In February, the United Methodist Church held a Special Session of the General Conference in which they considered three competing approaches to the issue of homosexual clergy and same-sex marriage. The final vote supported a plan that affirms the Bible’s stance on those issues—thanks in large part to leaders from Africa and other non-Western nations.
“It’s wonderful to see the strong Biblical stand taken by our African brothers against same-sex marriage,” Franklin Graham said. “It’s good to know that in parts of the world where Christianity is growing fastest, many leaders hold an uncompromising commitment to the Word of God. It’s disheartening, on the other hand, to see that so many church leaders in the United States are willing to disregard the clear teaching of Scripture to accommodate sexual sin.”
Following are remarks delivered at a breakfast meeting during the Conference by a conservative church leader, Jerry P. Kulah, dean of Gbarnga School of Theology, United Methodist University in Liberia.
Brothers and sisters of the United Methodist Church from all around the world, I humbly greet you in the strong Name of Jesus Christ!
We thank God for all who have participated in observing a sacred season of fasting and prayer as we have prepared for this special General Conference session. And we praise God there are thousands upon thousands still on bended knees interceding on our behalf as we make a defining decision regarding the future of the United Methodist Church.
As I understand it, the plans before us seek to find a lasting solution to the long debate over our church’s sexual ethics, its teachings on marriage and its ordination standards. This debate and the numerous acts of defiance have brought the United Methodist Church to a crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16).
One plan invites the people called United Methodists to take a road in opposition to the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian teachings. Going down that road would divide the church. Those advocating for the “One Church Plan” would have us take that road.
Another road invites us to reaffirm Christian teachings rooted in Scripture and the church’s rich traditions. It says, “All persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God,” that “All persons need the ministry of the church,” and that “We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.”
It grounds our sexual ethics in Scripture when it says the United Methodist Church does “not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers [it] incompatible with Christian teaching.”
While “we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons,” we do not celebrate same-sex marriages or ordain for ministry people who self-avow as practicing homosexuals. These practices do not conform to the authentic teaching of the Holy Scriptures, our primary authority for faith and Christian living.
However, we extend grace to all people because we all know we are sinners in need of God’s redeeming. We know how critical and life-changing God’s grace has been in our own lives. We warmly welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them and to experience the joy of transformation with them.
Friends, please hear me. We Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, 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.
We stand with our Filipino friends! We stand with our sisters and brothers in Europe and Russia! And yes, we stand with our allies in America.
We stand with farmers in Zambia, tech workers in Nairobi, Sunday school teachers in Nigeria, Biblical scholars in Liberia, pastors in the Congo, United Methodist Women in Côte d’Ivoire and thousands of other United Methodists all across Africa who have heard no compelling reasons for changing our sexual ethics, our teachings on marriage and our ordination standards!
We are grounded in God’s Word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!
I hope and pray, for your sake, that you will walk down that road with us. We would warmly welcome you as our traveling companions, but if you choose another road, we Africans cannot go with you.
The vast majority of we Africans support the “Modified Traditional Plan” for two very important reasons.
First, we believe it is clearly rooted in Scripture and the teachings of Christians in all times and in all places. It reaffirms our church’s belief that “marriage is defined as a sacred relationship between one man and one woman,” not between any two consenting adults.
Second, passage of the Modified Traditional Plan will keep far more United Methodists united as one church than any of the other plans.
Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.
But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birthright in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.
Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen! ©2019 Jerry Kulah
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