Muted Mic: Unheard Voices of the Connection

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 11:04 am

Albert Longe Otshudi

On several occasions I have heard people from across the United Methodist connection complain about the silence of people from outside the United States of America, ascribing them a tag of being complicit to one side of the debate. I always respond in an inquisitive manner, do you want them to speak because you trust they have valuable contribution to the discussion, or you want numerical/artificial image of diversity. At times it doesn’t go well with some but I have learnt to extend my response by looking at limiting factors that make it difficult to have other voices heard, at times people are given microphones that are muted.

As someone who has lived in different contexts, the conclusion is easy to make, the system formally and informally limits the participation of people from outside the United States for two basic reasons, language and structure of conversations.

We are a global church which is predominantly English, with the membership increase in non-English speaking communities, we are called to be intentional about the language used in our discussions. The Book of Discipline which is our reference book as a denomination is still in English and it’s the only authoritative version. I wonder if congregations in rural Angola, D R Congo or Cote d’Ivoire where there is rapid growth would afford a translator to explain the content of the document, the long-term effects of this is that some members of the connection are left behind and are limited in their ability to effectively contribute to critical discussions of the church. What if we made it a priority that all official documents and communications of the church are translated to the main languages used in the denomination such as French, Portuguese, Swahili, Spanish and Filipino, and released at the same time with the English version. I’m sure it would set the pace for active participation of all people in major discussions related to the church.

As an African, one has to break some cultural norms to fit into the conversation techniques used in the western world, one that is extroverted, taking sides, immediate reaction to the views of others and voting on things that at times do not need to be voted on. We may not say it but at times we are uncomfortable and decide to simply observe in the interest of peace. Different cultural settings imply different norms on how conversations are held, and in my African context the norms are clear, you don’t openly argue with elders, they may be wrong but we approach them at a personal level to continue the conversation. We try to not make/take things personal, trusting that we are engaged in the conversation in good faith to learn from each other, being challenged and listening to everyone, not wanting to get it our way but prioritizing the collective goodness. But those norms are somehow at odds when the dominant groups at times isn’t prepared to step back and appreciate the wisdom coming out of the cultural experiences of others. In as much as friends in the western world are accustomed to different conversation techniques, is it not time to step back and allow ourselves to not just hear and react, but listen and accept that when we take everything personal, we shut others and limit their ability to contribute, not that issues being discussed do not affect us at a personal level but accommodating cultural differences is imperative to resolving the challenges our church and society face, for there is wisdom and experience across the aisle.

Times may be hard, we hold convictions deemed absolute and view the world through lens created by some within our communities, but out of difficult times emerge opportunities to question the path we are on. As a global church we are invited to look beyond our individual worldview and take a step towards vulnerability, inviting those whose mic have been muted to partake in the table of grace, shared for the transformation of the world. 

Albert Longe Otshudi  
Albert is a member of the West Congo Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church , currently based in the US. An Africa University graduate, former young adult Missionary and organizer of the General Board of Church and Society. 

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