The United Methodist Council of Bishops concluded its fall meeting at Lake Junaluska, NC, on November 5. In a most unusual development, the 13 African bishops (plus one retired) issued a public statement. They called the UMC to stand in solidarity with people who suffer from unjust political systems, wars, famine, and poverty. The African bishops registered alarm at the rise of terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Shabab.
The African bishops also deplored the tendency of many in the UMC to give “a warm embrace to practices that have become sources of conflict that now threaten to rip the Church apart…One of such practices is the LGBT (agenda).” The bishops added: “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…” They also noted that church teachings “only affirm sexual relations in monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and not in same-sex unions or polygamy.”
This public declaration required great moral courage by the African leaders because they depend on United Methodist boards and agencies for much of their funding. They are certainly aware that some bishops and other United Methodist leaders in the U.S. disagree with their public statement.
It has been over a month now since the African bishops issued their public statement. To my knowledge, not a single U.S. bishop has gone on the record publicly in support of it. It has been suggested that United Methodists in the U.S. should write to their bishops urging them to support the Africans. That’s not a bad idea, but it should not be necessary. Real leaders don’t have to be persuaded or encouraged to lead. They do it because it is their God-given responsibility. In the absence of a public statement, it is reasonable to conclude that most U.S. bishops either disagree with the Africans or are afraid to take a stand.
The silence of evangelical bishops in the U.S. is deafening.
These words come to mind from the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James Russell Lowell:
“Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit and ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.”