March 29, 2019

As a global church it is important that we listen intently to Christians throughout the world.  Often each of us can be insulated by our own cultural experience that we unconsciously, and sometimes with full awareness, see those of other cultures as not being as informed or aware.  In this thoughtful call to discourse based on the recent international experience of the United Methodist Church, Dr. J. Derek McNeil provides guidance for all of us as a part of the global church.

He says, in part:

“In the wake of the UMC vote on Human Sexuality, I’ve become increasingly concerned that we are losing the capacity to see relationally and to hear each other beyond social categories. I have noticed a familiar tendency, in what started as an international vote concerning a global denomination is turned into a particularly American discussion—universalizing themes and inflections that are firmly located in our national political, religious, and social discourse. This shortchanges our understanding of the complexity of our human discourse and limits our ability to listen deeply.

To raise this point is not to intellectually diminish the real rejection and pain felt across the UMC denomination. The voices in this discourse matter, and I pray that we continue listening to the stories and honor the tears of those who have felt harmed and isolated by this vote, who have experienced the last few weeks as the deepening of an old wound. And may we also remember that there are voices—beyond and within our borders—who do not easily fall into the familiar categories and talking points of our national discourse. This, it seems to me, is the complexity of the global conversation; even through our wounds, can we see those who have also been wounded? A relational hermeneutic invites us to cross ethnic, economic, gendered, and political boundaries to consider the contextual concerns of those outside the boundaries of our discourse….”

Dr. McNeil makes this observation:

“As we continue unraveling this thread, it becomes clear to me that our engagement of the discourse following this vote cannot be separated from our ongoing engagement of cultural supremacy, and the intersections of whiteness, patriarchy, and colonialism. Because sometimes white supremacy is expressed through the violent racism of pointed robes and burning crosses, and sometimes it looks more like the implicit assumption that “progressives” in America are more advanced and are waiting for the rest of the world to catch up—or the more traditionalist assumption that the only civil or functional civilizations are of European descent. No matter how it is expressed, an assumption of supremacy disrupts our capacity to see relationally.

This means we must resist a posture that suggests the international Church—particularly churches in Africa—is too “primitive” in its social evolution, still behind the progress of the Church in the United States. And we must question the narrative that says delegates from African nations only voted a certain way because they ascribe to the theology exported to them by colonialist missionary practices. While it is true that the conflation of colonialism and mission is a crucial part of our shared history, that argument all too easily denies agency to other nations, denies that their own contexts, traditions, social mores, and histories also inform how they speak in these global conversations.”

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