For some reason, the Lord has always surrounded me with good friends who are Methodist. One of my best friends growing up in Chattahoochee was the son of a United Methodist pastor. I went to Emory University, a Methodist school, for my undergraduate studies. Many of my good friends there were Methodist, including my best friend, John Potts, another son of a United Methodist pastor. I actually interned in a United Methodist Church in Oxford, GA for a year back in the early ‘80’s and preached my very first sermon there. And though I have some basic theological differences with Methodist doctrine and church polity, I’ve found many of my Methodist friends to be very faithful and godly brothers and sisters in Christ. So though I’m not Methodist I feel a bit of a connection to them. So I’ve followed with interest the ongoing battles in the United Methodist Church (UMC) regarding theological orthodoxy.
Perhaps you’re aware that the Methodists recently held their General Conference in St. Louis. The UMC, being a worldwide communion, includes delegates from all around the world. In fact, around 43% of the delegates are from overseas, many from African nations. This particular meeting centered on the debate on human sexuality and marriage. The denomination has faced a huge push from the LBGTQ community in America to be fully inclusive, to sanction same-sex marriage, and to ordain gay and lesbian pastors.
In God’s good providence, the Conference ended with conservatives defeating the plan that would have approved of same-sex marriage and allowed churched to ordain men and women in the LBGTQ community. This was in large part due to the strength and leadership of African bishops and delegates who stood and spoke with authority to these matters. I share some selected portions of a Feb 23rd speech from Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, a UMC pastor and Dean in a Theological school from Liberia.
Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.
And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”
Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.
We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!
Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.
But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.
Friends, not too long ago my country was ravaged by a terrible civil war. And then we faced the outbreak of the Ebola virus. We are keenly familiar with hardship and sorrow, but Jesus has led us through every trial. So nothing that happens over the next few days will deter us from following Him, and Him alone.
I thank God for Dr. Kulah and those in the UMC who stand with him. I pray that God will raise up many more like him in His church throughout the world. I pray for all my friends in the UMC and for this denomination as it moves forward.
I pray for our own denomination … the Presbyterian Church in America. Though we’re presently theologically orthodox, firm in our definition of marriage between one man and one woman, and not considering embracing alternative sexual orientations as legitimate, we know we’re not immune to sin or failure. We need God’s grace just as much, if not more than any other church. (It’s easy to become prideful … which most always leads to downfall.)
I also pray that American Christians like us can learn from these wise African church leaders. Let us learn to love sinners but not compromise our doctrine; let us faithfully stand on God’s Word alone; let us not be fixated on money; let us not sell our birth right in Christ for dollars or cultural acceptance; let us not assume that money is more important for church health than faithfulness to Scripture; let us learn through suffering and hardship; let us be concerned with making disciples; let us speak boldly and confidently when necessary; let us remain faithful to our God and Father even when it could be costly.