Wesley Grenberg-Michaelson - "Christian Unity in the Digital Age"
12:39PM Sep 6, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
It's my great pleasure to be able to welcome as our speaker tonight. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is the former Secretary General of the Reformed Church in America, where he served from 1994 to 2011. He's also served as the director of the director of church and society for the World Council of Churches. And he's the founder of two ecumenical organizations, the founder of the global Christian forum, and also the founder of Christian churches together. We're extremely honored to be able to have Wesley Granberg-Michaelson speaking to us tonight. Applause doesn't work very well in the online Avenue. But I'm applauding you and very, very grateful for your time. Please give your fully full attention to Wesley Granberg-Michaelson.
remarks. Thank you. You very much, Jonathan, and thank you all for joining. In this way. It is a real honor to be with some old friends and with new friends, including ones whose work I know of and respect so much. I thank you for that song, Jonathan. And it reminds me that this is one of the Psalms of ascent was one of the Psalms that the people of Israel would sing, as they made their way up to Jerusalem on pilgrimages. And one of the one of the fervent features and hooks that we see in the Old Testament and then these pilgrimages is the desire for unity. We sometimes think that the call to Christian unity is rooted in one or two proof texts in the New Testament, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. And you've picked one of the Psalms that in fact, displays at hope in a in a very powerful way. Within the experience of the people of Israel, you have distributed to you a copy of the things I want to share. I'm going to be using that as the basis for my time. I do want to add a few things, particularly around the first sentence where I say the growth of world Christianity in the global south continues faster than existing ecumenical structures can respond and adjust. I think most of us on this call are aware of the realities of the growth of Christianity in the global south. Gina's earlobes one of the Experts Brian Stanley is at Edinburgh, which produced the tremendous Atlas of global Christianity and continues to do so much. To show what's really happening briefly for the students in 1980, for the first time in 1000 years, the center the geographical center of global Christianity shifted out of the North. This map that you now see before you on the screen displays this reality in a more vivid way than any other thing. I know. Some of you have seen this, but I want to simply use it as a quick tool to demonstrate this shows the geographic focal center of Christianity at any point of time in Christian history, meaning the point on the map or an equal number of Christians are found to the north and the south, in the East in the West. As you can see, for the first thousand years of Christianity's life, that geographical center was found in the, in the Near East area between the slum where Aaron is and up to Constantinople. In fact, interestingly, in the year 1000, the geographical center of Christianity was located more or less right at Constantinople. But then, as Christianity grew, that point began to move west and north so that in 1500, it was at its most northerly point in what today is Budapest, Hungary. As we think about the way Christianity then was expanding into Europe, but from 1500 onwards, it begins to move to the west, as you think about the colonial expansion of European countries and with it, the accompanied expansion of Christianity, so that by the 1900 that center still found itself in Spain, it was still in Europe, but it had moved that far to the west. Now, from 1910 until 2010 the geographical center of Christianity makes the most dramatic shift in all of Christian history.
moving rapidly to the south, so that by 2010 That center is around what today is Timbuktu and then continues to move to the south and also to the east, as you think about the expansion of Christianity also in Asia. That gives the geographical picture of what is happening. The two major stories I want to highlight are first, the growth of Christianity in Africa, which I think historians will say is one of the astonishing features of Christianity in its more modern history. In 1900, only 2% of Christians were found in Africa. By the time we reached the year 2025, five years from now, 40% of all Christians will be African. I was I was in in late goes in August. And we were driving through town, my host said, we have a little exercise here. If you look at look at the buildings that we pass, one out of 10 as a church, I did not believe them until I started observing and counting. And in fact, they were about right. But most of these churches were small storefront, churches, the APA style of mission, the church of the universal Christ, the church of the spirits, joy, etc. But you can see this expansion of Christianity in Africa when when anyone is present, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. The other story is the growth of Pentecostalism. That is the other major story of modern Christian history. We trace the Pentacles moment at least those of us in North America roughly to Azusa Street
In a little more than a century, its growth has been astonishing. Even in 1970, only 5% of Christian self identified as as Pentecostal. Today 60 million 600 million do. One out of four Christians today will self identify as Pentecostal or charismatic. And I did some statistics that maybe even Gina doesn't have yet I can actually offer a statistic back to the best resource I know. I did the math and figured out that one out of 12 people alive today in the world self identifies as Pentecostal or charismatic. Those two trends, I just want to lift up at the beginning of our time. Now, my first point is that ecumenically and I know the term ecumenically is loaded for some others prefer a Christian unity we're going to just use the term Nick. ecumenical as the search biblically, for Christian unity. The ecumenical challenge precisely comes today that the churches that are growing the fastest tend to have the weakest ecumenical connections or the weakest, institutional or historical connections to the search for Christian unity. I mentioned those particular as Pentecostal communities, evangelical African Institute of churches, independent churches, the growth of independent churches. Geno's center with Todd Johnson and others have recently traced that trend and very helpful ways. That's where much Christian growth is coming. But the churches that have supported The infrastructure of ecumenical movements are largely the historic Protestant and Orthodox churches. And those churches by and large struggle to maintain a witness within their own countries. So, you know, in a way that really crystallizes the challenge that we face because if we believe as I do, that the search for the unity of Christ body is not something optional and not something that happens at just a spiritual level, but a deeply biblical command and injunction. We've got to ask what initiatives today are possible and fruitful? Now? Let's focus this a little more to how this happens in the digital age, which is a framework for our time. And this is this is really A challenge because historically, the efforts towards Christianity have revolved around face to face meetings. It has often been said that Christian unity really happens as people have gotten to know and encounter one another personally. But are there ways in the digital age in which the gifts of this communication can create new methods of ecumenical engagement? And if so, what might that look like?
I've had an idea for a while that I've actually wrote about it in my last book, I, I mentioned it often in lectures and I keep throwing this out hoping that someone will either say that's a brilliant idea, or that is absolutely stupid. Stop talking about it. So I'm going to try it again today.
I've thought a lot about Facebook, which is a social media platform that I happen to use. Any of you can find me there, I will friend you. But it it creates these possibilities of virtual community. And so I've wondered, would it be possible to create a similar social media platform that we could call Facebook, and that it would be a platform where Christians could come from all variety of backgrounds and find the means to relate to friend to engage in dialogue to form subgroups, and to have a to have a virtual platform that that allows the kind of interaction that we need on such a wide level Now, I know there'd have to be a lot of protocols established. there'd have to be questions like, Well, you know, who gets in and out? Or is this just Christian? What about interfaith, what, etc, etc. But I, I really wonder if something like that is worth exploring if there's somebody who knows a whole lot more about how these, you know what these digital digital platforms look like under the hood, who could say, Now, this is something that this is something we should do or not. I have a second idea that I want to propose for Christian unity in the digital age. And that comes back to the importance of face to face encounters and most people. I know, Jonathan, you do all kinds of online teaching now. The seminaries in the reform Church America when I was General Secretary, we move them towards online education. But the principle was always, online. Education is a wave of the future at Central, but it's got to be supplemented with times of face to face encounter, you've got to have a mix. Now, some of you are more expert in this than I am. But I've thought about that. And I've thought about and observed these various forms of International Youth gatherings. I've been astonished at the way the Catholic Church is able to have an International Youth Day. about once every three years it was started by john paul the second, and they get between 500 to a million young people to come and attend. The last event was in Panama on last year 720,000 were present.
And this to me, This to me is really remarkable, of Evangelical Alliance and my friend, Bishop F. has started something similar. He tried to have a Global Youth Day in August, maybe some of you were there in the Philippines. It got about 50,000. And I had a lot of virtual sites around the world. I've been at the zoo, a community in France. And I've been, I've been astonished to see how that community draws young people in this. And this is interesting. It draws young people in this digital age into times of silence. I mean, I've seen young people on retreat, they're in the tears, a worship being silent for 10 minutes, and I've wondered if they've been silent for 10 minutes all their life, but they are really drawn to that. And so my, my thought is, why couldn't we have a Global gathering that was that that that wasn't in these separate pillars but brought all these groups together. And why couldn't the Vatican and the world Evangelical Alliance, the Pontifical console of the vacuum, excuse me, the Pentecostal fellowship and the World Council of Churches all jointly support that. And that's not a, you know, that's not so outlandish, because those four groups are the four pillars of the global Christian forum. They already work together and cooperate with one another on an equal footing. And then those are the main Christian families, the Catholic the evangelical Protestant, and the Pentecostal. And in the mainline, mainland WCC with the Orthodox and then I focus a little more some of you are familiar with the global Christian forum others it's probably new. I know a couple of these Clean Gina, we're at our last global gathering in Bogota. I think this is a marvelous initiative and it's got a tiny budget. We've got a new General Secretary case, Lee SMR, from Ghana. And in this, I'm really wondering, is there a larger role that this instrument can play? Because one of its priorities is to figure out how to have a deeper engagement of youth. You know, we've got a pretty static website, we've talked about doing things electronically, but you know, is is there a challenge here? And what about other ecumenical organizations can they be brought into a similar conversation? Then I would move to my final points in this becomes a little more controversial, I think. But biblically Christianity is never for its own sake. It is always for the sake of demonstrating God's love between people that then flows out from them to the world. And, and you you see how this happens? You see this in verses you see this in in the history of Ecumenical Movement itself. People are drawn to be one in Christ in order to strengthen the witness of Christ in the world today. So the question that often happens, especially in new forms, when we think about the digital age, or when we think about gatherings like the global Christian forum, if I talk to a younger generation, and several of you of that generation are listening into this lecture, and say, here's the challenge of Christianity. To become one member, they will say, Well, what for? I mean, what's the outcome? What's the effect of that? And, and it's a, it's a legitimate it's a legitimate question. But it's hard to you know, it's, you know, what do you do you get everyone to agree on some social issue or everyone to agree on a common form of evangelism or
the thought I have had in the last couple of years, is that Christian unity and witness can be a counter sign to the rise of authoritarian leaders in regimes around the world today that are supporting themselves through various forms of narrow nationalism and racial bigotry. Often authoritarian moves against their population against migrants and so forth. There are numerous examples. And the thing to remember is that the call to unity in Christ is a call that reminds us that the gospel of Jesus Christ can never be captive to any particular national ideology. And that's why it is so important. It's been important historically and so important today for Christians, from different countries in national settings, to be in fellowship with those from others so that they can see how the claims of Christ in the Lordship of Christ transcend and correct all of their more particular claims. There's history here. I note in the paper that when the WCC was founded, William Visser to hoofed who worked through the 30s and 40s and became the first general secretary At WCC, one of his main points as he saw what was happening in Europe, was that he felt it was imperative to gather Christians from different countries and nationalities and settings because of the need to say together. You can't ever have the gospel captive to any particular country and ideology, which is what he saw happening in the national Church of Germany at that time. So my question here is, is that message which I think is a biblical message isn't one that can urgently answer the question What for? What is Christianity for in our particular context today, and now I've got a final reflection and then I think at about 25 minutes, we will come to our close, Jonathan
of ecumenism, or the search for Christianity in the digital age, is that these means of communication have the power to move freely across all the boundaries of nation and ideology and geography, denomination culture. This is the great new thing that's happened in a digital age and why those of us who are concerned about Christianity have to think hard about how does this gift in this capacity how how should we regard it? How can it be used, but we also see tensions and dangers. We see countries I think of China, for instance, going to great extents to control strictly their digital communication. We saw recently how, when there was unrest in Iran that was Widespread, the regime closed down all internet for a whole week in order to control it. We see we of course, see the ways in which some regimes Russia, Russia comes to mind have used digital means to interfere in other countries and to advance their own particular agendas. Now, typically, we regard these as political problems. But I'm wondering whether as Christians, we need to see such repressive political steps as presenting spiritual challenges to the cause of Christian unity. You know, I think we need some deeper theological reflection about how we understand both the promise and then the tensions around digital communication. When we think of Christian witness and when we think of the call to unity, I wonder whether in the digital age there's a new application With a verse from john 832, you will know the truth and the truth will make you free. Those are the reflections I wanted in order to start what I hope will be a rich discussion. I look forward to this. And Jonathan, I hope that's a helpful beginning. So thank you. Again, I want to say how much I respect the work of aqueduct, the work that Jonathan and his colleagues are doing. I I am so grateful, grateful to them grateful to God, for for, for your courage, and really exploring, of the call to crucial unity in today's world and to invite voices like mine into this I I've been so privileged to be close to you to be in dialogue with your board and to be invited to events such as this. So thank you.
Thank you, doctor. Wesley granberg Michaelson, I am so grateful for your presence and deeply honored. Thank you so much. I would like again to applaud and say thank you so much for those introductory comments that'll get us off in exactly the right foot. This is a little unconventional, but I want to make a couple introductions. So I'm just going to do a quick screen share here with you. So not only are we extremely honored to have with us, Wesley granberg Michaelson, but I'd also like to make sure that you were aware of one another David bear is with us, Director for theological education initiative with United World Mission and former president overseas counsels. lib. librato about teesta Did I pronounce that correctly? Lavie teesta Assistant General Secretary for the United Nations ministry is with us. Thank you very much. Patrick Conley is with us host of the rediscover hour at the relevant radio for media apalis Aaron ame did I get your last name pronounced correctly, sir?
Is that ame?
Director of Research and Education at Christ Church Jerusalem. Yep, everybody go ahead and just find your mute button so that you can speak freely. We don't have one sock ma with us. All of her make man. May hen is with us professor of clinical Mental Health and Counseling and Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness at Pentecostal Theological Seminary. And Gordon Smith, President and Professor of systematic theology and spiritual theology at Ambrose University is with us we're extremely grateful that you are also here. Dr. Brian Stanley, Professor of world Christianity and director of the Center for the Study of world Christianity in the study of divinity at the University of Edinburgh, and also Gina a zurlo, co director of the Center for the Study of global Christianity at Gordon Conwell seminary and co author of the world Christian encyclopedia. We also have a number of My students who are joining us, and I'm very grateful that they can listen in. So we have a marvelous opportunity to make some headway. I would invite your comments in interaction with Dr. Wesley granberg Michaelson.
Well, first of all, I I'd like to thank Wesley very much for the presentation and maybe underline the importance of two things he's said. One, I think, is the need for a complete reimagining of ecumenism from the dimensions and trajectories it has had for most of the last century. And it needs to be reimagined to fit the transformed landscape of Christianity today. One example of that we had a paper on our own Center for the Study of world Christianity just on Tuesday about new churches in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland since 2000 there have been 110 new churches planted in Glasgow, and half of those are African churches. Mm hmm. And that now makes new churches the second largest category of church, in the city of Glasgow after the national church for Church of Scotland. Yet in terms of ecumenical relationships, virtually nothing is happening between those African churches and the historic mainline churches. I think that's a good example of what Wesley was talking about. We were not really capturing that dimension, in uncontacted medical structures. The second thing I really want to underline is the importance of youth perspectives. If you look at the history of Ecumenical Movement, some extent it arises out of missionary movements, but I think even more Specifically, it arises out of student movements. The universities were really where young Christian people began to question denominational boundaries and structures to meet together for prayer, fellowship and witness that fed into the great Edinburgh conference of 1910. And from various student movements, the student volunteer movement and ultimately the various movements that came to form the WCC came into existence. So I think there's been a tendency, perhaps over the years for older church and mission leaders to take control of a movement. But the heart of it originally I think, was a vision from young people who were impatient. With narrow boundaries, so I think those are the two things I want to underline. And like others that I'm sure all sorts of questions spring to mind, maybe I could just stick to two. I think the first one would be how would Wesley's proposals either or both of them stimulate low colic humanism because I think the day is passed when bodies such as the WCC could expect to be noticed and heard in terms of internationalist thinking on politics, society and so on in the way that they were after the Second World War. Nobody takes very much notice now of what the WCC says. And I think if if humanism is to be visible, it has to be above all local level. That classical examples are one example of that, but if people cannot actually see churches work together at local level, ultimately, I don't think humanism is happening. So I think whatever new ideas we come up with, we've got to do good ones here. We need to ask how's it actually going to cash out in terms of local initiatives? Otherwise, I don't think we're going to get very far. And I think the second question, I'm not a social media person at all, I'm one of these stone age people who doesn't do social media, so I'm not the best person to, to comment, but it seems to me social media Connect individuals to form virtual communities. humanism, to my mind is not primarily about connecting individuals, but about connecting existing Christian communities, churches and congregations to ensure that together they exemplify the unity and wonder of a body of Christ. So I just wonder how we make that leap from social media as a means whereby random individuals decide to form virtual communities to
to wider bodies.
Well, first of all I'm very grateful for Dr. Stanley's comments and questions Brian you've I mean, I would expect I would I would expect observations like this from your work at the at the Center for World Christianity at the Divinity School at Edinboro and, and you're right on target. The your first example, in your plea to reimagine humanism. I, in an example from Glasgow, like, I could not agree more. I don't, I don't like to always make references to things I've written but the book I wrote from Time Square to two But to the post Christian West meets the non Western church is precisely on that, on that tension and in in, in Europe, in North America, the migrant church is a driving force of of spiritual life. And you're exactly right that it is largely disconnected from ecumenical structures. We've tried to address that somewhat in the global Christian forum, and also in in Christians, Christian churches together in the USA. It is urgent, it is not at all easy. But I often like to say that a big shift in Christianity Today is that it has become as unwalled first said to me, it's very Become a non Western religion. And this is causing a major shift from Christianity that's been for 400 years, shaped by the culture of Western Western culture and the enlightenment. But that dialogue between Western and non Western Christianity is something that you can have around the corner. You can have right in your own neighborhood. And I think it's the most urgent dialogue and the most urgent ecumenical chant. So I, I completely agree. You're, I'm really intrigued by your emphasis on youth environment, youth perspectives brine. Typically, window when people recite the history of the Ecumenical Movement. They talk, of course, about the Edinboro mission conference, World Mission and then they talk about the history of faith and order. And they talk about the history of life and work as kind of the three screens that flowed into the medical moment in the 20th century. I think you're exactly right, that that the role of of students as well, in that search is often overlooked. And and and i think highlighting that is really important. I would relate that to your second question. I think you're quite right in saying, you know, social media primarily connects individuals. Not all you've got examples of how organizations, you know, find connections on social media, but yeah, generally, my sense is that we need a grassroots resurgence of an ecumenical encounter of encounter across our different tribes and our different denominational bubbles. And that that's got to begin to happen first between individuals and I think in the student movement, that's what was happening and then it's very to bubble up to affect the organizations were, which become the mind the primary players. So that's at least how I might think about that second question you raised? And the first question I'd only say, I couldn't agree more. Despite my time serving as staff in the World Council of Churches, and under the Central Committee in the past, I think we are at a point where we've got to reimagine unionism, and Inez has to have local expression. You find some examples of that, but, but it's if it doesn't take root there, it's not going to be very meaningful. So thank you very, very much, Brian, that those would be my responses. Okay.
Other comments, please go ahead.
So, I just finished this book that some of you might be familiar with the world Christian cyclopedia, third edition 1000 pages on the status of Christianity around the world. Congratulation. Thank you. And a lot of things struck me over the last five years working on this project, and one of them was media. So if you're familiar with the first and second editions of the text, especially the second edition, David Barrett included a lot on media, you know, what do Christians do with the media in in every country of the world, there really was quite an undertaking to figure out what rate I mean, really, it was radio ministries was the the main thing working in the 60s 70s 80s. And so I inherited this book that had been written in the 60s and updated a little bit in the 90s, in terms of the text was published in 2001. And of course, we all know what happened with media between the 90s and today. So I'm staring at this this manuscript thinking, what are we going to do with media? Because media is not a thing that you can write about in the same way anymore? Because it's everywhere. we're inundated with it, our lives revolve around it. It is it, you know, it's in my back pocket, literally in my phone every day. And there are places around the world, we all know where there's more people have access to cell phones more than they have running water, right. And so, sadly, what I did for the world Christian encyclopedia is that I cut it, all of it. And there's hardly any treatment of media and Christian use of media and changes in relationship to media around the world because it was too big. It was just like this woolly mammoth subject that, you know, me and my team didn't quite have the capacity to tackle. And that's a real shame. And I think that points to I think what a what a lot of us are are saying here is, um, you know, a lack of, I don't know if it's theological engagement about what Christians are doing with media. And especially when we get to, you know, to the conversation of humanism, the digital age and media, that's like two strikes, that we're not thinking a lot about new new ways of doing acumen ism ever not thinking a lot of ways in new ways of, you know, what to do with media. So, that was that that's just an observation, I suppose, after undertaking this project that the conversations about humanism, we did include humanism in the book and we built off of what was in the first and second edition to see where ecumenical networks are growing. And I was actually pretty surprised to see evangelical Pentecostal groups either creating their own ecumenical networks or even joining existing ecumenical networks around the world. So I think Wes is right that in general, you know, independence and Coastal seas don't tend to be, you know, groups that favored ecumenism. But I did see a slight trend in that direction after working, you know, on the encyclopedia. So I think that's an encouraging thing. But I think that also ties into the lack of youth engagement, because another one of the trends happening in Christianity in the West at least is this de institutionalization of Christianity, that a lot of young people, they don't want to give their money to, you know, mainline church building to upkeep stained glass windows, they want to give their money directly to organizations that, you know, work in poverty relief, or whatever it is building wells places. And so, if the Ecumenical Movement it, it's so institutionalized, but now we have a whole generation of young Christians who are disaffiliated from the institutional body, there is a lack of connection between these young people and the Ecumenical Movement as a whole this points to what So, you know, Brian were saying about it was about it being a student kind of grassroots movement and then became institutionalized. So how do we revive what you know? What's his question? new methods of ecumenical engagement have to be grassroots, I think is the way is the way forward. But and so that that's kind of one thing, and then the social media piece. I spent a lot of time on social media, maybe because I'm a millennial. That's like in my nature I have to required
so I spent a lot of time on social media and I actually encourage all of my students I teach here at Gordon Conwell to get on Twitter, and to see what people are saying on Twitter and to join conversations on Twitter and because it's it's a way that you can expose yourself to world Christianity really, and expose yourself to people who don't look like you who don't think like you who are of your faith or aren't of your faith and it is individualistic Stick. But so are Christians now? I mean, in the West there, I think, because of this de institutionalisation, there's a lot of well it's, you know, it's me and Jesus, and we're good. So why not create a more? I'm kind of thinking out loud here, these are kind of half big thoughts. So don't put this don't put this on Twitter, I guess. Now that I'm speaking, you know why why not have a kind of a humanism that is more individualistic. You know, using a tool like Twitter, we can create purposeful, you know, hashtags or groups or whatever it is to create ecumenical engagement that way beyond the surface level of, you know, I follow the pope on Twitter and I'm a Protestant, he's a Catholic, that's ecumenical in some way. But you know, a lot of Protestants don't follow the pope on Twitter and don't, you know, aren't listening to what other groups are saying and that's a really basic entry. I think. For ecumenical engagement in the social media world, I think there are opportunities there. But people either think it's trivial or I don't want to scroll through Twitter, but you can curate what you see on social media in specific ways. So I think there actually is potential there. But I haven't seen anyone doing a lot of critical thinking about how to actually make it work. So that's just some some thoughts that are more conversation.
Well, Gino, I'm I am so grateful. You are really one of the experts. I have not seen. The third edition. I have read about it. I'm anxious to actually see it. The work you have done is spectacular. But I had no idea about what you shared
during the treatment of social media.
And the reason was the fact that it was just too big to handle. So I think my first challenge is well how are we going to Do the fourth edition.
Please don't I can't
I get that question a lot. You can think about it, but I'm not gonna think about it.
But no, I, I think that there is an urgent need to really figure out what's happening and figure out how, you know, how do we think about social media and how do we engage in? And how do we see trends that are happening? I mean, you know, just anecdotally, I've, I've observed the way in which the rise of digital communication has changed the way denominations communicate, it's changed the way different organizations communicate. You know, they've tried to figure out how do we use this tool in a in an organization that typically is structured pretty hierarchical way. So I think there's a he Huge discussion to be had there, there. And and you could contribute a lot. The other observation I'd make is that I think it's pretty interesting that I would talk about my use of Facebook of Facebook, and you know, wanting to have Facebook, and you would talk about Twitter. I think that exactly demonstrates our generational difference.
Yep. And my students down the hall will be talking about Snapchat or something else that I've never heard of. Yeah.
Very good. Thank you very much. So panelists. Do you want to respond to the proposals, the specific proposal proposals that have been placed out in the table by our speaker? Do you want to address any of those side questions? Do you want to give us a brainstorm about how what acumen ism might look like in your institutional context? I think I can. If it's all right, I'd like to jump in a little bit to just respond to what Gina was saying. A lot of what she was saying I think also expresses some of the thoughts that I had in my own head about it in terms of we have a lot of existing for already for social interaction, social media, that sort of thing, including, you know, there's been online forums with Christian dialogue and that both ecumenical but also reaches beyond the realm of the Christian faith as well. And that's probably been going on for at least 20 years that there have been those types of sorts of things. And I guess I'm a little hesitant to say that the introduction of a new a new social media platform on which to specifically spur on ecumenical efforts and everything like that you would get, you would get only specific people who are interested in that, which is a good thing. I don't want to say that but I don't know that it would be the widespread kind of wouldn't necessarily in my own work with younger generations, I don't know that would Be widespread in embraced in a widespread way. And so little bit of hesitation there. Also knowing that on Facebook, Twitter, even to an extent Instagram and I'm just, I'm just a newbie into Snapchat I just got on this last Christmas so I'm trying that out rather unsuccessfully right now. But I guess to come back to a question is that underpin some of the the two proposals that are out there for Becker granberg Michaelson. I'm just wondering what exactly is the is the end game? In other words, what what are we shooting for what is what what
what would be qualified as success in terms of furthering ecumenical efforts? through either one of the proposals or just in general what your ideas are in terms of what would what would be,
what would what would be unity? What would be Christian unity? What would that look like?
Would it simply be a matter of understanding one another? Would it be something deeper, more visible than that?
Yeah, I think I'm grateful, Patrick. I'll offer my
response. And I and I appreciate your hesitation about a new platform. I think these are, you know, these are discussions that a lot of people need to be engaged into, to really think about what's feasible, what might work. But I like your question about success, or the end game, what are we after? And I answer it in two ways. First, is that I see the real need as as, as Brian Stanley said at the outset of our dialogue, for reimagining the whole ecumenical task day and for re engaging the the existing chemical structures have done tremendous amount in 70 years are not are no longer engaging, even their member churches, much less congregations and much less individual members in the ecumenical task in a way which once happened, and, and so there has to be a new ecumenical engagement at a grassroots level that chick finds ways to express itself amongst youth. I think if, if if we're going to
get to have a
hope of a future
where we won't simply go forward in our individual Christian tribes with with little cooperation or appreciation Have one another, it's got to happen amongst youth. So, so So my first kind of answer to your question is, I would pray for and hope for the mechanisms, whatever they may be that reengage youth in that biblical calling. And then the second question You, you, you point to, and, you know, I don't have I don't have a year answer to what embodied forms this takes. I know it has to be incarnate it has there have to be visible ways that people can feel and point to and I can think of, and you know, you're not going to get like, well, for instance, attempts at denominational churches and things like that. They're I have to say they're large irrelevant even though I helped engineer one, I think that's not that's not what I'm thinking of. But I, I am drawn to visible encounters where people from different faith traditions are in public fellowship in engagement with one another and then are acting together in the world. I could think of some examples of this, you know, this isn't These aren't things that have a high and heavy institutional structure. But our but but but are examples and I'm very interested in what today is doing not just that to say, but the things they sponsor around the world. Very successful and drawing young people into this, you know, into a visible expression of worship together and then often have some related outreach It seems like that that I would, I would hope would be expanded on an exponential level. So those would be my two answers
that cannot offer an example from dream.
so obviously, in the Middle East, it's a, from the from the media side, it might look like a realm of lots of tension and none of us all get along. And sometimes that actually is quite true. However, we decided that we wanted to meet some of our local brothers and sisters in other countries that we normally didn't have access to. So we had a conference in Jerusalem where we invited Iranians and Iraqis, Kurds, Turks, Moroccans, Koreans, Lebanese, and we brought them to Jerusalem. We asked them please tell us what Jesus is doing in your country. We didn't talk about denomination so we didn't look at Armenians and go, Oh, here are the Orthodox Tell us how what was orthodoxies like we looked at people in terms of Armenians, Persians, Turks, and it was a week long conference. It was absolutely fantastic. We've heard some incredible stories. When you turn the TV on, you look at the Middle East and think everything's dark. All we saw was like, it was unbelievable. The practical example that ended up happening Patrick is this was this was a in 2012. And we've been doing it every two years since ISIS swept through the Middle East and did some nasty things. And the Yazidi as a large people group, migrated north, and, and fled into what essentially is its northern northern Syria. So we sent because we had built some contacts because we had made some friends because we knew some of the people who were on the ground. We've sent people from our community, so messy, Jews Israeli, Israeli Jewish Christians, Arab Christians, Gentile Christians, we sent them armed with as much American dollars as we could. They went into Turkey smuggled across the border and they bought tents and blankets for years, EDIS it, can it engage ultimately in some sort of practical example is absolutely absolute blessing. What in terms of some things that you've mentioned Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Stanley, trying to engage the local level, you mentioned that Christianity is becoming largely African we, we noticed that particularly in our world, I noticed from this panel, we haven't got anyone from Africa here. How do we engage Africa, they're going to be the majority part of Christianity going forward. Now they've all got cell phones. Funny thing about poverty, you can go in Talk to a church in Cambodia, which I've done you can, you can stand in a room, which is essentially four poles and a thatched roof and there's sand and there's no furniture. But everyone's got a cell phone with unlimited data and you're scratching your head trying to figure out how they're charging these devices.
So they have it they have the device,
but how do we engage them? For me personally, I'm involved with a little Deaf community on my on my phone, I don't speak deaf. But but we can communicate with each other through a WhatsApp channel. And we send we send prayers we send blessings. We just wish each other Shabbat shalom. I wish each other a Shabbat shalom to whoever's out there. Most of these guys are Africans.
Mm hmm. Yeah.
And I've only met one of them. Yeah.
I Aaron also, I am so moved by that story.
About your conference, and I'd like to know more of it reminds me of what we do at the global question forum. Okay. Some of you would know this. A we start every meeting, bringing the participants in small groups to sit and have each one share personally, their story, their journey with Jesus Christ. And to give them the opportunity so that you've got an orthodox Bishop and a Pennock, Costco pastor and a Lutheran, you know, Pastor like yourself, and in an evangelical you'll all from different parts of the world, or many of whom have never considered one another, even as Christians, Roman Roman Catholic bishop and after That time of sharing a whole new dynamic is created. Now, in our second global meeting, we tried to bring that to a question of saying, what is the story of Christianity within your country? Similar to sort of what you're doing, we didn't get as far that way. But I'm but it but the methodology is very similar to what you're doing here. Not talking about how do we bridge all these theological denominational differences, but start at the point of experience in witness in our in our journey, and connect there so I, I'm quite drawn to the example that you shared.
As evangelicals, we always love to have a proof text and I'll do it before we do anything, quote, a Bible. And we looked at Colossians three, where Paul was in couraging the believers to put on compassion and humility and to bear with each other to forgive each other. And all overall this rapid rapid in love and this would be unity. Unity here obviously in Colossians was talking about his behavior, not theological. Obviously there are some theological no go zones. But largely, it could be behavioral. And so for us, particularly in the Middle East, we do our best to get the Palestinians and Jews and Iranians and Persians who would normally be warring with each other politically, behaviorally work together to bring blessing to a very troubled part of the world.
And Jonathan, this is liberato.
Thank you very much for including me. In fact, I'm still wondering how I got to this distinguished group of panelists No about four of you. But two of them are not here. I know that arena very well. I know Dr. One sigma. We are both members of the Global Forum of theological educators. Of course, I know Dr. Wesley granberg Michaelson, he may not know me, but I was a delegate to the World Council of Churches assembly in Vancouver and time on I have been, I am still a member of the Advisory Committee of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, until today, and I worked with your colleague,
Oh, my goodness. Yeah, just
that two floors away from each other here at the Center for the United Nations. And maybe my comments are, are another track from where we have developed so far some, some of the notions and these are I have plenty of scribblings on your on the summary of them. They're very exciting. I was I was struck by your use of that map with respect to the geo center of Christianity and, and the fact that when, by the time you get to the 20th 21st century, you are in Sub Saharan Africa. And therefore, when you're talking about for what are we doing this and you pointed in the last paragraphs of your presentation, precisely the challenges of this geographies and and therefore the geopolitics, the geopolitical importance of what you're suggesting, you know, you these are the places of intractable wars, these are resource challenged communities. This place has continued to renegotiate their policy colonial status in the community of nations and poverty and marginalization are happening. So even when we imagine that humanism is grassroots the renegotiation of power relations among political entities, and I see that every day in my work as the representative of the United Methodist Church worldwide at the United Nations, the renegotiation of power among former colonial and postcolonial countries at the United Nations and last year, the United Nations General Assembly just passed a resolution recently resolution on how to deal how to deal with the world's problems in a digital age. And I think that it It bears noting that be that while you speak on media, I'm reminded I think somebody claims to be active Medical, but in the media world, I'm sure you may all remember Marshall McLuhan.
The medium the medium is the message. And if social media if information communication technologies are in fact, the medium and the platform bear note that noting who controls the medium Yeah, yeah. Who has access to the medium and I think I'm so Aaron's Iran's characterization of rural areas and other places around the world in the global south where everyone has a cell phone. It's not to me an expression of wealth or access to you know the necessities. But it is a way for them to catch up with the global north, otherwise they will be so marginalized in the way in the trajectory and of information in Such a knowledge and information society that we have and therefore, it bears it bears noting, to me that access to knowledge and information is in the language of international law is a basic human right. And therefore, when when the talk of access, you're talking about justice and equity, you're talking about making use of the medium, so that it is a medium for justice, for for peace, for security, for inclusion, for participation on it reminds me of that old ecumenical watch word or just a just participatory and sustainable society. And so, how do we, how do we make use of the medium if we are going to reimagine ecumenism today, so that not only is the medium is the subject of a critical have access of justice and equity. But the possibility and in your paper Wesley, you already mentioned some of the the possibility that the medium will be hacked. Now, when I use the word hacked, I'm thinking of a very robust blog hacking Christianity. I don't know some of you may have seen have entered that blog post hacking. So one of the major concerns of the United Nations about the digital age is how the medium has been used to foster racism, racial discrimination in a phobia, cyber bullying, intolerance and hatred. So there will be a host of the protocol that you think about, we'll have to take those into consideration. Just one more test intervention here when we're talking about the local and the Global. I happen to think of the local and the global a simultaneous realities and let me explain. Up until 19 up until I was 35. I worked for the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. So Manila was my local.
I traveled to Geneva for WCC, I traveled to New York and New York and Geneva were made global. Mm hmm. The last half of my professional life. I've worked here in New York. I have been representative at the UN for 23 years, up till today. And New York is now my logo. And Manila is my global. It's my local. I mean, it's my global so to think of ecumenism reimagined as grassroots, grassroots being well, we have to go all the way to the global south. That to me is a deficient geopolitical frame. work because it could also mean a a NEO colonial mission and evangelistic work and understanding that the grassroots are in fact, in need of this new ecumenism, I can tell you that the grassroots is far more ecumenical than the global Hm. And abandonment of the global centers of the very values that mission has taught the south and I end it with simply for you to imagine that the United Methodist Church today is challenged by the effect of mission work and our theology and therefore our polity and theology and mission and structure is going to be in greater focus in May and and the prospect of a slim United Methodist Church as a result of how we have looked at the global south. And our mission and enough work. And so, on that note, I bid on you to pray for, for my church for where we are headed. Thank you.
Go ahead, sir. And so you know, all of our man has raised his hand when you're done.
Crying, I just want to say we are so privileged to have you as part of this discussion. And please greet. Please greet Doug Leonard for me. And I, I'm so glad that you've, you've brought this issue of local global and put it into a different way of thinking, which I think is so helpful. With one other thing I want to comment when I think of your 23 years of work and many of your colleagues. we've, we've continually said that we have to reimagine how we think about the ecumenical task. But it is it is the case you're right in the center of it.
in international settings, there is more openness to trying to think about religious and spiritual. Not only values but how those players enter into the whole
the whole civil arena globally.
And, and there's a real need for a voice and a presence at that level. At the same time when we're saying there has to be a re envisioning now I'll just share with you and ask for prayer. Actually, in two weeks, I'm going to be in Beirut at a meeting of 25 sort of ecumenical experienced leaders and so forth, mostly from the WCC to former WCC general secretaries and so forth. The task was to try to think about where the Ecumenical Movement is today. But most of the voices there are going to be those who are, you know, our older folks who have had long history and who are really well established. But, you know, they're asking the question What now? And and I don't know what I'm even going to say in that in that in that space, but it's, it's a what, how should I put it? It's not an either or we've got to re envision how we think about the ecumenical task. And we have to emphasize how it has to happen at a grassroots level, you will, you rightly say is happening far more than we recognize, at the same time, we have to give space or Well, we have to enter into the space that's being provided in global fora for a religious voice. And so how we do that, I think, is a real treat.
Just a quick one. I know that the time but as a good example is that that fake expressions in the grassroots are definitely in need of a global platform and a global audience because that to them is a justice issue. Then issues of marginalization and injustice and wars there
are in need of a global platform. So I agree that the international arena place and a major role but if from the point of view of Michelle ology, that grassroots is, in fact, really the field that we need to be, you know, to be addressing that knee harkens back a colonial model.
It's a great honor and privilege to be with everyone and to serve on the panel.
there at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, it's the
seminary of the church of god headquarters. in Cleveland, Tennessee, and we're here in Tennessee, and I know liberato and Gordon, and it's good to be with you all and meet everyone else. And it's a great presentation, great discussion. I also serve as a member of the Board of Commissioners for the Association of theological schools, a Ts and member participant for the global forum for theological education. And I know Gordon and liberato are and as well and
we do a lot of
stuff on the web as a educational institution. We all of our degrees are on the web. We have students from around the world, synchronous and asynchronous and we're regionally accredited accredited by ETS and etc. I think it's important to talk about the web. And not just online, not just digital. You know, the way I'm as. And I think it relates to the south, you know, on the web, you can immediately tell whether someone's rich or poor black or white or from what country you're just engaged. I think one thing about the web is a great flattener it dismantles all of the institutional ism. You know,
a lot even
acumen ism. You know, approaching getting together talking is a very privileged enterprise. And a slice of this is the world of non privilege. But as a brother from Israel said, you'll find not just a cell phone, but smartphone everywhere. And it's really leveled out the economic playing field, if you will. And I think that's a great dismantling that the web has done. Not just a communication tool, but it's really changed the landscape of the way we look at power and privilege. And to be able to fly across the world and sit in a room with wonderful people and develop conversations is really a privilege. And does that represent a humanism? I think a web based engagement might more reflect
Christian unity ecumenism.
Hi, I know you guys can't see me, which is annoying. But um, so I studied with Professor brown Stan me at Edinboro, and my project is looking at young people in the communism. And so I think both of these ideas are really interesting. I'll start with the idea of the Youth Day. And I completely agree with both you wisely and I think Gina picked up on it as well that young people usually get involved in humanism because of mission. So I think if we are looking at doing a I can, kind of bringing together larger ecumenical Youth Day. I think there needs to be a clear purpose. And I think the difference of like Tz and the big Catholic World Youth Day is that groups would usually attend these these initiatives so like a group of young people will go to Tuesday and they very much know what they're getting. My master's dissertation was looking at their Edinboro 2010 17 reassembly. And they found it really, really hard to engage young people. And they did a multimedia competition. They did a writing essay competition. And but I think because people were going individually, and young people find that really daunting. So I think that there needs to be a way for young people to meet each other. First before they go into something like this. And also I think they a lot of like ecumenical and messages from people now kind of see them as like, Oh, we want to listen to you. But I think they feel a bit like token young people. Like they're just taking diversity quotas. Whereas if we go back historically, like what professors done, you were saying, when we look at the SEM, young people were really the initiators, and they were, you were doing theology themselves, they were pushing the boat. So how do we find a way to make them feel like like they're really being heard and that they're really the initiators yet, and secondly, just a few comments on the idea of Facebook, I would just like to propose out there as Facebook is working as an established platform for connecting people ecumenically Why do we need to make another one, I think, and a lot of the time, people think that social media is like a self regulating, communicating Angel kind of sent from above to save a soul, but actually after working with social media company For a summer, it takes a lot, a lot of work and a lot of regulating. And looking at some of the groups I'm involved in on Facebook and things like that. And usually you have to kind of have like two platforms, you've got like a page, which will have public information, and then you have groups. And if the groups aren't ranking you maintain, they go stale very, very quickly, or they'll be taken over by one more active or kind of, you know, established person who already has an opinion they want to give. So that needs to be bad in mind that I think this if you want to do a new platform, it's it will be a lot of work, and it will be very, very difficult. And to do that, and just um, yeah, one more point is that and also social media is cultural. So people from around the world use it very differently. So here Twitter, and here in America, Twitter is very much used by church clergy and like academic academics. And Instagram is used more for self promotion. And Facebook is used more for individual communication, but that's different around the world. So people from South Africa will use it differently to people India, like, kind of manners and customs are different on it. And also are and I agree that there's the idea of everyone has a cell phone, everyone has social media, but not everyone uses it in the same way. And not everyone has the same sort of access to it in the sense that if we were going to have a global social media, what what we're going to look at language like everyone's gonna probably have to speak English and people will have to write, whereas around the world, a lot of people asked to send voice next to each other instead of texting now. So yeah, but I've spoken quite a lot. I'll just leave you with those kind of ideas. Thank you,
Victoria, you've given us a lot more than we can actually respond to specifically, but but everything will be transcripted. And we will put that in a report. So you've given us a lot, but we will have a mechanism to be able to grab a hold of that. Thank you. Thanks. Perhaps we could have closing comments from Gordon Smith, David Barrett either if you wish to make a statement as well.
Sure, very briefly, just to say I serve as university president I think the upcoming prefer Christian unity week is a spectacular opportunity for us to do things locally. And we will be doing that in two weeks. And I can trust the young people, the University kids between the ages of 18 and 23, forgive me for referring to them as kids, but they are the age of my grandchildren, how they I can trust them to let the good news go out through social media with what is happening in our campus as we welcome Catholics, orthodox and others to our campus for that week. Secondly, as Oliver mentioned, and David bears part of it as well, the global form of theological education is a reminder to us that on some level, everything pivots on those people that give leadership to the faith communities of which we're a part. And if emerging pastors and priests of congregations and faith communities don't get it, it really shuts it down. So I'm, I'm hugely committed, as I'm sure others of you are as well to fostering ways in which theological seminaries can think very creatively unintentionally about how we foster ecumenical awareness for emergent leaders of faith communities. I'll leave it at that
extremely important statement, David bear, do you wish to address the group
just to endorse Gordon Gordon, as he said, on several counts, I couldn't, I would have wanted to use words as well as eloquent as those, to say very much the same thing about the role of seminaries and a number of other points he touched upon. Maybe I'll just add to that, in light of some of the conversations we've had about equity and power arrangements and so forth. I have had the privilege of serving for about four or five years with the global forum for theological education. It's actually been a life changing experience for me to be on the executive committee and to participate in the shaping of the two four that we've done in the two conferences that we've done so far. One of the things that I think we've all learned but I've certainly learned in spades is that the higher up the technological pillar we climb, the easier it is to end up with a conversation partners like those of us whose beautiful faces are on my screen this morning where our composite skin color is probably beige. Not because we want to be unrepresentative, but because it's natural to be on representative unless as we've had to learn GFP. At every step. we exert great effort and go to great expense to make sure that our conversation partners are in fact, globally representative, it doesn't occur in nature, it has to be forged. As a matter of principle from the outset. I know we all know that. So let me just give this as testimonial to say in the GFT experience. We've just seen that in so to speak in full color. It's hard work and it doesn't work to invite the representation in In the third or fourth inning, if I'm going to use a baseball analogy for my own country of origin, unless it's representative from the outset,
it won't be embraced and it won't come representative.
Thank you very much. What's the granberg Michaelson? We're extremely grateful for your presentation, maybe if you would, if you have any final comments you wish to make, go ahead and make those and if you'd be willing to close to some prayer, that would be great.
Well, I'm, I'm just very grateful. For this time. I've learned a lot. I've found some new partners and friends. I have two observations, Jonathan. One is that I think of all the discussions I've ever been in, there's been more attention to the question of social media, the digital age, the role of humanism within this new climate, I've never been in a discussion that has had this level of interchange, I think we've raised some really fascinating questions. I just tried to stimulate things by throwing a few things out there, I think we've really gone down the road. My real concern is who who can pick this up. There's a real dialogue to be had here. And I'm wondering where and how that will happen. But I'm very grateful that that this topic was chosen that we've gotten as much on under the table as we have. The second thing I've noticed at least five of you have mentioned the work of the Global Forum on theological education, which is an organization I'm familiar with, although I've never participated directly. I've heard often about its work. It strikes me that There might be an opportunity for the Global Forum of God's creation and the global Christian forum
to discuss ways in which
there might be some joint endeavor around some of these questions. That's at least, that's at least something that I think would would be worth exploring. There. There's so much else that has been shared. I'm glad that there's going to be a record of this. But Jonathan, I thank you. And I thank the panelists, for for initiative that I really do think takes forward, an urgent discussion for, for the sake of Christ witness and the unity of Christ body in our day.
Thank you. Would you be willing to close us in prayer, sir,
please join me. Please join me in prayer. Our gracious God, we are humbled to be able to be in your presence in the presence of one another in this way. We are grateful for the way in which your grace and truth has touched each of our lives, and has beckoned us to step forward into work, an action that furthers the unity of your body and the witness of your church in the world. We pray that we would be faithful to the comments we've received, and that we would be open to the promptings of your spirit, which have come through this exchange that we've had. That we would follow and that we would take the next steps that would be in your will, and in your purpose.
Guide us now and always say Do
that it may be for
honor and glory of you.
We pray this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Amen. Shabbat Shalom, everybody.