Tuesday, February 16, 2016

LYNC response to African bishops

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

As previously reported on this blog, last September, 11 of the 12 active African UMC bishops and one retired African UMC bishop put forward a statement on global terrorism, marriage and sexuality, and the unity of the church. The statement gained widespread attention in the United States in November and engendered a lot of commentary from a variety of theopolitical standpoints, especially regarding the bishops' remarks on marriage and sexuality. Links to several such responses are included in our previous post about the statement.

Just last week, however, a UMNS news story highlighted one particular response, an open letter to the African bishops released in early January by the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC), a consortium of several official and affiliated United Methodist organizations, including Black Methodists for Church Renewal; Fossil Free UMC; Love Prevails; Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos (MARCHA); Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA); Methodists In New Directions (MIND); National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM); Native American International Caucus of United Methodists (NAIC); Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM); Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN); United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities; United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns; and Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM).

There are two things that make this statement newsworthy and different from many of the previous writings in response to the African bishops' statement. First, the statement is phrased as a letter directly to the African bishops, not a comment on the African bishops' statement directed at a third-party (predominantly American) audience. LYNC certainly had a wider audience in mind by issuing their response as an open letter, but the bishops themselves seem to be the primary audience.

Second, LYNC includes a mix of unofficial but United Methodist-affiliated organizations and the officially recognized UMC racial and ethnic caucuses. While previous responses included those from unofficial but United Methodist-affiliated organizations such as Good News and Reconciling Ministries Network, the LYNC response is, as far as I know, the first response to include the voices of official parts of the UMC organizational infrastructure.

It is too soon to know how or if the African bishops will respond to this open letter by LYNC and what the effects of either the African bishops' statement or the LYNC open letter will be in other parts of the denomination. Both statements obviously have implications for the upcoming General Conference in May. Observers will have to wait to see what (if any) effects these two documents have at that gathering.


  1. The open letter does not speak for the mainstream in the UMC or take the full substance of the African bishops' letter seriously. For example, we cannot simply talk about unfettered abortion as a reproductive rights and the right of a woman to have control of her own body. Such language represents a historical and social context that is not tenable with the scriptures or the expressed desires of the letter "to set the captives free." Over 11,000 abortions of viable humans happens in America. These are people who can live outside the womb. Most are not done on the basis of medical need. The Love They Neighbor coalition has fallen into the same gross error as those who argued with Jesus about "who is my neighbor." Jesus will not allow us to draw a line in the sand and privilege one group of humans as the neighbor for whom we have an obligation while ignoring the other. In this case, the babies are our neighbor. They demand to be heard and set free. We must love them. Like all genocides, one must dehumanize the victim before you can justify the atrocity. The language of the open letter works in that direction by its used of hackneyed language that is more suitable for a protest rally than a theological discussion.

    The other issues in the letter have already been addressed by others. Suffice it to say, you cannot make a sustainable moral argument by referring to a canon within a canon. The living out of the kingdom in the NT includes a total surrender to the lordship of God and a willingness to die to oneself in order to enter in. It also includes multitudes of warnings to those who reject the kingdom or turn from it. Those warning are laced with "punishment" (destruction) language. Holiness is required. God obligates the UMC to give faithful and true witness to the entire NT and not to pick selected, decontextualized verses to promote a political theology. The open letter represents why the American connection needs to listen with humility to the prophetic critique of the African bishops.

  2. As significant as their contributions may be to the ongoing dialogue about human sexuality, member groups of LYNC are not to be identified as "official parts of the UMC infrastructure" as defined by the Book of Discipline. Most caucus groups wish to protect their autonomy and the freedom it provides to remain unaccountable to church authority.