In recent years, the deep division over sexuality in the United Methodist Church has led many in the church to use a word they hadn’t heard since their European history classes: “schism.”
A schism, the splitting of a church over irreconcilable differences, has sometimes seemed imminent. Yet in an extraordinary meeting of church leaders in St. Louis that begins tomorrow, the 12 million-member denomination will try to reach a plan to hold their church together while also deciding the church’s stance on LGBT issues.
“It is very difficult to be the church in the same way in Monrovia, Liberia, and in San Francisco and in Austin, Texas, and in Peoria, Ill., and in Montgomery, Ala.,” said Bishop Kenneth Carter of Florida, one of the three moderators of the 32-member Commission on a Way Forward that has been preparing plans since 2016 for the denomination to consider. “From a political perspective, we are a church that has among its members Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush and James B. Comey and Jeff Sessions.... How much unity can we achieve? And how much separation do people need from each other?”
The United Methodist Church is, in the United States, the third-largest faith group in the nation and the largest mainline Protestant group. Here, many Methodist pastors want to perform same-sex marriages and ordain gay men and women as clergy. They look to their counterparts in other mainline churches that have long allowed gay weddings, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, as far ahead of their own denomination. But the issue of sexuality remains deeply divisive among both clergy and believers across the nation, with strong opinions on both sides.
Furthermore, the United Methodist Church is not just an American church but a global one. About a third of the denomination’s churches are in Africa, where the church is rapidly growing, and where leaders tend to deeply oppose the idea of being part of a church that sanctions homosexuality.
How to hold all this together? In St. Louis from tomorrow through Tuesday, more than 800 clergy and lay leaders will vote on several options — including, perhaps, ending the unity in the 50-year-old denomination’s name. Read more via Washington Post
History of The United Methodist Church in Africa
On the continent of Africa, the mission of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies has developed through missionaries, mostly from the U.S. but also from Europe. With the exception of Liberia as a colony for freed slaves, there was no mutual benefit from migration towards and from the U.S. as in Europe or partly in Asia. The mission of the church in Africa was not limited to the preaching of the Gospel. Two other main elements were part of a holistic approach: educational endeavors in building up of schools, from elementary schools up to professional and university education; and health care with clinics and dispensaries. Churches, and among them the Methodists, helped to raise a generation of indigenous leaders in church and state. Linked to the poor economic, educational and health conditions, the mission in Africa has remained dependent on outside support in personnel and finances.
What follows will be limited to sub-Saharan Africa. The mission in North Africa always belonged to the European region. With the exception of Liberia (Methodist Episcopal Church, 1822/1832) and Sierra Leone (United Brethren, 1855), the Methodist mission from the U.S. in sub-Saharan Africa began towards the end of the 19th and the early 20th century. Read more about Methodists in Africa