General Conference 2012 proved one thing – we are an international church, not a global church.
Yes, there is a difference.
An international church has members from all over the world. It nods to different cultures, enjoys their music, translates their languages, and recognizes their existence. But the international church also makes clear that there is a dominant culture in power. There is a “home base” or a “headquarters” and it is clearly located somewhere. There are branches of this international church all over the world, but they take their marching orders from, and report to, the home base.
A global church is a network of churches and congregations that is spread throughout the world. They are united by a common mission and theological understanding. But there is no single dominant cultural expression, nor is there one power base. There is no “home base” because every national church makes its own decisions about how best to pursue the mission within its own context.
Which one of these two is the United Methodist Church?
Look at the debates on the plenary floor at GC. The discussion about bishop term limits had to do with … only North American bishops. The conversation about pensions had to do with … only North American clergy. The debate about guaranteed appointments had to do with … only North American clergy.
Look at the Call to Action report. The recommendations about what constitutes a “vital congregation” apply only to North American, and possibly European, congregations.
The United Methodist Church still needs to decide whether it wants to become a global church. I’m not sure those of us in North America really want that.
If we do, things will need to change significantly, not the least of which is the way we handle our global gatherings.
We also need to take seriously the recommendations of the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church, which will be up for approval in 2016. Among the proposals is a plan to make the USA a Central Conference on the same par with the other Central Conferences. That would be a true start in moving toward a global church.
(Photo by United Methodist News Service)