Liberian United Methodists React to Separation Plan

on February 18, 2020

In a bellwether of African response to the Protocol proposal for separating United Methodism into traditional and progressive denominations, Liberia’s annual conference on February 16 urged several amendments.

Read the full resolution from the Liberia Annual Conference here.

Liberia declared that for “the common good of the global UMC, we support the need for an arranged separation, since we can no longer exist and function as one denomination; cognizant of the fact that, ‘It is better to be separated on truth than to be united on error.’ But it also asked for better terms for United Methodists joining a new traditionalist denomination.

United Methodism has over 12.5 million members globally, nearly half of whom are in Africa, where the church is growing, while the church loses nearly 100,000 members annually in the U.S. Unlike other USA Mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodism has not liberalized sexually thanks to growing traditionalist overseas churches that align with USA evangelicals.

Last year’s special General Conference, organized by USA bishops with hopes of sexual liberalization, instead tightened church teachings affirming sex only within male-female marriage. Since then, there’s been a growing consensus that the denomination must divide between conservative and liberal wings.

The Protocol, unveiled last month, backed by USA conservative and liberal caucus groups, would create a new traditional Methodist denomination, while liberals would inherit the current United Methodist bureaucracy. All local conferences and local churches could vote themselves into the traditionalist church, by 57% for conferences and majority vote for congregations, who would retain their properties.

By unanimous vote of 725 delegates representing 148,000 United Methodists, the Liberian Annual Conference urged amending the Protocol by allowing Africans who join the traditionalist church to retain United Methodism’s name and logo with “appropriate modifications.” The resolution noted that “the insignia of the UMC (Cross & flame) bears great spiritual impact on our evangelism, mission, witness and service throughout Africa and the world.”

Liberia also urged a more equitable division of denominational assets. The Protocol assigns $25 million from post-schism United Methodism to the new traditionalist church. Liberia suggested that instead $120 million in undesignated assets from church agencies be divided evenly among five USA jurisdictions and seven global central conferences.

Liberia also insisted that central conferences and annual conferences should be able to join the traditionalist church by majority vote, not by two thirds required for central conferences and 57% for annual conferences by the Protocol. It asserted that “Central Conferences of Africa are traditionalists by law and by vote since the birth of the UMC in Africa, and do not therefore need to reaffirm its evangelical/conservative status, as required by the Protocol.” And it warned that “any attempt to align or subjugate all central conferences and their annual conferences and congregations to a post-separation UMC by default, as the Protocol proposes, would be viewed as an act of colonialism and injustice against the Central Conferences.”

The Liberians also reaffirmed their support for official United Methodist teaching on sex and marriage, “consistent with the Holy Bible and the traditional understanding and practice of the Christian church for more than 2000 years, and our current Book of Discipline,” that “marriage is defined as a sacred relationship between one man and one woman, not between any two consenting adults,” and upholding the “traditional understanding and teachings of the Christian church in our theology, polity, requirements for Ordination and Christian living.”

Some USA and African bishops have assumed and hoped that much of Africa would stay with post-schism United Methodism for financial reasons. The unanimous vote in Liberia signals that Africa would be unwilling to remain with liberalized United Methodism and instead wants better terms for Africans joining a new traditionalist church.

The Protocol and other proposals for dividing United Methodism will be debated in May at the General Conference in Minneapolis.

  1. Comment by John Kenyon on February 18, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Important report. Thanks.

  2. Comment by David Gingrich on February 22, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Sounds like the Liberians should have been at the negotiations instead of the traditionalists who sold out for a mere $25 million.

  3. Comment by Bruce on February 22, 2020 at 1:13 pm


  4. Comment by Charles Wittenbrook on February 18, 2020 at 11:47 am

    I thank-God often for the brothers and sisters in Africa! You give me hope!

  5. Comment by Mike on February 18, 2020 at 1:22 pm


  6. Comment by Henning M Poulsen on February 19, 2020 at 5:49 am


  7. Comment by Bruce on February 22, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    Amen X 3!

  8. Comment by J. Marcus on February 18, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    Thank God for Africa… and maybe we Traditional Methodist Christians should keep the “Cross and Flame” logo, and let the “MINO” (Methodists In Name Only) or The United Church of America swim upstream, and maybe the MINO’s will eventually get swallowed by The United Church of Canada. LOL

  9. Comment by Bradley Pope on February 18, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    The African conferences seem to exercise wisdom and resolve unencumbered by the need for cultural approval, grateful for their example.

  10. Comment by Mrs. Iona Gorham on February 18, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    I am so thankful for those that uphold the Bible. That is how we got here in the first place!

  11. Comment by JR on February 18, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    I would agree to their use of the cross and flame, and to their majority thresholds for joining the new Traditionalist denomination. [Not that I have any say in the matter.]

  12. Comment by Greg on February 18, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    I concur with many of the points raised in the Liberian Conference’s memo. I’m curious why the liberal US folks who negotiated the deal required a higher percentage of votes for a central conference to leave the progressive church than it did for US annual conferences. If the progressives were consistent they would be equally upset by African churches with a traditional stance as they are with US traditionalists.

  13. Comment by DD on February 19, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Colonialist mentality?

  14. Comment by td on February 18, 2020 at 8:03 pm

    I think their amendments should apply here in the USA also. Why do our US leaders continue to persecute and oppress their traditional believers?

  15. Comment by Pedro José on February 18, 2020 at 8:53 pm

    I agree with the africans. I cannot understand such display of weakness and acceptance of unfair terms by the ORTHODOX methodists who are a MAJORITY.
    If anyone should have to accept less than equal terms, it’s the liberal modernists who are both in the wrong and a minority, and whose similars in other denominations have never been fair or gracious to orthodox christians when they want to leave their denomination.
    A friend from abroad.

  16. Comment by Mike Weaver on February 18, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    Did you say unanimous? 725 unanimous votes?

  17. Comment by Brother Thom on February 19, 2020 at 5:10 am

    I would only argue one point in this post. I don’t the UMC could come up with 12.5 million members even if they counted hanging chads … which is what they are doing.

    Because of the archaic process to remove members of a congregation that have died, moved, stopped coming, etc., many if not all congregations forego the three to four year process to remove names. They simply just let them sit on the rolls and report them every year to the conference as active members.

    I’ve crunched numbers on the UMCData website against actual member numbers for many churches I’m familiar with. None of the numbers match up. The reason as I mentioned above is the process is simply too hard and in some cases congregations are attached to the larger number on paper.

    For instance, the church we split from last year is listed as having 326 members on UMCData, but the reality is there are only between 20 and 30 actual members left. Another church I’m familiar with has been closed down and its doors shuttered for more than a year, but even with the most recent update it’s listed as an active congregation with about 26 members and it doesn’t even exist.

    I would speculate that the actual number of United Methodist at least in the US, is far, far below that reported by the denomination. My guess is that saying there are 9 million worldwide would be a stretch.

  18. Comment by JB on February 19, 2020 at 8:41 am

    I agree 100%.

  19. Comment by JR on February 19, 2020 at 9:17 am

    I’m sure there’s always some lag in the reporting, and likewise I’m sure that the issues you note are across the majority of the US. I know of post-college kids who are technically members but haven’t been to any church in years.

    I understand that many of the African churches have similar accountability issues – a matriarch of a family may join, and she then counts all of her family as part of the church (even though they do not profess on their own).

    I’d love to see an actual census occur.

  20. Comment by John Smith on February 19, 2020 at 6:18 am

    The amendment process is the one chance to derail the locomotive. The under representation of the African and Asian Conferences at the mediation will, as seen in this report, foster a desire for changes. Many progressives feel they are already giving too much to the “haters” and are unlikely to agree. This will be another contentious GC and may, again, solve nothing.

  21. Comment by PFSchaffner on February 19, 2020 at 9:18 am

    On numbers: I wonder to what extent inflated membership numbers are balanced out by the many active Methodists who are Methodists in deed but not in membership. My wife and I have attended a UM church for 15 years, support it with tithes, are active in missions, etc. — but never joined. There are many like us. Probably half the active congregants are not actually members. As for the name and logo, I see no reason both groups cannot inherit them. Something like this:

  22. Comment by Blake on February 19, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    I could care less about the Logo, personally I have never liked it to much a product of the sixties and I don’t think it has aged well plus in my experience it rightfully or wrongfully become associated with the Old Liberal Minority. i bet most young UMC cant even tell what the logo means other than a cross with a weird red thing next to it. Many of My conferences Church plants and most healthy congregations don’t even have it in their logo. Time to let go the past and this unsustainable model that got us here in the first place. Time for a new church with a new name new logo and a new fire of passion for spreading the good news of the gospel.

  23. Comment by symbols matter on February 19, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Yeah, you might be right for the US, but you don’t live in Africa either. If it helps our brothers and sisters to keep it, then we should keep it and display it for all to see.

  24. Comment by Richard on February 19, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    I hope and pray there is a sufficient number of U.S. delegates attending GC 2020 who will fully support the Liberia Annual Conference in their 4 part Resolution. No Amendments or other changes offered on the part of U.S. delegates should pass which detract from the Resolution approved by all 725 members (one member abstained) of the 187th AC on that “14th day of February 2020”.

    Mark, thank you for this report.

  25. Comment by JR on February 20, 2020 at 8:35 am

    I don’t think that the increase in funds will pass. That alone would likely sink the deal.

    The other pieces I think should be a slam dunk.

  26. Comment by JR on February 20, 2020 at 9:54 am

    “The protocol as it stands has lots of faults, with a colonial underpinning,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah, who leads the Liberia Conference delegation.

    And there we go. Kulah is a hard core traditionalist, is on the WCA leadership council. He’s very quotable (GC2019) – but not necessarily representative of all the voices from Africa.

    And interestingly, the $120 million that Liberia/Kulah wants? That’s approximately 100% of the unrestricted liquid assets that the UMC has (per Tom Lambrecht). So no, not going to happen.

  27. Comment by William on February 20, 2020 at 10:07 am

    On what grounds would the all-inclusive, diverse, grace, and love espousing liberals deny the Africans the logo and “United” in the name of their Methodist church, plus for example, a percentage of liquidated assets of the Post Separation UMC for the next ten years to a Central Conferences Fund of the new Traditional Methodist Church?

  28. Comment by Gary Bebop on February 20, 2020 at 11:14 am

    “The hour is coming and is now here” when African voices will speak for the church. The Africans are reading every privileged pontification from American Methodists pretending to steer the course at GC2020. Africa will speak for itself. They will not be gulled by inducements nor sit down for the lectures.

  29. Comment by JR on February 20, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    I truly hope so.

    Stand up and be counted. If they decide that the terms of the split are not acceptable, they should come out with their own plan that will bring enough people into agreement.

    And, if they can’t make it work, they can help to burn it all down. I’m pretty sure that the IRD would be fine with that option.

  30. Comment by td on February 20, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Let me remind everyone. It was the liberal supporters and their leaders who espoused burning it all down after the general conference last year.

  31. Comment by JR on February 20, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    And instead, they shifted the American representation to GC2020 to be solidly progressive.

    Words, and actions. Kulah has put his words out there, lets see what his actions are.

  32. Comment by William on February 20, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    The liberal calling card — whatever they’re accusing someone else of doing, they’re already doing it ten times over.

  33. Comment by John Smith on February 21, 2020 at 6:07 am

    Since the IRD seems to have endorsed the split and shuffling the conservatives into the WCA wouldn’t it be appropriate for a profile/story on them? What do they espouse, believe, propose? How do they govern? On a sister article here I have learned that the WCA is more proposing to be more pro-life than the UMC (very low bar) but for a group that is supposed to be the default desitination there is very little information about beliefs or governance. A statement like “We hold to Wesleyan Standards” can mean anything these days.

  34. Comment by td on February 21, 2020 at 11:59 am

    There’s truth to this, but you can check out their website.

    In general, though, their beliefs are the stated and approved beliefs of the UMC which entails complete adherence to the nicene creed. That is why this whole thing is a mess. The believers are being asked to leave so the non believers can change the faith.

  35. Comment by William on February 21, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Please take a close look at the Wesleyan Covenant Association (below). In the strangest of strange circumstances, the negotiated Protocol Plan would see the traditional denomination organized by the WCA carry out the legislation passed by the 2019 UMC Special General Conference, the Traditional Plan that’s been upheld by the UMC Judicial Council, and is now officially part of the UMC Book of Discipline as of 1/1/2020. Progressives would be freed up in a Post Separation UMC to toss out the Traditional Plan and liberalize that restructured denomination, the one that adopted the Traditional Plan in the first place. As td points out, a mess — the believers would be leaving to carry forth what the present denomination has adopted and says it officially believes while the inheritors of that denomination, the non-believers, would toss that out ASAP once the traditionalists were gone and they could convene a General Conference.

  36. Comment by William on February 21, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    And — in comes the deceivers. This (below) is how the liberal North GA Conference bishop is portraying the Protocol Plan. Yea right — this Post Separation UMC will be a denomination for those with a traditional perspective. If so, then who might be “those” who will be on “a path to separate”???


    (1). This Protocol offers a path for The United Methodist Church to continue to be a denomination for those with traditional, centrist, and progressive perspectives. The post-separation United Methodist Church will continue to have room for divergent perspectives and value diversity as an essential component of our faith.

    (2). The Protocol also offers a path to separate for those whose convictions do not allow them to continue to be United Methodist.

  37. Comment by John Smith on February 24, 2020 at 6:34 am

    Well, by the website it is obviously formed in relation to a current division, like most denominations. Despite the calls for equal voting between clergy and laity (and what decent pastor can’t tilt the selection of the lay delegate in his church?), the executive council is still completely dominated by the ordained. I see no mention of Bishops, (we can hope), and no mention of the trust clause (fingers crossed) but the by laws seems mostly concerned with the legal requirements for establishment and incorporation.

    It is set up as a support organization/PAC within a larger organization. It really does not give any of the details about what it would be as a denomination because, despite what the protocol presumes, the WCA is not a denomination. People are told if they stand for truth and leave the UMC they will join the standard bearer of traditional methodism, the WCA. But the WCA does not have ordination standards, discipline standards, seminary standards, will they just carry over the UMC standards-which gave us the clergy that led the charge away from scriptural authority? They have a belief statement that varies little from the current UMC standard which led to …? So many questions and no attempts at answers.

    Again, as far as I can tell, this shadowy entity, being passed off as a fully built orthodox bastion looks like a cloned UMC but with “right thinking” people. Why should the people take a blind leap into the abyss?

  38. Comment by jerry kabat on February 23, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    The Liberians are spot on. The Traditionalists at the bargaining table gave away the farm. This after we prevailed at GC2019. First, it should be the Progressives who are leaving. Next, if the Traditionalists leave they will need a whole lot more than $25 million to start a new denomination. Further, those leaving, whether churches or conferences, should be able to do so with a simple majority vote. And last, the new Traditionalist denomination should receive some of the Church’s real property all of which the Progressives are keeping in the agreed upon Protocol. Much of that property will be vacant after a schism. A fair amount should be given to the new denomination.

  39. Comment by United Methodist Woman on February 26, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    Thank God for our faithful African brothers and sisters. As a longtime traditional Methodist, this is gut wrenching.

  40. Comment by RuthAnne G. Henley on February 27, 2020 at 8:58 am

    This may not be in keeping with the solemnity of my vocational calling, but I am putting on my clergy robe and doing my happy dance in the front yard!

  41. Comment by Penny on March 10, 2020 at 12:38 am

    Quite recently someone asked me if I didn’t think the cross and the flame was representative of a “burning cross” ?! I had never had any inkling that someone would see it that way. Perhaps we should find a new logo/symbol for the traditional Methodists.

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