Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Case for Divesting from Africa

That's a tough title for a blog post. And I should be clear from the top that I'm not endorsing divestment. But I do think that a case can be made for United Methodists in the United States to change their giving and partnerships with African conferences without it being viewed purely as being punitive after the General Conference vote.

The argument is actually very simple. I have now been to four general conferences. At each of them there has been at least one speech from an African that goes something like this: "Africa is different from the United States. We need for you to understand that our context is different. We need to not recognize homosexuality as OK because in our context that is important."

I know that this is not universally true. I know a United Methodist in Nigeria who actively works for LGBT inclusion. I'm familiar with an MCC ministry (the MCC denomination is predominately LGBT) is Uganda, where it is illegal to be gay. But I will accept that this is largely true. This is one primary reason that the One Church Plan allowed decisions to be made by every annual conference and every pastor - no church in Africa would have been forced to change.

Because this is largely true, every general conference has respected the different contexts in Africa and other central conferences and has not forced a change. I believe that was and is the right thing to do. With that in mind, if I could talk to all the African United Methodists, this is what I would say today:

The United States is different from Africa. We need you to understand that our context is different. We need to not universally condemn homosexuality so that we can do ministry in our context." I recognize that this may not be true throughout the entire U.S. It is true, though, in my context. The fact that roughly 2/3 of U.S. delegates voted for the One Church Plan is evidence of this.

We have willingly entered into a relationship with Africa that recognizes that cultural adaptations need to be made. Now we need for that to be reciprocated. The truth of the matter is if that is not reciprocated then our connections with African United Methodists will end. As long as we are all United Methodist denominational loyalties will help us continue to work together. But if progressives and centrists are forced out by traditionalists (which is what they seem intent on doing) then that connection is severed. Why would I, for example, not work with the MCC church in Uganda instead?

I serve in the Great Plains Conference. We have three mission partnerships - Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Haiti. If Nigeria and Zimbabwe refuse to allow us to do ministry in the context that we live in does it really seem unreasonable to redirect our funds and mission efforts to other places where we can actually have a partnership? There are so many places in the world that can benefit from our work. Why would we feel morally compelled to continue a partnership with a group that is not treating us as a partner, too?

It would be morally unacceptable to reduce our total funding or mission work overall. We couldn't just redirect those funds to, say, our camping ministry or conference staff salaries. But we could redirect funds and efforts to places where there is truly mutual ministry.

Should we do that? I don't know. I haven't made up my own mind. But it's not crazy to ask the question.


  1. WOW... are you saying, support us or we are taking our money and supporting other work.

    1. I'm saying that if it is legitimate for Africa to refuse to accommodate differences in the U.S. then it is legitimate for the U.S. to discuss where funds are best used. A partnership needs to be a partnership. I'm saying it's a conversation that can be had. I've gone back and forth on my personal opinion.

  2. He is but wants to weasel out of it by saying he doesn't personally support it. I don't know if most people are in the habit of speaking positively about ideas they don't support.

  3. It should be kept in mind that some regarded the One Church Plan as combining light and darkness and therefore being unholy and not an acceptable option.

  4. Thank you David for outlining the reality of the situation. I don't understand bowing to their culture but then even refusing to discuss ours.

  5. The vote was not one of culture or geographical context, but one of biblical obedience vs cultural or person sovereignty.

  6. Giving changes are already in motion. The NY Times article will feed the flames. I'm sad to see so little leadership of USA bishops to guide the creative destruction.

  7. If Africa becomes self supporting as is the USA then there is little to squabble about!

  8. Culture can and does redefine what is ethical and what is not ethical. The Bible seems clear to me on the issue of sexual ethics. So, is the argument really about do we have a culturally relevant church or a biblical strong church?