First off, check out this link to a piece about some grad students developing a phone app that can diagnose malaria.
Malaria is a horrible disease that afflicts millions each year. The CDC reports that approximately 1 million people die yearly of malaria. Because it affects so many people, the United Methodist Church joined many others several years ago in the Nothing but Nets campaign to provide mosquito nets.
More recently, the United Methodist Church has identified “Four Areas of Focus.” While the motivation for adopting these four areas is not as clear as the areas themselves, I believe it is safe to suggest these factors:
- The United Methodist Church has been declining in membership (in the US) as long as there has been a United Methodist Church. All of us who are United Methodist would like to change this.
- Most would agree that we, as a denomination, spread ourselves very thinly across a multitude of issues, causes, and missions.
The Four Areas of Focus, then, are a good thing in that, assuming we all sign on, we gain some clarity on what we are all as United Methodists doing together.
Under the heading of the first Area of Focus, “Combating global diseases of poverty, ” then, we have embarked into the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, the goal of which is (modestly) to eradicate malaria. Our (The UMC’s) commitment to this campaign has recently topped $15 million.
At the risk of sounding like I am opposed to eradicating malaria, which I am not, I believe this drive is more a symptom of our denominational decline and malaise than part of the solution.
Not unlike our Nothing But Nets efforts a few years ago, the “Imagine No Malaria” events easily take on the tone of pep rallies. Pep rallies may or may not be a good thing, but either way they are tied to short-term matters – the next game or contest – no one has a pep rally for the whole season, do they?
So, while such movements are good at rallying attention and support, I doubt they do much for something that I believe is at the heart of the UMC distress. We have, as a denomination, commitment anxiety.
We want issues, events, etc., about which we can get excited and for which we can write checks. We are, after all, middle to upper-middle class folks who want, generally, to be left alone. Yeah, we don’t mind if you strike a chord now and then or jerk a tear here or there, but we would really rather write a check than change our lives.
Especially if the writing of said check can eradicate a global disease. We’re all in, baby!
But if we manage to be a part of eradicating malaria, our addiction to causes and check-writing (which is a metaphor; who writes checks anymore, really?) will merely move on to the next cause.
At the same time, we claim, and mostly desire, to be followers of Jesus. Not merely members of a church or club, but followers of Jesus. Following Jesus cannot be done by joining a cause or writing a check. Following Jesus is done by losing one’s life.
If you support my cause against causes and for following Jesus, please comment rather than writing me a check.