A Different Central Conference: Global Church, Regional Concerns

Friday, August 9th, 2013 10:30 am

Connecting Cross-and-flameIn my previous article I described what neocolonialism is and how it could impact relationships among United Methodists across countries and within its current global structure.  I raised the point that the current structure may actually be fostering elitism and the patronage system in certain Central Conferences, particularly in the selection of delegates to the General Conference and membership to the boards of the church’s general agencies.  Even worse is when the episcopacy is sought for reasons other than spiritual, given the fact that, compared with local incomes, the salary and perks of a bishop are enormous.  The episcopacy in certain Central Conferences, such as those in the Philippines and Africa, then mirrors the elitist structure of the society in which such Central Conferences are located.  These are of course genuine concerns that are reflected in the feedback gathered and appear in the 2012 report by the Study Committee on the World Wide Nature of the Church. 

The situation in Europe, which I recently visited, offers a sharp contrast to the description above.  The Central Conferences in Europe cover countries whose standards of living are way above those of the Philippines and most of Africa.  Indeed, all countries of the European Union have open borders with the United States and Canada.  Their citizens can cross each others' borders without visas as long as they’re just visiting.  The same is not the case with the Philippines and Africa.  Only a favored few from those countries can get a tourist/visitors visa to the so-called developed part of the world. 

Developed countries are particularly strict with people from ‘developing’ ones precisely because of the great differences not so much in the culture as in standard of living and income.  People from the latter will of course look for opportunities to earn more so that they can provide for a better future for their families.  Naturally they go to where income levels are high, to the rich countries.  It follows that the wealthy people in the poor countries are the ones that can easily get visas to the rich countries.   For those with fewer resources the chances are less, even for those with well-established sponsors. 

For this reason it is therefore difficult to ensure, for instance, that Annual Conferences from outside the US are well-represented in the General Conference.   Often they are forced to elect alternates on the basis of their already having multiple-entry visas.   This is just one manifestation of the difficulties some Central Conferences face under the current structure.

The similarities in the contexts of the US and Europe, particularly economic and social standards, correspondingly also show little or nothing of the neocolonial type of relations that obtain in the Philippines and Africa.  The effects of the UMC structure in the European Central Conferences hardly bear any resemblance to those in the Philippines and Africa.

 My conversation with Bishop Rosemarie confirms what I and many of us already know.  There is hardly any intensity in running for the episcopacy, say, in the German Central Conference, definitely not of the type I know in the Philippines.  The salary of the bishop in Germany is not that high compared with the pastors.  This is because, among other things, of the similar levels of income for such positions in the United States and Germany.   Since most people in the US and Germany can generally afford to travel to other countries at their own expense, one can discount the same intensity in seeking to become a delegate to the General Conference. 

The issues European United Methodists face in regard to their relationship with the global church are different.  Their delegates to the General Conference are few compared with the total number of delegates.  With most of the issues debated and voted on in the General Conference mainly concern the church in the US there’s a tendency among European delegates to be passive and indifferent.  There’s a feeling that they are an insignificant part of the whole process. 

On the whole there’s also the issue of cultural differences so that what is considered a central problem in one Central Conference/country may not be considered less so in another. 

There is nothing wrong with having a global structure per se.  Our concern is in the nature of this structure.  For instance, does the structure effectively address the unequal statuses of its constituents?  Does it mitigate or reinforce neocolonial relationships?  Or instead, does it provide enough interaction, partnership and fellowship but allowing calls for changes within the US and the Central Conferences to be settled entirely within their own respective levels? 
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Haniel R. Garibay, Haniel is a home missioner and Cross Culture Common Witness Coordinator for MFSA. Born and raised in the Philippines, Haniel earned a BA from Philippine Christian University and an MA in international development from the University of Sussex, UK. His other involvements in the church include memberships in the boards of the Virginia Conference Board of Church and Society, the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists (NAFAUM), and the General Board of Church and Society.

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One Response to “A Different Central Conference: Global Church, Regional Concerns”

  1. Pubilius Says:

    My understanding is that, while the Central Conferences vote on rules affecting the US, the Book of Discipline allows them to selectively enforce the BoD.  That's colonialism.  The talk of a separate list of social principles outside of the US is basically already the case due to this selective enforcement.  My hope is that the European conferences will realize that, while their voice may be small, there are huge issues (affirming LGBTQ members/clergy, United Nations mention, etc) that can only be changed with the help of ALL of the global church, lay and clergy both, to work for justice to change hearts and minds of the conservative American and African conferences.

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