In early November 2015, Bishops of the United Methodist Church across the continent of Africa issued a statement to the global fellowship of The United Methodist Church. The statement called on The United Methodist Church both to confront global terrorism and to hold the line on church teachings regarding human sexuality.
The November statement has come at a time when church leaders are preparing for General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body. The Bishops recommended that the 2016 General Conference include daily prayer, “for the return of our denomination to biblical teachings, the unity of the church” and the end of “global terrorism (remembering the millions of refugees) and the cessation of wars around the globe.”
In recent months, the world has watched with shock and dismay the massive human rights abuses against innocent, helpless and defenseless families, especially women and children, and the horrible refugee crisis that has engulfed and overwhelmed parts of Europe and Africa, with no permanent solution in sight. This crisis, is no doubt the result of the ongoing bloody and brutal civil war in Syria, the ISIS insurgency across parts of Europe, as well as the Boko Haram and Al-Shabab insurgencies in parts of Africa.
In Africa, the Boko Haram insurgents continue to carry out atrocities and mayhem against innocent citizens in towns, villages, cities, and religious facilities (mosques and churches) in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, etc. Young men and women are being manipulated to carry out suicide bombings to destroy innocent lives and property. The Al-Shabab also continues to unleash untold havoc against innocent civilians in Somalia, Kenya, and other parts of Africa.
The Bishops said that they are “deeply saddened” because they see both the Bible and the United Methodist Book of Discipline being ignored in the ways in which some United Methodists minister with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The Bishops from African conferences noted that church teachings only affirm sexual relations in monogamous, heterosexual marriage, and not in same-sex unions or polygamy.
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.
Six weeks after the United Methodist Bishops’ statement, on January 14, the Anglican Communion world leaders temporarily restricted the role of the U.S. Episcopal Church in their global fellowship as a sanction over the Episcopalian’s embrace and performance of gay marriages. Episcopalians were barred for three years from any policy-setting positions in the Anglican Communion while a task force is formed that will try to reconcile conflicting views over sexuality in the 85-million-member family of churches.
The Anglican Communion consists of “national” churches, the Episcopal Church being the Anglican body in the United States. The United Methodist Church is not a “communion,” or family of national churches; it is one church, with one doctrine and discipline. We have the World Methodist Council, which, though in an obviously limited way, would be more like the Anglican Communion; however, The United Methodist Church is “one church,” not a “communion of churches.”
If the unity of a “communion” is dependent upon order and covenant in relation to Scripture and doctrine, as the World Anglican Communion is insisting, how much more is the unity of The United Methodist Church, as one denomination?
The United Methodist Church in Africa makes up about 35% of our global United Methodist membership. That is not a minority voice. If we are going to be a “world,” and not a “national” church, then we cannot ignore that voice. Nor can we try to organize our life in such a way that one part of the church has one order and discipline related to Scripture and doctrine, with another part a different order and discipline.
In both the November statement and the Anglican Communion decision, it was the dynamic voice of the emerging church in Africa that was being heard.
The question is, will we remain willing to hear it?
I am depending on Africa’s leadership in saving the United Methodist Church as we know it. I hope the fire there catches on in the United States.