By: Rev Dr. Derrick Spiva
Most of my life I’ve felt like an outsider. But over the years, I have noticed that most of the true advancement in science, medicine and culture were made by those who perceive themselves to be outsiders and outcasts. The margins can be a very creative place. All of us who feel marginalized and invisible in the United Methodist Church can understand each other and empathize with joy, pain, frustration, passion and calling to serve as a disciple of Christ with integrity.
The term “Methodist” was originally used to mock John Wesley who was considered to be a spiritual outsider. This guy was riding a horse back and forth across the country believing he can build a faith community based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. What a wacky idea! At some point in time, John was able to embrace the term “Methodist” that was intended to mock him. It became the name of his movement. The huge growth of our church in the early days can be attributed to the meeting of many who saw themselves as marginalized by the religious establishment of the day.
Recently, I have learned more about the marginalization of Africans in Central Conference. Africans constitute about a third of the global UMC church membership but don’t have commensurate representation in the circles of power. During the 2012 General Conference, approximately 75 percent of the speakers during plenary were male, 78 percent were white, and over 80 percent were from the US.
The dismal statistics exist in spite of the good intentions of our church leaders. Our efforts to make General Conference diverse, democratic, and representational has not yet succeeded. I know what it feels like to be marginalized. And I think we need to look for opportunities to support petitions that encourage fair representation for Africa and greater funding for theological education on the African continent.
Those of us on the margins want to be known, respected and appreciated. We want to belong to the body of Christ. We want to stop the feelings of sadness, frustration, rejection, vulnerability and invisibility. The Love Your Neighbor Coalition has become a safe space for marginalized United Methodists within the US, and we want to do the same for people around the world. So we are reaching across the aisle to ask central conference delegates:
How can we be more supportive? Email us your ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org. All responses will be kept in confidence.