United Methodist Church's change on same-sex marriage triggers discordant voices from Africa

By Obed Minchakpu |
A group of African delegates at the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte,
A group of African delegates at the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, hold a press conference on Thursday, May 2, 2024, to denounce the gathering's votes to allow same-sex marriage and ordination of noncelibate gay clergy. | | Rob Renfroe

United Methodist Church’s (UMC) General Conference held in Charlotte, N.C. USA, from April 23 - May 3, 2024, has left behind ripples and discordant voices from Africa about the Church’s position on same sex marriage and the ordination of gay persons into the church’s pastoral ministry.

The UMC General Conference had amended some provisions in its Book of Discipline, approving the ordination of gay clergy and gay marriages in the church as well as removing a rolue that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. With this development, the UMC has joined several other mainline Protestant denominations in fully affirming LGBT lifestyles, with the ordination of LGBT clergy and performance of same-sex marriages in UMC churches.

However, United Methodist Church delegates from five African countries of Liberia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, on Thursday, 2 May, 2024, issued a statement outside of the conference venue expressing sadness that in spite of the opposition by UMC members from the African continent, the church’s General Conference has resolved to grant approval to gay marriages and ordination of gay clergy into pastoral ministry of the church.

A copy of the statement issued by UMC delegates from Africa, obtained by Christian Daily International (CDI), contains issues the bishops believe contradict God’s position on marriage, the teachings of Jesus on marriage, and the overwhelming evidence that the Bible stands against same-sex marriage.

The Delegates from Africa, Rev. Dr. Jerry P. Kulah (Liberia), Prosperous Tunda (Congo), Rev. Dr. Danjuma Judi (Nigeria), Dr. Yeabu Kamara (Sierra Leone), and Ginford Dzimati (Zimbabwe), in their statement said: “We speak as Africans, representing the majority of African delegates and, we believe, the vast majority of United Methodists in the thirty-five annual conferences in Africa.

“We have loved The United Methodist Church. We have been grateful for The United Methodist Church. We have joyfully served The United Methodist Church. But now our hearts are troubled.

“The postponed 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church has changed the United Methodist definition of marriage – not because the Bible has changed. But because western culture has changed. At this Conference The United Methodist Church has chosen to follow what pleases man instead of what pleases God.

They went on to lament the absence of many African delegates due to lack of timely support from the UMC, which they interpreted as one more sign that Africans are not welcome after a series of disparaging remarks by some voices in the UMC.

“Many African delegates are not here. They desired to be present and had planned to attend. But they were not invited by the Commission on General Conference in time to receive their visas. Over 70 of us from Africa are not present. That is roughly 25% of our delegates.

“Ten months ago we began sending letters and emails and making phone calls, alerting the Commission on General Conference and some of our bishops that there was a problem. Many of these communications never received a single response. It felt as if we were not valued or wanted.

“At a past General Conference, we Africans were told that we spoke too loudly and that we should close our mouths. After another General Conference a bishop said we Africans need to grow up and think for ourselves. At this conference many of us were not even provided with the documents we needed to be present.

“One mainstream UMC leader wrote that The United Methodist Church should be willing to lose Africa to fulfill its progressive agenda. It is hard for us to believe we are valued as true brothers and sisters within The United Methodist Church. It is difficult to trust that we are seen as equal partners.

“The United Methodist Church has changed the definition of marriage. It now defines marriage differently from what God created it to be in the beginning (Genesis 2:18, 23-25). It has changed the definition of marriage from how Jesus described it in Matthew 19 as one man and one woman.

“In Africa we do not believe we know better than Jesus. We do not believe we know better than God. We do not believe we know better than the Bible.

“We must now return to Africa and tell our people that The General Conference did not listen to us, does not value us as partners, and is willing to lose us to pursue its liberal western agenda.

“In his sermon to this General Conference, a UM bishop stated that if we cannot get on the UMC train and embrace its destination, we should leave. But what do we do when the train has run over us and left our hearts bleeding with sorrow and pain?

“We want the UMC to hear. We want our people in Africa to hear. We want the world to hear. We do not accept a change in the definition of marriage, and we will never accept marriage as anything other than one man and one woman, no matter what the Book of Discipline says.

“We are devastated now to be part of a denomination that officially contradicts the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexual morality. We return to Africa with important decisions to make regarding the future.

“Still, we go home full of hope, confident in Jesus, standing on the word of God, and determined to contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We return to Africa where the church is growing, nonbelievers are coming to faith and disciples are being made for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the UMC Africa delegates said.

In response, a lone dissenting voice from Africa, Rev. Emmanuel Ande, another delegate to the conference from Nigeria, said in spite of the resolution by the UMC leadership to embrace same sex doctrine, UMC members in Africa still have confidence in the global fellowship of United Methodist Church.

In a statement, Ande said, “We are voices of unity for the United Methodist Church from conferences across Africa, both lay and clergy.

“We join millions of United Methodists in rejoicing for the success recorded at this General Conference. Our Church is holding the most peaceful, respectful, and spirit-filled General Conference in more than 40 years.

“Since we have been here, we have witnessed increased energies in hospitality, and a willingness to listen among delegates, bishops, and presiding officers alike.

“This statement is necessary because of the respect and confidence we have of all the proceedings of the General Conference so far; the deep love which we have for our beloved United Methodist Church (UMC); and the promising future that lies ahead of us.

“We write in response to "A Position of the Majority Delegates of the Central Conferences of Africa to the UMC General Conference, Charlotte, USA April 23 - May 3, 2024" written by five WCA/GMC proxies among African delegates.

“We wish to unequivocally clarify to all the GC delegates, United Methodists, and well-wishers that this statement is presented falsely and does not represent the majority of African delegates as claimed.

“Judging from the votes taken on consent calendar items yesterday and today, including some with over 90% consensus: it is clear that the majority of Africans are in support of every positive action taken so far by the General Conference.

“We are aware of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused several postponements of the General Conference and we appreciate the work of the organizers of the General Conference to make the event finally happen. Despite all challenges, African representation and participation are visible.

“The General Conference has heard the voices of African delegates and passed a resolution that will ensure effective participation of Central Conferences and specifically from Africa moving into the future. We have experienced a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

He pointed to the decision on worldwide regionalization within the UMC to allow regional bodies to address various concerns, including those specific to Africa.

“With worldwide regionalization, Africa will make decisions and policies that are more responsive to African contexts and challenges. It offers Africa the autonomy to continue to adapt our Book of Discipline based on our context. It allows African churches to address our unique theological, social, and cultural issues without strict oversight from other bodies of the Church, including the United States.

“Regionalization will allow more equitable resource allocation, ensuring that African churches receive the support they need for their ministries and missions. Regionalization can enhance mission and outreach efforts by allowing African churches to develop strategies that are tailored to their communities, languages, and cultural norms.

“Social Principles and Definition of Marriage: Within the context of worldwide regionalization as adopted by the General Conference, Africa will hold its definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Therefore, it is a great distortion of fact to give the impression that the United Methodist Church is enforcing every region of the Church to accept same-sex marriages. In fact, it was an African delegate who suggested the language on marriage that we adopted.

“We wish to make it clear that the statement issued on May 2, 2024 by a few individuals does not represent the voices of all Africans. We are excited to be in The United Methodist Church today and in the years to come,” Rev. Ande said.

However, Ande's position in support of UMC’s resolution on same-sex marriages has not been accepted by some of his pastors in Nigeria. Two Pastors from United Methodist Church Nigeria have expressed their anger against the support of their delegate, Rev. Emmanuel Ande on the gay marriage.

Pastor Nuhu Absalom, a Nigerian UMC Pastor, in response to Rev. Ande’s statement, said to CDI that: “I have watched the proceedings at the just concluded General Conference of our Church, UMC. Finally, delegates at the General Conference have voted overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage on claims that there are certain provisions that are incompatible that need to be removed the church’s Book of Discipline.

“These so-called incompatible provisions are that it’s ungodly to approve gay marriages and that marriage be only between a man and a woman. These provisions have now been deleted and replaced with new provisions approving gay marriages and ordination of gay clergy in the UMC Book of Discipline.

“The removal of these provisions has nothing to do with the question of Regionalization of UMC Churches. It’s unfortunate that the initial stance of Rev. Emmanuel Ande, is that UMC Africa churches are against gay marriage and ordination of gay Pastors. So, why the sudden shift in this position to supporting gay marriages?

“The Mainstream UMC is responsible for pushing this satanic agenda in the United Methodist Church. Rev. Ande’s shift in position shows he cannot be trusted to remain faithful to the ethics and doctrines of the Christian faith. We should not be deceived, gay marriages will not be restricted in America alone, but will affect the global UMC congregations,” Absalom said.

Samuel Sunday, another Pastor of the UMC in Nigeria expressed sadness about the stance of Rev. Emmanuel Ande. He believes that the position of other Africa delegates at the UMC conference speaks the minds of all UMC members in Africa.

Sunday, in response to CDI’s inquiries about the reaction of UMC members to new changes to the church’s Book of Discipline said, “We await the return of African delegates to the conference and see what will be done. But, whatever it is, we members of the United Methodist Church in Africa are not in support of gay marriages and gay clergy in the church.”