Wednesday, May 18, 2016

African Faithfulness

May 18, 2016

Our African brothers and sisters get it. We don't. In my United Methodist denomination, General Conference meets every four years to consider legislation and (at least ostensibly) the mission of the church as a whole. For the entire forty years of my ministry, General Conferences have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality. When I began, it wasn't even mentioned in the Discipline, our book of ecclesiastical law. But the issue began to be pressed, and has continued every four years since, chipping away bit by bit at the prohibitions that were put in place due to the pressure being brought by those who approved of this lifestyle. The vote to change the Discipline's prohibitions has failed to change things, but every year, the tally got a little closer. Until four years ago. For the past forty years, membership in the US has been in free fall. We've lost millions of members, but during that same time, the African Methodist church has been in revival mode, growing often by double-digit percentages to the point where at our last General Conference, the African delegation had gained enough membership and its resultant representation that for the first time, the votes for loosening the Disciplinary language lost ground. The trend continues to this day.

I predicted four years ago that when those intent on changing the Discipline discovered they could not do so legislatively, they would begin to exercise ecclesial disobedience, openly violating our canon law, forcing church trials which would be so costly and disruptive that they would essentially bankrupt and bring the system to its knees. That tactic has unfortunately been openly admitted by some. Sadly, General Conference four years ago and the one being held at this moment, have been repeatedly hijacked by those intent on forcing change at any cost.

Hundreds of UM pastors, including about twenty bishops, have signed a letter saying they will perform homosexual weddings in violation of church law. Others have come out as being in current homosexual or lesbian relationships. Against all this stand our African brothers and sisters, whose presence has tipped the balance and will continue to do so. One of our bishops complained that once they "matured," they would come to a "correct" understanding of the Bible, but they are too busy making disciples to engage in our cultural wars. I don't know how this will all shake out for my denomination, but I know this: the faithful witness and stand of our African Methodists is the only thing standing between us and complete apostasy. For them, I am grateful tonight. Even though we don't, they do...get it.

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