|Consultation addresses chasm between rich and poor|
(From left) Andrew Park, Amós Nascimento, the Rev. Philip
Wogaman and Bishop David Yemba participate in a United Methodist
consultation to explore the implications of a global church and the
widening gap between the rich and poor.
UMNS photos by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
Oct. 30, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Henk Pieterse is director of scholarly research for the
United Methodist Board of Higher Education, which sponsored the
While the world is increasingly interconnected through advances in
communication, transportation and financial systems, its poorest
citizens are being left out of the benefits of globalization, say United
Methodist leaders monitoring the trend.
"The haves are going to have more, and the have-nots are going to
have less," said Andrew Park, a faculty member at United Theological
Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He said the poor simply don't have the
resources to compete in a global economy.
Park was among representatives from Korean, African, Filipino,
Brazilian and U.S. perspectives who met in Nashville Oct. 18-19 for a
consultation on "The Poor in a Global Church: Implications for The
United Methodist Church."
The purpose was to explore the theological, institutional and
practical implications of the widening global gap between the rich and
the poor and to develop a United Methodist resource of theological
perspectives on globalization.
The U.S.-centric denomination is continuing its own discussions about
proposed structural changes toward a more global church. Consultation
participants urged the United Methodist Council of Bishops to make
growing economic disparity a vital part of their conversation.
The language of globalization
"As the church, at this time, continues to talk about its global
nature, it cannot do so without paying attention to the global disparity
between the rich and the poor around the world," said Henk Pieterse,
consultation facilitator and director of scholarly research for the
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which sponsored
"As the church … continues to talk about
its global nature, it cannot do so without paying attention to the
global disparity between the rich and the poor around the world."
The language of globalization is not religious, he said, but is
rather a complex language with political, economic and social
"It is crucial that when the church uses language that comes out of a
different domain, that we be clear how we use the language because
language always bring a certain set of assumptions or worldviews. When
we use language like globalization, the church should understand why it
uses it and how it uses it so that it can do so with theological
integrity," Pieterse said.
Discussions centered on five dimensions of poverty that the church
should include in its conversations: economic, political, cultural,
spiritual and body or natural health.
The consultation grappled with questions about the language of being a
global church and how the language of globalization intersects with
forces shaping the world. It addressed how the widening gap between rich
and poor is impacting the church's commitment to being a "connectional
people," along with the disparity's effect on denominational structure
'We live it'
For billions of people across the world who live on $1 to $2 a day,
globalization has not meant a better life but greater unemployment,
insecurity and poverty, according to participants in the consultation.
Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area said he and his people
are living examples of economic disparity. He described how many people
in the central African nation struggle to acquire salt while there is
abundant food wasted elsewhere. "It is not something we know in theory,
but we live it," he said.
Yemba said that, while United Methodists are mission-minded, the
church exists in and for a world that is ever-changing. He asked
participants if the denomination's structure and governance are
consistent with the global or worldwide nature it claims.
"In its present structures and governance, The United Methodist Church
is rooted in American culture and style of leadership," he said. But, if
it is to be true to its mission-minded, historical character, it should
"risk losing something dear for the sake of the Gospel."
Yemba called on the denomination to gradually decentralize its
structures and style of governance in terms of personnel and location of
some general agencies. He said that central conferences — which are
United Methodist conferences outside of the United States — should no
longer be seen only as mission fields but as full participants in the
church's mission. The church's governance, he said, should reflect its
Levels of poverty
Quoting economist Jeffrey Sachs, the Rev. Ken Carter of Charlotte,
N.C., noted that nations such as Bolivia, Haiti and much of sub-Saharan
Africa struggle with extreme poverty while others such as South Africa,
Paraguay and Armenia are experiencing moderate poverty.
According to Sachs, extreme poverty is "when households cannot meet
the basic needs for survival," and moderate poverty refers "to
conditions of life in which basic needs are met, just barely." There are
many other levels between the poorest parts of the world and the
Carter said that Sachs and others are "warning us of a great chasm in the life separating the rich and the poor."
The Rev. M. Douglas Meeks, a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School
in Nashville, said the church must guard against conforming to the
world's priorities and power structures. "(The) church loses its ability
to resist the global market when it no longer contests the
counter-gospels of the market society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and when it allows itself to be shaped by the market logic," he said.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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