By HiRho Y. Park, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference
The special General Conference in St. Louis reminded me to reflect on the Hebrew word Echad, “the unity,” which has “the idea of being organically connected to something and growing together,” not of uniformity.
To me, the 2019 special General Conference was about answering the question, “What is a church?” more than it was a discussion on human sexuality. I was hoping, as were the majority UM bishops, that United Methodists would find a balance on this contentious issue; that General Conference would empower local contextual leadership and encourage standards and beliefs that generate global unity as a church. Isn’t the ethos of The United Methodist Church practicing social holiness with the gospel of Jesus Christ? If that is the case for the human sexuality issue, wouldn’t it make more sense for The UMC to spend 3.6 million dollars to save and protect thousands of migrant children who have been sexually assaulted while detained by the U.S. since 2015, rather than to decide who is in or who is out of the faith community?
Unfortunately, The UMC ceased to be an inclusive church in St. Louis, the tenet that we have been upholding so dearly in our constitution (The Book of Discipline, Article IV of the Constitution, Paragraph 4). I asked myself, “What does it mean to be an inclusive church? At whose expense are we an inclusive church?” What happened in St. Louis exposed the fact that United Methodists hold an ideal of being an inclusive church only in our words and policies, but not from the heart and not in our actions. The major news networks broadcasted how the United Methodist claim of being a worldwide and global church is hollow tokenism. Under the disguise of neocolonialism, The UMC has been proclaiming how inclusive we are as a worldwide church at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ community, racial-ethnic people, women, and the poor. The hypocrisy and covert oppression in the Church has been exposed.
An Ethiopian proverb says that “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
It seems that talking about Ubuntu—loving kind compassion as a community of people—is a luxury for United Methodists; rather it is easier for us to talk about how to exclude people because through the horrors of xenophobia, racism, and spiritual genocide. My struggle is that The UMC could not provide a prophetic witness to the world; rather, it follows a protectionist approach from the business and political worlds.
Right after the Special General Conference in February, some local churches—such as the Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, which serves the homeless and the LGBTQIA+ community—declared departure from The UMC. Others, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which reinforces and supports restrictions on gay marriage and ordination, announced that they would not leave The UMC but remain and fight for their theological stance. The United Methodist Church has failed to keep the delicate balance of being an inclusive church. According to Pankaj Ghemawat, when we overestimate globalization, we may underestimate the importance of local needs. When we underestimate globalization, we may turn to protectionism. I believe that this is what happened during the Special General Conference.
One thing that the special General Conference helped to bring about was that United Methodists became very clear of their position on the issue of human sexuality. Those who may have been apathetic before now are finding permission and courage to speak their minds and act on their convictions.
Before the business world started to discuss globalization, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had a vision of one global, connectional church for United Methodists. Holding different people together under the connectional umbrella has been the uniqueness of the worldwide UMC, which made United Methodists different from many other protestant denominations. It seems that United Methodists need a structural change based on unique regional contexts under the one faith in God the Creator. In 2011, Ghemawat asserted that we were living in World 3.0, which means that the world was getting globally integrated with localization; localize in the front and blend in the back end. In World 1.0, only physical borders mattered, therefore, the clear distinction was important. In World 2.0, neither borders nor distance mattered; integration was the most important factor. Now we are living in World 4.0; everything will be interlinked by networking. Unfortunately, it seems that The UMC is still living in World 1.0. From this perspective, United Methodists need to optimize our commitment to worldwide connectionalism; localized regional culture, internal diversity; and global mobility. In one word, United Methodists need to update ourselves for life in the twenty-first century.
What does the future hold for this church? Nobody knows; however, it is clear to me that the vision of Echad is a worthy thing to behold as Christians.
 Jennifer Speake, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, 6th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2015), African proverb; http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199539536.001.0001/acref-9780199539536, accessed March 2019.
 Pankaj Ghemawat, Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders In A World Where Differences Still Matter (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).
 Pankaj Ghemawat, World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011).
2019 – Unity in the Church
2018 – Claim Who We Are in Christ
2017 – Bodies, Oppression, and Gospel
2016 – Birthing a Worldwide Church
2015 – Clergywomen Lead Vital Congregations
2014 – Empowerment for All
2013 – What Next?
2012 – What Does the Lord Require of Us?
2011 – See, I am Doing a New Thing
2010 – Voicing Truth With Grace
PDF archive – 1987 to 2009
Subscribe to have new episodes delivered to your mobile device.
WellSprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen, is published by the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Editor: HiRho Y. Park
Managing Editor: Barbara A. Dick
Editorial Circle: Patricia Bonilla, Neelley Hicks, Anita Phillips, Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Trudy Hawkins Stringer