Same-sex marriage was recently rejected in favor of the biblical definition of marriage by United Methodist African Bishops – who also opposed a future schism in the denomination.
On the coattails of the UMC Africa College of Bishops’ official conference that took place in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on September 3–7, leading Methodists announced that there was much debate over the denomination’s official stance on homosexuality during the meetings – an ongoing dialogue that many fear will ultimately result in a split of the UMC.
"[W]e reaffirm our position as traditionalists and view marriage as union between Man and Woman as clearly defined in Scripture and affirmed in our COB 2016 statement in Lake Junaluska, and at the Africa extended cabinet (Ghana, February 2018), and at the May 2018 COB in Chicago, Illinois," the African Methodist bishops declared in their official statement. "[W]e remain faithfully committed to our consecration vows as Bishops of the church to 'maintain the unity of the church.'"
To split or not to split over homosexuality?
The latest announcement comes several months before an official resolution on the issue of sexuality in the denomination is determined at this winter’s conference, which will also decide on whether the UMC will split over the highly contentious issue.
“Next February, the UMC will hold a special session of General Conference to resolve the debate over whether to change the church body's official stance against homosexual acts and same-sex marriage,” The Christian Post (CP) reported.
In addition to rejecting homosexuality, opposition to the split in the mainline denomination over theological differences was also proclaimed by the bishops, who stressed that any plan discussed at the special session geared toward separating the UMC will not be considered.
"We do not support any legislation that calls for the dissolution of The United Methodist Church,” the statement continued. “We uphold our values as a connectional and worldwide church committed to 'Making disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world. We further resolve that even if there is a split in the denomination, the Church in Africa will continue to exist as The United Methodist Church in Africa."
God’s stance in the Bible that condemns homosexual behavior as a sin is being strongly defended by many key African Methodists as the longtime debate comes to a showdown this winter.
“During the UMC's years-long debate over homosexuality, African delegates at General Conference have been a key factor in maintaining the denomination's stance that homosexual acts are sinful,” CP’s Michael Gryboski noted. “For next year's special session, three major plans are being considered for the future of the UMC: the One Church Plan, the Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.”
The first of the aforementioned three plans would essentially establish homosexuality as an accepted lifestyle within the UMC, while the second would address homosexual behavior as sin and the third would leave the issue up in the air for different regions to determine for themselves.
“Backed by most of the UMC Council of Bishops, the One Church Plan would remove language labeling homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching,’ and allow churches in the United States to permit same-sex weddings and gay ordination while letting clergy and some overseas conferences retain official opposition,” Gryboski pointed out. “The Traditionalist Plan would maintain the UMC's current stance on LGBT issues, while the Connectional-Conference Plan would allow regional conferences to determine what stance they will take.”
Issue debated in Chicago
At the United Methodist Council of Bishops conference in Chicago, Illinois, earlier this year in May, activists within the denomination did not accept bishops’ recommendation to avoid a split, citing the volatile homosexual debate as the motivation behind the desired schism.
“United Methodist Church activists who sharply disagree about whether to ordain LGBT clergy or officiate same-sex marriages do agree on one point: A plan recommended by the Council of Bishops isn’t satisfying to either side,” Religion News Service (RNS) reported in May. “Socially conservative evangelicals say the plan – which aims to avert schism in the 12 million-member denomination – goes too far by permitting individual pastors and regional bodies to make their own decisions on whether to perform same-sex weddings and ordain LGBT people as clergy.”
Institute for Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley said that the denomination overwhelmingly sided with God’s Word over the controversial topic.
“The reaction from the evangelical side of the church in the U.S. was – I think it’s safe to say – entirely negative,” the leader of the conservative advocacy group conveyed, according to RNS.
The other side of the debate expressed dissatisfaction over the direction on the issue that the denomination was taking.
“[P]rogressives aren’t happy either,” RNS’s Emily McFarlan Miller explained in May. “Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus – two groups committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the United Methodist Church – also expressed concerns that none of the three plans included in the bishops’ report would affirm ordination and marriage for all the denominations’ LGBT members.”
RMN Executive Director Jan Lawrence wanted to see a schism in the denomination – and the adoption of the One Church Plan – so that current church members could openly practice a homosexual lifestyle.
“We took a step back and said there is an option that’s missing in all of this discussion, and that option is legislative language written into the Book of Discipline that would welcome and celebrate the lives of LGBTQ members of the United Methodist Church,” Lawrence asserted this spring, according to RNS.
Homosexuality addressed in U.S. black Methodist church
The African Methodist Episcopal Church – a predominantly African American Methodist denomination based in the United States – currently upholds God’s Word concerning sexuality and LGBT issues.
Regarding LGBTQ equality in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, the American denomination currently condemns homosexuality and transgenderism as a sin – even though no formal policy on such issues has been established.
“[I]t has long been clear that the church condemns same-sex relationships, and in 2004, church leaders articulated that condemnation in a rare statement against marriage equality that same-sex relationships contradict their understanding of Scripture,” the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) states on its website. “The AME Church does not appear to address transgender issues specifically, but does closely follow scriptural teachings regarding God’s creation of man and woman, with the implication that gender is biologically determined.”
A similar stance affirming God’s design for natural marriage between only a man and a woman has been in place within the AME since Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex “marriage,”
“At the AME national convention in July 2004, delegates voted to forbid ministers from performing marriage or civil union ceremonies for same-sex couples,” HRC recounted. “The vote was unanimous, and there was no debate on the topic. The decision marked the first vote on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples by a predominantly African-American denomination.”
A year earlier, AME Bishop Richard Franklin Norris made it clear to all ministers that homosexuals would not be ordained within the denomination.
“The official position of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is not in favor of the ordination of openly gay persons to the ranks of clergy in our church,” Norris impressed in 2003, according to HRC. “This position reaffirms our published position papers, public statements and prior rulings – all of which indicate that we do not support the ordination of openly gay persons.”