Home Christian News Legislation Aims To ‘Decolonize’ United Methodists, Give Parity to Non-US Conferences

Legislation Aims To ‘Decolonize’ United Methodists, Give Parity to Non-US Conferences

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(Photo by Amy Humphries/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

(RNS) — Karen Prudente was listening to a sermon by a United Methodist minister in a town south of Manila when she had an “Aha!” moment.

The minister was talking about how the church needed to turn the world upside down. It then dawned on Prudente, a lifelong Methodist, that it was time for the church in the Global South to have a bigger say in how things are run. A Filipino American who runs a nonprofit social-service organization in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Prudente gathered a group of like-minded United Methodists abroad and got to work.

The group she gathered, called the Christmas Covenant, drafted a series of documents that would restructure the United Methodist Church worldwide to give overseas conferences greater equity and allow them to tailor church life to their own customs and traditions.

“Right now the United States is considered the mother church and all the central conferences are its babies,” said Prudente, speaking of the seven overseas conferences known as central conferences. “By shifting it, the U.S. would be part of the table as an equal. But the U.S. would not be overseeing it. We would all be in it together.”

This radical realignment of the estimated 11.5 million-member worldwide denomination is one of the major pieces of legislation coming before the General Conference, the quadrennial meeting of the United Methodist Church, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in April.

After a bruising five years, in which some 7,600 U.S.-based churches voted to split off from the denomination and go their own way — a loss accounting for 25% of all U.S. congregations — Methodists are meeting again and they have a packed agenda.

Regionalization tops the list. Eight pieces of legislation under the regionalization plan would reshape the denomination, creating four conferences — Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States — each equal in stature and able to customize part of the denomination’s rulebook, the Book of Discipline, to fit local needs.

The plan is in some ways a concession to the success of the Protestant denomination’s global missionary efforts. Born of an 18th-century movement begun by the British-born John and Charles Wesley, the Methodist church through its various schisms and realignments grew to be the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., and an expanding presence around the world.

Today, United Methodists outside the U.S. form a larger share of United Methodists globally. There are about 4.5 million United Methodists in the U.S., and close to 7 million outside the U.S. (U.S. disaffiliations over the last five years are estimated to account for 1.5 million members.)

The recognition that the U.S. is no longer as mighty as it once was is driving regionalization.

“This is a way of putting every region on the same kind of standing, so that one culture does not dominate other cultures,” said the Rev. Dee Stickley-Miner, executive director of missional engagement for the General Board of Global Ministries who has worked on the plans alongside non-U.S.-based church leaders.

In this sense, regionalization has been framed as a decolonization undertaking.