Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Recommended reading: A Message to the Global UMC from UMC Africa Initiative

While much has been written by Americans about American perspectives on the Commission on a Way Forward and the possibilities and perils of its work for the future of the denomination, few voices from outside the US have been lifted up in that conversation. Thus, it is with interest that I pass along a significant African voice's statement on that nexus of issues. The statement comes from the UMC Africa Initiative, an effort by African UMC leaders to coordinate African General Conference delegates and advocate for African concerns at General Conference. You can read more about the UMC Africa Initiative in this UMNS story.

The statement, written primarily by Rev. Jerry Kulah, dean of the UMC Gbarnga School of Theology and long-time prominent voice among African United Methodists, mainly articulates a forceful argument for biblical supremacy in the life of the denomination. As part of that overall emphasis on the Bible, the statement calls for continuing the denomination's current stance on homosexuality. The statement also calls for the continued unity of the UMC, provided that the Bible remains supreme.


  1. One can only be encouraged by the creation of a regular forum that affords African United Methodists opportunities to discuss and debate issues of concern, especially in preparation for General Conferences. Should the forum be sustained over time, it may become one important barometer of regional perspective and opinion among African United Methodists--and thus of regular and more in-depth and nuanced global exposure to the church's challenges and opportunities in Africa. As such, it might go a way in addressing the challenge regarding the UM news cycle that David raised in a blog recently.

    I am, however, troubled by the open letter's suggestion that United Methodists face a "crossroads" characterized as an either-or choice between biblical commitment and cultural accommodation. Such simplistic rhetoric is not new, just disappointing in its caricature of complex issues.

  2. What makes this statement fascinating, and instructive, is the form of scriptural reasoning that is deployed, particularly in light of the claim that the Love Prevails communication have failed to use such reasoning. The communication treats scripture as a-historical, with no difference in cultural and historical context between Noah and Paul, and that it is equally contemporaneous with us today. Jeremiah tells us we are at a crossroads, and we stand there with Joshua who lived a thousand years earlier and Paul's congregations 1000 years later. There is simply no recognition, as Paul is placed in conversation with both ourselves and King David, that we might inhabit different worlds and live in different situations with different demands upon our faith. And this is why the author of the letter can so easily use a Pauline trope - of gospel versus philosophies and ideologies of contemporary society, to describe our situation today. This way of reading scripture offers enormous spiritual riches, and is certainly the way that most Christians at a popular level have read scripture through the ages. But as a study of church history, or even of the New Testament attests, it resolves no theological disputes and has no capacity to create Christian unity. When you believe that the meaning of scripture is clear then the only way you can deal with those who disagree is to accuse them of hard heartedness or having abandoned its authority. We've been down that road in the divisions of the reformation, between the now 20k plus protestant denominations, and now in the UMC. If the UMC splits over the clear meaning of scripture it will only be the first. Not the last.