United Methodists Approve New Geographical Structure for Southeast Asia
By Elliott Wright
May 24, 2016, PORTLAND, Ore.—In a historic action, the United Methodist Church’s legislating General Conference, meeting here, approved a new geographical provisional unit—called a “central conference”—for Southeast Asia and Mongolia. The move is needed in order to equip new mission-founded churches to achieve organizational maturity.
The Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo paid tribute to the retiring bishops of the DR Congo during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. Three of the four DRC bishops retire this year: Bishop David Yemba, Central Congo, who had a malaria relapse during the Portland meeting; Bishop Katembo Kainda, Southern Congo, and Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, North Katanga. Photo: Mike DuBose
The Provisional Central Conference, the first established in many decades, responds to the growth of United Methodist congregations in the areas it covers. Methodism is becoming a significant religious movement in parts of Southeast Asia. It is also growing in Mongolia, notably among young adults.
In response to concerns of existing Methodist churches in Asia, the denomination’s chief mission executive told the General Conference that The United Methodist Church “is not attempting to extend our territorial range in Asia at the expense of others or to initiate mission outreach without consultation with others in the region.”
Thomas Kemper said the central conference is essential for the organization of annual (regional) conferences through which missions can “achieve maturity and accountability” and set up processes for certifying their own clergy. United Methodist polity does not allow annual conferences outside of the central conference system, which corresponds in Africa, Europe, and Asia to a jurisdictional organization structure in the United States.
The Asian Methodist Council and the World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches had raised questions about the intentions of the United Methodists in proposing the new provisional central conference.
Asia has numerous national or regional Methodist churches that grew out of both American and British mission work in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of those are autonomous (free-standing) churches. The one major exception is the Philippines, which is a central conference and a full participant in United Methodist life and governance.
Kemper apologized for not having made the reasons clear earlier. “Our goal is to provide structural means whereby expanding communities of Methodists can maximize their potential, grow in faith and witness to Jesus Christ, and find their ways into full participation in our global connection, whether that eventually is as United Methodist conferences or as autonomous Methodist denominations.”
The people in the local conference will make that eventual decision, said Kemper, indicating that no new annual conferences are immediately projected.
Conference Pays Tribute to Retiring DR Congo Bishops
The United Methodist General Conference paused in its legislative work on May 19 to pay tribute to three retiring African bishops for their work on behalf of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo).
A standing ovation and sustained applause greeted a request from a delegate to recognize Bishop David Yemba, Central Congo, who had a malaria relapse during the Portland meeting; Bishop Katembo Kainda, Southern Congo, and Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, North Katanga. Each of these episcopal leaders has reached the conclusion of his active service.
“The DR Congo has experienced various conflicts and civil wars since its independence,” said the Rev. Dr. Mande Muyombo, a clergy delegate from the DR Congo. “The United Methodist Church in the DR Congo, through the leadership of the bishops, has worked for peace and development in a country that lost nearly six million lives. Each bishop who is retiring today contributed with his gifts and talents to church growth, peace, and development in the DR Congo.
“Bishop Yemba, a distinguished professor, provided leadership, doctrine, and church polity trainings. Bishop Katembo Kainda led the church to a new vision of becoming self-sustaining. Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda presented himself as pragmatic development leader and peacemaker.
“United Methodists in the DR Congo and general conference delegates are grateful to the bishops and their families for their faithful ministry and service.”
United Methodist Conference Receives Offering for Relief Agency
An offering at the United Methodist General Conference raised $6,413.04 (plus foreign currency) for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR is the disaster relief and development agency of the denomination and is a unit of the General Board of Global Ministries.
A note of appreciation to the 864 delegates and guests at the conference noted UMCOR work, which was proceeding even as the event was taking place. The note stated:
In recent weeks, UMCOR has been working with partners to respond to flooding in Wyoming and Texas, USA, to assist displaced persons in Mindanao, Philippines, to provide food to drought-affected communities in Africa and elsewhere, and to respond to recent flooding in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This list goes on and on and includes the nearly $5 million UMCOR has spent since 2012 assisting refugees and internally displaced persons resulting from the crisis in Syria and Iraq. Your gifts allow UMCOR to engage, on your behalf, in a range of response, recovery, and risk reduction activities that seek to alleviate suffering “without regard to race or creed,” as has been our mandate for 75 years. Thank you United Methodist Church, for your steadfast support and for celebrating our birthday, as you continue to be UMCOR for another 75 years.
United Methodists Support Single-Payer Health System in United States
Despite strong verbal opposition, the 2016 United Methodist policy-making General Conference adopted on a vote of 581 to 295 a resolution supporting a single payer public health system in the United States. Government is the single payer in such systems.
The lengthy resolution, entitled “Health Care for All in the United States,” surveys the systems of health delivery in the USA and opts for incremental steps toward a single payer system.
“We recognize that much of the cost savings of ‘single payer’ flows from the virtual total elimination of the health insurance industry. We cannot wait to overcome the current barriers to a single-payer plan, and therefore support all initiatives that move segments of our population closer to a single-payer system.”
Debate was limited to two speeches for and two against the resolution. Those opposing argued that the church should not address a matter with such political implications. Supporters asserted the need for Christians to support measures to extend health care to the greatest number.
The resolution was a revision of a measure first adopted by the 2008 General Conference. It was drafted and submitted by the General Board of Church and Society.
A couple of boys at the Climate Vigil during the 2016 General Conference engage in sidewalk art while speakers talked about the effects of a warming climate. The vigil, complete with lanterns, was sponsored by the Pacific-Northwest Annual Conference of the UMC. Photo: Christie R. House
Concern for a Palestinian Village
Nearing adjournment, the 2016 General Conference adopted a request to government leaders of the United States to appeal to Israel to stop the encroachment of an illegal settlement on the land of Wadi Foquin, a Palestine village with which the denomination’s mission board has ties.
The measure specifically asks that letters be sent to the US president, secretary of state, and the consul in Jerusalem requesting that Israeli authorities intercede on behalf of Wadi Foquin, located in the Bethlehem District of the occupied West Bank.
However, a successful effort in floor debate deleted a portion of the resolution urging the US to withhold foreign aid to Israel until human rights are restored to the village.
Wadi Foquin is being destroyed, according to visitors to the area, by the destruction of homes, fields, and orchards to make room for expanding Israel settlements.
Wadi Foquin is a Community Development site of the General Board of Global Ministries and an Advance project, the United Methodist Mission designated mission giving channel. A support organization called Friends of Wadi Foquin is based in the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference. The General Conference petition on Wadi Foquin came from an individual in that conference.
New Comprehensive Resolution on “Caring for Creation”
In the closing hour of the 2016 General Conference, delegates adopted a comprehensive resolution on the care for creation. Submitted by the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society, “Caring for Creation: A Call to Stewardship and Justice” complements “Renewing God’s Creation,” a program related to the General Board of Global Ministries.
An unsuccessful attempt was made in plenary to remove from the resolution an endorsement of the “Clergy Letter Project,” described as a “reconciliatory project between religion and science.” As amended in legislative committee, United Methodist clergy are urged to participate in the project.
“Caring for Creation,” the new resolution replaces and updates a group of statements on the subject contained in earlier editions of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, a compendium of mostly social pronouncements from the policy-making General Conference over the past eight years.
The text surveys United Methodist environmental concerns over the centuries, beginning with founder John Wesley in 18th century England. It summarizes environmental challenges relating to the protection of air, water, land, and climate and provides theological rationale for the care of creation.
Among other educational measures, the resolution proposes an annual World Environmental Day as a church festival focused on creation.
Elliott Wright, a veteran reporter who has covered six general conferences, is a consultant with the General Board of Global Ministries.