African bishops not united on church future

l-r Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Bishop John Wesley Yohanna and Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. File photo by Paul Jeffrey, Mike DuBose and E Julu Swen, UM News.
l-r Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa, Bishop John Wesley Yohanna and Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. File photo by Paul Jeffrey, Mike DuBose and E Julu Swen, UM News.

While many in the U.S. consider Africa a solid political bloc within The United Methodist Church, African bishops currently are not of one mind about the denomination’s future or their place in it.

Three African bishops have lately said they and their conferences will leave The United Methodist Church and organize with other traditionalists if the denomination splits.

Other African episcopal leaders, such as Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, have not joined in such statements and appear open to exploring options for staying in the denomination. At present, the denomination has 12 African bishops.

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“We respect each other even in our differences,” said Nhiwatiwa, interim president of the African bishops’ table, in a statement after the group met last month. “From the look of it the majority of us (African) bishops are not contemplating leaving The United Methodist Church.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Samuel J. Quire Jr. of Liberia, Bishop Owan Tshibang Kasap of Southern Congo and Bishop John Wesley Yohanna of Nigeria have recently offered statements indicating they and their conferences will join with traditionalists if The United Methodist Church divides under a protocol scenario.

“When division happens, the Liberia Conference will look forward to partnering with other United Methodist traditionalists all around the world,” Quire said to the Liberia Conference.

At present, only central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — have the authority to adapt certain parts of church law to their missional contexts.

The statements by Quire, Kasap and Yohanna were noted in a recent column by the Rev. Keith Boyette, who leads the Wesleyan Covenant Association and has overseen planning for the Global Methodist Church.

But there has been pushback among African United Methodists.

A group of Nigerian United Methodist leaders, clergy and laity, released a statement taking issue with Yohanna’s remarks and arguing against a breakup of The United Methodist Church through the protocol or any other vehicle.

“The world does not need more new churches but the world needs the hearts of Christians that are full of compassion, truth, justice, righteousness and mercy as revealed by God in Micah 6:8,” the statement said.

Nhiwatiwa, in what he stressed was a personal statement, said Africans who insist they cannot remain in The United Methodist Church should consider starting their own denomination rather than looking to align with another based outside the continent.

Nhiwatiwa joined East Africa Area Bishop Daniel Wandabula, North Katanga Area Bishop Mande Muyombo and Mozambique Area Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala in attending a recent webinar on the Christmas Covenant.

The bishops did not endorse the proposal in their brief remarks during the recorded meeting but did offer appreciation for the effort.

That African bishops have been strong leaders in their areas is beyond dispute. But no bishop gets to vote at General Conference, where church policy is decided.

excerpt from a story by Sam Hodges, Dallas-based writer, UMNS, E Julu Swen and Heather Hahn contributed.

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