Here’s my interview with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah, leader of the Africa Initiative supporting theological orthodoxy within global United Methodism. He’s also dean of the United Methodist seminary in Monrovia, Liberia and a delegate to the denomination’s governing General Conference, whose postponed meeting is next year.
United Methodism is on the verge of schism between traditionalists and progressives, about which I ask Kulah. About half of the nearly 13 million member denomination is now in Africa. After the schism, Africans will be the majority of the new traditionalist church.
Kulah is a key leader in global Methodism. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Our electronic connection was not always great, so he prepared an approximate transcript below.
I. Africa UMC prevented UMC from following other USA based Mainline Protestant denominations from abandoning biblical sexual ethic. Why is UMC in Africa so committed to traditional biblical beliefs?
(a) In response to the first part of your question, I would say that it would be unfair for Africa UMC to take the credit for the decision of the global UMC to remain faithful to the traditional teachings of Scripture. The action on 26th February, 2019 at the Special General Conference Session in St. Louis, Missouri was a collective decision by the majority population of our global church who are Traditionalists, and who believe in the Holy Bible as the Word of God, and primary authority for our belief and Christian living.
(b) We are committed to traditional biblical beliefs because that is what we know as the unchanging, infallible Word of God since the birth of the Christian Church in Africa. Despite numerous cultural beliefs and practices across Africa, for the Christian Church in Africa, the Bible remains our primary authority for faith and practice.
(c) The early missionaries and episcopal leaders from America to Africa were all committed to traditional biblical beliefs. Traditional biblical beliefs form part of our spiritual DNA.
II. How is Africa UMC preparing for impending schism?
First, the impending schism is unfortunate. The Africa UMC never asked for it, never envisioned it. The impending schism is being imposed upon the global church, especially the UMC in Africa because the influential progressive and liberal part of our church in America overrules the decision of the general church to remain a traditionalist church, especially on the issue of sexual ethic.
1. Our first strategy is prayer: The UMC AFRICA INITIATIVE which we lead is mobilizing prayer network across the three Central Conferences of Africa, to seek God’s wisdom, guidance, and direction into the future (James 1:5)
2. Our second strategy is networking around a shared vision: for encouragement to remain a biblically committed, Christ-centered, evangelistically functional, economically viable and vision-driven traditionalist church on Continent of Africa.
3. Financial Status of the UMC IN AFRICA: We do not expect that the economic situation of the church in Africa would be easy following the impending schism, given that about 50% or more of program and project funds of annual conferences in Africa come from the States. We will have to adjust to the new day, as we have always learned to adjust when crises hit the Continent of Africa.
III. Will any parts of UMC in Africa stick with liberalized USA UMC after schism?
1. That is an interesting question. I cannot speak for any of the annual conferences in Africa. However, In Africa we have 13 Episcopal Areas, and over 30 annual and provisional annual conferences. They all claim to be traditionalists, and their delegates to past General Conferences have always voted in support of the traditionalist position of our global church, including this issue of human sexuality that is a primary factor for the impending division.
IV. What will UMC Africa lose financially in schism?
1. You may well ask, what is Africa losing financially? Without knowing their biblical leaning and theological position, the UMC in Africa has had partners across the spectrum supporting different kinds of ministries and projects in Africa. But since the February 26th decision of the Special General Conference, some progressive and liberal partners have selected to withhold their support.
2. Such actions have only strengthened our resolved to depend upon God and become more intentional about securing the economic future of the UMC in Africa by Africans.
3. In the impending schism, we are committed to remain traditionalist, and trust God to provide for his church in Africa
V. How can USA traditionalists help UMC in Africa?
Answer: That is an interesting question. I think your question should rather be, “How can USA traditionalists and African traditionalists be of help to one another, following the schism?” And that is what I would prefer responding to.
1. We would want everyone-USA Traditionalist, Progressive or Liberal to relate to the church in Africa as equal members of the Body of Christ who are capable of determining their own destiny and future consistent with the teaching of Scripture, their biblical ethics and values.
2. We desire mutual partnership in response to the holistic needs of one another, not one that is dependent or paternalistic.
VI. What can UMC in Africa teach USA church about church vitality and evangelism?
Answer: I would offer the following suggestion that have been tried and tested in the church in Africa:
1. Preaching the simple message of Scripture: Preach the simple message of Scripture without diluting it with the cultures and philosophies of the day (Col. 2:8) is key to church vitality and evangelism. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17)
2. Prioritizing Prayer Ministry of the Church: Prayer is the church’s defensive weapon against the enemy, the source of strength and encouragement on our spiritual journey (2Corinthians 10:3-5).
3. Evangelistic and Revival Meetings: Organize regular evangelistic and revival meetings to which you invite your neighbors. There are many within our neighborhoods who are hurting in silence, suffering in silence, and dying in silence because no one is reaching out to them.
4. The communal life of Africans makes it easy for us to reach out to our neighbors. The church in America must overcome the individualistic culture that impedes evangelism.
5. Sustain Bible-Based Seminaries: Most of the seminaries in Africa are Bible-based, and therefore they produce bible-believing pastors and leaders. If the seminaries in America return to the teaching of biblical Christianity, the church in America will experience more conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, spiritual renewal, and revival. This is because, the church is only as effective as the pastor.