A Voice, Not an Echo

Renfroe

Renfroe

By Rob Renfroe-

Shortly after the General Conference in 2012 reaffirmed our biblical position on marriage and sexuality, one of our most progressive bishops wrote: “Delegates from Africa once again proclaimed that their anti-homosexual stand was what U.S. missionaries taught them. I sat there wondering when our African delegates will grow up. It has been 200 years since U.S. Methodist missionaries began their work of evangelization on the continent of Africa; long enough for African Methodists to do their own thinking about this concern and others.”

It was Albert Einstein who said, “Be a voice, not an echo.” Well, our African brothers and sisters have been doing their own thinking and their bishops have given voice to a message United Methodists need to hear. In an eloquent statement that condemned terrorism and called upon the church to work for justice, the African bishops warned that the unity of The United Methodist Church is threatened by leaders within the church who ignore the Book of Discipline and promote a view of sexuality contrary to the Scriptures (see full story on page 10). They went so far as to write that bishops who cannot act in accordance with the Bible should recuse themselves from the episcopacy.

The statement is an answer to prayer. Many evangelical United Methodists have long prayed for and called upon our orthodox bishops to stand together and publicly declare that revisionist bishops are putting the unity of the church in danger by promoting an unbiblical sexual ethic and refusing to enforce the Book of Discipline with integrity. Now our prayers have been answered by the College of African Bishops.

The statement from African bishops comes at an interesting time. According to the latest available reports, there were 7.2 million United Methodists in the United States (at the end of 2014) and 5.2 million in Africa (at the end of 2013). With the rate of decline in the U.S. and the rapid growth in Africa, United Methodists in Africa will soon (most likely within two years) outnumber United Methodists in America. It is time, beyond time, for our African brothers and sisters to claim their rightful place at the denominational table and provide the kind of theological, moral, and institutional leadership our church so desperately needs.

But there is an impolitic question that must be asked. Will a U.S.-centric denomination be willing to embrace the new reality of our being a truly global church? Are those who have enjoyed privileged positions of power and leadership now prepared to make way for those who presently represent 40 percent of United Methodists and will soon constitute the majority of our denomination?

For example, of the 16-member executive committee of the Council of Bishops, only one is from Africa. For a church that prides itself on diversity and fair representation, this imbalance at the highest level is hard to understand. Especially when those selecting the committee so often remind the rest of us that we must be “diverse,” “inclusive,” and a “church for all people.”

Thirteen bishops serve on The Connectional Table, United Methodism’s chief administrative body. None are from Africa. Not one. Four of the thirteen come from the Western Jurisdiction – our smallest jurisdiction, with a membership of less than 325,000. Africa with 5.2 million members has no episcopal members on the Table. The Western Jurisdiction – with less than three percent of the church’s membership – is represented by nearly one-third of the bishops on this important body.

Six bishops serve on The General Board of Church and Society.  None are from Africa. As a matter of fact, only three of the board’s 62 members are from Africa. Europe – with only 54,000 members – has the same number, three.

Many of our brothers and sisters in the United States are unaware of actually how many United Methodists live in Africa.

• There are more United Methodists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2.5 million) than in the North Central and Northeastern Jurisdictions combined (2.4 million).

• There are more United Methodists in Nigeria (457,959) than there are in the entire Western Jurisdiction (322,939).

• There are twice as many United Methodists in Cote d’Ivoire (677,355) as there are in Virginia (327,706) – one of our largest annual conferences.

• There are more United Methodists in Mozambique (108,322) than there are in Northern Illinois (90,820).

These are just a few examples that should spur along our progress on truly fair representation. When our episcopal leaders rightly call upon the church to represent the marginalized, shouldn’t they be willing to give up positions of privilege and power to practice what they preach?

The question is fair. Will those who have been in charge of our most important and influential bodies, mainly from the United States, make room for leaders from the developing world? Will progressive bishops be progressive enough to step down and allow a fair number of African leaders to be at the church’s tables?

Instead, the latest proposal from the liberal-dominated Northeastern Jurisdiction is to resurrect the failed “U.S. segregation” plan that was defeated in 2008. The plan being presented to General Conference would create the U.S. church as its own central conference and give the U.S. delegates the power to set standards for ordained ministry different from the rest of the world. Under this plan, the U.S. central conference, which would supposedly have a majority of progressive delegates, could set moral standards different from the other central conferences. Accordingly, the U.S. would presumably allow such things as same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, despite what the majority of the global church has repeatedly voted at General Conference.

Such an approach is a huge step away from being a global church toward being a collection of purely national churches. Now that leaders from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines have developed to the point of making a solid contribution to a worldwide United Methodist Church, progressives are not so keen on listening to their voices.

It must be difficult to know that if you allow the fastest-growing segment of the church to be rightly represented you will empower those who think your actions and beliefs are putting the church’s unity and health in jeopardy.

Contrary to the dismissive remarks of a disappointed bishop, our African brothers and sisters are thinking for themselves. They are a voice, not merely an echo of an anemic North American version of liberal Christianity.

Just because they think that the Bible means what it says and that 2000 years of Christian teaching is correct does not mean that they need to be schooled by American bishops who are administering the church where it is declining most rapidly. What it means is that it is time for the UM Church to embrace the fact that it is a truly global church, to adopt fair representation, and to be grateful for persons of passion and courage who have spoken the truth an entire denomination needs to hear.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News.

Comments

  1. Rev. Thomas Luther Teate says

    Amen! Thank you Rob for this Good News! May God bless His Church with bold and courageous leaders who are filled with the Spirit’s power to speak the Truth in Love and open blind eyes to His Truth!

  2. Harriet Freeland says

    Thank you for publishing these important facts. May God continue to bless & empower those world wide who walk in the straight & narrow in His righteousness.

  3. David Connon says

    Hi, Rob. Thanks for this informative and thought-provoking article.

  4. What a fine Biblical man of God Rob Renfroe is. We sure could use more Methodist Christians like him. I am thinking he is the right person in the right place at the right time. May God continue to bless him with the ability to speak the Truth clearly.

  5. I have been praying for this since 2000. Every Progressive seems worried about the possibility of the Church splitting, ridiculously refusing to face the fact that it already IS! I have watched the decline from 1`0 Million to 7.2 Million members just over a few years. Most of the Clergy I spoke with, in small towns and cities in North and East Texas would listen and nod as I told them what I saw. A member of the Texas Annual Conf. told me that since, my church membership was less than 50, we carried no weight with the Bishop or Cabinet. Being small-town conservatives, put us on the outside again. Our Biblical Position on Marriage and Homosexual questions, was a complete turnoff to them.

    Frankly they were just waiting for a New Bishop that would be interested in the Bible Way and not the PC Way. I am glad that I am retired, but for those on the inside that are really on the outside? I just pray for my church. I pray that the Progressive pastors and Bishops will finally realize that they must stop being solely concerned with placating and toadying to the people that stand to gain the most from running us off. Big millions of dollar churches, astronomical salaries, luxurious parsonages are all things that Jesus never had. How can we tell ourselves we are imitators of Christ? How can we follow him when is seems we are totally wrapped up in mammon? The world doesn’t need another Catholic Church or Pope.

    They are not afraid of us little churches and people, but they are going to have too face God over their rotten stewardship of the United Methodists and their Church. The life of the church appears to be in our brothers and sisters of Africa!

  6. Rev. Ric Walters says

    As always, you’re right on target Rob. For the US church to intentionally marginalize our African brothers and sisters is nothing short of denominational apartheid. I used to be amazed by the hypocrisy of so-called “Progressives,” regardless of which arena of Progressivism they’re in, but no longer.

    Were any of us who believe the Bible means what it says to discriminate against a person of another race because we disagreed with them, those same Progressive Bishops would call for our heads. And they’d be correct in doing so. But those same Bishops (and other Progressives ) are more than happy to discriminate against the African UMC and deny them a literal place at the table.

    It’s time for the rest of the UMC to wake up to the lack of holy leadership of many Bishops and others and take action to change the way we operate. If the rainbow flag-waving protesters can disrupt General Conference to force their unbiblical views on us, we can present a united praying front that challenges them outside the doors of the GC as well as inside.

    God bless Good News for always being “the voice crying out in the wilderness. “

  7. Bluford Weikel says

    The Truth is good for you, even when it hurts,

  8. Matt 16:18b …Jesus said… upon this rock I WILL build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. The Lord recently encouraged me with this passage that HE is building HIS Church.. I trust that this is the case as we approach General Conference..May our brothers and sisters from Africa be clear: what our missionaries gave them was NOT a position on a political issue, what our Missionaries gave them was the Word of God to be able to discern God’s will on ALL issues.

  9. Karen Reade says

    It’s such good news that the African church is growing and is following Jesus, keeping God’s Word. Maybe the liberal bishops who believe that they are above God’s Word need to remember the words of John the Baptizer in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I (religious leader) must decrease.

  10. Robert Bagnetto says

    Amen Brother. I didn’t realize the African church was so large.

  11. John Esaias says

    Thank you for exposing the hypocrisy of our church leaders. I am shocked that they have been able to exclude our African brothers and sisters from leadership roles. We have been admonished for years by our bishops and other high officials for not being inclusive enough. We are expected to have more diversity in our local churches, more diversity in our local church leadership, more diversity in our annual conference leadership, and more diversity at the top levels of church organizations. But when it is time for bishops and other top officials of the church to step aside to provide more inclusion of our African brothers and sisters, suddenly diversity isn’t so critical. This hypocrisy is totally unacceptable, and I hope it is addressed at General Conference. We all know how important diversity is to that group of delegates!!!

  12. I am weary of intolerance in the name of tolerance and of injustice in the name of justice. Rob Renfroe tells it like it is.

  13. Lynda Kotis says

    I am saddened by yet another disappointment in the leadership of the United Methodist Church. As much as I love my local church, I am not so proud to be affiliated with the denomination. Thank you for “Good News” and thank you for standing up the Word of God! May this ministry have a powerful and positive impact on the future of the church.

  14. I along with other respondents give you high marks for your article. Similar articles on other websites, tell about how progressives, act at caucus meetings, dominate Connectional Table, Council of Bishops, Divestment groups on investment stocks for Health & Pensions. My main concern is to what extent and to whom has all this information been made aware of since GC 2012. It appears to me from reading these articles that Orthodox Methodist are in for a rough time at GC 2016. Also I wonder how much planning and preparation, including tactics, has been made to defend Orthodox values,etc. as it seems an overwhelming force is assembling to change our Church with the odds in their favor. A formidable undertaking is before us but pray that our orthodox Delegates will strive on to finish the work they are called now to engage and endure..

  15. Steven H. Zinser says

    The African Bishops are right. The bottom line is that no legislative body or church has the authority to take a behavior identified by the bible and historic Christianity as a sin and pronounce that it has changed that behavior to a non-sin. We cannot pretend that what is harmful is not harmful. There is no sin identified in the Bible as sin that is not also harmful in some physical, biological, social, and/or spiritual way. And that largely explains its identification as a sin in the first place.

    No one who truly loves the people of the world will stand by while they harm themselves in terrible ways. Nor will they encourage that harm. Nor will they redefine that harm to be not harmful….in reality an impossibility.

  16. James Ballard says

    As a former elder in the church now in interdenominational church, its easier to speak my heart on this without being called into the DS’s office to hear how he was deeply offended by my conservative stance and hearing threats about sending me to places where I couldn’t feed my family except to be on food stamps. (Real life) I have listened and supported Good News forever. In my AC, “the powers at be” ignore Good News. They just keep moving on with the LBGT agenda. I always had great hope for “Good News” when I was in seminary. I was an idealist. I know that Good News is supported by a great group of folks who love the Lord and love the UM Church. But “Good News” is hard to participate in and they have no functional authority to help curb any progressive agenda. Progressive Bishops are not affected by “Good News”, or any other conservative group in the Church. You’ve raised money from good folks, had meetings, given messages of hope that never bares anything except sounding like “whiney kids”. The progressives will do what they want to do and you will experience exactly what you have experienced for the last 20 years. You didn’t help me as a conservative seminary student or pastor. The “cancer” is terminal guys. There is a vast Kingdom of God outside the UM Church.

    • Walt Mellown says

      In response to Bro. Zinser, I remember hearing many years ago actor, Hal Holbrook, as Mark Twain saying, “Missionaries come home! And teach these ´chriatians´!” Although meant as scathing satire by Twain, apparently it was prophetic. I think it´s time to speak plainly. Is it the word of God or is it not? Which version of the Holy Bible – a watered down, twisted version or the true Word? The full Gospel of Jesus Christ preached or a regurgitated spewing of the latest non.christian cultural opinion?

      The true Word of God is neither ambiguous nor confusing – an issue is either right or it is wrong – not shades of gray. The choice is either to compromise with the world, which is ultimately surrender to the world, or to stay the course with The Word regardless of the consequencesof man-made laws and the vitriol of non-christians.(Such was the state of Christianity before it was “Romanized” by Constantine.) That takes courage.

      This homosexual issue is but the most recent breach of God´s Word. I started years ago with issues within the Methodist Church as those who were teaching/preaching the Word of God as allegory rather than as literal, fable rather than fact, suggestions rather than commandments, an rejection of words like sin, repentence, judgement, hell,. It continued with skepticism of the virgin birth, which results in skepticism of the Resurrection, disbelief in prophesy, and the embracing of philosophies like evolution, replacement theology, relativism, and situational ethics to name a few. There is now widespread murder known as abortion. The judgement from The Word is clear about all of these things and more. The question is, will the United Methodist Church obey?

      In response to Bro. Ballard, here in Chile, that is exactly what has happened to the Methodist Church of Chile. Orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan pastors have had to get out and reórganize. Those new orthodox, evangelical. Wesleyan congregations are receiving the full Gospel and are flourishing while the remaining liberal organizational structure is struggling to get by.

      I have been a Volunteer in Missions in Chile for almost 8 years, which means that I am self-financed through my pension. I receive no funding from the UMC neither locally nor from Global missions. Technically, although I have spent a lifetime in the Methodist Church as did many generations of my family, I remain a member of the UMC by name only. As I have previously stated about the similar conditions here in the Methodist Church of Chile, memberships in both now await General Conferences.

      If I would be accused of abandoning the UMC and my vows, much to the contrary it would be the fact that the UMC has abandoned The Word and I could not follow that path.

  17. Chuck Davis says

    Rob Renfroe is the voice of sanity. It’s ironic that the church conference will be held in Portland, Oregon. We lived there for 25 years. It’s a city in a beautiful setting that has been thoroughly ruined by “progressive” ideas. The church there has succumbed to the world and is fading away as a result. As Pastor Renfroe has repeatedly pointed out, Scripture is abundantly clear on these matters and truth is not subjective;

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