Dave Nuckols: Growing pains as a global church

May 18, 2016
Alternate lay delegate Dave Nuckols and Henoc Mwenze Malenge, a lay delegate from Southwest Katanga and general secretary of the South Congo Central Conference

The United Methodist Church is blessed to be a global church. As a deeply connectional denomination, our ability to reach across continents is a tremendous asset as we make disciples to transform the world. The Minnesota Annual Conference was an early supporter and overachiever in the global church's Imagine No Malaria campaign. In these missional endeavors, the benefit is not just for those we help but is also felt in the warming of hearts individually and the renewed vitality within our own congregations.

We in The United Methodist Church are also challenged by being a global church. Our local contexts vary greatly between Minnesota and Texas but even more so between America and Africa. The nature of mission is such that we invest in new churches, but our investment makes us susceptible to paternalism and cultural hegemony. We’ve been sensitive and responsive to these risks for many years. And now as the global south grows towards a majority of the Christian community, the tables are shifting. The UMC votes on a global basis, so increasingly, our international members having a greater say in our policies and finances can be disorienting as they come to outnumber us.

This has been especially true in the realm of social issues, such as gay rights and marriage equality. Because the UMC is unique in its global (rather than national) polity, we have been behind other mainline denominations such as the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in being fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons in pastoral leadership and same-sex marriage. We’ve been debating these questions for more than 40 years.

American Methodists strongly support marriage equality in numbers similar to the U.S. population overall, and roughly 60 to 65 percent of American delegates to General Conference support it too. However, while most American and European delegates support it now, the socially traditional votes from Africa and the Philippines have grown faster. This is why we seem to be so stuck as body on this.

Likewise, this drama plays out in our finances. In years past, Americans paid all the apportionments and retained the majority of budget votes. In future years, Americans will still pay the vast majority of apportionments even as we become the minority of voters.

Much work is underway to address our increasing globalism. Like many, I believe that part of the solution will be to regionalize some of our decision-making. This will be a hot topic when General Conference comes to Minneapolis in 2020. 

Structural solutions can only be part of the solution. We need to develop our intercultural competency and step out of our comfort zone to develop meaningful relationships with Methodist siblings overseas. It is not enough to be superficially friendly for 10 days at General Conference. We must strike real relationships and follow through over the years. This is true not just personally but also through congregational and annual conference levels. My favorite memories from General Conference 2016 will be seeing friends I made in Tampa at General Conference 2012, nurtured through email and missional giving over the last four years, and in Portland, sharing meals and exchanging gifts. These are relationships for a lifetime, and I look forward to introducing you to my friends Henoc Mwenze Malenge and Gomer Chamusa Kashwesi of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dave Nuckols is an alternate lay delegate to General Conference and a member and co-lay leader of Minnetonka United Methodist Church. He serves on the Minnesota Conference's Board of Ordained Ministry and on the Reconciling Ministries Network's board of directors.

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