Friday, September 7, 2018

Recommended readings: Africa Initiative meeting

The Africa Initiative, a unofficial caucus group of African United Methodists with ties to conservative American United Methodist caucus groups, met a few weeks ago in Nairobi, Kenya. Among other discussions and trainings, the group discussed proposed legislation for the upcoming called General Conference in February 2019. The group endorsed the Traditional Plan. You can read a UMNS article by African journalist E. Julu Swen about the meeting here.

The meeting has received some pushback from African United Methodists living in the United States. For examples, see articles by Albert Otshudi Longe and Kalaba Chali.

Amid the meeting and its criticism, there are four points worth highlighting:

1. Not all Africans think the same. There are debates in Africa, just as there are in the US, even if they are not the same debates.

2. While American traditionalists and progressives are promoting various African voices, we should be careful to not just read these African voices as presenting the same set of views as their American allies. Africans have their own takes on issues and their own takes on which issues are most worthy of the church's focus.

3. Both Chali and Longe are living in the United States. One can interpret their critiques of the Africa Initiative in a variety of ways, but one interpretation is to see a distinction between the views individual Africans hold and the views Africans feel free to express publicly in Africa. Many African cultures emphasize deference to communal norms to a much greater degree and individual expression to a much lesser degree than does US culture.

4. Swen's article alludes to conflicts between the Africa Initiative and the African bishops. Three of the thirteen African bishops were at the Nairobi meeting, but the relationship between the Africa Initiative and the bishops as a whole, along with the different strategies each adopt in advance of General Conference 2019, may actually be the determining factor for how African delegates approach that General Conference and thus the result of the conference.

1 comment:

  1. Where one lives influences how one thinks about social issues like gay marriage and homosexual conduct. As a whole, the incidence of homosexuality in Africa is lower than that in America. More importantly, the approval of homosexuality in Africa is lower than it is in America. For example, only 1% of Nigerians think that it should be legal. The general population in the Middle East (not including Israel) and Africa strongly oppose homosexuality. When those people become UMs, their sentiments are reinforced by their engagement with scripture. When Africans relocate to America or go to school in America, they have a new perspective by which to evaluate their native orientation. As such, Africans who work with the general church in the US should be more open to homosexuality than those in Africa. Additionally, since America has regions with varying values, we can see that the opinions of American UMs also reflect the norms of the regions in which they live. Still, none of this should influence how we discern together what the scriptures teach about faith and practice as it relates to this issue. Ours is to faithfully discern, teach, and preach the revelation of God. Theology should not be determined by opinion polls or cultural biases.