Occasional Papers by Delton Krueger   revised 11-19-11   original  8-19-05

A Flat Earth and the United Methodist Church : Commentary on
“The Flat Earth: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century” by Thomas Friedman  2005.

Introduction                                                                                 Addendum 1.1 8-20-05

            “The world is my parish”  Here is the tone for the strategy of churches in the Wesleyan tradition in the 21st century.  The contentions of Thomas Friedman present a 21st century scenario in economic/political /technological terms. This paper presents a brief summary of the perspectives of Friedman and draws some conclusions for application to the Christian religion using the Wesleyan tradition as a focal point .

The Friedman Concept: A series of factors driving globalization have met with several converging forces. Forward looking imagination is necessary if the human family is to avoid tragedies that can seriously damage the human project.

Religion in the Friedman universe.

            “The more any religion’s imagination – Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist – is shaped in an isolated bubble, or in a dark cave, the more its imagination is likely to sail off in dangerous directions”.  Friedman on page 463 

            In these words Friedman signals the critical importance given to religion in a tour of the elemental issues arising in a technological information business oriented global scene. He sees religion as either the agent of bringing human technological progress to a devastating halt – or as the place where exalted human imagination will carry forward a compassionate and just global society.

Friedman presents Richard Cobden, British Politician, as saying in 1857, “Free trade is God’s diplomacy. There is no other certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace.” Friedman on page 414   Chapter and verse is given by Friedman for the power of global supply chains and the technological communications networks that enable business to operate. The downside is that a terrorist world view uses the same networks to do its destructive projects aimed at disrupting a global society that it views as evil.

Factors creating a flat earth in the Friedman universe?

01    Fall of the Berlin Wall – 11/9/89 - Opening of democracy/free markets.

02    Netscape IPO – 8/9/05 –Massive investment in fiber-optic cable.

03    Work Flow Software – Coordination between far flung workers.

04    Open-Sourcing – Collaboration of open source programming.

05    Outsourcing – Business functions migrate to India , etc.

06    Offshoring – Contract manufacturing goes to China , etc.

07    Supply-Chaining – Networks of suppliers, retailers, customers –  e.g.WalMart.

08    Insourcing – Giants like UPS take control of customer supply chains.

09    In-Forming – Power searching opens information access – e.g. Google.

10    Wireless Mobile and personal collaboration through technology.

Friedman gives detailed examples of each of the factors that create a flat world.  He then says that several historic forces took place which gave energy and force to the developing globalization process. The convergence of these forces means that each enhances the other in impact on the human situation.

Converging forces in the Friedman universe.

  • The fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9/89.  The Trade Towers attack on 9/11/01. They were critical turning points in global consciousness.
  • The arrival of Netscape (1995) resulted in creation of a global web-enabled playing field allowing for many forms of collaboration – sharing of knowledge and work
  • The emergence of managers and innovators who were and are open to a new  way of doing things – a collaborative style with horizontal management
  • Economic and political systems open to the free market concept and process.


Friedman believes that “open and competitive markets” are a sustainable vehicle for growing nations out of poverty in that new ideas are turned into jobs and products. Tolerance and trust are the foundations of innovative thinking and doing. He contends that wars are not fought between countries that share global supply chains. However, the technology that makes possible “the flat earth” can be used by militants for destructive forces as in terrorism.

            The power of imagination is a key positive factor in the Friedman universe. He refers to the US Civil War as a war over the ideas of “tolerance, pluralism, human dignity and equality.”  Other civilizations need to go through the same type of struggle. The best way to move ahead is to develop stories that feed the imagination and create a more forward looking perspective. Individuals who adapt to the globalization situation are the force that can carry the future in a productive direction.  Religious imagination is a key factor in moving forward or falling back into the status quo or worse.

So what can the Friedman perspective mean for the United Methodist Church ?

            “The world is my parish” concept developed by John and Charles Wesley marked a move toward free flow of information on a global scale within the Church. In a sense the brothers were proposing a “flat earth” for the Christian project. They proposed an institutional and theological change in direction from internal church orientation toward global exposure and participation.

 The issue in this paper is:  Can churches of the Wesleyan tradition translate their inherent insights into the global realities of the 21st Century?  The contention here is:  The United Methodist Church is poised to move with strength into the midst of the global/ economic/political/ technological/educational/cultural scene of the 21st century.

United Methodist Christian congregations

“Imagination grows out of stories that nurture people and how those narratives feed the imagination”.  Friedman on page 453

The Christian community of the congregation is where human stories most clearly present the Body of Christ in clear and unambiguous terms. The healing and renewing presence of Christ in children, women and men is compelling in its drama and poignant reality. The connection of generations presents the real life events that make up Christian History. Congregations are the seed beds of a compassionate drama of creation – an experience of wrestling with the meaning of life in terms of birth, death, vocation, marriage, graduations, health and journeys. The congregation is where the technology workers and managers who make possible the global communications networks find their spiritual home base. Learning how to tell stories of compassion that nurture people and tell them so well that they compete and outdistance the stories of violence and fast paced distraction is a challenge for every congregation.

United Methodist Clergy and Consecrated Lay Personnel

        “In a flat world you really do not want to be mediocre”.   Friedman on page 237


“Going on to perfection” is a continuing expectation in the Wesleyan tradition. It includes but is not limited to personal holiness of life. The codes and algorithms of technological communication demand perfection and open our minds to the hard work of measuring up to high standards. Here is a call to constant education and improvement of skills and understanding. Other Christian traditions are in the same situation of discovering how to do better at bringing the unique values of each tradition to the scene. Adherents of other world religions live in our neighborhoods and are no longer distant mission fields.

  Regional United Methodist Christian Personnel

“The more self confidence you have, the more diminishes your mythologies and complexes...”  Friedman on page 336   A quotation from Luis Rubio – Mexico

Uncertainty is understandable in times of apparent membership decline and financial stress. Persons in management roles are in the position of needing accurate data for decision making. Maintenance activities are necessary but may dominate and take considerable time and energy. Imaginative thinking is normally not helped by meetings and fund raising. Self confidence is a demanding discipline and may be hazardous in the short term. Individuals in the regional system will take charge of their own destiny and moving beyond mediocrity when a vision of the global challenge is clearly in mind. Provision of money and personnel for research in communications technology for Christian witness will provide a foundation for increasing effectiveness among regional leaders.

Global United Methodist Christian Personnel

The more any religious imagination – Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist – is shaped in an isolated bubble, or in a dark cave, the more its imagination is likely to sail off in dangerous directions.”  Friedman on page 463

Christianity is made up of many traditions – the Wesleyan being one among many leading communities of faith. Many Christian traditions appear to see themselves as unique and special – perhaps even the only real Christian body. The Wesleyan calling in the global Christian community appears to be that of mediator and challenger of limits. In a flat earth environment the Church needs elements that are off on the edge of things – exploring the limits – finding the coming scenes where the Mind of Christ is making way for the arrival of the Body of Christ by the movement of the Spirit. Leaders with a professional “key” to the global scene, such as bishops and national/international personnel have opportunity to test out and develop methods inherent to the Wesleyan approach to the Christian project in the 21st century.

Concluding remarks

      “Imagination grows out of the stories that nurture people and how those narratives feed the imagination”.   Friedman on page 453

For a collection of notes on the book go to Friedman notes

Delton Krueger          Bloomington, MN 55431  USA       952-884-5129  


Friday, August 19, 2005

Addendum 1.1    A Flat Earth and the United Methodist Church    8-20-05

The day after publishing this Occasional Paper an experience happened that illustrates part of the message. Placing this addendum with the on-line version of the paper is another illustration of the use of the Internet to transmit information.

I had downloaded the free edition of Google Earth from http://earth.google.com several days ago but had not gotten on to exploring what this new thing can do. So I called it up and the earth appeared on the computer screen. With the mouse I rotated the earth. Then with the cursor and mouse I moved in on a point of interest on the earth’s surface. It was hard to decide where to go and what to explore.

Lo and behold, I could see continents, mountain ranges, oceans, cities, highways, and then the roof of our own home in Bloomington . It took a few minutes to figure out how to use the various tools.

Suddenly I began to feel a bit ill from the realization that it is possible for the viewer to visit any point on the earth’s surface and get a general idea of what it looks like from above. Some of the earth areas do not have high resolution. Some cities have resolution so high that one can obtain a three dimensional view of buildings and view the building from all sides by zooming around. One can go to the Grand Canyon and view from any altitude or perspective. It made me feel motion sickness.

Technology makes possible an experience that rips one away from assumption that went with being land bound creatures. I experienced again the “future shock” that Alvin Toffler spoke of some time ago. It will take a while to integrate this technology into my world view and begin to use it in creative ways. Anyone who enters this realm needs to be prepared to make new decisions about time usage.

A word of caution. To use Google Earth one does need to adjust some of the security settings on ones computer. Instructions are given and someone like me discovers myself messing around with intricate steps into the internals of the computer. Chancy. Also possible.

Delton Krueger