The Church repents of its own complicity in persecuting other religions, forcible conversion, anti-Semitism, witch trials, 30 Years War, Crusades, genocide of indigenous peoples, etc.”

  • In the section on “Children and Young People,” we could add language regarding “children of God” (like Jesus’ urging to “become like little children” and learning from them). I highly commend the book Regarding Children by Herb Anderson, which addresses the paradox of children “already and not yet” becoming who they are — and who they are called to be.

  • “Aging” needs to include the topic of vulnerability (see Scripture concern for care for widows, plus Jesus’ own becoming vulnerable on our behalf). Vulnerability is part of the beauty and gift of life. Theologically, the denial of aging connects to a denial of death. Since we are a people of death and resurrection, we should have much to say about facing decline and death.

  • In the section on “Women and Girls,” the book of Genesis needs to be cited in the first sentence. An additional Scriptural reference could be that women were commissioned as the first preachers of the resurrection but their testimony was discounted due to patriarchal assumptions. Mujerista and womanist theologies could point out the intersectionality of oppression faced by women of color.

The Political Community

  • In the section “Governments and Church,” the phrase “God’s Word” is used to refer to Scripture rather than Jesus, the Word made flesh.

  • In the section on the “Death Penalty,” add something about Jesus Christ being unjustly executed by the state — and the lynching of Jesus never again needs to be repeated. (See, for example, James Cone).

The Economic Community

  • John Wesley, liked Jesus, talked so much about money! I commend the book Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics by Ted Jennings.

  • The “Globalization” section could bring in apocalyptic images of Rome and Babylon (e.g., in Revelation) as warning signs of too much power in certain economies and political/national systems.

  • We need to add a section on transparency (e.g., “sunshine laws”). Leaders need to disclose conflicts of interest, connecting to Scriptures about shining light on dealings done in the shadows. The sections on “Equity,” “Corruption, Graft, and Bribery,” and “Corporate and Social Responsibility” should include legally requiring transparency and disclosure, rather than just putting the onus on corporations to choose to be transparent. The Hebrew prophets call us to this.

The Global Community

  • Under “Global Migration” and “Rights of Migrants, Immigrants, and Refugees” (which should be combined into one section), the church has wonderful traditions about being strangers and migrants in this world. (Hauerwas did not originate the concept of “resident aliens!” Cf Augustine). We also follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah (called to leave their home), while longing for home (see Psalm 137).

  • Like in the Old Testament exile, borders have been moved without the consent of the land’s inhabitants (cf. Mexico/Texas/U.S. borders and the Philippines in 1898). This must be named in any conversation about migration. Relatedly, the Church needs to repent of complicity in settler colonialism. Again, indigenous and postcolonial theologians need to be centered.

Your Turn

What potential theological themes do you see? Read the Social Principles draft and offer your feedback! Feel free to copy/quote this blog post. (What I have written here is way more coherent than what I officially submitted!). We have a once-in-fifty-years opportunity to substantially revise our United Methodist Social Principles. So, please, prayerfully reflect and then share how the Spirit is leading you!


This post is the third part of a five-part series on the United Methodist Social Principles: 

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The inadequacy of “rights” (Social Principles, Part 2)

A much-needed Social Principles revision aims to make the United Methodist Social Principles more succinct, theologically grounded, and globally relevant. United Methodists are invited to comment on the proposed revision before August 31, 2018.

In my last post, I recommended a revised structure that would be more succinct and globally relevant. Today I address the theological grounding. 

One frequent criticism of the Social Principles is that they sound more like a UN declaration than a church statement. In this critique, the Social Principles draw more from political discourse than theological reflection. I do not believe that this is because the positions are unfaithful to the God of justice, righteousness, and peace. Instead, this is a linguistic problem.

The language of “rights” dominates the Social Principles. For example, look at this sampling of headings within “The Social Community”:

  • Right to Healthcare
  • Rights of Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees
  • Rights of Religious Minorities
  • Rights of Racial and Ethnic Communities
  • Rights of Children and Young People
  • Rights of the Aging
  • Rights of Persons of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities
  • Rights of Women and Girls
  • Rights of Men and Boys

Why do we not shorten every heading? Remove each repetitive “Rights of.” For example, “Right to Healthcare” would simply become “Healthcare.” (One immediate benefit is shortening the total word count!

The language of “rights” does not reflect the particular charism that the UMC has in speaking to our world. We have rich theological language that we could be using instead. Where is our language of sin and waking from sin? How are we called to follow Christ? If Christ humbled himself, giving up his rights (Philippians 2), then how are the powerful called to renounce their/our own power — in order to raise others up?

Our hymns, Scripture, and theologies are brimming with possibilities for each section. In comparison to these theological and liturgical treasures, “rights” is an inadequate term. “Rights” language is individualistic and does not address our shared responsibilities to one another. Rev. Lisa M. López Marcial, a Puertorrican clergywoman, describes how “rights” language falls short theologically:

We have never been skilled at recognizing the good for another without thinking about our own good first… The framework of rights finds its dreadful match in the human heart turned upon itself, because it lacks the power to drive change against the evils embedded in our character… The legal framework can only take us so far. Even after oppressive policies have been legally abolished, people of color tell stories of how discrimination continues, women testify about how sexual harassment continues, and individuals living with disabilities continue to experience basic toleration and grudging accommodation instead of real solidarity. All of these realities point to our needing something greater than the framework of human rights to break through the barriers of selfishness, indifference, and our own propensity toward abuse.

Instead of “rights” language, we in The United Methodist Church could use our baptismal vows as our Social Principles framework:

  • How do we resist evil, injustice, and oppression?
  • How do we live as the church which Christ has opened to all ages, nations, and races?
  • How do we individually respond to God’s call by committing to community?

We additionally have the General Rules (“Do no harm. Do good. Attend upon all the ordinances of God.”) and our shared practices of justice and advocacy. The possibilities for theological grounding are extensive — far more than I could include in a brief blog post.

I am not against language of “rights.” “Basic Rights and Freedoms” are addressed under “The Political Community” — that’s great! We should explicitly name in a section on human rights that the International Declaration of Human Rights was shaped by social gospel movements of early twentieth century, including the original Methodist social creed.

But that is the only section where “rights” language needs to dominate. In the rest of our Social Principles, we have, in the apostle Paul and John Wesley’s words, a much “more excellent way.”


This post is the second part of a five-part series on the United Methodist Social Principles: 

If you would like to comment on the proposed Social Principles revision (deadline: August 31, 2018), you can submit your feedback here

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A New Structure for a New Era (Social Principles, Part 1)

Image result for umc social principlesI spent a lot of time memorizing the 1996 and 2000 Social Principles. I needed to bolster my arguments with my high school boyfriend — a conservative Baptist on the debate team. Every time he brought up a social issue, I would go search the United Methodist Social Principles. I learned back then that I needed to bookmark a lot of different pages and hand-write in the cross-references. (If you want to read about health, for example, you have to look here and here and here and here. It can be hard to find what you want!) 

While I never understood why the Social Principles were so disorganized, scattered, and repetitive, I accepted that this is the result of our piecemeal legislative process. I therefore expected that the proposed revision of the Social Principles, with its goal of becoming more succinct, globally relevant, and theologically grounded, would bring order to the chaos. Unfortunately, the proposed revision has made the scattered repetition even worse.

All United Methodists are invited to comment on the draft of the revised Social Principles. I encourage you to read through them and offer your feedback! I took about a week to reflect on the document and respond. The “this could take up to 20 minutes” caveat on the survey was way wrong for me! I’m sharing some of my thoughts, so that perhaps you can spend less than a week preparing your own responses 🙂

Overall, these Social Principles are an improvement over what we currently have — specifically in trying to move away from U.S.-centrism. But my biggest takeaway was around redundancy and repetition:

1. The irrelevance of a section called “The Global Community” (which overlaps with many previous categories — especially “The Political Community”) when one purpose of the revision is to make the entirety of the Social Principles globally relevant

2. Arbitrary structure dividing “The Nurturing Community” from “The Social Community” (resulting in frequent overlap and repetition between those categories) when the revision’s first purpose is to make the Social Principles more succinct

The effect of both points is that we repeatedly have statements on similar issues in two places rather than just one. And there are no cross-references between the two. Worse still, sometimes one statement is theologically grounded (the third stated goal of the revision) while the other one doesn’t mention God or faith at all. Combining and abridging the statements would help to ensure that every paragraph is grounded in God.

So, why is there so much repetition? Why are these sections divided? 

It’s simple: the underlying structure of the Social Principles was set up by U.S. white males in 1972. This was prior to second-wave feminism and postcolonialism. Granted, these two social movements were underway — but that did not mean that the Church was listening to them. Even today the Church does not take seriously the voices of women, people of color, and people outside of the U.S.

The initial Social Principles Study Commission, established in 1968, did include women, notably “Mrs. Ted F. Baun” as secretary. They invited people such as “Mrs. Sarah B. Adam,  Commission on Social Concerns, Monrovia, West Africa” to author papers. You can read their 1970 report here. But these moves toward inclusion did not change the dominant U.S. white male perspective. The effect was that we siloed women’s issues and global concerns. The social, political, and economic communities were the domain of U.S. men.

In the U.S. in 1968/1972, both church and society maintained a sharp distinction between the “private” and the “public.” In the UMC this became known as “The Nurturing Community” and “The Social Community.” This home/world distinction was a legacy of 19th century sex segregation: women belong at home and men belong at work. Poet Adrienne Rich summarizes this era as follows:

“By the end of the 1960s an autonomous movement of women was declaring that ‘the personal is political.‘ That statement was necessary because in other political movements of that decade the power relation of men to women, the question of women’s roles and men’s roles, had been dismissed — often contemptuously — as the sphere of personal life… Women were now talking about domination, not just in terms of economic exploitation, militarism, colonialism, imperialism, but within the family, in marriage, in child rearing… Breaking the mental barrier that separated private from public life felt in itself like an enormous surge toward liberation… Every aspect of her life was on the line. We began naming and acting on issues we had been told were trivial, unworthy of mention: rape by husbands or lovers; the boss’s hand groping the employee’s breast; the woman beaten in her home with no place to go… We pointed out that women’s unpaid work in the home is central to every economy…” (from “Blood, Bread, and Poetry”)

 

By the time I began debating with my high school boyfriend, that the personal is political (and its corollary: the personal is theological) had been explored in detail by womanist theologians, mujerista theologians, and feminist theologians. Boundaries were falling between “personal” and “public.” This showed in our Social Principles as topics began to be repeated in multiple sections. Gender norms, sexual exploitation, health and (dis)ability, and aging cannot be separated into discrete categories of “this is nurturing and this is social.” They are intrinsically tied! We cannot arbitrarily divide “The Nurturing Community” from “The Social Community.” These two sections need to be combined.

My concern about “The World Community” is similar. If we carry a global perspective throughout the Social Principles, we should not need to label a handful of categories as specifically “global.”  When we name some sub-sections as “Global Health” or “Global Communication,” it implies that the previous sections on health and communication were not adequately global in scope. If so, we need to revise the previous sections to make them global.

Truly global perspectives throughout the Social Principles should make it irrelevant to separate one section out as The World Community. Fortunately, we now see this redundancy! In the revised Social Principles, there is substantial overlap between “The World Community” and “The Political Community.” Our revision is beginning to recognize that each country’s political community affects (and is affected by) the world community. Now we need to update our structure to better serve the improved content. 

Our Social Principles need a new structure for a new era. Therefore, I propose the following structure to help the Social Principles become more succinct and globally relevant:

1. THE COMMUNITY OF ALL CREATION

(Keep this proposed category and subheadings exactly the same)

Preface

Creation

Ecosystems: Air, Water, Land, and Plant and Animal Life

Wisdom, Science, and Technology

Climate Change

Sustainability

Environmental Justice

Food Systems

Space

2. LOVING COMMUNITIES
(combination of The Nurturing Community & The Social Community)

Preface [combining the Prefaces of The Nurturing Community & The Social Community]

Race, Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity [combining “Culture and Identity” and “Rights of Racial and Ethnic Communities”]

Gender [combining “Gender Equality,” “Rights of Persons of All… Gender Identities,” “Rights of Women and Girls,” “Rights of Men and Boys”]

Relationships [combining “Family,” “Marriage and Divorce,” “Children and Young People,” “Bullying,” “Sexual Exploitation and Violence”]

Human Sexuality [combining “Human Sexuality” and “Rights of Persons of All Sexual Orientations…”]  [this hopefully will be able to be combined with the above categories on Gender & Relationships, but for now what this section would contain is a big question mark] 

Diverse Abilities [combining “Full Inclusion of Differently-Abled Persons” and “Persons with Disabilities”]

Communication [combining “Media and Communication Technology” and “Global Communication” — which was originally from The World Community]

Health [combining “Right to Healthcare,” “Addictions and Substance Abuse,” “Medical and Genetic Experimentation,” “Organ Transplantation and Donation,” “Reproductive Health,” and “Global Health” — which was originally in The World Community]

End of Life [combining “Aging” and “Death and Dying” (not divided into A & B)]

3. COMMUNITIES OF JUSTICE & RIGHTEOUSNESS 

(could be called A JUST WORLD: POLITICAL & ECONOMIC COMMUNITIES)

Preface [combining the preface to The Political Community, The Economic Community, and The World Community]

[this next section combines The Political Community and The World Community]

Religion in Public Life [combining “Governments and the Church,” “Religious Freedom,” and “Rights of Religious Minorities” — originally in The Social Community]

Human Rights [combining “Basic Rights and Freedoms” and “Human Dignity, Rights, and Responsibilities”]

Government Responsibilities [combining “Government Responsibilities” and “Nations and Cultures”]

Migration [combining “Global Migration” and “Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees”–originally in The Social Community]

Justice, Law, and Civil Disobedience [combining “Justice and Law” and “Civil Disobedience”]

Restorative Justice and the Death Penalty [combining “Restorative Justice” and “Death Penalty”]

War and Peace [combining “War and Peace,” “Peacebuilding,” “Military Service,” and “National Power and Responsibility”]

[this next section brings in everything from The Economic Community]

[Economic] Equity

Systems of Production

Globalization

Trade and Investment

Agricultural Development

Labor and Employment

Poverty

Human Trafficking

Corruption, Graft and Bribery

Corporate and Social Responsibility

Gambling

This proposed restructure would substantially reduce the total number of sections — at which point it will be much easier to edit them even more succinctly. We won’t try to say the same thing over and over again in different places due to arbitrary category divisions. We won’t be tempted to pretend that what happens in one nation doesn’t affect the world (and vice versa). We won’t silo some issues off as affecting “the world” or “nurturing”; instead, our very structure will recognize that world concerns and at-home concerns are intricately connected with the environment, politics, and economics.

Combining paragraphs will also make the Social Principles more user-friendly. For example, our statements on gender would not be divided into “Gender Equality,” “Marriage & Divorce” and “Reproductive Health” in The Nurturing Community and “Rights of Women & Girls” and “Rights of Men & Boys” in The Social Community.

A side benefit is that “Human Sexuality” and “Rights of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities” could be placed side-by-side in the same section. This would make General Conference legislative committees easier to navigate. (Ha.)

I’m interested in your own thoughts and reflections on this revision. But more importantly, I know that the General Board of Church and Society is interested in your feedback. So if you agree with me or not, go read the proposal and comment there!

 


This post is the first part of a five-part series on the United Methodist Social Principles: 

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Nevertheless, she…

Image may contain: 4 people, including Diane Kenaston, people smiling, indoor“To say that God is not male or female is to deny the divinity of Jesus! It denies the Trinity!”

Not true. My theologically orthodox seminary professor husband and I both got up on our annual conference floor to explain the absurdity of this position:

The “scandal of particularity” is that God chose to be incarnated as a 1st-century Jewish Palestinian male —- but that does not mean that God is limited to a particular time, place, language, culture, religion, or gender. We don’t say “God is short with brown eyes” (although Jesus was likely short with brown eyes), so why are we insisting that the maleness of Jesus means that God as Three-in-One and One-in-Three is male? Affirming Jesus’ divinity means affirming that Jesus is simultaneously particularized and beyond particularity. 

But passionate speeches by St. Augustine nerds didn’t matter. Fear about the gender of God — and what “gender” means for humans — caused two constitutional amendments to fail to be ratified.

The United Methodist Young Clergy Women immediately sprang into action. We crowdsourced a letter to the church, which we invite United Methodist clergywomen of all ages and ministries to sign.


The letter’s highlights include:

“…The two constitutional amendments relating most closely to women and gender justice were not approved… We have pledged our lives to a denomination which, in response, will not affirm women in its constitution.

…Ambiguity over the word “gender” is part of why these amendments were voted down… However, to offer the clarity that some are seeking would mean abandoning our transgender and gender nonconforming United Methodists who have dealt with exponentially more discrimination in this denomination. We refuse to do this.

…We urge United Methodists to look first at problems of misogyny in our respective areas before pointing out the speck in the eye of any other place.

…We must repent of our unwillingness to allow the Holy Spirit to move us on toward perfection, even in this life.

…Since the formation of our denomination, United Methodists have repeatedly brought to the General Conference amendments supporting people regardless of sex or gender. Each one of these proposed amendments has failed.

Therefore, we urge every United Methodist in every Annual Conference to participate in stopping this cycle in 2020. To stop the cycle means teaching and preaching about the God who is beyond gender. We commend the free curricula offered by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW): “God of the Bible” and “Women Called to Ministry.”

We United Methodists have statements in both the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions that have passed by a majority vote at General Conference. Our inability to achieve equality in our Constitution is a sign that these resolutions have not been fully incorporated into our denomination.

We therefore challenge people to study, internalize, and act according to “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” (2016 Book of Resolutions, ¶3442). This includes

  • listening to women, especially women of color;
  • refusing to tolerate sexual violence, harassment, or abuse;
  • engaging women in shaping and teaching church doctrine; and
  • evaluating progress in each context of dismantling institutional sexism…”

Read the whole letter here. 


Within just a few days, over 800 clergywomen have signed the letter, including clergywomen from every single conference in the United States and several from the Philippines. Please share this with the UM clergywomen you know, especially those outside of the United States

We have had many men ask if they can sign. Our response? Write your own letter. Speak up as men about gender justice. Teach and preach about the God beyond gender. Talk about how sexism and patriarchy are not just “women’s issues.” Humbly listen to women. Ask what we need from you. This is not women’s work that you get to sign on to. This is men’s work, too.  

News then broke that Amendment 1 had mistakenly included a line deleted by General Conference. That corrected amendment is now returning to the annual conferences for a re-vote.

We need to note that this new amendment does not:

  • address the gender of God
  • specify inclusion in worship, sacraments, or church governance
  • include ability, age, or marital status

These are important oversights.

And yet, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, again crowdsourced by the United Methodist Young Clergy Women:

“The news of this re-vote means that we United Methodists have a rare opportunity to right an injustice. While this doesn’t erase the painful message sent by the first vote, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to send a new message. We urge those who voted against Amendment I to listen to women and learn why it matters to them that God made them in the Divine image. We also urge all disappointed by the original vote to remember that Amendment I failed by a margin of fewer than one hundred votes. In light of this, we urge all clergy and lay members to vote at your respective Annual Conferences. Your vote matters. Show up. Vote. Affirm that God has created each gender equal in God’s image. 

Maybe someday we’ll be able to affirm in our founding documents that the God who is beyond gender has made people of all genders in God’s image.

And maybe someday we will assert that marital status, gender, ability, and age (along with race, color, national origin, and economic condition) are not barriers to participation in the life, worship, and governance of the church.

Until then, nevertheless, we persist.

 

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Hope in the Mountains

The UMC Family blog has been dormant for half a quadrennium! As we gear up for General Conference 2019 (and a 2018 annual conference revote on a constitutional amendment — which I will post on shortly), I (Diane) discovered a draft blog post, which I had never published. But I want to publish it now:

Dad, you are my model for ministry, and I pray for a double-portion of your humble, hope-filled spirit. Thank you.

We deliberately didn’t post through annual/jurisdictional conference of 2016. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has strict rules against any form of episcopacy campaigning— rules which we whole-heartedly support. I think it helps people to focus on how God is moving through the jurisdiction. My father, Joe Kenaston, was discerned by the West Virginia Annual Conference as their episcopal candidate in the NEJ. After he prayerfully withdrew, I had little to say — except to quote my father’s withdrawal speech:

I have great hope for this church. I live in one of the most impoverished areas in the United States of America. And yet the people of southern West Virginia–with the ravages of the flood, with the economic devastation that has happened in our state–the people have hope. The theme for our district in southern West Virginia and for my ministry has been ‘Hope in the Mountains.’ And I believe that there is hope not only in the mountains but also in our jurisdiction, and in The United Methodist Church, if all of us will lift our eyes up to hills from whence cometh our help. Our help cometh in the name of the Lord. 

Holy ContradictionsNow, as I read those words in 2018, I reflect on how easy it is for me to lose hope for our denomination. I even published an essay in Holy Contradictions about how perhaps our calling is to the cross: to die as a denomination, trusting that God will resurrect new life in a Christian church that is bigger than one mainline Protestant expression of it.

It is people like my parents who remind me to temper my cynicism about the present — what feels like impending denominational death — with hope for the future.

Back to summer 2016. During a conference season that risked being all about Dad, we were ecstatic that my mother was surprised by the Susanna Wesley award. She brings her disciplined love to all that she does, as a mother and as a disciple.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.42.34 AM

(You may enjoy reading this interview with my mom about General Conference).

As we prepare for 2019 and beyond, I invite you to pray this Wesleyan covenant prayer which means so much to our whole family:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

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Hope for the Church

Though she’s not an official part of the Kenaston family, below is the most recent blog by Maria Niechwiadowicz, Connor’s girlfriend and fellow missionary.

Taking the Call

The end of May brought a final family reunion for the Global Mission Fellow class of 2014-2016. Upon the end of General Conference in downtown Portland, we bused out to the serene haven that is A.Collins Retreat Center. Isolated in the midst of Oregon forest and under the warm hospitality of retreat staff, we were able to reflect, laugh, and be in community.

I have often described this family with positive words, unable to fully convey the unique love that has formed among us, but after attending a week of General Conference and then two weeks of our End-Term event, I now know what I am most proud of.

General Conference brought much dissent, emotions, and negative talk within the United Methodist Church. Tensions were high, decisions were made (and not made) to disappoint some and discourage others. Some left the Conference disheartened or even angry at the Church…

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A Model for the Global Church

Check out the most recent blogs by Connor about the Global Church:

https://thebookoffellows.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/a-model-for-the-global-church/

and here:

https://ckenaston.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/what-is-the-global-church/

 

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What is the “Global Church”?

Recent post by Connor!

"Stretch Out Your Hand"

While numbers of United Methodists have gradually decreased over the last few decades, the denomination outside the US (what the UMC calls “Central Conferences”) has grown rapidly. These statistics lead many United Methodists to call us a “global church.” In many senses, this is true. For one, General Conference now has 40% of its delegates come from Central Conferences. That means that there are at least six translators doing simultaneous interpreting in every session (and breakout session) of General Conference! Many of the church’s ministries (like the Global Mission Fellows program!) are global in nature, embracing a ministry with* and “from everywhere, to everywhere” model for ministry.

However, while the UMC may be more global than most denominations, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room to grow. There are indeed Methodists all over the world, but only a small number of them are actually United Methodists…

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