Where are United Methodists heading to? The future of the United Methodist Church beyond 2024.

Much has been said about the conflict in The United Methodist Church Many articles have been written on how Africans are being sidelined , ignored, disengaged and even misrepresented in this debate leading to the splitting up of our beloved United Methodist Church (UMC).
This article is not going to dwell on that history of frustrations. We rather choose to share our considered thoughts and opinion on where Africa is headed post 2024 General Conference.

The undisputed fact is that postponement of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, from the rescheduled 2022 to the now awaited 2024 hat ignited the splitting up of the Church particularly in the United States of America and some parts of Europe and Africa.

The scale is higher in The USA though. The major crisis in the Church in Africa is lack of official information and open platforms to engage in this debate. Most of the official news outlets of the United Methodist Church are not accessible to most African United Methodists. Even if they were, they are designed to minimizing the significance and impact of what is happening in the USA Church now to the rest of the world. This is deliberately meant to create a narrative that tells the world that what is happening is not very much of a problem. It is just one of those things that come and go! After all Methodism has a long history of splits. Most African Bishops have decided to ignore this debate all together in their Annual Conferences and Episcopal Areas. Most are actually trying to ring fence their Episcopal Areas from understanding and getting involved what is actually happening at the global level.

Meanwhile, the liberals in the Church are hoping that the increasingly liberal Bishops in the Church in The United States of America will somehow be able to slow down the increasing momentum exodus of Churches seeking to Disaffiliate from the UMC so that by the end of this year when the Disaffiliation paragraph lapses less than a third of the Churches would have left the Denomination. This will, in their opinion, help to keep the majority of the current UMC members locked in The Church . The case of The North Georgia Annual Conference is a good example for this strategy where it is reported that The Bishop has blocked further Disaffiliations until after the General Conference in 2024.

This explains partly the reason why most of the current African bishops have placed the blockade we described above. It is a strategy to lock in as many members in as is possible. So African bishops are considered key to this game plan of keeping conservative United Methodists forcibly in a denomination changing their key beliefs and practices by keeping them ignorant through withholding vital information from them. This strategy is the context in which the Statement issued by African bishops in 2022 must be understood. This equally explains the reason why Africa was denied the opportunity to elect new bishops to replace those already retired but key proponents of this strategy. They must see to it that this strategy overturns the results of the 2019 Special General Conference.

This in part also explains why The Council of Bishops ignored the mandatory retirement on some of these African bishops . They would rather have their colleagues keep earning full salaries for a whole Quadrennium in violation of Church law than loose again in the next General Conference. They can not risk having African Bishops who are predictably more conservative and may not fit into their grant strategy.
There are three basic assumptions underlying this liberal thinking:

1. It is assumed that the radical American Traditionalists would have gone by 2024. Their departure will mean that there is going to be
no major opposition to liberals changing The Discipline since it is perceived it was the radical American Traditionalists who mislead the Africans to vote wrongly in 2019. Africa is expected to behave well without the bad influence of these “colonialists” who oppose inclusivity of all God’s children.

2. It is assumed that African Bishops would regain their control over the African delegates which had been taken away from them by these “colonial” Traditionalists, thus restoring to them their “right” to “guide” their delegations to The General Conference into embracing “The Big Tent” theology that would liberate American United Methodists to adapt the discipline to suite their “missional” context thereby unlocking floodgates of financial support to Africa. Africa will also have expanded liberty to “adapt” the discipline to suite their context as well. This may include the lifting of the current ban on polygamy in the United Methodist Church.

3. It is assumed that after The General Conference Africa will be “guided” by it’s retiring bishops and the Council of Bishops to elect new progressive African bishops to replace those retired. The retiring African bishops would thus have accomplished the great sacred mission of “keeping the Church together” as it is very important to preserve the “Unity of The Church” at all costs. They will be celebrated and perhaps
accorded emeritus statuses for a job well done.

We, however, see things differently. First, we do not see liberals managing to change the Discipline come General Conference 2024. This is because the change they are anticipating is a constitutional one which requires a two thirds majority of the General Conference Delegates and the same two thirds majority vote from all Annual Conferences across the UMC Connection! That is practically impossible. We predict that African delegates will block this move without much difficulty. Africa is not as ignorant on what is at stake as is generally assumed. Thanks to social media and Traditionalist caucuses who are providing most African delegates with updated information of what is happening in the global Church and in the United States of America. Second, African Annual Conferences will not approve constitutional amendments that would result in The UMC embrace homosexuality anywhere on earth. It is as obvious as I state it! Third, there is no consensus among African bishops regarding liberalizing the Church. At least four African bishops have come open that should the United Methodist Church embrace homosexuality they will lead their Episcopal Areas out of that Church. These leaders are not saying this from the blues. They are articulating the position of their Conferences. Ignoring such a clear signal is not wise. Going on ignoring this signal is a choice for Americans and Europeans to cut Africa out of the UMC. For us, this is pointing to a wave of African Disaffiliations that will follow the much awaited 2024 General Conference, should liberals succeed in changing the official position of the UMC on human sexuality. Like was the case with Bulgarian Church, Africa will not even bother to follow the discipline. They will simply vote in their Annual Conferences to leave and they will go. Finally, we do not believe African delegates will sell their right to determine their leaders to pressure groups be they liberal or traditionalist. Africa now, more than ever, understands the importance of electing credible and God fearing Leaders of the Church who will preserve the doctrinal integrity of The Church and respectful to them than those devoted keeping institutional unity devoid of Theological and spiritual credibility.

So, our prediction is that the 2024 General Conference will be a drama. A reminiscent of the 2012 General Conference. No winner will emerge from it. It will generate more frustration to Liberals and Institutionalists as the result will retain the status quo, where the 2019 Discipline will remain in effect. The remaining traditionalists will not celebrate either as they will be literally disowned by their bishops who would be busy consoling the LBGTQ+ community which will be grieving and feel betrayed by The Church given the hope they have. The disobedience will definitely increase in the liberalized United States as already signaled by all the American Jurisdictions. They will continue as if there was no General Conference. Africa will be punished heavily for refusing to accept the liberals agenda. Americans will withhold their money. Some African Conferences will try in vein to please Americans by dissociating themselves from what would have happened in exchange for money. Meanwhile some African Conferences, if not Central Conferences will vote to Disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church and join The Global Methodist Church or become Autonomous.
This scenario will most likely happen in West Africa, some parts of The Africa Central Conference and definitely that will be the case with South Congo Episcopal Area.

The United Methodist Church will continue on the trajectory losses of both membership and money. It will continue bleeding to death as what happened to most Protestant churches in Europe. The once largest Denomination in The USA will be dethroned to an insignificant sect. The world respected brand of Methodism will be erased from the global scene! Liberalism would have prevailed not in liberalizing The United Methodist Church but in destroying Protestants’ last major denomination in the Western hemisphere. What a tragedy!

We need to conclude our reflection by giving our thoughts one other aspect connected to what we have said. The much talked about subject of COLONIALISM AND RACISM in the United Methodist Church context. While this subject, no doubt, is a big issue that the Church must address, we believe those raising it now in the Church in the midst of the current homosexuality debate are being insincere. The real aim is to blindfold Africans into a fight with American Conservatives (who are their chosen allies) by appealing to the past colonial history to divert their attention from the real issue at stake. While racism is a reality and an evil that needs continuous condemnation, it is simply not the issue at stake now in the United Methodist Church at a global level. There is no one denying that racism and colonialism are evils. There is no one trying to legalize them in the Church yet on the other hand there are those denying that homosexuality is a sin and trying to legalize homosexual marriages and ordination of gays and lesbians. That difference is very clear to African United Methodists. We refuse to confuse the two. Remember the same Africans were able to see the difference between colonialism and Christianity despite the efforts made by Communists to paint the two with one brush! We assert that the way The current leadership of the UMC at global level are treating Africa is the colonial mentality that must be confronted. To start with, we believe the numbers of delegates to the 2024 General Conference must be recalculated given the current loss of membership in the USA and Europe. This must naturally increase the percentage of Africa at the General Conference. Africa must now provide over 50%of delegates to The General Conference. Africa now has the controlling majority vote in The United Methodist Church.

The hype about Regionalization is motivated by colonialism. We see as colonial the move by American Liberals to now remove key decision making powers from The General Conference to regions because they are no longer the Majority at The General Conference. They are now a minority , Africa is now the majority and for that reason they now advocate that the constitution must be amended! When they were the super majority it was fine for them to cloud the General Conference with American issues while Africa was there . When things change then the constitution must be amended so that they are not “ruled” by Africans. That sounds like “ animal farm” and Colonial indeed. This is the colonialism in Church that Africa must demand be dismantled. Is it not colonial that all regions of the world of the United Methodist Church are allowed to elect overdue bishops save Africa? Is this just ? Is it fair? Is it not colonial that The General Conference has never been held outside The United States of America ever since? Is it not colonial that none of the General Agencies of The United Methodist Church has ever been led by an African even when Africans have been General Secretaries of both The United Nations and The World Council of Churches? Who is colonial and who is not? God is watching!

By Forbes Matonga (Rev.) Murewa Mission. January 2023.

22 thoughts on “Where are United Methodists heading to? The future of the United Methodist Church beyond 2024.”

  1. Reuben Chanakira

    Well said.We need to be genuine when dealing with people’s faith.Also they church is not to be guided by a nation’s constitution but by our church doctrines and the Word of God. The leaders who are assigned to be the custodians of the church need to be genuine and loyal to the church and to God.We need to hold them accountable to whatever they do.Thank you Rev Matonga for your contribution and insight.

  2. Wellington Chiomadzi

    A very insightful and enlightening read indeed! Thank you, Rev Matonga for being very clear on an otherwise complicated debate. So, given that the Judicial Council has ruled that GC2024 is actually the postponed GC2020, which effectively keeps the American UMC the majority powers, could that not favor the much desired outcome by liberals at the Conference? Given the poverty levels in Africa, my fear is that the USD is trending under the tables and the liberals will sail through. Lets wait and see. Thank you, once again!!

  3. Thank you for this powerful article.
    Assumption 2 of the liberal assumptions seems most disingenuous to me. The UMC in the US is failing. Big tent theology will not unlock floodgates of of financial support to Africa because there will not be an excess of funds to share as the healthy conservative congregations exit. The liberal leadership has proven to be less than generous as they have gained power.

  4. Forbes, I think that your analysis is right on target to the unfolding narrative. In recent months I’ve echoed that I believe the disaffiliation is going to cause the UMC to be more conservative at the General Conference for at least the next couple GCs in ways that the liberal end of the church does not conceive. Blessings!

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