Overcoming a push by liberals, America's second-largest Protestant denomination has chosen to stay true to what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.
Delegates at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted 438-384 on Tuesday to support the biblical "Traditional Plan" over the "One Church Plan" touted by pro-LGBT forces.
The vote by the General Conference was "miraculous" considering the push by powerful Methodist leaders in the U.S., says Methodist layman Mark Tooley, who is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
It is the Methodist leaders in the U.S. who are pushing the denomination to accept liberal beliefs over marriage and sexuality, Tooley says, but the opposition that rose up during the three-day conference came from Methodists outside the U.S.
Looking back a century in time, Tooley recalls that Methodist missionaries evangelized Africa and planted churches there, and the present-day African leaders traveled to the General Conference to testify about the truth of scripture and marriage.
"And thanks to them and their commitment to the Bible, and their Christian witness and their vote at this General Conference," says Tooley, "the church will not follow the path of other liberal imploding U.S. mainline denominations and surrendering their standards on sexuality to the sexual culture."
One of the African leaders who faced off against liberal leadership was Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, dean of a theology school in Liberia, who spoke at a weekend breakfast about the denomination's looming decision. He told the gathering:
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.
Dr. Kulah went on to lecture over the issue of money and financial support, assuring liberal leaders that threats of withholding funding would not work on African churches where money is scarce and hardships are plentiful.
"Please understand me," he said, "when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money."
Regarding the growth and influence of African leaders in the UMC, Tooley predicts they will be the majority worldwide. In the U.S., meanwhile, liberal congregations will continue to shrink, he says.
"The liberal regions of the church in the West Coast and the Northeast will be almost gone and shriveled up," he predicts. " There probably will be a new denomination created to which liberal congregations will re-attach themselves."
Yet that doesn't mean UMC liberals have given up after their efforts were defeated this week.
"I would just simply say that we have work to do," Kenneth Carter, president of the Council of Bishops, said at a press conference after the vote, The Associated Press reported.
Carter told reporters he was concerned "progressive" churches will leave after the vote and there is a need for "outreach" to those congregations. "Persons will be feel harmed," he said.
The next major UMC conference is scheduled for 2020, the AP reported.