It’s a sign of how out of touch the Commission on A Way Forward is with the United Methodist Church and the world as a whole. Over the past two weeks, two hurricanes of epic proportions have rocked the foundations of the United States and the western hemisphere. A textbook case of ethnic cleansing is occurring in Burma. A massive mudslide killed hundreds of people and washed away entire villages in Sierra Leone. In the Philippines churches are resisting a campaign of extrajudicial killings ordered by a despotic president. North Korea tested a 250-kiloton hydrogen bomb. And yet, our church has the time and the money to fly 29 people to Germany for a “critical” meeting.
I know we’re a world church. I get it. Honestly, this isn’t about United Methodists in the farthest corners of the globe. This is a domestic American political and religious issue. Pretend all you want, you’re not going to solve this problem in Berlin.
But that’s not the real problem. What’s really obscene about this trip is the money. If, conservatively speaking, the general church spends $700 on round-trip tickets to Berlin (that’s roundtrip from Atlanta), airfare alone for the 21 U.S. commissioners is more than $14,000. Two members are from the Philippines and seven are from the continent of Africa, where travel is even more expensive. One commissioner, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, lives in Germany, and another, David Field, lives in Switzerland, so presumably their travel costs won’t be that much.
When UMCOR is raising money (and small churches like mine are both raising money to help hurricane victims and trying to pay apportionments) how can members of the “Commission on a Way Forward” look at themselves in the mirror? How can I go into the pulpit with a straight face and say, “give us money to help hurricane victims while our handpicked leaders are working out the big issues of the day in Berlin?” Has no one heard of Skype?
At a time like this, someone from the U.S. church, which is bearing the biggest cost, should step forward and say, “The optics of us jetting off to Berlin in the wake two natural disasters while our church raises money makes us look like the Louise Lintons of the United Methodist Church.” Louise Linton is the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. She made a notorious Instagram post a few weeks ago, flaunting her wealth on a trip to Fort Knox. This Berlin meeting, dear brothers and sisters, is on par with her faux pas.
I’ve written on numerous occasions that global events would overtake the denomination. There would come a time when we no longer had the luxury to debate ordaining gay clergy and same-sex marriage as if it were September 10, 2001. It’s not. We need to make a decision, one way or another, so those of us who do know how we feel can get on with our lives. I’m tired of paying for your vacations to Europe and being made to feel guilty when I ask the question, “Why?” People are dead in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas. Way Forward’s U.S. members, who make up the bulk of the commission, need to be home helping, not in Germany debating.
Richard Lowell Bryant