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Jerry P. Kulah, superintendent of the United Methodist Church’s Monrovia District in Liberia, is urging defeat of a series of constitutional amendments aimed at restructuring the denomination. If passed, the amendments likely would result in the structural segregation of United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe from United Methodists in the U.S.

The Rev. Jerry Kulah

The Rev. Jerry Kulah

The amendments, proposed by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church (Task Force report—PDF), were approved by last year’s General Conference.

To be enacted, an amendment to the UM Constitution must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate “voting members” from all the Annual Conferences. Members may debate amendments, but cannot alter them.

In a video posted to YouTube on May 7, Mr. Kulah said the amendments were written without an appropriate level of consultation with African leaders or with “grassroots” Methodists from across the denomination.

“We should have been consulted on this matter,” he said.

Mr. Kulah noted that “most United Methodists in Africa are not [even] aware” of the proposed amendments, much less have an understanding of the changes that could result if the amendments are passed. For that matter, he is “not sure that [most] United Methodists in America are [aware] either.”

All 135 UM Conferences (62 Annual Conferences in the U.S. and 73 Conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe) have begun voting on 23 amendments relating to the structure of the denomination. Those votes will take place over the next several months (schedule of Annual Conference sessions—PDF).

In the video, the Monrovia District Superintendent said he was open to a well-considered proposal for restructuring the UMC at some time in the future, but noted that “many of us who are leaders of the church in Africa do not favor passing these amendments right now.”

 

In a December 2008 address to a session of the West Africa Central Conference (meeting in Paynesville, Liberia), Jerry Kulah offered an extended critique of the current restructuring proposal. He expressed concern that it could “create division and segregation within the global community of believers called the United Methodists.”

Excerpts from his address are below.

At the most recent General Conference, some leaders of the United Methodist Church in America proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the UMC for the creation of “Regional Conferences.”… [Related amendments call for renaming the] Central Conferences [as] Regional Conference….

[It is said] that we need to change our name from Central Conference to Regional Conference because this name has had a racial overtone in the U.S.A. It is also alleged to have had a racial overtone outside of the U.S.A., including Africa, since it was the white missionaries who established Central Conferences here, thereby creating a paternalistic relationship between the Church in America and the Church in Africa….

amendments-clipWhile this argument, on the surface, looks appealing and unifying, there is a serious problem with it.

In the first place, the African Central Conferences are not the ones putting forth this proposal…. The African Church is not complaining for bearing the name “Central Conference.”…

Besides, ever since the Church transitioned from missionary leadership to African leadership several decades ago, the African Central Conferences became African institutions: self-governing, self-sustaining, self-theologizing, and largely self-supporting….

Our Central Conferences, just like any American Jurisdictional Conference, enjoy the same representation commensurate with its membership — have the same authority, same responsibility….

[Some have argued that ultimately there should be a Regional Conference just for America, saying,] “We need to create the possibility of a regional Conference in the U.S.A. to deal with cultural issues and other questions that do not concern the rest of the world.”…

Certainly, this proposal, as it stands, has the propensity to create division and segregation within the global community of believers called the United Methodists….

If this [idea of creating a] Regional Conference [in the U.S.A.]…is pursued and sustained, we are most likely to have a fractured church. In addition, we might not have a common [Book of] Discipline and a unified way of doing the business of the United Methodist Church. Regional Conferences doing their own things could keep going their separate ways until new denominations eventually evolve…. The pursuit of Regional Conferences is not likely to enhance our unity but to divide us….

um-global-membership-map-2007

 

[Another argument for restructuring the UMC] surrounds the financial sustainability of the boards and agencies of the General Church. As the financial situation currently stands, it is a fact that almost all of the money to run the agencies comes from the United States. Therefore the unpublicized but vehement argument amongst some of the leaders of our American Methodist church is: “Let the people who pay the money make the decisions about church structure.”

Based upon information we often gather from various UMC web sites, African Central Conferences are not alone in their struggle to become financially self-sustaining. The Western Jurisdiction [in the U.S.] is also being subsidized by other jurisdictions, particularly the Southeast[ern] Jurisdiction. When one therefore uses this argument against the African Church, it has the tendency to be prejudicial and racist because the same argument is not being raised [in regard] to the Western Jurisdiction.

Besides, our financial challenges are not due to rapid loss in membership, as [is the case in] the Western Jurisdiction, but [stem from] civil crises, wars, diseases, coupled with institutionalized corruption of some African leaders that affects every institution, including the Church. However, in my opinion, this argument should serve as a wake-up call to all African Central Conferences to face up to the reality of becoming more and more financially sustainable….

Leaders from the American UMC cannot plan for us in isolation and tell us what is best for us. The period of colonization and paternalism is over for the people and Church in Africa. Any decision regarding the future of the Church must involve leaders of the Church in Africa — from its conception stage to the time it becomes a finished product. In this way, such a decision would be understood, owned by the people, and sustained by them….

Methodist missionaries from the U.S., photographed before leaving for Liberia circa 1898

Methodist missionaries from the U.S., before leaving for Liberia circa 1898

The…missionaries who came to us in Africa…a hundred years ago brought to us a biblical faith. Our [African] delegates going to General Conference are going there with a biblical perspective.

Because of our biblical perspective and continued growth, the liberals within the Church see their African brothers and sisters as threat to the control of the Church — just as about 140 years ago, whites Methodists in America saw black people as a threat to the control of the Church.

Certainly, this divisive spirit should not be encouraged amongst brothers and sisters who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ….

As I end this presentation, I wish to call to mind a concern raised by John Wesley five years to his demise. He had entertained the fear that, the people called Methodists would “not cease to exist” across the globe but that they would “exist as a mere sect,” having the form of godliness but having no power to live for Christ. And that would certainly be the case unless they held to the “faith, doctrine, and discipline with which they first set out.”

I am afraid that the current trend within global Methodism, wherein some are calling for segregation within the Church in the name of Regional Conferences, might well be confirming Wesley’s fear.

Let us recommit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to an undivided commitment to the supremacy of the Holy Bible as our final authority for faith and practice. We must ensure that after our labor on earth is done, we shall leave behind positive legacies that future generations would build upon.


Related posts
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
This is Our Story: Trends in the Church from the Office of Analysis and Research (PDF) | UM General Council on Finance and Administration (June 2008)
Statistics for the UM Central Conferences (2007) (Excel spreadsheet) | UM General Council on Finance and Administration
Understanding the contextual realities of the Church in Liberia | Jerry P. Kulah, Lausanne World Pulse
Hope for the future: Jerry Kulah | Mark Tooley, Good News magazine (July/August 2008)
Full text of all 32 amendments (PDF)
Worldwide decision: United Methodists to vote on amending constitution | Bill Fentum, UM Reporter (April 10, 2009)
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News (March/April 2009)
A rationale to oppose proposed constitutional changes | Tim McClendon, Columbia District Superintendent, South Carolina Conference
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
Conferences to consider church structure | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 10, 2009)
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone (November 2008)

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This week’s MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr., episcopal leader of both the Oklahoma Conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference in the United Methodist Church.

Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr.

Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr.

Before being elected the the episcopacy in 2004, Robert Hayes served as a pastor and a district superintendent in the Texas Conference.

This sermon on this week’s podcast was preached in February 2005 as part of the Barton-Clinton-Gordey Series at Boston Avenue UMC in Tulsa, Okla. Bishop Hayes’ text is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

To listen, use the audio player below (24 min.) — or download an mp3 (10.8 MB).

Next week, a sermon by the world director of World Methodist Evangelism, Eddie Fox.

For previous editions of the MethodistThinker Podcast, click the podcasts tab at the top of this page.

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The May 9 WORLD magazine has an update on the work of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling — recently re-christened StopPredatoryGambling.org.

Tom Grey

The Rev. Tom Grey

The long-time field director of the anti-gambling group is United Methodist clergyman Tom Grey.

“Grey…still runs mini-marathons at the age of 67 but wants to encourage a younger generation to join a movement often dominated by Methodists because of John Wesley’s social reform legacy,” writes reporter Russ Pulliam (full article available to subscribers only).

With a new bill in Congress to repeal the ban on online gambling, Pulliam notes that Stop Predatory Gambling “could capture more public attention, similar to the way Mothers Against Drunk Driving grabbed the public eye in the 1980s and 1990s.”

[I]t’s clear that the anti-gambling movement needs help. Legal gambling has expanded by leaps and bounds since the 1960s, with new state lotteries, Indian casinos, and electronic machines in bars and restaurants…. It has a corrupting political influence that is hard for public officials to resist.

The other scandal is quiet. The consequences of addiction spread slowly. Marriages break; consumer debt soars; bankruptcies climb. White collar crime emerges, as addicted gamblers steal from small businesses and schools.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is proposing the repeal [of the internet-gambling ban] and plans to hold hearings this month…. The outcome of Frank’s proposal is uncertain because gambling doesn’t necessarily divide by political party. Some strong opponents have been liberal Democrats….

The Stop Predatory Gambling movement doesn’t have millions of dollars. But the moral authority behind the opposition sometimes wins battles even when predatory gambling advocates have more money and power.

Of course, moral authority doesn’t carry the weight it once did. A 2008 study by Ellison Research found that 70 percent of Americans don’t consider gambling to be a sin.

“The church’s opposition to gambling has not been widely effective,” Mr. Grey told Religion News Service last year, because religion-based moral arguments are considered “not relevant in an irreverent age.” That is why Mr. Grey now couches his case against gambling primarily in economic and quality-of-life terms, using abundant statistics on gambling-related bankruptcy, crime, and addictions.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline (¶163G) describes gambling as “a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government.”

The 2004 UM Book of Resolutions notes that “gambling is bad economics; gambling is bad public policy; and gambling does not improve the quality of life.” (This resolution was first passed in 1980 and readopted in 2004.)

Last month, Tom Grey was in Indiana, speaking against a proposal to bring casino gambling to Fort Wayne.

 

Part two of the video is here.


Related post
Putting our HOPE in the state lottery

Related articles and information
A push to legalize Internet gambling | Ben Myerson, Los Angeles Times (May 13, 2009)
Gambling overview from UMC.org
Gambling opponents say moral argument no longer a trump | Greg Trotter, Religion News Service (March 17, 2008)
Board of Church and Society celebrates passage of online gambling ban | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Oct. 20, 2006)
Warrior preacher battles gambling (profile of Tom Grey) | Daniel R. Gangler, United Methodist Reporter (September 1997)
Final report the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (1999)

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This week’s MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by the late Methodist missionary, Dr. E. Stanley Jones.

E. Stanley Jones

E. Stanley Jones

Born in 1884, Eli Stanley Jones responded to the call to missionary service in his early 20s. He spent much of his adult life in India, although as an “evangelist at large” for the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he preached and taught in many nations.

Dr. Jones influenced millions of people through his bestselling books, including The Christ of the Indian Road (1925) and Abundant Living (1942).

E. Stanley Jones also was the founder of the international Christian Ashram movement, a retreat ministry focused on creating an environment in which people could get away from their normal routine and seek the Lord.

The sermon on this week’s podcast was preached at a U.S. Ashram in August 1960. The sermon title is, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit: The Birthright of All Christians.” (This sermon is included in the 2008 book, Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion.)

To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below (26 min.) — or download an mp3 (11.8 MB).

Next week, a sermon by Bishop Robert Hayes of the Oklahoma Conference.

For previous editions of the MethodistThinker Podcast, click the podcasts tab at the top of this page.


Related information
Biography of E. Stanley Jones from the Asbury College Archives
United Christian Ashrams
Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion (ordering information for book and CDs) | Lucknow Publishing House (2008)
Selected Messages from E. Stanley Jones — DVD | Vision Video
India Methodists celebrate 150 years of ministry | James S. Murthy, Good News magazine (Jan./Feb. 2007)
A listing of E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism funded by the Foundation for Evangelism

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