A UM Missional Future: People of Color Professions of Faith?

Part 7 of 21...

Dr. Weems asks, regarding diversity...

Should the affirmative action and monitoring priority for the next

decade be people of color professions of faith?

This question directly affects the congregation where my charge conference relationship is held-- New Hope UMC in Anderson, Indiana, which is a predominantly African-American congregation seeking actively to be more multi-cultural. So to answer that right off the bat, my first response would be "No, anymore than professions of faith statistics are a missionally helpful basic metric for any other population." I've outlined what missionally-centered metrics for Methodism might be in two other blog posts-- Spiritual Impression and Community Impact.

The text following the question really notes other things, not necessarily an answer to the question posed. It notes, correctly, that issues around diversity as such barely made the radar screen of the State of the Church Report. There was really only one question that sort of touched on diversity-- whether United Methodists felt that elimination of racism within the church should be a top priority, to which the vast majority of laity and clergy responded positively. The other diversity notable in the SOTC Report was the difference in understandings between Europeans, Africans, and US-based constituencies. But that would not generally address the issue of diversity in specific local congreations or missional settings, which is where, I think, Dr. Weems is aiming his question.

Here is the second part of Dr. Weems' commentary on the question:

Diversity was a challenge for Wesley and early Methodists. Yet the results make clear the seriousness with which Wesley took the task. The need for a renewed spirit of inclusion of people is crucial today. The youthfulness of the growing racial ethnic diversity in the United States makes its impact even more significant for the future. Clearly the church’s vitality in the next century will be shaped largely by its willingness and ability to respond to the changing face of America.

I would agree that early Methodism did, in both England and what became the US, try to be ethnically and to some degree economically diverse. The existence of the AME, AME Zion and CME denominations, however, bears continuing witness to the degree that Anglo-centric Methodist churches in the US failed to take that challenge as seriously as they should have done.

The need for "a renewed spirit of inclusion of people" however could be problematic from a missional perspective. The notion of "inclusion" is USUALLY attractional-speak for "we want different kinds of folks in here" rather than missional-speak which would say "we're going to be active in ministry WITH all sorts of people we find around us and beyond." The results of inclusion in an attractional context tend to be homogenization, in part because the premise is we want THEM in with US, where US is already defined culturally. The results of ministry WITH whomever could be substantially greater diversity in all kinds of settings, including congregations. I just raise this as a cautionary note. Inclusion and diversity are not always compatible. Mission and diversity can be much more compatible.

Finally, I would consider modifying the final sentence to read "Clearly the church's vitality in the next century will be shaped largely by its willingness and ability to respond to the changing face of the contexts in which it finds itself."Limiting our adaptability as a church just to the U.S. would, in effect, perpetuate the notion that the UMC is essentially a U.S. church with other global "appendages." And I think we've already suggested that, for a variety of reasons, that's not a direction that is likely to survive much into the next decade or two. The key is always to be able to read, connect with, and more than that, be in mission in whatever contexts we find ourselves-- whether individually, or as groups, or as networks or as congregations or even as denominational leaders.

Would it be a good thing to see a greater number of professions of faith from all sorts of people groups showing up in UMC congregations? Certainly-- we could feel good about that. But let's remember that our first calling isn't the church rolls-- its to be in mission with Christ in the world. If we're doing that, diversity will take care of itself. And maybe, just maybe, all of us will learn what it actually takes to do the hard work of overcoming institutional racism.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards