This week, the New York Times ran a story that proves corruption and cheating among African delegates to the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The story promised follow-up stories to come.
I hope they do follow up. Because there are a host of issues that have needed to be addressed for at least a decade now.
These issues may or may not make any difference for the future of the United Methodist Church itself. In fact, as a friend told me yesterday, to him it’s just further evidence that the “brand” is “broken beyond repair.”
This may be.
But for more than a decade, it’s been the case that there are serious issues that needed to be addressed regarding the African Church. To be clear, NOBODY has wanted to ask these tough questions.
Conservatives don’t want to, because they clearly benefit from the current system and possible corruption.
Liberals don’t want to, because they are afraid of being called racists.
Moderates don’t want to, because they’re sometimes terrified of conflict.
Well, it’s time to rip the bandaid off, and ask the tough questions.
The REAL paternalism and racism is in the subtle racism of low expectations. With respect to LGBTQ issues, Conservatives talk about “faithfulness to the covenant” and “accountability,” but they consistently refuse to truly hold the African delegation to the same high standards that apply to other delegates. There is little or no administrative accountability to the “order of the church” when it comes to African membership statistics. And, there is clear evidence of possible corruption in other areas.
In addition to the issues of the NYT story, other issues that need to be addressed:
1. Are financial payments made to delegates from Africa? If so, who pays these? How are they reported?
2. If African delegates attend a pre-conference briefing and retreat (many do) how much of those costs do they bear? Or are those costs completely paid by outside groups? And if so, who?
As to these first two questions, let me just remind you that the US Congress —to take another example of a legislative body similar in structure of General Conference— has detailed reporting rules about gifts and financial benefits given to elected officials. My wife, as an official in the State of Texas, has similar reporting standards which apply to her.
There is NO required reporting for General Conference delegates, even though there is evidence going back a decade that points to corruption in this area. (This is a blog from 2008)
Friends, it’s a bad day when you realize that CONGRESS has better ethical standards on these issues than does your denomination.
Finally, the biggest unaddressed issue…The alleged dramatic membership growth of the African Church.
I first wrote about these issues in 2011 and 2012.
When, in God’s name, are we finally going to be honest about the absolute lack of accountability over the church membership numbers in the African Church?!!!
It has been clear for more than a decade that the reported membership number (the number used to apportion delegates) is in some cases simply made up, grossly inflated, and that no one can actually verify or document what the real number is.
The LACK administrative accountability of the African Church to the entire UMC smacks of a paternalism and a racism of low expectations.
And it has real world implications for our denomination.
You may argue that the American Church, at times, also inflates its numbers.
But! The American Church has a FINANCIAL INCENTIVE (apportionment payments) to keep generally good membership numbers.
Therefore, without that financial incentive, and because the WCA desires the African Church’s membership number to be large and growing, we as a denomination have FAILED to truly ask the tough questions.
I will concede the theory that the African Church *is* growing…at some level….
But everyone else must concede that NO ONE knows or can produce documentation to support the number that is claimed. That is a FACT.
This last point has huge implications for our denomination, and is a major part of why we are in the mess we are in now.
Again, getting to the truth on these issues may or may not change anything about the future of the United Methodist brand. In fact, as my friend noted, it’s likely just more evidence of how broken, and possibly corrupt, the current system is.
And, there is a deep colonialism and paternalism that runs throughout our entire history, that got us into this mess in the first place. The American Church is most definitely paying for its past colonial efforts. But some are exploiting that colonialism too.
We know this right now, without any equivocation: The same rules don’t apply between Africans and Americans branches of United Methodism.
And we look the other way, to either avoid the charge of racism, because we don’t like conflict, or because the current situation benefits us. Meanwhile, we insist on the “accountability” for the American Church.
And I know this…
This is the HEIGHT of hypocrisy.