From the feedback RMN received through the strategic planning surveys and the many conversations we’ve had with partners and collaborators, we understand that there is a measure of fear around developing stronger relationships with Central Conference leaders and lay people. A sample of the questions that challenge us includes:
- Why bother working alongside United Methodists from the Central Conferences?
- Why not just strengthen our progressive voice in the US?
- Some of us are just overwhelmed by the idea of interacting with Central Conferences because of the seemingly vast differences in cultural and Christian experience.
- Do we from the US believe we can partner with United Methodists in Africa and other Central Conference regions in a non-colonial manner?
- Would restructuring the church into independent regions solve our differences?
Often, we associate change with loss of something near and dear to us. Our tendency is to think in terms of “Me, My Four, and No More.” Yet the letters from Paul to the early church teach us that we are all one body in Christ. When one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice. When one part suffers, we all suffer. This message is echoed in the wise words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (MLK, April 16, 1963 in Birmingham, AL). No matter what we ultimately decide our relationship with the global church will look like, we can’t escape the fact that we as Christians of The United Methodist Church are connected.
In my experience, many people living in African countries and other Central Conference regions share our inclusive values, including wanting our children to grow up in communities without fear of violence, having access to affordable healthcare and just employment, as well as full inclusion for LGBTQ people in the life of the church. Unfortunately, as progressive and moderate United Methodists, we have not invested much collective time, effort, or energy in developing meaningful relationships with our Central Conference sisters and brothers.
Jesus could always be found at the margins of society, caring for the sick, loving the poor, eating with the hungry. As Christians and human beings in general, we should be concerned about working towards freedom wherever oppression lives and thrives. Whether it is the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, working towards an end to violence against women, or an end to HIV/AIDS around the world, giving up is not an option. We are called by God to be a light for the whole world.
RMN Central Conferences Team
RMN has made some significant advances in building relationships with indigenous African leaders as well as in its understanding of culturally appropriate frames that anecdotally seem to advance the conversation on the moral equality of LGBTQ people on the continent of Africa. Over the next year, RMN will deploy a newly formed Central Conferences Team with the primary task of identifying and building relationships with progressive and moderate United Methodists in African Central Conferences. The Team will gather feedback, build a network for better and more secure communications, raise funds, as well as develop resources and materials with our US and Central Conference partners to help find common ground and learn how we can work together on social justice initiatives.
As we begin these efforts, the Central Conferences Team would love to hear your feedback. Please send any questions or comments regarding RMN’s work with Central Conferences to me (Derrick Spiva) at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!