A few highlights from the United Methodist Church’s General Convention meeting held last week in Portland, OR. This is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, which convenes once every four years.The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs.
There was lots of coverage on the sexuality debates (Final: “We’ll talk about this later.”) and they voted on a new hymnal, increased the budget, voted to keep fossil fuels in their investment portfolios (Shame on you! You’re Bill McKibben’s denomination!), and are in the midst of learning how to understand themselves as a global church with significant expansion and leadership in Africa.
But here are 5 items that I found particularly heartening:
What happens to a community when there is no safe water supply? Look at Flint, Michigan. The lead that has leached from pipes there remains an ongoing concern. “The problem with Flint right now is this is going to be a generation’s long issue,” says Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Kiesey. “The children of Flint, particularly, are the ones most affected by this poor water.”
From Michigan to Liberia, and Portland to Philippines and Honduras, poor and marginalized communities are struggling with water contamination that threatens everyday life. United Methodist Women called attention to their plight during a lunchtime rally on May 16 at the Oregon Convention Center plaza. The event was part of the UMW Day celebration during the United Methodist General Conference.
2. The Church’s Response to Ethnic and Religious Conflict (p 863-864)
Buried in the fine print was a significant change in language on issues of war and peace–the decision to quit using language of “nonresistance” and take up language of “nonviolence.”
“We call upon our seminaries and United Methodist-related
colleges and universities to offer courses on alternatives to violence and to sponsor local community initiatives to diffuse ethnic and religious conflict. We also call on our seminaries to encourage the study of the theological roots of violence and of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence
nonresistance and resisting evil; and …”
Kerlan Fanagel, spokesperson of the Lakbay Lumad USA and chair of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao region, said they came to the U.S. seeking solidarity, asking church people and other groups “to support and understand the struggles of indigenous peoples.”
“We thank the United Methodist Church and other church people for having been an endless sanctuary to the Lumads who have evacuated, hurt and dispersed,” he said. Cayog said violence has been happening for decades as the people struggle to protect their land. Both Cayog and Capuyan have sacrificed much to come to the U.S. to tell their stories.
“My husband has Stage 3 cancer and my daughter just had a baby,” Capuyan said. She also said she has an arrest warrant out for her when she returns home.
Delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on United Methodist agencies to raise awareness about the harm caused by sports teams that use mascots or symbols that disrespect Native Americans. The Discipleship Committee amended the petition, deleting language that would have called on United Methodist groups not to have meetings in cities that have sports teams with such mascots or symbols, which previous church resolutions contained.
Concerns about legislation were set aside as delegates focused instead on a historic tragedy with deep Methodist involvement. The 1864 Sand Creek Massacre was the subject, and speakers included a historian and descendants of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian survivors of the attack.
Mountain Sky Area Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky had joined the descendants in planning the event, the latest effort yet by The United Methodist Church to atone for the Sand Creek Massacre. “We’re here to listen and to tell the truth,” Stanovsky told delegates.
Representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are recognized May 18 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore., where delegates received a tutorial on the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which U.S. troops led by a Methodist preacher-turned-cavalry officer attacked unsuspecting Indians.
“We now extend our hand in friendship to the Methodist Church,” said William Walks Along, a Northern Cheyenne descendent of massacre survivors. “We have developed a measure of trust, respect and honor for each other.”
[There’s more Native News from the General Conference here].