Africa Initiative Condemns Gay Bishop’s Election

Methodist Voices on November 14, 2022

The provocative election of a partnered gay bishop by the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church earlier this month has prompted the following strong protest from the Africa Initiative. The Africa Initiative is a grassroots network of elected delegates and other respected leaders in African United Methodism, which has been instrumental in Africans becoming more vocal and influential in recent United Methodist General Conferences. 

Some wider context is important to understand. The UMC’s 2019 General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan thanks largely to the votes of African delegates. Since then, Africans have become the majority of the global denomination. However, some African bishops have chosen to politically align themselves with U.S. liberals, who control the denominational bureaucracy on which these bishops are financially dependent. These tensions were prominently seen earlier this Fall when several liberal-aligned African bishops (who were inaccurately portrayed as representing ALL African bishops) issued a statement condemning the theologically orthodox caucuses, the Africa Initiative and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. With extraordinary heavy-handedness, this sub-group of African bishops, to the great delight of their liberal U.S. partners, pledged to “not allow or entertain any activities” of either orthodox caucus in their areas.

In subsequent correspondence with Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe, president of the Africa College of Bishops, UM Action asked him if he was willing to go on record with a similar stance to “not allow or entertain any activities of” the LGBTQ+ activist caucus, the Reconciling Ministries Network, in his area. We also asked him to clarify whether or not he “support[ed] or oppose[d] any potential changes to United Methodist church law in any way that could allow at least certain regions of our denomination, like the United States, celebrate homosexual wedding ceremonies and remove the Discipline’s prohibition of ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual’ ministers.” In repeated back-and-forth, Bishop Nhiwatiwa did not directly answer either question, ultimately saying, “The best I can do is to apologize for failing to respond to you in a way which satisfies you.” However, he earlier spoke at an online event that focused on promoting the Christmas Covenant, which would give the U.S. full authority to have non-celibate gay pastors and bishops, and strip African United Methodists of their current power in helping set global moral standards for the denomination. By electing an openly partnered gay United Methodist bishop now, the Western Jurisdiction is acting as if the Christmas Covenant is already in force, without waiting to see if the international General Conference wants to adopt it.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church on pressing issues of concern to the post-separation United Methodist Church and/or the Global Methodist Church. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.

The Africa Initiative statement begins below:

Africa Initiative Condemns the Election of a Gay Bishop within the United Methodist Church

During the period, 2 to 5 November 2022, the United Methodist Church within the geographical region of the United States of America had an opportunity to elect new episcopal leaders to replace those affected by mandatory retirement. The leadership of the Africa Initiative would like to appreciate this opportunity afforded our brothers and sisters to elect their episcopal leaders; something that the UMC in Africa is also looking forward to if principles of fairness and justice within the global UMC must prevail. We have also noticed with appreciation the intentional efforts by the Americans to try to strike a balance between gender and ethnicity in the overall results of that election process.

Sadly, however, out of the thirteen elected Bishops, one is an openly gay practicing person, a man married to another man. This action contravenes the teachings of both the Holy Bible (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:8-10; Romans 1:26–27), and our current Book of Discipline (BOD, 2016, ¶161g, ¶304.3, ¶341.6, ¶2702.1). We are highly disappointed by the blatant breaking of our denominational rules with impunity. This is an open defiance to our own rules, with the acquiescence of the Council of Bishops. We expect our episcopal leaders to hold one another accountable to lead the UMC consistent with our current denominational Book of Discipline. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We are deeply concerned that the UMC in America in particular the global UMC in general is rapidly returning to the days of the Judges, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6 NIV).

We mourn the lack of accountability by some of our Bishops whom we expect to lead by Christ-centered examples, upholding and enforcing our denomination’s doctrinal and moral standards. This behavior sadly continues to erode trust and increases our suspicion to an unprecedented level within the denomination about the Council of Bishops’ ability to provide spiritual guidance and leadership for the global UMC. We strongly condemn such acts of rebellion. We shudder at the thought of the space being promised to traditionalists in the so called “Big Tent” church being pitched in the rhetoric of the future UMC (post-separation UMC) by the powers that be.

As shepherds of God’s flock entrusted to their care, we expect Bishops within the UMC to uphold the virtue of accountability. Amidst the uncertainty of UMC’s future in Africa, we encourage our own African bishops to step forward and add their voices of disapproval of the breaking of our denominational rules in broad daylight with impunity. Kindly remember that not doing anything about the ongoing violations of our church’s doctrines and moral standards is actually doing something, and your silence implies your complicity.

We are fervently praying for sanity to prevail within the United Methodist Church. While the Book of Discipline has not yet changed, we expect our Bishops to lead the efforts toward ensuring that every faithful United Methodist remain law abiding. Our leaders must avoid selective applications of rules governing the UMC to disenfranchising majority membership of the church. Such action breeds a state of anarchy within the church, and makes the UMC an unhealthy Institution to belong. We are deeply concerned about these violations, and trust that the Council of Bishops in particular and the global leadership of the UMC in general would give our position statement a timely consideration.

Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah

General Coordinator

On behalf of the Africa Initiative Leadership

  1. Comment by David on November 14, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Isn’t it long past due for Africans to have their own denomination instead of being subject to the Great White Fathers and Mothers of the US? Their difficulties in attending GCs in the US make this all the more reasonable.

  2. Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary (ret. UM clergy) on November 14, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    The sooner their independence, the better.

  3. Comment by David F Miller on November 14, 2022 at 8:28 pm

    If the Africans leave the UMC it will only allow the progressives to more rapidly change the doctrines.

  4. Comment by George on November 14, 2022 at 9:35 pm

    They say “you can’t stop progress “. Let’s change that to “progressives “. We the traditionalist didn’t stop it. We just sat around and tried to ignore what was happening out west and elsewhere. We failed. I hope only the best for the African churches and hope they will have learned from our failures.

  5. Comment by Stuart on November 15, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    “We expect our episcopal leaders to hold one another accountable to lead the UMC consistent with our current denominational Book of Discipline. ”

    LOL. I’m sorry, but that is a joke!!!
    The Bishops in the UMC are going to do whatever they want to, and Discipline be trashed,
    EXCEPT when it fits their agenda!
    Also, realize the the Big Tent=BIG LIE.

  6. Comment by Skipper on November 18, 2022 at 11:19 am

    Good for the African Initiative. I don’t know what is the saddest thing about this. Progressives I have met understand that this is very evil and yet they support it’s practice anyway. Perhaps this is like the Israelite’s who thought they could worship both God and Baal. After many years they found out that they had not just disappointed God, but made him very angry at them and it was now too late to make a new plan.

  7. Comment by John Smith on November 18, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    Is there something about being a bishop that causes a departure from orthodoxy? or is it simple hubris?

    RC, TEC, UMC, ELCA, etc seem to show that the concept of an Episcopacy is wrong.

  8. Comment by Skipper on November 18, 2022 at 10:44 pm

    John, I think it is the concept of an Episcopacy itself, at least when paired with lifetime appointments. John Wesley didn’t want Methodists to have bishops and he was pretty sharp in his thinking. Perhaps he had discovered the lifetime appointments caused serious problems. I was glad to hear the Global Methodist Church will not have lifetime bishops.

  9. Comment by John Smith on November 20, 2022 at 10:01 am

    I don’t think its the lifetime appointment. Even the GMC making noises about 15 year terms doesn’t change much as far as that goes given ages, etc. They will all probably retire upon the completion of a term.

    I think the problem is the concept of the bishop and the unaccountable nature of the bishop in the UMC simply makes it worse.

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