Michael Brown: African Methodists Saved Their Denomination

United Methodist Church General Conference Delegate Jill Wondel of Missouri speaks on Monday, Feb. 25 at the special session of General Conference held in St. Louis, Missouri. | United Methodist News Service/Paul Jeffrey

Earlier this week, the United Methodists“rejected an effort by more progressive members of the global church to lift the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.”

Had the vote been left to American United Methodists, the new measure would have passed. But since it was a global vote, the conservative voices of United Methodists in Russia and, more importantly, throughout Africa, rejected this measure.

Should we comment these conservative voices for holding to plain biblical truth, as historically affirmed by the Methodists? Or should we condemn them for perpetuating an unchristian bigotry based on a misreading of Scripture?

In a paper titled, “How Do United Methodists Know a Sin When We See It?,” Catherine L. Kelsey wrote, “The cultures from which American Methodists formed their common sense were and are quite varied, north to south, east to west, rural to urban.

“For example, using their civic common sense, Methodists in Denver, in 1864, celebrated the slaughter of Cheyenne and Arapahoe women and children at Sand Creek. But Methodists on the east coast, using their civic common sense, deplored the same event as a massacre. The theological texts that Methodist preachers had studied did not define transgression against God’s law sufficiently to provide one interpretation that made sense to Methodists in both cultures.”

How do we evaluate today’s divide in the Methodist church? Is the divide simply one of culture, without clear scriptural support either way? Or can one side claim scriptural authority and historic affirmation?

Before the vote, which affirmed the “Traditional Plan” and rejected the “One Church Plan,” Rev. Tom Berlin, a “progressive” Methodist, warned that, “you will be putting a virus into the American church and it will make it very sick and it will be sick quickly.”

He said, “Whether you like it or not [gays and lesbians] feel that their church is exhibiting itself as being against gay people along with others.”

In contrast, after the vote, delegate Nancy DeNardo said, “The One Church Plan does not agree with the words of our savior and in so doing deceives young persons into believing that same gender marriage is OK with God when clearly it is not. There is danger to that not only to those being deceived but the deceivers as well.”

Who is right? Who is representing the heart of the Lord? Who is standing with Jesus and who is standing against him?

Nowhere was the contrast in opposing views clearer than in the contrast between Africa and America.

As reported in the Washington Post, “Jerry Kulah, head of the UMC Africa Initiative, said he was sorry the church had spent so much time and money debating questions about homosexuality. ‘The progressive groups are loud, but they don’t have the numbers,’ he said. If the church had voted to affirm LGBT inclusion, he said, it would have become a ‘laughingstock’ in Africa.

“‘I’m happy to go back to old ladies and old men in villages who received the Bible from missionaries and let them know that the Bible hasn’t changed,’ he said.

“But Will Willimon, a retired Methodist bishop and a prominent theologian at Duke Divinity School, said that preaching to the ‘old’ is a failure of the church.

“‘We’re sending a signal we are here to minister to the spiritual needs of the elderly,’ he said, adding that he has trouble explaining this debate to his adult children.”

He added, “The traditional plan is a misnomer. We really have nothing in our tradition to justify this sort of punitive, exclusionary mentality.”

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Source: Christian Post