An open letter to all local churches of the United Methodist church on the continent of Africa!

The United Methodist Church at its General Conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, from April 23 to May 3, 2024, forever changed the face of the UMC when it removed the phrase that distinguished it from other Christian denominations concerning the practice of homosexuality, definition of marriage, and established regionalization of the denomination. At the General Conference of 1972, after a long debate on human sexuality, the United Methodist Church coined the well-known phrase; “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with the teaching of the Bible.”

 

What that phrase did not do was to state whether homosexuality is a sin or not! But it implied that homosexuality is a sin! Most of us on the continent of Africa believe that homosexuality is a sin. Since the beginning of the church, the church has welcomed and allowed homosexual people to come to church like everyone else. The church welcomes all with the hope that all will be transformed by the renewal of the spirit.

 

Incompatibility with the teaching of the Bible.

The 2016 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church clearly states that “while persons set apart by the church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standard of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

What the 2020 General Conference meeting in Charlotte North Carolina USA, April 23 to May 3, 2024, has done by removing that phrase is to allow practicing homosexuals elected as United Methodist Pastors, Bishops, and more than that, that the United Methodist Church can now marry same-sex couples and use United Methodist facilities, that is church buildings and halls for same-sex celebrations.

United Methodist Connectionalism.

United Methodist Connectionalism suggests that a Pastor ordained in Zimbabwe or Nigeria, Norway, France, the Philippines, and California and a Bishop consecrated in Africa, Europe or America are all United Methodist Pastors and Bishops.  Whether they are your assigned Pastors and Bishops, in essence, they are your Pastors and Bishops and may perform their assigned duties to you at any time without further decisions. A Pastor or a Bishop of the United Methodist Church is a Pastor or Bishop wherever they are, whether visiting or assigned!

The issue of regionalization.

Regionalization implies that each region of the United Methodist Church would have the opportunity to deal with issues limited to their area of ministry. Africa would be divided into three or four regions, America one region, Europe one region, Asia, and Philippians one region. The General Conference would be left to debate issues that affect the whole denomination.

But the devil is always in the details! What biblical issues are regional especially concerning sin? Is it to justify the issue of slavery? While slavery was hateful as well as sinful to Africa, it was not sinful to Europeans and Americans who were benefiting from the cheap labor of the suffering Africans!

 

Currently, America has five jurisdictions while Africa has three central conferences. Yet in the regionalization petition passed by the General Conference, there is going to be one American region with three or four regions for Africa. Is this not a reminder of the infamous divide and rule of the 1886 colonial partition of Africa? Since the 1960s, Africa has been trying to unite itself from the partitioned of over 50 countries into one geographical region, to the Organization of Africa Unity to Africa Union!

 

The Adopted revised Social Principles address current social concerns in a balanced way that removed the anti-gay sections inserted in 1972. However, the Bible remains true to its core understanding of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, and God ordained in Genesis 1-2. The ideal prototype of sexuality is the male and female joining together as “one flesh,” for love, intimacy, union, and procreation. Hence, the marriage of a man and woman is God’s intended design for authentic sexual union. To violet this God’s design and ordination is to miss the mark and it leads to the sin of arrogance and pride.

 

The Church in the 21st century should seek to uphold and be obedient to God’s intended design for marriage as a union between a man and woman (Genesis 1 – 2).

 

As delegates retreat to their respective places of residence, African local churches of the United Methodist are going to be faces with at least three choices going forward. There are those who are going to choose to close their noses and pretend that nothing has changed and move forward. The second group of local churches are going to decide to follow that paragraph in the book of discipline that would allow them to join another Methodist denomination. The third choice is for those local churches who are going to  say enough is enough, Africa mush stand alone and begin to initiate autonomous churches.

 

With all what is happening, one thing is certain, the church is in a season for discernment. Pray brings revival to all! God is still in charge! AMEN!

Rev. Dr. Kennedy Mukwindidza.

President of Theological Voice of Africa.

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