Photo source: Global Information Network - Photo: 2024

Disputes on Sexuality Shaking the African Church

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 11 June 2024 (IDN) — Leaders of the United Methodist Church expressed regret over last week’s decision by the branch in Ivory Coast to leave the union following the decision of the church to repeal a long-standing ban on LGBTQ+ clergy.

The developments were the latest in a series of ripple effects in conservative Africa, which is home to the vast majority of United Methodists outside the U.S., amid disputes on sexuality and theology that have shaken the Methodist church.

In early May, delegates at the church’s first legislative gathering in five years voted overwhelmingly to remove a rule forbidding “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained or appointed as ministers.

It was a sharp contrast to past General Conferences of the United Methodist Church, which had steadily reinforced the ban and related penalties amid debate and protests. The change doesn’t mandate or even explicitly affirm LGBTQ+ clergy, but it means the church no longer forbids them.

But each member church was free to decide for itself—and while some bishops favored staying on, others pushed to disaffiliate.

On May 28, Ivory Coast’s church voted to split from the United Methodists. With over 1.2 million members, the West African country’s church has one of the denomination’s largest overseas followers. The United Methodist Church has about 5.4 million members in the United States, and about 4.6 million in Africa, Europe and the Philippines, according to church figures.

“While we grieve” Ivory Coast’s decision, commented the Council of Bishops, “we commit to work with them through the process of becoming an Autonomous Methodist Church.”

The Church feels threatened

Elsewhere in Africa, hundreds of United Methodist Church members gathered last week at the headquarters of the church in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, to protest the decision of the church to welcome LGBTQ+ members.

“The church has aligned with the Rainbow Movement, and this is also a threat to our African traditions and human existence at large,” read a petition by church members.

Zimbabwe’s Christian denominations—and others in Africa—have been vocal against any moves to welcome gays into the church.

In January, Catholic bishops in Africa and Madagascar issued a unified statement refusing to follow a declaration by Pope Francis allowing priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples, asserting that such unions are “contrary to the will of God.”

Chester Samba, director of GALZ, which represents the LGBTQ+ community in Zimbabwe, said he was not so hopeful for Zimbabwe and much of the continent to change their conservative stand.

“It is my hope that platforms for dialogue are created and supported to enhance understanding so that all may be welcome in the house of worship regardless of sexual orientation,” said Samba, whose members have been targets of harassment and stigmatization. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo source: Global Information Network

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