As Mark Tooley explained in his recent United Methodist General Conference wrap-up in the American Spectator, African church growth is dramatically affecting the denomination. We can likely expect 40 percent of delegates to the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon to be from Africa.
Most overseas United Methodists are theologically orthodox, and their growing presence has placed the denomination onto a gradual conservative trajectory. Liberals in 2008 supported a plan that would create a U.S.-only regional conference, potentially cutting overseas Methodists out of major decision making in what my colleague John Lomperis coined a “global segregation plan.” That constitutional change was overwhelmingly defeated.
This time around, liberal United Methodists channeled some of their efforts into finding allies among the international delegations. Caucus groups in the Common Witness Coalition (known in Tampa as “Love Your Neighbor”) made their case in French, Portuguese and Swahili translations of some of their materials. Mostly they were not effectively persuasive. Overseas delegates voted overwhelmingly to retain the denomination’s teachings on human sexuality.
At daily lunches provided in a large “tabernacle” tent across from the convention center, the Common Witness Coalition featured liberal speakers from across the U.S. church, including proponents of anti-Israel divestment, a transgendered pastor, an immigration activist and several homosexual speakers. Well into the second week of the event, the coalition featured an African delegate.
“It’s time that we forget about tradition,” proclaimed Albert Otshudi Longe, a delegate from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The former National Council of Churches and General Board on Church and Society (GBCS) intern currently resides in Nebraska. Ostensibly, Longe was speaking about how church was done, but there were many references to events earlier that day, when adding “agree to disagree” language on homosexuality was rejected by delegates.
Longe spoke to a smaller audience than other tabernacle speakers, with a large number of activists still engaged in a protest action on the floor of General Conference.
“I still have hope that this is not the end of the day and the end of the good things that God has promised us,” the Africa University environmental studies student declared. Adding that “love defines us as true United Methodists,” Longe stated that “we don’t need to send people out of the church in any part of the world.”
Rather than receive a rousing ovation, Longe faced a quiet audience that seemed distracted by votes earlier in the day. The Congolese delegate charged that United Methodists “have to be relevant to our society and community” in the way we do ministry and should “be mindful that the generations to come will hold us accountable for what we do today.”
The past NCC and GBCS intern pronounced that United Methodists had to “deal away” with a situation of discrimination in the church.
“The love of God is not bound to a particular belief,” Longe professed. “We have to appreciate that God speaks differently to each of us.”
The Kinshasa native advised the subdued lunchtime gathering to share convictions and views with those whom they may disagree, adding “Let us not be confined to our comfort zones.”
Longe volunteered to take questions, but a facilitator quickly darted to the microphone and suggested potential queries be made in a visit with him personally.
During his talk, Longe predicted that “at the end of the day” the church would see “some kind of regionalization.” Ninety percent of African delegates disagreed with Longe in their rejection of regional conferences following the 2008 General Conference. United Methodist liberals must be hoping that either a regionalization does occur, or that more African delegates follow Longe’s line of thinking in casting aside tradition and seeking supposed cultural relevance.