In a significant piece of United Methodist news, American United Methodists learned last week about a statement put forward by 11 out of the 12 active African United Methodist bishops and one retired African United Methodist bishop. Although news reached the US only last week, the statement was crafted and adopted two months ago at the bishops' September 7-11 meeting in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
The statement tackles three issues: global terrorism, marriage and sexuality, and the unity of the church. It calls for greater church attention to issues of global terrorism. It condemns gay and lesbian marriage and advocates for sexuality to be expressed only within monogamous heterosexual marriages. It calls for continued unity of The United Methodist Church, even in the face of disagreements over marriage and sexuality. It also calls for daily prayer at General Conference 2016.
The statement elicited significant response upon its release. In particular, American conservatives and liberals interested in LGBT issues predictably lauded or condemned the statement, respectively. Pieces such as those written by Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy praised the statement's anti-gay marriage stance, while on the other side, pieces such as those written by Reconciling Ministries and Hacking Christianity took issue with this aspect of the statement. The official UMNS story eschewed either path and instead stressed the call for unity of the church. Most commentators affirmed the anti-terrorist stance without devoting significant attention to it.
The most significant aspect of this statement, though, may not be any of the issues it contains but the mere fact that it exists. The statement may prove the first step in a trend toward African United Methodist bishops speaking out with a unified voice on a whole host of topics. If that proves to be true, then whether Americans agree or disagree with it, such advocacy on the part of African bishops will certainly shift the way dialogue happens in the UMC.