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Protesters against the United Methodist Church's stance on sexuality prepare to serve Holy Communion inside the bar of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

2012 file photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Protesters against the United Methodist Church's stance on sexuality prepare to serve Holy Communion inside the bar of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Bishop Eben Nhiwatwa of Zimbabwe (center) holds a meeting of African bishops following the April 26, 2012

2012 file photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Bishop Eben Nhiwatwa of Zimbabwe (center) holds a meeting of African bishops following the April 26, 2012 "passing of the gavel ceremony.”

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Coalition to Africa bishops: Let’s talk

By Kathy L. Gilbert
Feb. 10, 2016 | UMNS

A coalition of 13 official and unofficial United Methodist caucuses hope a letter responding to a statement from the African bishops opens a channel for working together— even as the church seems destined to butt heads over accepting or rejecting ministry with LGBTQ people.

“We must insist that peace is not going to come through ignoring the demands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians for full inclusion in the church,” a letter from the Love Your Neighbor Coalition states in response to a letter written by the College of Africa Bishops in September 2015.

In “A statement on the state of global UMC and our common world,” the bishops said the Holy Bible and the church’s lawbook are “being grossly ignored” in “favor of social and cultural practices.”

The Rev. Steve Clunn, coordinator of Love Your Neighbor Coalition, said the Africa bishop’s letter “continues to surface as an influence around discussions on schism, something LYNC opposes.”

“We felt compelled to respond in a way that would hold the bishops accountable for their words and yet let them know we have great hopes for working together on the many issues that they raised,” he said.

The Africa bishops condemned global terrorism around the world and expressed hope that the denomination will draw attention to the “needless suffering and pain in our world.”

LYNC agreed and called on the church to not just raise voices of lament to the suffering but to bring together our best minds, “engaging our most fervent prayers, and utilizing our significant resources” to bring about peace.

Areas of disagreement

However, both groups sharply disagreed on how the church should view issues of human sexuality at the upcoming 2016 General Conference. The denomination’s top lawmaking body meets every four years to decide church policy. The 2016 Conference will be May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.

The church has grappled with the issue since it declared in 1972 that all people are of sacred worth but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

As more nations, including the United States, have legalized same-gender civil marriage, the debates have intensified. However, homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries.

“We submit to the teachings of Scripture that God designed marriage to be between man and woman, and the procreation of children is a blessing from God,” the bishops’ statement said. It was signed by the 13 active bishops and one retired bishop from the Africa College of Bishops.

“The Christian marriage covenant is holy, sacred, and consecrated by God and is expressed in shared fidelity between one man and one woman for life. In this vein, we denounce all forms of sexual exploitation, including fornication, adultery, sexual commercialization, slavery, abuse, polygamy, etc.”

Love Your Neighbor Coalition includes the church’s five ethnic caucuses –Black Methodists for Church Renewal, MARCHA (Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans), Native American International Caucus, National Federation of Asian American United Methodists and Pacific Islanders Caucus of United Methodists — as well as some unofficial United Methodist groups. It was formed in 2011 before the 2012 General Conference to tackle issues from full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people to working for racial justice and equality.

“The real issue that confronts us in our battles about human sexuality is not the existence of diversity in belief and practice, but the mean-spirited way that those who advocate for change in the church’s traditional position have been treated,” reads part of the coalition’s letter.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.