Commentary: Can being “global” really work?

Global (1)UMR photo by Wes Magruder

I’m beginning to wonder if the task before 864 delegates of General Conference is simply impossible. What I mean is that it may not be physically possible to sift through more than a thousand petitions in ten days.

What makes it exponentially more difficult than ever before is the growing global nature of our church. Not only do we have to debate the issues presented by the petitions, but we have to agree upon the process by which we will address the petitions, all the while making sure that everyone in the room can hear and understand what is being communicated.

Perhaps this is simply not possible anymore, at least not in a manner that makes everyone feel fully heard, valued, and respected. Maybe that is why it is getting harder and harder for anything productive to happen.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the idea that the United Methodist Church is a global denomination. I quite enjoy the diversity of languages, clothes, music, cultures, and traditions. There is something energizing about it all.

But something isn’t working.

I sat in on the opening session of the Church and Society B sub-committee which has been tasked with dealing with the Social Principles’ language concerning homosexuality — a defining issue of our gathering this year. By my count, there are 29 delegates on this subcommittee, with approximately 14 of them being from a Central Conference (meaning from one of the non-US conferences).

Many of them wore headsets to hear translations into Swahili, French, or Portuguese. There were constant interruptions to clarify or repeat remarks; several times English speakers were told to slow down. The first vote (on a non-legislative issue) seemed to fly by without any involvement by the Central Conference delegates, who apparently didn’t hear what was happening in time to raise their hands. Fortunately, the Chair was quick to recognize what had happened and reversed course.

In the other subcommittees, the setup was even more confusing; one subcommittee had to meet in the hallway because there were no other rooms available. Two subcommittees had to share a small room, which caused sound problems. My point is that the environment, logistics, and contexts in which these important conversations are supposed to take place are problematic. The subcommittees of the Church and Society B legislative committee are going to struggle to get things done. They are, after all, wrestling with fundamental questions about how the church is going to be in ministry with people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer. Yet the people around the table are strangers, speak different languages, come from different social settings, and read the Bible differently. And they have exactly ten days to accomplish all this.

How is this all supposed to work?

It doesn’t work. That is becoming increasingly clear.

The solution may be right in front of our eyes, though it won’t be popular.

In Thursday morning’s session, shortly after the opening worship, a stage full of representatives from Affiliated Autonomous Churches, Affiliated United Churches, and Concordat Churches were introduced to the delegates. These are all “self-governing Methodist churches” which have varying degrees of affiliation, including simply having entered into an agreement “with the purpose of manifesting the common Methodist heritage” (found in paragraph 570 of The Book of Discipline). Some were begun by United Methodist missionaries but evolved into their own national denominations. Others are the results of mergers of United Methodist churches with other Protestant bodies.

These churches include the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church, the Evangelical Methodist Church in Uruguay, the United Protestant Church of Belgium and The Methodist Church in Kenya, just to name a few.

We have positive relationships with these churches; we have much in common. We can even collaborate and share resources. But we don’t even attempt to organize ourselves in precisely the same way. We don’t force the Belgians or the Kenyans into our conference systems. We don’t have to try to craft Social Principles which apply to all those contexts.

Maybe we’re trying too hard to be something that is “impossible” — or at least impractical and unwieldy. Isn’t it possible that we might be more flexible and effective in our work and ministry if we were to stop trying to act as a multinational “brand” and more as individual, localized and national mission units, which are energized and united by a common understanding of God’s grace?

Because this just doesn’t seem to be working.

Wes Magruder

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21 Comments on "Commentary: Can being “global” really work?"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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John Feagins
Let me get your argument right… the 92% non-Hispanic white UMC in the 63% non-Hispanic white United States needs to become an autonomous national church because “the people around the table are strangers, speak different languages, come from different social settings, and read the Bible differently.” Got some news for you. The diversity that is making you anxious at General Conference is even more pronounced in the U.S. than at General Conference. Just take a brief walk around Portland. Its everywhere! The Hipster culture, the gay culture, the international cultures, and the smell of cannibis wafting through the air. As… Read more »

I’m only a layperson, a lifelong UMC member from the south, but I am sick and tired of my local liberal-led church forcing homosexuality and gay marriage down our throats. I don’t support that lifestyle. So depending on what happens at GC, I am on the verge of leaving the UMC, as are several of my conservative friends. I don’t think the church will survive this issue.


If that is the solution then why not also break up the U.S. church as well? We could have the LGBT Methodist Church of America and the Evangelical Church of America and simply work together on things we share common ground.


Split in the US would be the best for UMC. Evangelical portion will have a chance of growth and LGBT will slowly die out as other protestant denominations who accepted homosexuality. If LGBT pushes through it’s agenda many US methodists will move to other evangelicals.


My UM church is both LGBT-friendly and evangelical. Where would we go?

Laura Harbert Allen, Managing Editor

That’s a really good question! Not sure we have the answer, but we talked with Rev. John Miles this week who leads a church that has active LGBTQ members as well as conservative ones. Check out the interview:


I think people get hung up, thinking that losing access to a building means losing access to the church. But as we know from Matthew 18:20, all you need is two or three to gather in His name. You don’t need the building with the stained glass. You need the people. Gather where you may, and maintain the ties that mutually nourish. See where God will take you.

I mean, I go to an LGBT friendly Pentacostal church that is celebrating 25 years this year. Trust in God and see where God leads you!


“LGBT will slowly die out as other protestant denominations who accepted homosexuality”

I mean, some denominations with declining memberships are ONA. But, then there are churches like the Southern Baptists who are about the same.

And let’s not be silly with this ‘agenda’ bugbear. I have an agenda, you have an agenda, the good folks who collect my trash have an agenda. Let’s not speak foolishly with words that are charged needlessly.

Richard F Hicks

Whatever happened to post-colonial national churches? Never mind. The UMCUSA (60%) made a deal with the UMCnonUSA (40%) to be a worldwide org. The UMCUSA is loosing one percent of its membership each year. In 20 years the non-USA UMC will control everything! That was the deal you leaders struck. Now live with it! Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

I grew up Methodist, I joined a Baptist Methodist Church when I was older, have recently switched to a more conventional Baptist church – but in my heart, I will always have some Methodist and follow the church carefully: Some observations: 1) The issue of LGBT “inclusion” is destroying many sects within Protestantism…. Am I wrong in that churches like the PCUSA, and Episcopalian Churches are now dying after including LGBT? 2) Methodist leadership has always been more liberal than most of its membership – hence the efforts to control the debate with “rule 44” and the “administrative centralization” plan… Read more »
Douglas Asbury
Wes, it’s no surprise that the anti-gay folks would read your message in light of their own narrow focus on that issue rather than recognizing that what you’re saying is that 10 days of struggling with language barriers, let alone different cultural contexts, different relationships with colonialism (we threw it off over 230 years ago, while many African countries have been out from under it for around 50), different levels of income and industrialization, different primary, secondary and post-secondary school systems, different governmental systems and experiences of governmental overthrow and civil wars, different ideas of “tribe”, different experiences of income… Read more »
Paul W.

Great propaganda strategy. Demonize and misrepresent your opponents while claiming they are the ones telling lies.

Progressives have been thrilled and very supportive of the global diversity of the UMC for decades, until now that is, when the global church opposes part of their social agenda. Now, we are seeing how quickly progressives are willing to close our “open doors” on those who don’t think the right way.


Of course, Paul. After all, conservatives know best who to close to the door to, right?

Jeni Markham Clewell

too true. what do we do? If we separate and create U.S. G.C. then we lose the diversity, but we could at least agree about some cultural changes that are past due. It’s a challenge but I totally agree that what is happening (and has happened in recent GC experience) is not working, and frustrates most the delegates.

Paul W.
Great idea, Wes! We’ll call it “Wes Magruder’s Let’s-Marginalize-those-Pesky-Foreigners-Who-Refuse-To-Vote-the-Way-I-Want-Them-To Plan”! Doesn’t sound so cute when you think about it that way, does it? You aren’t fooling anyone: You want a US-only Conference to get rid of the Global South delegates who are standing in the way of your personal social agenda. Poor planning by the GC staff is the common thread across all the issues you mentioned (e.g., they didn’t reserve enough conference rooms and didn’t adequately train the facilitators), yet, you instead chose to spin it to advocate getting rid of the non-US delegates.
I returned to this article compelled to make the statement that you have just made Paul W. International delegates have come to GC at a very high cost and their voice is equally as valuable as US voices. They also are conducting themselves within US cultural boundaries. Many are not used to a democratic way of life. In Kenya, for example, tribes work through differences to arrive at 100% unity. I don’t (yet) understand how UM became global but does it really matter? Once we have said ‘You are my brother’, can you really follow that with ‘just kidding’? (Maybe… Read more »
M.E. Ram

It is because other countries have less democratic, more collaborative, ways of governing organizations that I was surprised there wasn’t greater support for Rule 44. I thought we would benefit from more discussion and dialog. Disappointed.

The part of the US UMC which supports homosexuality realizes that it is a minority and will not be able to push homosexuality into the church in the current settings. Thus this article. Split the US in hope of pushing homosexuality into the US UMC. Not going to work because the Southern US is closer to African and Asian churches than to the US Northern and Western. If the US UMC minority pushes their gay life style there will be a split and two different churches in the US. The history of other US protestants who accepted homosexuality shows that… Read more »

Oh, dear. And there you are again, with those loaded buzzwords that mean nothing. “Lifestyle”? I have a lifestyle, you have a lifestyle, the dog on the corner has a lifestyle. And of the three, your lifestyle and mine probably has the most overlap. What a silly thing, to try to charge a word with menace that applies universally. But, murky codewords do what reason cannot, so they’re quite popular.

Wes, I agree it is now impossible to keep the global nature of our beloved church. It is like the Great Britain trying to keep all the countries under her power; marshaling law and order from England. Nation States with different history and cultural had enough. They fought for independence so that they can be free. In my opinion I think it is arrogant own our part to try to keep global body under the United Methodist Church, USA. Our histories are very different. Our day to day struggles and expectations are very different. I would rather see regional conferences… Read more »
dave werner

In early April i heard a clergy member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa suggest that The UMC MIGHT be defeating its intention of being a global church by following the colonial practices of, say, Great Britain. That is, the British Methodists have been letting churches begun by them become autonomous; The UMC does not do that with all the churches we have begun. Wes Magruder points out that The UMC does in fact now have cooperative–but not combined–efforts with a variety of “other” Methodist churches. Makes sense to me.

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