General Conference 2008: U.S. Politics Must Not Dictate UM Outreach to Latin America, Carcaño Says

April 26, 2008

By Bruce Pettit

California-Nevada News Service


FORT WORTH, April 26, 2008 – Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Desert-Southwest Conference (Phoenix) told United Methodists today that they cannot let politics and economic policies of the United States dictate how their church should reach out to its Latin neighbors to the south and in the Caribbean.


In the 20th Century, the Methodist Church (prior to its becoming The United Methodist Church) acquiesced to U.S. policies and thus lost countries such as Brazil and Mexico to the larger Methodist connection as they became autonomous, she and another Hispanic bishop said.


The United States must be very sensitive in how it, a developed nation, relates to undeveloped countries, said Bishop Carcaño, the first Latin woman to be a United Methodist bishop.


"Our prosperity has impeded our ability to know how to be the church in the context of injustice," she told the 992 delegates to the 2008 General Conference. "God is not a respecter of national states. As the dominant culture, we too easily believe we have all the answers – that we must be the initiators of every good work."


Many injustices which have occurred, she added, are "due to the actions and inactions by the U.S. government."


The 2004 General Conference directed that a task force look at the relationship between the United Methodist Church and Autonomous Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean and report back to this 2008 conference.


In examining the history, the task force found that Methodists in Brazil were growing significantly 80 years ago, reported retired Bishop Elias Galván, formerly of the Pacific Northwest Conference. Brazil petitioned the 1922 and 1926 General Conferences to provide it episcopal leadership – a practice that became the norm for Africa, Europe, and the Philippines (all of which are represented here at General Conference). The U.S. church did not respond in those years, and in 1930 Brazil became autonomous. That same year, the Methodist Church in Mexico faced hostile U.S. sentiment because of the Mexican political situation, the task force reported today, and so Mexico also chose to become autonomous.


The task force asked this General Conference to begin reversing last century's errors. It will ask the United Methodist general agencies to develop a "holistic strategy" of outreach. To start a connectional program, the task force requested $10,000.


However, the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration was, the preceding day, hearing that it cannot increase the draft budget of $642 million for the next four years – certainly not without taking away from other pursuits. (Searches are underway to determine how to find money for the general church budget; there were moves in Financial Administration to make each jurisdiction support its own episcopal costs. Those will be heard next week.)


Also reporting Saturday was a task force set up in 2004 to study the future of the episcopacy. One concern it noted was that the retirement plan for the general church applies only to U.S. pastors, and the task force said that has to change. Bishop Ben Chamness of Central Texas announced a goal of raising $20 million in five years to establish a Central Conferences (all areas outside the U.S.) pension plan. $7.8 million was already raised, he said, and the rest needs to come from personal gifts. Envelopes were passed out for that.


A second concern noted was for bishops' workloads. Issues about terms of bishops and the number of bishops will come before the full General Conference next week from a committee looking into those issues this week.


The uplift of Saturday was several success stories that have come from the 25,000 churches in rural areas of the U.S. United Methodist Rural Fellowship decried that small rural churches are too often "demoralized by rhetoric that devalues small membership." Too often pastors accept appointment to rural churches just briefly as they advance their careers, it was lamented, and salaries are low. Yet festivities celebrating rural churches were punctuated by streamers of paper butterflies made by senior programs of the Red Bird Missionary Conference (southeastern Kentucky) – one for each of the 25,000 churches. Several people – including General Conference music leader Marcia McFee – told of how a rural church nurtured them into a mature faith.


Packets of zinnia seeds were given each delegate to take home and plant as symbols of how small things can grow into something that fulfills the theme of this General Conference – "A Future with Hope."