Reckoning Methodism

Now available in paperback! Reckoning Methodism: Mission and Division in the Public Church is a timely appraisal of White church and society in the United States. This book seeks historical clarity, collective repentance, charismatic learning, and institutional courage as United Methodists reckon with inherited animosities, divisions, and racism. Reckoning Methodism is available at Amazon, B&N, and Cascade Books (March 2024).

If you would like to write a review of the book for your conference newsletter or other publication, request a free review copy here.

This work is essential reading for those who care for the church.” —Kevin Carnahan
A prophetic call . . . Reckoning Methodism is a must-read.“—Hendrik R. Pieterse
the ‘reckoning’ is applicable to the broader society“—Kenneth L. Carder

Read more about the book:

Methodists Mum on Race

It is Black History Month, and The United Methodist Church still has a lot of work to do. The current Social Principles document includes a robust statement against racism. The section, “Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons,” clearly defines personal and systemic racism, “recognize[s] racism as sin,” encourages “oppressed people . . . to demand their just and equal rights as members of society,” and supports affirmative action (UMC, Book of Discipline 2016, ¶162.A). However, the proposed Revised Social Principles to be voted on at General Conference in April 2024 does not even mention race!

Methodism has a checkered history on race. As a White male, I must reckon with this churchly inheritance. White Methodists have supported slavery and fought for the abolition of slavery. My forebearers fought on both sides of the US Civil War. They established racially segregated structures within church and society. Some of my ancestors fought for civil rights and racial integration; others were comfortable with the status quo in which whites benefitted from institutional structures of racism. The following reckoning is adapted from my chapter in the new book, Methodism and American Empire.

Darryl W. Stephens, “A Global Ethic for a Divided Church.” In Methodism and American Empire: Reflections on Decolonizing the Church. Edited by David W. Scott and Filipe Maia, 111–33. Abingdon, 2024.

The concept of human rights is a central aspect of Methodist social witness. Not only were Methodists heavily involved in creating and supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the UMC and its predecessors have displayed an unwavering public commitment to human rights. As a matter of doctrine, the UMC asserts within its Confession of Faith, “We believe . . . governments should be based on, and be responsible for, the recognition of human rights under God” (¶ 104). Furthermore, the current Social Principles document shares substantive commitments with much of the UDHR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus, it is no surprise that the proposed Revised Social Principles also voices support for a wide variety of individual human rights.

Assertions of rights in the proposed Revised Social Principles are based on seeing others as bearers of the image of God—an equalizing premise amid differences of power. Consistent with prior editions of the Social Principles, proposed document “affirm[s] the important work of the United Nations” and upholds the UDHR as a definitive explication of basic rights. The document grounds “basic human rights and freedoms” in “God’s gracious act in creation” and pledges “to protect these rights and freedoms within the church” and society.

The “dignity and worth” of every person is mentioned eleven times in the proposed Revised Social Principles, functioning as a shorthand for the UMC’s commitment to human rights grounded in God’s good creation. This connection is made explicit in the section on Basic Rights and Freedoms: “We condemn all attempts to deny individuals their basic rights or freedoms or to strip human beings of their inherent dignity and worth.” Ten subsections in this draft document assert rights pertaining to various groups and contexts, including women and girls, men and boys, “indigenous, native, and aboriginal communities,” and “sexual orientations and gender identities.” However, the proposed Revised Social Principles fails to guide the reader in understanding when or if the language of rights applies to race.

The proposed document upholds basic rights and freedoms for all individuals but does not employ the language of rights to address race specifically. The document condemns “racism, ethnocentrism, and tribalism” and rejects laws and practices that discriminate on these bases, but it does not use the word race at all. How is one to understand the proposed stance against environmental racism, for example, in the absence of any definition or discussion of race? Admittedly, the label “racial and ethnic persons” does not translate well from the United States to a global context. However, eliminating any mention of race leaves the problem of racism inadequately addressed.

Given Methodism’s past complicities with empire in the form of White supremacy, particularly by condoning slavery and supporting racially segregated structures in church and society, a steadfast commitment to the rights of persons regardless of race cannot be taken as a given. The draft statement on Basic Rights and Freedoms asserts, “in the face of historic wrongs perpetrated against indigenous peoples, enslaved African peoples and other marginalized groups, we call for forthright confession and repentance as well as concrete acts of reparation to redress past and present forms of social injustice.” However, this call raises more questions than it answers.

Why is the called-for “forthright confession” left unstated in the proposed draft of Social Principles, particularly when it was so elaborately stated in the 2016 Social Principles? How does this call to repentance differ from the UMC’s prior act of repentance for racism? Which current resolutions support reparations, as envisioned here? Why are the “past and present forms of social injustice” against “enslaved African peoples” not named as racism?

Antiracist commitments could have been communicated with references to the UMC’s constitutional commitment to racial justice (¶ 5), its Act of Repentance for Racism (adopted in 2000 and renewed in 2008), and its numerous resolutions on race relations and racial justice. Speaking out against discrimination is not a sufficient substitute for asserting human rights.

The struggle for racial equality is not over. Racism continues to plague our church and US society. This is why it is so important that the UMC promote equal rights regardless of race or ethnicity and maintain a clear, public stance against racism.

Methodist Social Witness Podcast

What are the United Methodist Social Principles? What is the nature of Methodist social witness? John Hill and I discuss these questions as guests on the Un-Tied Methodism podcast: “The UMC and Social Witness: A Legacy to Carry Into Our Future.”

January 25, 2024, Untied Methodism Podcast Episode

Episode Description

The United Methodist Church has a legacy of social witness. Join Dr. Ashley Boggan D. with guests the Rev. Dr. Darryl Stephens and John Hill, interim chief executive of the The UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, to discuss the history of the Social Principles and the new Revised Social Principles coming before General Conference 2020 to be held in April 2024.

Read More

Want to reckon with the divisions in past and present Methodism? Pre-order my upcoming book, Reckoning Methodism: Mission and Division in the Public Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade, forthcoming March 2024). Read description and early reviews here.

Oxford Institute 2024

Just received word today . . . I have been accepted as a full member of the 2024 Oxford Institute of Methodist Studies! This conference includes select Methodist scholars from around the world and is only held every 5–6 years. I will present my research on “A Wesleyan Ethic of Response to the Trauma of Climate Crisis.”

The Fifteenth Oxford Institute
August 4–11, 2024
Keble College, Oxford
Theme: The World is My Parish: Glad Tidings of Salvation in an Age of Crisis

This research will build on and

From Colonialism to Globalization: Global Governance in the UMC

“Global governance is dead,” declared Mark Holland, Executive Director of Mainstream UMC, in a recent blog post. He described a 30-year experiment in global governance within The United Methodist Church (UMC) and called for its end. Mainstream UMC is rightly concerned about the politics of globalization in the UMC. The history of this situation, however, is more complex than that Holland depicted in his support of regionalization. The UMC’s attempt to balance globalism and regionalism is rooted in a history of colonialism dating back to the nineteenth century.

Variations and adaptations of UMC polity among Central Conferences.

One of the major proposals to be considered at the April 2024 General Conference would allow the United States to hold its own regional conference and determine its own details of governance—a power already given to seven other regions of United Methodism around the world. According to the UMC’s Connectional Table, “The regionalization proposal aims to address what many United Methodists see as a longstanding problem limiting the denomination’s missional effectiveness—namely that the church in the U.S. and the central conferences have unequal standing in decision-making.”

What is this unequal standing? “Reference to a Central Conference, then called a Central Mission Conference, is found first in the Discipline of The Methodist Episcopal Church [MEC] in 1884” (Judicial Council Decision 155). Central Mission Conferences were encouraged to take initiative in education, publishing, and other activities, though “never in contravention of the book of Discipline or Rules of the General Conference.” Central Conference powers were expanded in 1924, giving them “power to make such changes and adaptations as the peculiar conditions on the fields concerned require”—as long as they adhered to the shared book of Discipline. In 1948, Central Conference powers were expanded yet again, allowing them to adapt the General Discipline of the church. A similar provision remains in the UMC constitution, allowing Central Conferences to adapt the laws and rules legislated by General Conference (UMC, Discipline 2016, ¶ 31.5).

Effectively, Methodist delegates from around the world could vote on legislation binding on Methodists in the United States but change that legislation once they returned to their home countries.

What began as an exception for a small minority of Methodists overseas now applies to the majority of the UMC.

How does privileging other countries relate to a history of colonialism? A resolution by the 1867 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (from which Methodism arose) explained the relation of the “Mother-Church” to its overseas outposts:

That, in order to the binding of the Churches of our colonial empire and the missionary Churches beyond them in the closest union with the Mother-Church, . . .

United Methodism’s colonialist roots exposed! The resolution continued, “. . . it is necessary that they receive and maintain without alteration the standards of faith and doctrine as now in use in that Church. That, nevertheless, each province should have the right to make such adaptations and additions to the services of the Church as its peculiar circumstances may require.” The exceptional status of Central Conferences in the UMC is a direct lineage from the British colonial empire and its “Mother-Church.”

The effect and reality of this asymmetrical arrangement of power remain, despite near-continuous studies of Central Conference relations to the US church since 1948. United Methodists in central conferences, located in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, now outnumber those in the United States.

For this and other reckonings within the UMC, see my forthcoming book, Reckoning Methodism: Mission and Division in the Public Church (Cascade, spring 2024).

To Be Cited in an Encyclopedia

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, my good colleague, you are making your mark in Anabaptist theology. Our book, Liberating the Politics of Jesus, is cited no less than three times in the St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology. Thank you to Jamie Pitts and Luis Tapia Rubio for their work in writing this article on Anabaptist Theology.

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht is a Lancaster scholar, advocate, and pastor. She is former Moderator of Mennonite Church USA, 2013–2015, and served as Global Theological Education advisor at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

Elizabeth, your visionary leadership is cited as influencing many aspects of Anabaptist theology: hermeneutics, peace and nonviolence, Christology, and political discipleship.

Methodism and American Empire

Methodism and American Empire
248pp. Abingdon Press, January 15, 2024.

Methodism and American Empire investigates historical trajectories and theological developments that connect American imperialism since World War II to the Methodist tradition as a global movement.

Gathering voices and perspectives from around the world, this volume tells a tale of complex negotiations happening between United Methodists across different national, cultural, and ecclesial contexts and sets up the historical backdrop for the imminent schism of The United Methodist Church.

My chapter, “A Global Ethic for a Divided Church,” explores the liberative potential of the proposed revision of the United Methodist Social Principles.

Contributors: David W. Scott, Filipe Maia, Joerg Rieger, Lloyd Nyarota, Joon-Sik Park, Jørgen Thaarup, Darryl W. Stephens, Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Taylor Denyer, Christine Carnate-Atrero, and Izzy Alveran.

Read more from the editors, David W. Scott and Filipe Maia.

Living into Baptism through Diakonia

Diakonia is a strange Greek word. It is often translated as service. But diakonia means much more than simply doing things for others. It is an essential part of Christian identity and discipleship. It is about who we are and what we do as followers of Christ. Through baptism, we join not only the “priesthood of all believers” but also the “diaconate of all believers.”

Caption: Bishop John Schol (center) met with EPA Deacons before a larger meeting with all clergy Nov. 9, 2022, at Hopewell UMC.

Read the entire article on the website of the Eastern PA Conference of the UMC.

Listen to Episode 411: “The Diaconate Call & Bivocational Ministry,” Uncovered Dish Christian Leadership Podcast, Sept 13, 2023.

What does a politics of peace look like?

I am honored to be one of the presenters for Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness, Oct 22, 2023, at James Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster. Our topic is “Liberating the Politics of Jesus.” Please join us!

When politics is reduced to statecraft and peace to the absence of war, we miss the radical implications of the gospel message. Through the wisdom of Anabaptist women, we learn that peacemaking must be practiced at home and in church as well as the home front and the front lines. Liberating the radical political ethic of Jesus Christ from patriarchal distortions, these theologians demonstrate that gender justice and peace theology are inseparable.

Dr. Linda Gehman Peachey is former Director of Women’s Advocacy for the Mennonite Central Committee US and a freelance writer and teacher in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht is a Lancaster scholar, advocate, and pastor. She is former Moderator of Mennonite Church USA, 2013–2015, and served as Global Theological Education advisor at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Dr. Darryl W. Stephens is a professor, writer, and advocate. He is ordained in The United Methodist Church with dual standing in the United Church of Christ and teaches at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

The Diaconate Call

Diakonia is a form of Christian motivated social service. It is originally modeled on Jesus’s insistence on serving his disciples (Luke 22:26–27) and its expressions in Acts and the early church. Today, diakonia is focused not only on serving others but also advocating for others, empowering them, and joining them in solidarity to build participatory community.

Diakonia is a call to all Christians to alleviate suffering and promote justice, peace, and human dignity. One colleague of mine said simply, “Diakonia is Gospel action.” To learn more, join me in conversation by listening to this recent podcast interview.

Ep. 411 The Diaconate Call & Bivocational Ministry with Darryl Stephens, Uncovered Dish Christian Leadership Podcast, September 13, 2023.