Friday, November 6, 2020

Recommended Reading: African bishops make their own choices

The Council of Bishops has issued a press release summarizing the sentiments expressed by the African bishops on the future of the denomination at their meeting last month. The press release incorporates quotations by Bishop Nhiwatiwa, current president of the African College of Bishops, rather than taking the form of an official statement by the bishops.

The press release is notable for at least three reasons as United Methodists look to the future of the denomination:

1. The bishops rejected the choice presented to them by the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.

The bishops asserted their intention to remain in The United Methodist Church, even following some sort of separation in the denomination. Yet at two separate points, they also expressed displeasure with a choice between leaving with US Traditionalists and staying with US Centrists and Progressives, and they suggested that the Protocol might need to be renegotiated.

2. The bishops rebuked both American Traditionalists and American Centrists/Progressives.

On the Traditionalists, the African bishops disputed the US definition of theological traditionalism and decried "interference in African conferences by people from the United State who are causing confusion and hatred among Africans in the church," a reference to Traditionalist efforts to recruit Africans to a new Traditionalist denomination, often by actively undermining the bishops.

On the Centrists, the African bishops indicated that Africans "might not feel comfortable to remain with the [Centrist/Progressive] branch of the United Methodist church," even as both US Centrists/Progressives and Africans intend to remain in the UMC after a separation.

3. The bishops asserted their intention to set their own path.

The press release is entitled, "African bishops: Let’s make our own choices," and that summarizes the sentiment of the piece. Bishop Nhiwatiwa said, "We have a choice of merely folding our hands and wait[ing] for events to unfold and then react to them. The other option which we have been espousing from the beginning of these deliberations is one of protecting the heritage of the United Methodist Church in Africa." The African bishops clearly intend to set their own path.

Thus, smart analysis of the political situation in The United Methodist Church should view it as a three-way conflict (with additional viewpoints held by smaller groups) instead of as a two-way conflict between US Traditionalists and US Centrists/Progressives.


  1. As a progressive who has prayed for and given to African causes i find the rebuff from African Bishops hurtful. I've thought we were in a church together, but I guess they want nothing to do with us. I have no idea why, we, who have been faithful and gracious, deserved this summary rebuke. This statement reads as a clear manifesto from the African Bishops to end the American church. How can we be in community with leadership that doesn't want us? I don't understand what we did to deserve this relegation. As much as we may want it, African Bishops are saying they don't want to be in a church with us. The only question is how long until we wise up to this and how much damage the African church seeks to inflict on us.

    1. I don't think it's necessarily them saying they want nothing to do with American progressives. I think it's more an indirect way of saying that many Africans would not want to be in a church that is universally approving of gay marriage and gay ordination in all locations, and also that the bishops don't want to be in a church where American centrists/progressives are calling all the shots without Africans getting a say. I think there is an interest in continuing relationships, but only if Africans (and specifically the African bishops) have the ability to make their own decisions for their own contexts and have a voice in the denomination as a whole. Thus, I think you're right in your sense that the African bishops do have their own agenda which is not the same as either the US Traditionalists or the US Centrists/Progressives.

    2. "As a progressive who has prayed for and given to African causes i find the rebuff from African Bishops hurtful."

      Safe spaces are easily constructed with discarded boxes from grocery stores attached with duck tape. Cheers.