Thursday, November 12, 2015

Recommended Reading: African UMC Bishops' Statement

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.


  1. It appears that two significant aspects of the statement haven't received the attention they deserve from United Methodists in the US. First, note that in the section on Global Terroism the bishops referred to the United Nations as the proper intervening force, not the United States. Americans would do well to note that for much of the world it is the UN, not the US that is the appropriate guarantor of security and promoter of peace. Secondly the statement makes a strong appeal to the Holy Bible as the source of authoritative teaching in the church, but says nothing about what constitutes authoritative interpretation of the text. People who are diametrically opposed on LGBTQ issues both appeal to the authority of scripture. For the African Bishops to claim that the issue cultural compliance versus scriptural authority is either ingenuous or naive. Their reading of scripture, and their views on the LGBTQ issues are every bit as much determined by their cultural setting as are readings in the US and Europe. There is no standpoint from which to judge between these opposing points of view except that of God, and the Divine perspective is not available to us, even if we are dressed in purple and bear a high ecclesial title.

  2. Africa has found its voice. Africa speaks. The world listens. Every right thinking person applauds.