By Simon Mafunda, Jonathan Razon, and Daniel Topalski
January 21, 2022
Quite predictably some United Methodist Church bishops have trotted out the charge of “colonialism” in light of the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s announcement that it has joined with other UM Church groups to help General Conference delegates gain access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
To be sure, those of us from Africa and the Philippines are well aware of the dark legacy of colonialism. And those of us from Europe repent of the role some of our nations played in that dark history. However, many of us in Africa and the Philippines also know African and Filipino leaders, including church leaders, sometimes use the charge of “colonialism” as a cudgel to score political points or to excuse their own shortcomings.
In addition to being faithful members of The United Methodist Church we are also members and leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. With all due respect to the three bishops who signed the “Statement from Central Conference bishops on vaccine offers,” we strongly disagree with their charge that the WCA’s vaccine initiative “has all the marks of colonialism.”
It is sad to have to point this out, but some of our bishops need a refresher on the definition of colonialism. Here is just one standard definition: “The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” It should be obvious to anyone that the WCA’s vaccination initiative has none of the “marks of colonialism.” Far from exercising “full or partial political control” over anyone, the WCA’s initiative empowers delegates to fully participate in the General Conference so they can represent their annual conferences.
The WCA and the other advocacy groups are helping duly elected General Conference delegates who want to be vaccinated gain access to clinics where the vaccine is available. No one is compelling delegates to be vaccinated, and no one is explicitly or implicitly engaging in a quid pro quo with regards to assistance to accessing vaccines and pending legislation before the General Conference.
Most United Methodists are well aware that the 2020 General Conference has been postponed twice. And it could be again if delegates living outside the United States cannot gain access to World Health Organization approved vaccines so they can legally enter the U.S. And whatever their theological or ethical convictions, most United Methodists also know the church desperately needs to convene a General Conference this year so it can attend to very important matters.
Frankly, given the state of the UM Church, we are surprised and disappointed our bishops and institutional leaders have not done more themselves to see that all delegates are vaccinated so they can attend the General Conference. And it is particularly discouraging that even though the WCA invited the General Board of Global Ministries and other advocacy groups to join them in their vaccination initiative, some never replied, and others declined the offer. With justification, United Methodists are beginning to wonder if some bishops and UM Church officials really want to have a General Conference?
The WCA, like other theologically conservative, centrist, and progressive advocacy groups, is not a multi-purpose organization with a vast bureaucratic structure. Nearly all WCA members are faithful members of local UM churches and they have gladly contributed to general church initiatives to help others in the midst of the pandemic. They have also given generously to help people suffering from natural disasters, whether they be in the Philippines, Germany, Africa or Haiti. And of course WCA members also support the WCA, but they do not expect the WCA to do disaster relief. They know that is not its primary mission.
Since the announcement of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation – a plan the WCA’s president helped negotiate along with bishops and other leaders from across the church and signed with them – the WCA’s principal focus has been seeing that the Protocol is adopted by the General Conference so it can assist in facilitating the creation of a theologically conservative church. It should neither surprise nor alarm anyone that the WCA is helping delegates gain access to vaccinations so General Conference can convene this year. Again, given the dire condition of the UM Church, we are bewildered as to why others are not joining them so everyone can move forward in whatever direction they choose.
United Methodists who are elected delegates to the General Conference deem it a high honor to serve their church. And even though those elected to the 2020 General Conference are aware they must deliberate and vote on legislation that would divide the UM Church, they want the opportunity to fulfill their service, to have their voices heard, and to cast their votes. Some are beginning to worry the Commission may decide to cancel the 2020 General Conference, and so invite a new round of elections. 2020 delegates were duly elected to serve, and they want to serve. The UM Church should be doing whatever it can to allow them to do just that.
Finally, the bishops wrote they “are appalled by the action of the [WCA].” With all due respect, this kind of strident talk is over the top, and beneath the dignity of the episcopal office. We won’t say we are appalled by their statement, although we are disappointed. On the other hand, we are very grateful the WCA and its partners are showing the initiative to remove obstacles that could keep some central conferences’ delegates from participating in the General Conference. We hope their initiative is a great success.
Mr. Simon Mafunda is a layman in the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference and the WCA’s Africa Coordinator. The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Razon is the senior pastor at The Living Faith United Methodist Church in Murong, Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. And the Rev. Dr. Daniel Topalski is the Superintendent of the Bulgaria Annual Conference and the President of the WCA’s Eastern Europe Regional Chapter.
East Ohio WCA is not affiliated with the East Ohio UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
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