Don’t Forget Africa

By Buford “Boo” Hankins

Coming away from the 2018 Holston Annual Conference, I was hoping to have had an opportunity for the conference as a whole to give its reaction to the Council of Bishops’ proposal to the special General Conference in February 2019.  We did have a long presentation from Alice Williams, a member of the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF), who praised the so-called “One Church Plan” as the best option for the future of the United Methodist Church.

She said their discernment process was like an 18-month-long pregnancy.  Well, if that is what it was, my feeling is their work was stillborn by the time it passed through the Council of Bishops. I do not think the One Church Plan has a chance of succeeding.

I wish we had at annual conference a chance to support or oppose the One Church Plan. The closest we came to this was to vote on the two resolutions from members of Church Street UMC supporting the plan and the removal of certain language in the Discipline.

The fact that both of these resolutions were never considered in their original form gives a hint to the sense of the conference. I have a feeling that if my friend Tom Lambrecht, also a member of the COWF, had been invited to give us his assessment of the committee’s findings, the response would have been different. He spoke at the Iowa Wesleyan Covenant Association during their Annual Conference.  Alice Williams’ identity as part of the LGBT community certainly colored her presentation.

I appreciate that Alice Williams mentioned she had talked with some Africans who were concerned that the church’s position about homosexuality could put their members at risk.  Her flippant response bothered me, however.

I have served as a missionary and district superintendent in both West Africa and East Africa (although never with a $100,000 salary). I can tell you that it is not an insignificant thing for a church to embrace deviant sexual practices.

In an April 4, 2014, BBC interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby, said that a Church of England decision to accept gay marriage would be “absolutely catastrophic for Christians in troubled countries.” Anglicans in countries such as South Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan are in danger as a result of liberal positions taken by the leaders of churches in the West, he said.

Archbishop Welby said that he had visited a mass grave containing 369 bodies in South Sudan, where some people believed “if we leave a Christian community here we will be made to become homosexual, and so we will kill all the Christians.” There are still 74 countries where homosexuality is illegal, 33 in Africa. To dismiss the legitimate safety concerns of African leaders while also ignoring sound Biblical reasoning is callous and condescending.

We need to hear from our African brothers and sisters.  I have heard from many Africans that they are thankful that western missionaries brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their lands.  It is that liberating Gospel that helped put an end to tribal slavery, the damage of polygamy, death of children abandoned because of birth defects, and many more problems.

Do we not believe in the Gospel message that “the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin”? Quite frankly, our African friends are embarrassed that we are even talking about this subject.  The United Methodist Church is growing in Africa because Africans have accepted the teachings of the Bible, and that includes the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. If we abandon that biblical principle, I believe the Africans will abandon the UMC—and I will stand with them.

Our Council of Bishops—I have called them the Council of Cowards because they are afraid to tell us how they voted after receiving the COWF recommendations—have failed the church.  They tried to limit the General Conference to considering only the One Church Plan, but the Judicial Council rescued us by allowing other plans to be considered.

We have bishops, district superintendents and pastors who are what someone called “functional Universalists.” Their beliefs do not match our Wesleyan adherence to Scripture and nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition.

There are plenty of other denominations whose theology and practices exactly match theirs.  It is their defiance of the Discipline and their ordination vows that has brought us to this crisis. I am tired of being accused of being disloyal or “unchristian” because I honor the sacred vows I made at ordination.

Our bishops have a poor track record of even holding their own accountable. When we have bishops, pastors and whole annual conferences in open defiance of our covenant and Discipline, we can no longer pretend we are united. Our unity has been shattered by disobedience.

I am thankful we will have an opportunity to speak to the delegates to the 2019 General Conference in the coming days, but I wonder why this had to be added at the end of the conference rather than being a natural part of our delegates’ preparation for General Conference. Was there a deliberate attempt to limit input and response to the bishop’s proposal?

I look forward to the opportunity to express my opinion at these listening sessions, and I hope others will also speak up.

Buford “Boo” Hankins is a retired elder in the Holston Conference and a former missionary to Africa.


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