Africa Initiative ponders future of Methodism

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Key points:

  • Three African bishops said they will wait and see what General Conference does before deciding whether to join the new Global Methodist Church.
  • Participants at the Africa Initiative gathering demanded more clarity about the structure of the Global Methodist Church. 
  • After the gathering, another advocacy group, the Africa Voice of Unity, said it will work to encourage churches to stay in The United Methodist Church.

Members of the Africa Initiative advocacy group gathered to discuss the future of The United Methodist Church and the implications of the recent launch of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination.

Ninety-two delegates met May 13-18 for the initiative’s Prayer and Leadership Summit under the theme, “Envisioning the Next Methodism in Africa.” Much of their time was spent learning about the Global Methodist Church, a new denomination launched May 1. 

“We brought you together to provide you with information that you will need to help yourself, your church and your annual conferences find a solution to the uncertainty in The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia, general coordinator of the initiative, in remarks to delegates.

Three African United Methodist bishops told the gathered delegates that their annual conferences were not going to move to any new denomination until a decision about separation is made by the next General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The top lawmaking assembly is set to meet next in 2024, after multiple postponements from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In separate remarks, the bishops indicated that their presence at the Nairobi gathering was not sanctioned by the African bishops as a group, but that they were attending with the understanding that they would brief their colleagues when the bishops next meet.

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Bishop Kasap Owan, leader of the South Congo Episcopal Area and also a founding member of the Africa Initiative, said he was attending the meeting to observe the deliberations and advise where necessary. 

He said his area is committed to upholding the Traditional Plan approved by the 2019 General Conference, which affirmed and strengthened the denomination’s strictures against same-gender unions and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy. But the bishop said his area, which encompasses five annual conferences, is going to wait and see what the 2024 General Conference decides before making any move.

At this point, the Traditional Plan is officially only in effect in the United States. The 2019 special General Conference voted for any legislation passed at the legislative gathering to not take effect in central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — until 12 months after the coming General Conference. 

Bishop John Wesley Yohanna, of the Nigeria Episcopal Area, told delegates attending the prayer summit that if General Conference votes to remove the restrictive language regarding homosexuality in Paragraph 161.G of the United Methodist Social Principles, that is the day he will leave the church and align with any group that upholds the Traditional Plan. 

“I am a traditionalist and believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” he said.

In an interview with UM News, Yohanna urged United Methodists who will be attending General Conference to vote for the passage of the proposed Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. The plan, crafted by a team of church leaders from across the theological spectrum, would allow traditionalist churches to leave The United Methodist Church with their church property and $25 million in United Methodist funds and form their own denomination, and it would make available another $2 million for other groups of churches that might leave.

Yohanna said that adopting the protocol would be a way to honor the memory of the late Bishop John K. Yambasu, who focused on bringing peace in The United Methodist Church and was recognized posthumously with the World Methodist Peace Award.

“If we throw the protocol over the window or trample on it as a church, then the peace prize that the World Methodist Council awarded him will be for nothing,” Yohanna asserted. Yohanna is a member of the governing commission of United Methodist Communications, the parent agency of UM News. 

Though the three bishops stopped short of making any commitment to join the Global Methodist Church, Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. of the Liberia Episcopal Area said if the denomination does not maintain the restrictive language on human sexuality at General Conference he will leave The United Methodist Church and join a traditionalist church. 

“At that time and for me, that church will be the Global Methodist Church, which is upholding the traditional practice of Scripture,” Quire said.

Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. of the Liberia Episcopal Area speaks during the Africa Initiative’s Prayer and Leadership Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Members of the advocacy group gathered to discuss the future of The United Methodist Church and the implications of the recent launch of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News. 
Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. of the Liberia Episcopal Area speaks during the Africa Initiative’s Prayer and Leadership Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Members of the advocacy group gathered to discuss the future of The United Methodist Church and the implications of the recent launch of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News.

Kulah said that several pastors were being punished by their bishops for belonging to the Africa Initiative.

Joyce Jaka, women’s president of the Uganda-South Sudan Conference and first-time delegate to the postponed General Conference, said that most of the issues that were discussed at the prayer summit were strange to her, adding, the “information shared here is mind blowing.” 

She said that all she hears about in her conference is same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Asked if she was going to work toward leading her annual conference in joining the Global Methodist Church, she said there is more that the conference needs to understand before making the decision.

Participants from each of Africa’s three central conferences voiced the need for more information on how the Global Methodist Church was going to go about establishing itself in Africa. 

Participants from the West Africa Central Conference indicated that they still support the decision of the 2019 Special General Conference to pass the Traditional Plan. Participants from the Africa Central Conference and Congo Central Conference said as much as they shared the same traditional beliefs of the Global Methodist Church, they wanted to know how the expansion of the new denomination was going to be funded in Africa. 

The Global Methodist Church will work with the church leaders in Africa to get the new denomination started, said Keith Boyette, transitional connectional coordinating officer for the new church. “We will fund the planting of the Global Methodist Church in Africa through partnership with other entities.”

He explained to delegates the nature and operations of the Global Methodist Church and the steps for joining the new church. “We will now focus our efforts on helping individuals and local churches navigate this season of uncertainty in The United Methodist Church,” Boyette said. 

Keith Boyette, transitional connectional coordinating officer for the Global Methodist Church, addresses members of the Africa Initiative during that group’s Prayer and Leadership Summit May 13-18 in Nairobi, Kenya. He explained to delegates the nature and operations of the new denomination and the steps for joining. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News. 
Keith Boyette, transitional connectional coordinating officer for the Global Methodist Church, addresses members of the Africa Initiative during that group’s Prayer and Leadership Summit May 13-18 in Nairobi, Kenya. He explained to delegates the nature and operations of the new denomination and the steps for joining. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News.

After the conclusion of the Africa Initiative gathering, another advocacy group, the Africa Voice of Unity, stated that it is planning on strengthening its network in the three central conferences in order to protect the unity of The United Methodist Church.

“To many of us in Africa, the Africa Initiative does not speak for The United Methodist Church in Africa, and all they said are individual personal opinions,” said the Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel, president of Africa Voice of Unity.

In an email to supporters, the group said it is going to encourage churches to stay in the denomination, and it will also be working with General Conference delegates from Africa to oppose the passage of the protocol proposal in its current form at the 2024 assembly.

Swen is a United Methodist communicator based in Liberia.

News media contact: Julie Dwyer, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday Digests.


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