Congo Central Conference votes to elect bishops for life

Bishops in the Congo will remain bishops for life once elected, rather than facing re-election after four years.

At a special meeting of the Congo Central Conference held Dec. 11-14, 234 conference delegates voted for the change and three abstained.

The decision applies retroactively to the three bishops elected for the first time in 2017: Bishops Daniel Lunge, Central Congo; Mande Muyombo, North Katanga; and Kasap Owan, South Congo.

Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area was re-elected bishop last year, so he was already elected for life.

“The decision removes stress on the bishops,” said Unda, president of the Congo College of Bishops. He noted that having to run for re-election after four years creates a great deal of stress for a new bishop.

“It is good for a bishop, after his consecration, to remain a bishop for the rest of his life.”

Lunge said the church needs psychological, spiritual, moral and social stability.

“It is God who chooses the leaders of the church; the church members just materialize the will of God,” Lunge said.

“Why should a consecrated bishop be re-elected again, is he going to be consecrated again? … As bishop for life, you will be able to just focus on your plans and actions without being disturbed by preparing other elections. When Jesus chose his disciples, he chose them once and for their ministries,” Lunge said.

The denomination’s constitution says U.S. bishops get life tenure while allowing central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — to set the tenure of their respective bishops. That means how long a United Methodist bishop serves largely depends on where that bishop is elected.

“It is time now … to work on other many subjects related to the work of God in our episcopal areas,” Kasap said. He said the church needs to focus on evangelism, rules and growth rather than bishop elections.

During its August meeting, the executive committee of the Congo Central Conference decided on the election change and other resolutions that required a vote by the entire central conference. The committee urged the bishops to call for the special meeting as allowed by the Book of Discipline (Paragraph 411). The resolutions required amendments to the 1990 Africa Book of Discipline.

Thirty-six delegates attended from Central Congo, four from East Congo, 120 from North Katanga and 100 from South Congo. Unda said the low attendance from East Congo was due to the long distance and difficulties getting flights.

The meeting also was an opportunity to prepare for the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis Feb. 23-26. The denomination’s top legislative body will meet to consider three legislative proposals from a report by the Commission on a Way Forward, as well as any other petitions considered “in harmony” with the call for a special General Conference.

Bishop Mande, one of the 32 members of the Commission on Way Forward, explained the meaning, advantages and disadvantages of the three plans that the commission proposed for the future of the church.

The bishops reminded the delegates of the statement issued by the Africa College of Bishops that unanimously reaffirmed their view that marriage is between one man and one woman and vowed to “maintain the unity” of The United Methodist Church. The college did not endorse any plan and said the question of which plan was chosen was up to the General Conference delegates.

Mande urged each delegate to the 2019 special General Conference to choose what is good for him or her. After his presentation, he asked the Congo Central Conference to pray for the special session and the unity of the church.

The conference also approved an executive committee resolution stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“In the Africa tradition, the marriage is said to be between a man with a woman,” said Kasap. “In all our cultures, we do not have an equivalent translation of the word homosexuality. How then can we talk of this word in our cultures?

“Another difficulty is theological,” he said. “We received the good news from missionaries who came from America. They told us that the marriage is between a man and a woman. The man will quit his father and his mother and attach himself to the woman. We agreed with it and that is what we are applying.”

He argued that same-sex marriage is also a political challenge, as many African countries do not allow the practice of homosexuality.

“Our fathers welcomed and accepted The United Methodist Church when the missionaries came, and if other people will divide themselves because of homosexuality, we will remain The United Methodist Church of Africa,” he said.

The conference also approved an executive committee resolution that one Book of Discipline should be used by all three African central conferences.

The conference delegates also agreed with the executive committee that Congo bishops shouldn’t itinerate. That means the delegates decided bishops should remain in the same episcopal areas where they are elected and not move to different assignments as their U.S. counterparts do.

Bishop Unda noted that bishops in the West Africa Central Conference, where the church started in Africa, don’t itinerate.

“So there is no reason for us to do itineration as the bishops may face many challenges related to differences in cultures and languages,” Unda said.

Bishop Lunge noted that the Democratic Republic of Congo is a big country, with more than 140 languages and different cultures, making it difficult for bishops to move from one episcopal area to another.

“It is good for a bishop to serve God in the episcopal area from which he comes from,” Lunge said, adding that it is easier for a bishop to lead a conference where he already understands the culture.

Unda gave thanks to the 2016 General Conference for approving legislation to increase the number of African bishops from 13 to 18.

The Congo Central Conference executive committee, during its August meeting, recommended at least two new episcopal areas in the conference, one in South Congo/Zambia and another in the North Katanga/Tanzania episcopal areas. The conference approved that recommendation.

The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, a General Conference committee that continues to meet between legislative sessions, will make a recommendation on placement of the five new African bishops to the General Conference 2020. General Conference will make the final decision.

The gathering was the first central conference session fully funded with local resources. Each episcopal area supported transportation, food and lodging of delegates and contributed to the overall cost of the conference.

Richard Muyej Mangez Mans, a United Methodist and governor of Lualaba Province where Kolwezi is located, financially supported the gathering of the first extraordinary Congo Central Conference with more than $50,000 U.S.

Omadjela is a field project manager for United Methodist Communications. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected] To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests

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