Sunday, November 22, 2020

Regionalization and Self-Determination

Do you ever read something and say to yourself, "Did they really say that?"

I'm talking about Tom Lambrecht of Good News and the soon to form new traditionalist Methodist denomination in response to a statement by a group of African bishops titled Let's Make Our Own Choices.

Lambrecht and friends are very proficient at speaking on behalf of other people. Remember that an important part of our colonial history is telling other people what is best for them. In fact, I would argue that there is a long history of U.S. traditionalists in the UMC telling Africans specifically what is best for them. It happens at every General Conference at breakfasts, it happens on trips to Africa billed as relationship building, and Lambrecht does it again here.

Lambrecht: "[T]he bishops lamented a situation in the church where they feel they are helpless observers, rather than participants in choosing their own future..."

Bishop Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe: “We have a choice of merely folding our hands and wait for events to unfold and then react to them. The other option which we have been espousing from the beginning of these deliberations is one of protecting the heritage of the United Methodist Church in Africa,”

Literally, Bishop Nhiwatiwa said that Africans are not "helpless observers." And he is right. It reminds me of a statement by the Institute for Religion and Democracy on the future of Methodism which tells Africans what they should believe about a post-separation UMC. To the contrary, I have found that the Africans I have spoken with, regardless of whether their theology and mine perfectly align, are quite capable of making their own decisions. Dr. David Scott makes a similar point in this must read. It is well past time for us in the U.S. to stop pretending like we can tell an entire continent what they should do.

It gets better.

Four days earlier Lambrecht criticized the Christmas Covenant as "essentially balkanize[ing]" the denomination. Lambrecht says, "It is highly ironic that, now that delegates from outside the U.S. are moving toward becoming a majority of our worldwide denomination, there is a move to weaken or even eliminate their voices from determining policies and standards for the church in the U.S." The real irony is that Lambrecht accuses U.S. progressives and centrists of this when the Christmas Covenant was written exclusively by people outside of the U.S. - one European and the others all African or Filipino. 

Lambrecht then makes one more false equivalency - he compares the Christmas Covenant to the 2008 Global Nature of the Church proposals that passed at General Conference and failed to be ratified as Constitutional amendments, largely because of unanimous or near-unanimous votes by central conferences. Interestingly, the chair of the task force that made the 2008 proposals was traditionalist leader Bishop Scott Jones. Lambrecht contends that progressives and centrists now want central conferences to stay out of U.S. decisions because they have an increasing number of votes and thus power at General Conference. In reality, we largely supported the 2008 proposal as well - even though that proposal very clearly would not have had a direct impact on LGBT inclusion. 

Today, centrists and progressives in the U.S. continue to support the anti-colonial position that groups across the globe should have a degree of self-determination while staying in the same denomination. Even the emerging traditionalist denomination agrees with this in theory, as their current draft of a new Book of Discipline includes regions. The honest truth is simple: We disagree on the amount of discretion each region should have. 

Bishop Nhiwatiwa is right. The people in Africa (and every central conference) have a choice. I'm confident that centrists and progressives in the U.S. will respect that choice. We will not continue a sad legacy of of Americans telling others what to do.


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. This was helpful to read.

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