UM Insight Capture
United Methodist Insight will serve as an open forum for those seeking to discern God's future for The United Methodist Church
United Methodist Insight was conceived in November 2011 in the midst of loss and turmoil. Now, after the turmoil and loss of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, a new vision is emerging for this online forum that we hope will serve those who will discern and enact the future of the global United Methodist Church.
The loss that bred UM Insight was at first intensely personal. In November 2011 it became apparent to the directors of TPC Publications Inc., that The Progressive Christian magazine, an award-winning international religion journal of which I was editor, was financially unsustainable after nearly two centuries of publishing. The decision to suspend the publication indefinitely was particularly grievous to New England United Methodists, where TPC's predecessor, Zion's Herald, was founded in 1823.
As TPC's last editor, I was solemnly going about the business of shutting it down when God stepped in, acting through the agency of a number of people who cared about two things: the future of United Methodism, and my vocation as a God scribe (to my unending gratitude).
Concerns borne out
For months many of us had been participating in online and offline groups organized mainly in reaction to the Council of Bishops' Call to Action initiative and to the Connectional Table's restructuring proposal. We could go so far as to say our concerns were borne out by the results of the 2012 General Conference.
However, much valuable input from online discussions, blogs, Twitter, Facebook posts and other social media was being lost in the Internet's free-floating, bewildering and ephemeral nature. That's when inspiration struck during a telephone conversation with a colleague: What if the online discussion and resources about General Conference issues could be compiled in a single place for decision-makers' convenient use?
That "one place" became United Methodist Insight, founded with the help of a grant from the Joe B. and Louise P. Cook Foundation, the sponsorship of St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, Texas, and an array of some two dozen volunteer advisers across the United States. Many of these advisers had been writing and speaking about United Methodist issues, and generously contributed and recommended articles regularly.
Since it was originally focused on General Conference, we all (especially me as project coordinator) anticipated that UM Insight would serve a short-term purpose and then be retired sometime after the 2012 session ended. However, several things happened:
UM Insight's performance vastly exceeded our wildest dreams. The influence of our one-stop information source skyrocketed far beyond anyone's expectations, based entirely upon reader response. In just a few short months, thanks to the aforementioned contributions and weekly e-newsletters, UM Insight's collection of original and reprinted articles had direct effects on General Conference proceedings. By focusing like a laser beam on the concerns of United Methodists for the church's future, we opened a limitless forum not constrained by the denomination's structure or goals. Unleashed in this way, information gained limitless energy.
Social media took General Conference by storm. UM Insight rode a tsunami of direct participation in the discussion and analysis, if not the decisions, of the 2012 session. At one point, Insight gained a ranking from United Methodist News Service among the top tweeters at #gc2012. Thanks to readers who affirmed us with the online rating service Klout, in the past 45 days we've earned a "influencer" score more than half the perfect ranking of 100 – an amazing standing for what is essentially a specialist aggregator.
Global perspectives, not just U. S. viewpoints, were included at every opportunity. Probably the most effective pre-General Conference representation of global United Methodists' views that UM Insight posted was a video produced by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. In that video, the Rev. Forbes Matonga, vice dean of Africa University in Zimbabwe, stated unequivocally that United Methodists outside the United States viewed both the Call to Action and the Connectional Table structure plan to be efforts by American United Methodists to retain their ecclesiastical power. Whether this perception was accurate was irrelevant; the facts that a) Central Conference delegates were speaking up, and b) they were pushing back against the U. S. corporate model for the UMC, should have alerted everyone that the denomination's worldwide identity was a reality with which to be reckoned.
Finally, the 2012 General Conference ended in disarray. So much work was left undone on so many levels that many delegates and observers left Tampa disheartened, as evidenced by the heated blog posts and exchanges of the past two weeks. At minimum a deep-seated acknowledgement emerged that currently The United Methodist Church is a 20th century organization unsuited to the demands of a globalized, technology-saturated 21st century world. Furthermore, attempts to answer what are essentially spiritual issues with corporate structure and politics proved futile. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear clearly perceived God's Holy Spirit deflecting some of the business-style decisions made by 2012 delegates, particularly the downfall of Plan UMC.
These consequences have left me, as project coordinator, in a quandary. Clearly United Methodists around the world will be discussing the failed 2012 General Conference from now until the 2016 session in Portland, Oregon, USA. UM Insight's original timetable to fade quietly away in summer now seems shortsighted and unfaithful given these new circumstances. If anything, this year's General Conference experience has taught me, as a longtime religion communicator, not to impose chronos on God's kairos.
Therefore, a new vision and mission for United Methodist Insight has emerged: to serve as a global forum bringing together the widest possible viewpoints, discussions, studies, reports, hopes and dreams for The United Methodist Church's future.
A key focus will be to find those perspectives that seek to synthesize, rather than further polarize, ideas for the church as a worldwide Christian community. Paramount among the questions emerging in post-GC discussions are: What does it mean to be a global church? Where can we work together, and where should we find ways to grant each region, nation or continent its autonomy? How will we resolve questions of social justice that are conditioned by cultural contexts? (And let me say unequivocally that the last question does not mean merely the question of human sexuality, but issues of economics and political governance as well).
In summary, we created United Methodist Insight out of the deeply felt need of our United Methodist sisters and brothers than they were not being heard by the denomination's leadership. Now those same wise and experienced United Methodists, through the means of online publishing and social media, will be working together to discern what God wants for The United Methodist Church in this era. (See links at the end of this article). We believe that UM Insight can further serve this communal goal by amplifying their voices. In the coming weeks, the website will be adapted to better serve this purpose.
Funding the enterprise
Now in good Methodist fashion, it's time to pass the offering plate. Every enterprise needs money to operate, and we have several ideas on how to earn our keep. At least for now, we prefer a not-for-profit model to a commercial model in order to maintain our missional independence. In other words, we seek sponsors and donors, not advertisers.
Our primary benefactor, the Cook Foundation, has provided an additional grant that should keep us going into the fall. Also, with the approval of our sponsoring congregation, we're researching the possibility of obtaining an online financial account that will allow us to receive direct donations via the Internet. In the meantime, checks may be made out to St. Stephen UMC, with UM Insight in the memo line, and mailed to the church at 2520 Oates Drive, Mesquite, TX 75150. (As St. Stephen is a 501(c)(3) religious organization, donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law). We hope that those who care about the UMC's future, and who want to participate in shaping that future, will give whatever they can to sustain the UM Insight forum.
So that's our story to date. How long we can keep going is entirely in God's hands. Whatever the future holds, God clearly is at work crafting a future for The United Methodist Church, not to harm it but to prosper it for God's purpose and not for its own institutional preservation. With gratitude for all that has come about to this point, we humbly offer United Methodist Insight as an instrument for discerning the guideposts that will lead us into the future that God has planned.