News

WCA’s vaccine offer for General Conference delegates draws criticism about ‘colonialism’

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has organized an effort to ensure General Conference delegates from Africa, Europe, Eurasia and the Philippines are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But their announcement has drawn stark criticism by many, including Central Conference bishops and the global United Methodist Council of Bishops, who question the WCA’s motives and say the offer has all the marks of colonialism.

In a statement released by the WCA, they state that thanks to a partnership with other organizations, the WCA is planning to fund delegates’ access to vaccination sites so they can receive their COVID-19 vaccine, thereby making it possible for these delegates to attend The United Methodist Church’s General Conference later this year.

Currently scheduled for Aug. 29-Sept. 6 in Minneapolis, General Conference delegates seeking entry into the U.S. will have to demonstrate they have been fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization approved vaccine. While the vaccines are now available free of charge to all delegates and many delegates have already been fully vaccinated, a barrier remains.

“The barrier for those still unvaccinated delegates is not the availability of vaccines, but their ability to travel to cities where they can receive free immunizations,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the WCA. “For example, in the Congo Central Conference, where approximately 150 delegates reside, free immunizations are only available in a limited number of major cities. Many delegates reside in rural areas requiring multiday trips to reach the clinics. Often this requires several days of travel on the ground followed by travel by air on flights that operate once a week just to reach cities where vaccines are available. And since two doses are required for most WHO-approved vaccines, delegates must remain near the clinics for up to 18 days in order to receive both doses. Not only must the delegates incur the cost of travel by ground and air; they must also have resources for lodging and food while awaiting administration of their second dose. Such costs are beyond many delegates’ ability to pay.”

The WCA would fund those travel expenses.

However, the leadership of the Central Conference bishops of the UMC released a statement Jan. 17 noting they are “appalled” by the WCA offer.

In a release, the Central Conference bishops said the entire process has all the marks of colonialism, which African countries went through some years ago.

“The tactics of divide-and-conquer have created chaos and division on the African continent and should not be allowed in our churches. ... We people called United Methodists from the Central conferences promote unity and we treasure our connectional spirit but we deplore any form of colonialism.”

The leadership added, “While we understand that vaccines are not easily accessible to all people in many parts of the world, we are dismayed that the WCA would choose to help provide vaccines to only a few people and not the community as whole. If the WCA’s motives are pure, why not provide vaccines for the entire family of that delegate or the entire church or the community in which the delegate lives?”

The Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops of the UMC said they are standing with the statement from the leadership Central Conference bishops.

In a brief statement released Jan. 19, the Executive Committee said: “We stand with our Central Conference colleagues and urge all to read their letter and hear the concerns. These matters impact the entire church and undermine the integrity of the work of the General Conference delegates. We are grateful for the leadership of our Central Conference colleagues.”

As of press time Jan. 21, the WCA shared a rebuttal on their website from three men—Simon Mafunda, layman in the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference and the WCA’s Africa Coordinator; Dr. Jonathan Razon, senior pastor at The Living Faith UMC in Murong, Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines; and Dr. Daniel Topalski, superintendent of the Bulgaria Annual Conference and the president of the WCA’s Eastern Europe Regional Chapter.

In the rebuttal, the men noted they strongly disagree with the charge that the WCA’s vaccine initiative “has all the marks of colonialism.”

“It should be obvious to anyone that the WCA’s vaccination initiative has none of the ‘marks of colonialism,’” their letter reads. “Far from exercising ‘full or partial political control’ over anyone, the WCA’s initiative empowers delegates to fully participate in the General Conference so they can represent their annual conferences.”

General Conference, originally slated for May 2020, has been postponed because of COVID, and the Commission on the General Conference aims to decide in the first three months of this year whether it can go ahead this year as scheduled.

To read more about the vaccination offer and the reaction, visit https://www.unitedmethodistbishops.org and https://wesleyancovenant.org.

Get Periodic Updates from the AdvocateWe never sell or share your information. You can unsubscribe from receiving our emails at any time.