African United Methodist Bishops Speak

on November 19, 2015

Recently 14 United Methodist bishops in Africa, collectively representing 5 million United Methodists in Africa’s growing churches, spoke out remarkably on the topics of terrorism and marriage.

Their words were very different from rhetoric typical of the long declining U.S. church.

(One of the bishops, David Yemba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pictured above, recently visited my office as part of an ecumenical Congolese delegation of church leaders with the National Endowment for Democracy.)

Speaking well before the recent Paris terror, the African United Methodist bishops cited Islamist terror groups like Nigeria-based Boko Haram and Somalia-based Al-Shabab for their “atrocities and mayhem,” such as suicide bombings, kidnappings and rape. They prayed for “divine intervention” and for the “persecuted church,” pledging to search for practical counter measures to “needless suffering.”

The African bishops were too polite to mention that U.S. church agencies and officials almost never talk about terrorism per se, instead lamenting “violence,” often implying no major moral distinction between terrorism and military/police action against it. I can recall no major official United Methodist attention in the U.S. to Boko Haram and Al-Shabab, which have murdered thousands of Africans, targeting Christians especially.

Unlike protected, wealthy Americans, the Africans must actually live with and contend against these ongoing Islamist terror forces. They don’t have our luxury of detached, abstract theorizing about “violence.”

The African bishops also spoke up strongly in defense of United Methodist biblical teaching on marriage, which next year’s governing General Conference will again debate. Here are their words:

Marriage and Sexuality

Over the past four decades, from 1972 until the present, we have watched with shock and dismay the rapid drift of our denomination from this Holy call to a warm embrace of practices that have become sources of conflict that now threatens to rip the Church apart and distract her from the mission of leading persons to faith and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One of such practices is the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender).

We are deeply saddened that the Holy Bible, our primary authority for faith and the practice of Christian living, and our Book of Discipline are being grossly ignored by some members and leaders of our Church in favor of social and cultural practices that have no scriptural basis for acceptance in Christian worship and conduct. Yet they continue to attempt to persuade members of the Church to incorporate these practices as an accepted code of conduct within global United Methodism.

As leaders of the church in Africa, we call upon all United Methodists, Bishops, clergy and Laity to an unreserved commitment to the Holy Bible as the primary authority for faith and practice in the church. We call upon all members throughout the connection to adopt practices consistent with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. We submit to the teachings of Scripture that God designed marriage to be between man and woman, and the procreation of children is a blessing from God (Gen. 2:24-25; Psalm 127:3-5). Scripture also teaches that all persons are sexual beings, whether or not they are married. However, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant bond of a faithful monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and not within same-sex unions or polygamy. The Christian marriage covenant is holy, sacred, and consecrated by God and is expressed in shared fidelity between one man and one woman for life. In this vein, we denounce all forms of sexual exploitation, including fornication, adultery, sexual commercialization, slavery, abuse, polygamy, etc.

As shepherds of God’s flock, we covenant to be in ministry with those of our members who adopt practices that are inconsistent with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

The bishops concluded by urging that the 2016 General Conference include “daily prayer sessions for the return of our denomination to Biblical teachings, the unity of the church, global terrorism (remembering the millions of refugees) and the cessation of wars around the globe.”

They also asked that the Council of Bishops “commit to demonstrating their shepherding responsibility (1 Peter 5:2-4) by acting consistently with the Holy Bible for to do otherwise would require that one must recuse himself or herself from the divine call to be Shepherd of all of God’s people.”

There is almost no precedent in the modern history of United Methodism for a group of bishops to speak out forcefully in defense of traditional Christian doctrine. And there’s no precedent for the African bishops together speaking publicly. This statement represents an important turning point for our church.

The Africans increasingly realize they represent the emerging majority of our church, an awareness that requires accepting increasing responsibility. Membership statistics indicate the U.S. church lost another 100,000 members or so in 2014, now standing at 7.2 million, having lost nearly 4 million members in 45 years. Meanwhile United Methodism in Africa stands at nearly 5 million and grows 200,000 annually, soon to become a majority, perhaps in 8 years or less.

American Methodism is exhausted and depleted. There are pockets of vitality but they prosper despite not because of the denomination, whose governing elites have presided over a half century of decline, institutional inertia and theological discordance.

But the Lord is preserving and reviving global United Methodism through Africa, without which our denomination would have long ago suffered the schism and accelerated decline of nearly all other U.S. Mainline Protestant denominations after they abandoned Christian teaching about marriage. While the American Mainline dies, United Methodism is a growing soon to be 13 million member denomination.

The further globalization and Africanization of United Methodism will discomfit many U.S. church members. Liberals of course are exasperated that they no longer can hope to sexually liberalize official church teaching, after their 40 year battle. Moderate institutionalists will lose power and authority over the church bureaucracy. And many conservatives will not appreciate that the new standard bearers of orthodoxy are in Africa and are far more numerous than United Methodist Evangelicals in America.

There will be many, many growing pains for United Methodism. An old identity that was failing but familiar is dying, and the new identity is foreign and untried. But this transformation is the salvation of our church, so let’s thank God for it.

  1. Comment by the_enemy_hates_clarity on November 19, 2015 at 9:51 am

    They are on the frontline of the battle, both physically and spiritually. On the issues of resistance to anti christian persecution and biblical fidelity, they make most US Bishops look weak. I am proud to call the United Methodist Bishops.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  2. Comment by TMTP on November 20, 2015 at 7:30 am

    biblical fidelity—-hmmmm—‘for all have sinned’—
    unless one can approach God and others with humility—that one is still a very incomplete creation—

  3. Comment by TMTP on November 20, 2015 at 7:29 am

    so schism here we come—and as fearful as some make of this—in Christ, we will all be okay

  4. Comment by Troy on November 20, 2015 at 10:25 am

    You begin by addressing the heart-breaking issue of terrorism and somehow morph your writing into a divisive piece on gay marriage. Whatever happened to Wesley’s “Agree to disagree”? Our African brethren and sistren are indeed important to our church, but so are all of our sincere voices. Our voices are divided because the will of God can be a difficult thing to discern, but our spirits should never be divided.
    It seems to be more of a lack of urgency in evangelization (as we were well-known for in the early days) that has caused the decline in ours and other mainline denominations, not disagreements on points of theology peripheral to salvation.

  5. Comment by AndrewDowling on November 20, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Seriously, you think Wesley would have “agreed to disagree” on sexual ethics? No way.

  6. Comment by Troy on November 20, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    He would not preach or practice in his own life freedom of sexuality, but he would always accept his brother or sister in love. His sermons are always exhortative, but always loving never judging.

  7. Comment by Quartermaster on December 27, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    You haven’t read much of Wesley. The man condemned sin and told sinners what the result of rejecting God’s way was. A practicing homosexual is neither brother nor sister since they are living in open sin.

  8. Comment by Troy on December 28, 2015 at 8:34 am

    (I’ve read every word of Wesley’s published works. My undergrad degree is in theology from a conservative Wesleyan university.) I’d be glad to whip out some quotations with some contextual criticism for you, but I am not sure it would do much good.

  9. Comment by Quartermaster on December 29, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Obviously reading Wesley didn’t do you much good if you really think he would not condemn sin. Condemning sin is NOT judgmental except in terms of the world’s moral relativism.

  10. Comment by Troy on December 31, 2015 at 10:27 am

    I said Wesley would accept his brother or sister in love. Of course he condemned sin, but he also believed he was not omniscient enough to determine which people are truly sinners or truly holy. Wesley understood there is the essential Gospel of salvation, but he also understood there are always items on the periphery that can and will be disagreed upon by many without calling into question another’s love of God.

  11. Comment by Quartermaster on December 31, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    If yyou are contending that a homosexual that has not repudiated their sin would be accepted by John Wesley as a brother or sister, you have no idea what John Wesley taught. John Wesley’s position on scripture and its definition of sin is the same as that of historic Christianity which rejected such people as brothers or sisters in Christ. No one practicing sin is a brother or sister in Christ.

  12. Comment by Troy on January 4, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Wesley accepted many as brothers and sisters in Christ who had not repudiated their sins. He would preach against the sins, but he would not presume to be able to judge who had repudiated his or her sins.
    Wesley’s position on scripture and its definition of sin is the same as his branch of historic Christianity. There have been many definitions and positions throughout the Church’s history (many of which are considered within the realm of orthodox Christianity). Most Protestant Christians in America come from the Wesleyan branch or the Calvinist branch. So, to say that the historical figure to whom one’s theological viewpoint is largely attributed is in-line with historical theology seems kind of circular in its reasoning. Also, every brother or sister in Christ practices sin, or is it you who denies classic Christian doctrine?

  13. Comment by Quartermaster on January 4, 2016 at 11:27 am

    Yes, Wesley did accept the biblical definition of sin. No disagreement there. But accepting someone as brother or sister who had not repudiated sin is quite false. Repentance requires one repudiate sin, and I’ve never seen evidence that Wesley accept an unrepentant sinner as brother or sister.

  14. Comment by Troy on January 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    I never said he accepted unrepentant believers as brethren/sistren in Christ. I stated that he would have no trouble accepting one who claimed to be a lover of God. Wesley did not seem to believe it was his place to tell that one that they were lying (because, like I stated, Wesley knew he could not see into humans’ hearts).
    Wesley’s contemplations on holiness gave him a great depth of insight into the imperfections of every believer. It was a heart chasing after God and the things God loves that Wesley wished his listeners to have. Any preaching on individual sins was exhortative toward that goal, not the goal of dividing the sheep from the goats.

  15. Comment by Quartermaster on January 4, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    You need to go back and actually read what you said. I replied to what you posted and didn’t make things up.

  16. Comment by Troy on January 5, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Again, I repeat, I never said he accepted unrepentant believers. I think we are using different definitions of repudiate. I meant, he accepted those who claimed to love God and displayed efforts or evidence toward that end.
    Wesley said:
    “The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities.I exact more from myself, and less from others. Go thou and do likewise!”
    “I dare not, therefore, presume to impose my mode of worship on any other. I believe it is truly primitive and apostolical: but my belief is no rule for another.”
    “We should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.”
    (one of my favorites) “Whosoever therefore imagines, that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe indeed, that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule, both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist.”
    “In order to examine ourselves thoroughly, let the case be proposed in the strongest manner. What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still.
    O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that casts out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give himself wholly up thereto. Speak well of him wheresoever you are; defend his character and his mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, his sphere of action; show him all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in his behalf, that he may save both himself and them that hear him”

  17. Comment by Quartermaster on January 5, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    It makes little difference what you claim. Go back and read what you wrote.

  18. Comment by eric pone on November 20, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    The African Church and that Church in the Northern and Eastern US are two ships passing in the night. Lets say they get their wish at the 2016 conference(they probably will)….good luck enforcing that in the pews!!! You can’t put us on trial (like anyone with sense would show up) and you can’t throw out young people who aren’t joining, yet attending and being very active in the live of the church. (People like myself) I find keeping the governance of the church at arms length while going to church and being active is a balance that more Americans will find if this nonesense continues.

    And the Bishops can preach their human sexuality propaganda until blue in the face. We’re no longer listening to hate. We stopped listening a long long time ago. Most just smile and nod to make you feel good about yourself.

  19. Comment by AndrewDowling on November 20, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Disapproval is not “hate.”

    Grow up. And take a look at the numbers – most young people are NOT rushing out to join the pro-gay churches – quite the opposite. Do you want to race the Episcopalians to see who can lose members the fastest?

  20. Comment by Quartermaster on December 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Propaganda like the Bible? Also known as God’s word. God loved man enough to send His Son to die to make provision for sin so we could be saved from it, not in it. You want salvation? Then you have to do it God’s way, not the LGBTXYZ way.

    Salvation starts with repentance of and repudiation of sin. You can’t stay in what God calls sin and be in the Kingdom.

  21. Comment by Alan on November 20, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I am glad for their denunciations of polygamy and slavery, even though these are without serious Biblical foundation.

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