Challenging the Concepts of Open Minds and Open Hearts
By Martha E. Banks, Ph.D., Delegate, East Ohio Conference
I am so delighted to be part of a global church as a United Methodist. However, serving as a delegate to General Conference has opened my eyes to many ways in which our denomination leaves out people — even when they are physically inside the Open Door.
In preparation for the General Conference, delegates received the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, a 1000+ page document that included petitions to amend and update polity, reports from general commissions, and advertisements. That document was available electronically and in print in English, Kiswahili, Portuguese, and French. As the conference proceeds, legislative updates, conference proceedings, and other information are provided in Daily Christian Advocates (DCA). Both the Advance Daily Christian Advocate and the Daily Christian Advocates are provided in print and electronic formats.
However, the DCA is only available in English! How can that be? I can choose to search online and immediately obtain translations at no cost. What is the obstacle to making the electronic version of the DCA available in the recognized languages of the General Conference? Amendments to petitions are made available in hard copy and in English only. If the DCA and amendment text are only available in
English, how does that demonstrate the open minds and open hearts that make it possible for all delegates of the global United Methodist Church to work together to advance the Church?
As business proceeds, we receive repeated requests for speakers to slightly slow the pace of their speech, take pauses, and use microphones for the benefit of translators attempting to convey information in real time. English-speaking delegates were asked to use translation technology to hear the participation of speakers in other languages. The resistance to meeting these reasonable requests makes me wonder if we are really collaborating as Christ’s family or if we are functioning at a pre-Christian level of exclusion. How is it that, in 2016, we, the global United Methodist Church, still operate in ways that disenfranchise our own members — especially members of color?
Our worship appears to be inclusive on the surface. The devotion at the end of the first day of legislative committee meetings included a South African hymn. That seemed inclusive until I learned from one of my sisters that syllables had been transposed and that the chosen hymn was one children sing in Sunday school. The hymns in English, whether “traditional” or “contemporary” are spell-checked adult hymns. What message are we giving when we are only partially inclusive?
We have a model in Christ who taught us how to be inclusive. Let us remind ourselves of His guidance and pray for discernment of how to be full Christian sisters and brothers. The doors are open. Can the hearts and minds be far behind?