United Methodist Church Aims At Relevance And Global Service: Part One

L. D. Turner

If you are a regular visitor to this site, you know that I often write about the major changes that are changing the face of institutional Christianity across the board. You will also recall that I have a sincere love and passion for the church, despite its many shortcomings, and genuinely believe that Christianity, when rightly practiced, has much to offer our hurting world. With its inherent creativity, its heart of compassion, and its depth of resources, the church universal is strategically positioned to become a positive force in helping shape our culture as this turbulent century progresses. The key to bringing these positive contributions to fruition is a willingness on the part of the church to be creative, progressive, flexible, open, and proactive.

 I have been a member of the United Methodist Church for many years and am proud to say that our church is moving forward in an attempt to make itself a positive and beneficial force in the world and, in keeping with its mantra of “open hearts, open minds, and open doors, is doing so in a creative and exciting way. The UMC “Rethink Church” programs, along with the Ten Thousand Doors initiative, are but two examples of this.

 Most recently, however, I came across a document that reminded me why, early on in my adult life, I chose to become a Methodist. The document I am referring to explains the rationale behind the UMC initiative entitled, God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action. It is the “Foundation Document” for the initiative and is authored by the UMC Council of Bishops. After reading this “Call to Hope and Action” my Wesleyan fires were blazing to say the least. And while I am sincere in my belief that denominational differences in this country are far too overblown, this document illustrates the social principles of the UMC.

 “God’s Renewed Creation” maintains the firm commitment of the 1986 Council , namely that “nuclear deterrence is a position that cannot receive the church’s blessing. These documents, generated in 2009, also build on the observations of the earlier Council, that the nuclear crisis threatens “planet earth itself,” that the arms race “destroys millions of lives in conventional wars, repressive violence, and massive poverty,” and that the “arms race is a social justice issue, not only a war and peace issue.”

 The 2009 Council of Bishops expanded its focus to include three interrelated threats:

 Pandemic poverty and disease;

  • Environmental degradation and climate change, and
  • A world awash with weapons and violence.

 “God’s Renewed Creation” gives me both hope and a sense of loyal pride at being a part of the United Methodist Church as well as the Wesleyan tradition of social ministry. Recognizing that the world as we know it has become an interrelated, interdependent global entity, the UMC leadership is taking a proactive stance in terms of addressing some of humanity’s most critical issues. Also recognizing that the church has historically been part of the problems in our world, the Council of Bishops now seeks to become a creative and transformative part of the solution.

 The United Methodist Church has the vision to see that God is doing a “new work” in the world and is taking positive measures to be an integral part of God’s work at this critical point in our planet’s history. Rather than taking a myopic, “what’s in it for us” approach to humankind’s crucial problems, the Council of Bishops has given voice to a vision that is much broader in scope and, in keeping with the Wesleyan heritage of befriending the hurting and the marginalized, seeks to bring God’s healing grace to those who suffer the most in this time of rapid change.

 The “Call to Hope and Action” reflects the United Methodist Church’s mission to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” Additionally, the vision of God’s Renewed Creation clearly reflects the denomination’s “Four Areas of Focus.” The Foundation Document states:

 We know the world is being transformed and we seek to cooperate with God’s renewing Spirit, especially through our denominations Four Areas of Focus: (1) developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, (2) creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations, (3) engaging in ministry with the poor, and (4) stamping out the killer diseases of poverty. Focusing on these four areas will shape our discipleship such that those who seek God will see an image in our behavior that is inviting, encouraging, healing, and inspiring.

 As a United Methodist, I clearly see the personal implications of these four areas of focus and, along with the biblical teachings of the Master, use them as a matrix through which I organize my personal spiritual disciplines. I especially find the principles of inviting, encouraging, healing, and inspiring helpful reminders for putting into practice what I have come to call proactive hospitality. This type of hospitality is not only sensitive to the everyday, routine ways of being open and hospitable in our homes and churches, but also actively looks for ways we can practice hospitality to others, even if it is nothing more than smiling and saying hello.

 Personally, I seek to practice proactive hospitality by holding doors open for people and allowing them to enter before I do. This may seem like a very small thing and perhaps it is. However, I have found this to be a simple practice that has enormous benefit when carried out over a period of time.

 The Foundation Document takes great care to show how the various problems facing humankind in this age are interrelated. For example, the issue of climate change is examined from an angle somewhat different than the norm. Rather than focusing on whether or not climate change is man-made or part of a natural cycle, the Council of Bishops views this vital issue in terms of its impact on those living under the thumb of oppressive poverty. In addition, climate change and poverty are seen as interconnected with violence and the sale of arms.

 Climate change poses a particular threat to the world’s poor because it increases the spread of diseases like malaria and causes conflicts over dwindling natural resources. Easy access to small arms ensures that such conflicts turn deadly, and the specter of a nuclear war that would destroy the world continues to loom over us.

 The Foundation Document was created out of the Council of Bishops being “called to speak a word of hope and action.” The document is also a product of the church’s sensing of God doing a new things, as described in Isaiah 43:19:

 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

 As I read over the document the first time I was able to experience that sense of calling – that blessed sense of God’s love in action in the world. I understood at a deeper level that we, indeed, are living in a critical era in the world’s history – an age in which the matrix of the future is beginning to take shape. The Foundation Document, which came into being in reaction to the critical nature of our time, addresses the needs of our age – an age the document calls “a hinge of history. In terms of its contents, the Foundation Document of God’s Renewed Creation:

 Describes the interconnected nature of poverty and disease, environmental degradation and weapons and violence through stories of those most affected;

  • Shares information about Christian scriptures and beliefs, and our Wesleyan heritage in order to provide a foundation for our response.
  • Recommends a variety of actions; and
  • Reminds us of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the great sources of encouragement and hope all around us.

 To be continued

 

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