aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Being wise as serpents and innocent as doves

I was talking with two District Superintendents last week in Africa. These are sharp guys, they've got a lot going; but it seemed to me that they were playing in a rigged game. In the interest of playing fair, I thought I should have the kind of discussion with them that I have had with American missionaries on several occasions. So the three of us sat together and I explained the politics of the American UMC to them. They were shocked to say the least, but at least now they know the score.

The UMC in America is split three ways, I said. On the far left are the ultra-liberals, promoters of the goodness of homosexuality, hater of all things evangelical and/or conservative. These guys control most of the general agencies (like GBGM, which holds the Africans' purse strings), many of the Annual Conference bureaucracies, and a large number of bishops (who used to avoid taking sides in order to at least appear fair).

On the far (comparatively speaking) right are the evangelicals, defenders of Scripture and traditional moral values, reformers with a liking for Good News and The Confessing Movement. These churches are the primary source of candidates to be missionaries (which explains why GBGM has reduced its total missionary roll from almost 2,000 to 60 in thirty years). These churches are also, historically, committed to supporting missionaries.*

In the middle are the "can't we all just get along" folks, whose values are closer to the right, but who will vote with the left in order to keep peace. They are conflict-avoiders, but nice folks generally. They can be quite generous, but you have to pump them to get them to concentrate on things. The electoral math is why self-defined evangelicals can't elect a bishop from among their number: you can get to about thirty-five percent or so, but you can't reach a majority in a Jurisdictional Conference where the conflict-avoiders are looking for someone safe (and are frequently bamboozled).

S'okay, here's the deal. The Africans need independent lines of communication and support to the American church. If they go through New York, they will get whatever GBGM decides to give them. If they take that and wait for people to pick their people and projects out of the Big Book of Advance Specials, they will always be underfunded. Yet they don't dare make alliances with supportive reform groups, since GBGM would come down on them like a guillotine on the French aristocracy.

So what they need is friends who can bridge them into relationships with ordinary congregations and pastors in the USA: people who will not only throw some institutional support their way (i.e., by funding Advance Specials and being missions partners a la GBGM), but who will engage in direct support by sending the occasional work team and supplying direct funding of specific projects.

They also need to make sure that their best spokespersons have good enough English to preach in American churches. Then, when the possibility of finding some funding to bring in a special speaker comes around, we can piggyback on it and get one of these guys to America to meet leaders, tour churches, and cement relationships that will provide serious support over the next several years.

So, keep New York happy, but don't settle for just what they can do for you, is what I told 'em. And toward that end, I plan on doing whatever I can to advance the work in their area and connect the African and American churches I relate to.

*BTW, the Africans identify with the evangelicals' positions, but were clueless as to why this does not endear them to the Powers that Be. In fact, that whole bizarre proposal a few years ago to split the UMC into regional "General" Conferences was just an attempt to remove the Central Conference delegates from the voting pool so the libs could finally have a shot -- as they think -- at getting homosexuality OK'd in the American church.

x-posted to methodism

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