African bishops: Let’s make our own choices

Council of Bishops file photo

Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe is the interim president of the United Methodist bishops in Africa.

Press Release  - October 30, 2020

United Methodist Bishops from Africa have voiced their continued commitment to The United Methodist Church and vowed to stay in the denomination despite the potential split expected at the next General Conference next year.

During their virtual meeting last month, the bishops noted that as African Bishops, they carry a heavy burden on their shoulders as the lead the church into the future.

“We have a choice of merely folding our hands and wait for events to unfold and then react to them. The other option which we have been espousing from the beginning of these deliberations is one of protecting the heritage of the United Methodist Church in Africa,” said Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe, the current president of African Bishops.

He saluted the former president, the late Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone, who he said did a sterling job of mediating by bringing together diverse groups in the creation of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation but noted that apart from Bishop Yambasu, the African continent had no representation on the mediation team.

“Africa among other similar regions of the world has a vibrant presence of United Methodism for now and into the future. Why then should we be expected to tell our people that there is no more United Methodist. and that their choice is ether to join the remaining one or to leave and join the newly formed denomination?”

The bishops also said there were not comfortable with the U.S.-driven definition of traditionalist.  The traditionalist strand emphasized by those planning to form a new denomination is different from what is perceived by the Africans, the bishops said.

“By traditionalism African United Methodists refer to the biblical worship and experiences. We are observing that those thinking of a new denomination are spending more time on restructuring the church than on revitalizing it through spiritual formation.”

The African bishops felt that the Protocol need to be renegotiated. As it stands now,  the Protocol legislation provides for those in the Centrist track remaining as The United Methodist Church with the name as it is. The other option is to join those whose voices are clear that they are set to begin a new church within the Wesleyan tradition.

“Those who might not feel comfortable to remain with the branch of the United Methodist church or to leave with those starting a new church are left in limbo. More of those in this category are the African United Methodists and other in the Central conferences as well as in the United States of America itself, the bishops noted.

The bishops also voiced concern that there were a lot of interference in African conferences by people from the United State who are causing confusion and hatred among Africans in the church. Effort should be made to stop such people from coming and sowing seeds of hatred among the Africans..

“If we Africans don't name who we are, someone else will do that on our behalf with disastrous consequences. It is time we tell our story,” the bishops said.

The bishops resolved to empower their communicators to help tell the story of The United Methodist Church in Africa via several forms of publications and online ventures.