To most people, the value of scientific research is obvious. As a society, we support biomedical research on diseases, studies on climate change, and the causes of violence. We believe in the knowledge that contributes to human wellbeing. But what about something like inequality? Do we need research to tell us that racism still exists? Do we need research to tell us that we must serve, nurture, and empower all life on earth? Shouldn’t we simply get to work, devoting our resources to the social and political action needed to promote peace and justice?
Of course we need to do research! (And we should get to work, but more on that later.)
What does all this mean for GCORR and The United Methodist Church? GCORR must understand—through research—the complex and shifting social worlds before we can design programs to address the needs of the Church.
One example of the fruitful interaction of research within agencies in the Church is in the area of multiculturalism. Numerous voices in the UMC have recognized the need for the Church to become more multicultural in order to reflect the world we are called to serve. GCORR could design a program to promote multicultural programming, based on what makes sense logically, or on what we think might be going on in the congregations, neighborhoods, districts, and conferences, but that would not be a sound basis for our work—we need actual data.
Multiculturalism research, for example, has already helped GCORR fine-tune its work on intercultural competency. Through our research efforts, we have learned more about what defines a multicultural church and the various barriers faced in a multicultural church as it relates to worship style and socioeconomic class. We have also learned that there is an urgent need—in some places a dire need—for congregations to engage with their surrounding communities. By using sound social-scientific methods for data collection and analysis, we are able to discern nuances that we might not otherwise grasp.
The same is true of our other research projects related to cross-racial and cross-cultural pastoral appointments; the experiences and satisfaction levels of diverse clergy people; and the reasons that some congregations thrive when there is demographic change in their communities, while others do not. We need to learn these things in order to be able to fulfill our mandates.
Later this year, GCORR will produce a best-practices manual to aid conferences, districts, and congregations in the area of multiculturalism, as well as provide information about cross-racial and cross-cultural pastorates. We are also producing an interactive map to help bishops, district superintendents, and local pastors plan programming and new church starts. All of this work is built on a foundation of research, using the best practices from the social sciences.
G. Derrick Hodge is GCORR’s research scientist.