Violations in Central Congo

Graphic is a screenshot from the Congo Central Conference Facebook page.

By Thomas Lambrecht –

The polarization of The United Methodist Church in the United States is now unfortunately surfacing in the part of the church located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – one of at least 17 countries on the continent of Africa to host United Methodist churches. There are 3 million United Methodists in DRC – the largest contingent of Methodism outside the United States.

At last count, there were roughly 6.6 million United Methodists in North America, 5.9 million in Africa, and 200,000 in the Philippines and Europe.

Actions have been taken by two of the four bishops and annual conference boards in the Congo to penalize pastors and lay leaders who are working to promote faithfulness to traditional doctrines and moral teachings. These penalizing actions were taken contrary to the processes required by our Book of Discipline and violated the rights of the persons penalized. Complaints have been filed against the church authorities for these improper actions, but so far, the complaints have been either ignored or no remedy has been provided.

UM Church in the Congo

The primary languages of United Methodists in Congo are French and Kiswahili, which often presents a challenge in communicating with their English-speaking brothers and sisters. In addition, DRC is the same size as the U.S. east of the Mississippi, but with less than 1,000 miles of paved roads, an indicator of the extreme poverty of the country, which naturally affects the church and its ministry there.

The Congo Central Conference has four bishops: Bishop Gabriel Unda (Eastern Congo), Bishop Kasap Owan (Southern Congo and Zambia), Bishop Daniel Lunge (Central Congo), and Bishop Mande Muyombo (North Katanga). Bishop Unda was elected in 2013 and is the president of the Congo College of Bishops. The other three bishops were elected in 2017.

Bishop Kasap is the only bishop of the four who has declared his strong support for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and for the traditionalist position on church doctrine and teachings on marriage and sexuality. The other three bishops supported the “One Church Plan” at the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, urging their delegates not to vote for the “Traditional Plan” that eventually passed. Reports from delegates, however, indicate that delegations generally voted contrary to their bishops’ advice, which has engendered conflict both within and between the episcopal areas in the Congo.

This Perspective will address some of the actions occurring in Central Congo under Bishop Lunge.

Nicolas Munongo

Nicolas Munongo is a layperson in the West Congo Annual Conference of the Central Congo Episcopal Area who at one time served as a trusted assistant to Bishop Lunge. Because Munongo became aware of some allegations against Bishop Lunge that cannot be made public at this time, Bishop Lunge suspended Munongo as a church member and removed him from his position as assistant. Munongo had also attended a meeting where he heard about the Traditional Plan and became a supporter of that plan, which further angered Lunge and his supporters.

After the 2019 General Conference, Munongo continued to promote the traditional perspective among clergy and lay leaders in Central Congo. When Bishop Muyombo (North Katanga) visited Central Congo and told one of the pastors, Henriette Okele, not to associate with Bishop Kasap (Southern Congo and Zambia) and the conservatives, Munongo reported that information to Kasap. When Kasap confronted Muyombo, he became angry and complained to his ally, Bishop Lunge. Lunge instituted proceedings against Munongo, a layperson, by the West Congo Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The Board held a hearing without any notice to Munongo and, in his absence, accused Munongo of making “defamatory, derogatory and insulting remarks” about Bishops Muyombo, Lunge, and Unda, designed to “create an unhealthy climate and lead to the division of the Central Conference of Congo and the College of Bishops.”

The Board of Ordained Ministry removed Munongo from his membership in the church as a layperson and forbade him “from performing any act in the name and on behalf of the East Congo Conference of the United Methodist Community in the Central Congo both inside and outside its bodies” and threatened legal action if Munongo failed to comply.

Apart from whether or not Munongo did anything wrong, there are many problems with how the bishop and annual conference handled this situation. First and foremost, neither the bishop nor the Board of Ordained Ministry has any authority to suspend or remove from membership a layperson. The only way a layperson can be penalized is through the complaint and trial process, which was not followed in this instance and over which the Board of Ordained Ministry has no jurisdiction. No formal complaint was filed against Munongo. No supervisory process was held. No trial was held. There was no attempt at a negotiated resolution of the problem. The bishop and annual conference violated Munongo’s rights as guaranteed by the Book of Discipline to fair process and trial. Instead, an arbitrary and punitive action is attempting to deprive Munongo of his membership in the church in an effort to discredit him due to his difference of opinion with the bishop over the Traditional Plan.

The Rev. Louis Loma Otshudi

The Rev. Louis Loma is a pastor in the West Congo Annual Conference. The Board of Ordained Ministry, without the filing of a written complaint, supervisory process, or trial, suspended him in October 2019. He was accused of “defaming” the bishop on social media (WhatsApp). (Loma had criticized Bishop Lunge for supporting the One Church Plan, advocating instead for the Traditional Plan.) Loma was also accused of being part of a “divisionist” group in Central Congo. (Loma identifies as a “conservative” in line with the current position of the Book of Discipline and spoke out against a group of progressive persons who came from the U.S. to meet with leaders in Central Congo.)

Again, regardless of whether Rev. Loma did anything wrong, the process of the Book of Discipline was not followed. There was no formal complaint filed against Loma. There was no supervisory response by the bishop, only a meeting by the Board of Ordained Ministry, of which no notice was given to Loma and no opportunity provided to Loma to rebut or present evidence. No trial was held. Under the Discipline, the Board of Ordained Ministry could only suspend Loma if a complaint was being processed, and then only for 90 to 120 days with pay. Instead, Loma has been suspended without pay for nearly nine months with no complaint or charges being filed. Loma has no recourse in this situation, since a trial was never held and therefore, he cannot appeal the decision. (Additionally, no appeal would have been possible because the Congo Central Conference has elected no central conference committee on appeals.) The Board of Ordained Ministry has violated Loma’s fair process and constitutional rights guaranteed by the Book of Discipline.

The Rev. Henriette Okele

The Rev. Henriette Okele is a pastor in the East Congo Annual Conference. On April 2, the Board of Ordained Ministry suspended her because she attended a meeting of African leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting was sponsored by the Africa Initiative, a group formed by African leaders to equip and promote the voice of African United Methodists within the larger denomination. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the provisions of the “Protocol” and its implementing legislation regarding the possible separation of the church and to hear the feedback from African leaders regarding the “Protocol.” (The African Initiative issued a statement following the meeting endorsing the “Protocol” and urging several amendments to it.)

Because Okele attended the meeting without the permission of her superintendent and bishop, and because the meeting “was accompanied by resolutions tending to the division of the United Methodist Church,” she was suspended. The letter of suspension further said that her suspension was “without appeal.”

There is nothing in the Discipline that allows bishops or superintendents to forbid clergy from attending meetings of church leaders for the purpose of understanding issues and proposals coming before the church. This claim of power by Bishop Lunge and other African bishops is an attempt to keep their people uninformed about what is happening in the church. By controlling all the information that is reaching their people, the bishops hope to control what the African church decides to do in response to the actions of General Conference.

Again, the process with Okele violated every aspect of the Discipline’s requirements. No formal complaint was filed against her. There was no supervisory process or attempt to negotiate a just resolution. No trial was held. The Board of Ordained Ministry did not have the authority to suspend Okele at all, let alone without pay. It cannot deprive her of the right of trial and appeal, which is guaranteed by the Restrictive Rules of our church Constitution.

No Recourse

Because of all the violations of fair process and constitutional rights, Munongo, Loma, and Okele appealed to Bishop Lunge to reverse the decisions and require the Boards of Ordained Ministry to handle the situation according to the requirements of the Discipline. Bishop Lunge ignored their appeal.

Therefore, Munongo filed a complaint against the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry for disobedience to the order and discipline of the church. Bishop Lunge ignored his complaint and declined to process it, refusing even to meet with him and instructing his aides not to allow him in the conference office or to receive any mail from him.

Finally, Munongo filed a complaint against Bishop Lunge for disobedience to the order and discipline of the church for failing to process his previous complaint. The complaint against Lunge went to Bishop Unda as the president of the Congo College of Bishops. In response to the complaint, Bishop Unda met with Munongo, Loma, and Okele and suggested that they should apologize to Bishop Lunge and ask forgiveness. Since they had done nothing wrong, they declined to apologize. Bishop Unda at that point refused to process the complaint, saying that he could not “interfere” in the affairs of another annual conference.

We have heard this line of reasoning from other bishops, who are unwilling to hold a fellow bishop accountable because it would be considered “interference.” Such reasoning is completely contrary to the Wesleyan and Methodist understanding of mutual accountability. It creates an Anglican or Roman Catholic idea of “diocesan bishops,” where each bishop is essentially a law unto themselves in their own diocese. In contrast, United Methodist bishops are general superintendents, having oversight of the whole church, not just their particular annual conference. In Methodism, bishops, clergy, and laity are supposed to be accountable to each other, for the sake of growing in holiness and for the good of the whole church.

We have also seen other instances where a college of bishops refuses to prosecute a complaint against a fellow bishop. It has happened in Africa before and in the Western Jurisdiction. This failure of accountability gives the appearance of episcopal dictatorship and the variations of practices from one annual conference to another that makes the United Methodist identity virtually meaningless.

The practical result of this lack of accountability is the victimization of pastors and laity who dare to think or speak differently than their bishop in some annual conferences. The heavy-handedness and distortions of the truth end up victimizing the whole church. When the Book of Discipline is no longer followed, we are no longer living in a faithful church, but in a church that is subject to the whims and proclivities of its leaders.

These three individuals in the Central Congo episcopal area have no recourse for the injustice that has been done to them. They are deprived of position and livelihood without due process and in violation of their rights as clergy and lay members of the church. The last hope is that the Council of Bishops would step in and intervene in the complaint against Bishop Lunge. But given the reluctance of bishops to “interfere” with a fellow bishop, that kind of intervention is unlikely.

It is this type of violation of the Discipline and the lack of accountability that is causing the separation of The United Methodist Church. The story told in this Perspective is but one example of the kind of malaise that has afflicted our church. When accountability becomes impossible, the only solution is to start over. A new traditional Methodist church will have a more robust accountability mechanism for bishops at the global level. Bishops will be expected to follow the Discipline or face accountability. Those unwilling to live by the Discipline of the church will be unable to align with that new denomination.

Our denominational identity should mean something. Without accountability, we have no identity as a church. If we stand for anything, we end up standing for nothing. If the plan of separation passes the next General Conference, we will have the opportunity to choose what we will stand for.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson  and the vice president of Good News.  

Comments

  1. Gary Bebop says

    Thanks for exposing this shocking abuse of power. Arrogant manifestations of this kind should be addressed by a church that proclaims itself a social justic champion. Please keep informing us. Corrupt exercise of authority opposes the righteous government of Christ’s church.

  2. w.f. meiklejohn says

    The first thought that comes to mind is; ‘where is Paul Harvey when we really need him’? This story cries out for someone to say; “Now, here’s the rest of the story” and to fill in the blanks. There has to be more to this incredible account of suthoritarian abuse. It’s also quite amazing that we have been led to believe by the ‘traditionalists’ that the African voices are primarily in agreement with the ‘traditionalists’ approach. This story seems to refute that! Looking forward to learning more of the information to help everyone see the bigger picture.

  3. Can these egregious violations of the Book of Discipline and the rights of these individuals be appealed to the JUDICIAL COUNCIL? A legal fund needs to be established for them. I won’t launch into a tirade on the corruption amongst too many of our bishops. That horse is dead and needs no more beating. SEPARATION is the ONLY solution, obviously.

  4. The Episcopal system is corrupt and needs to be eliminated. We can connect through the conference with an annual conference chair preferably elected from among the clergy by the laity. Clergy are to be servants not the exalted leaders many of us think we have become.

    • Charles Armour says

      Amen to that! I have been saying the same thing for a long time and have been castigated as a result throughout my career as a clergy. One thing that concerns me is that this might well upset the very process of the proposed separation.

      Could enough Central Conference Traditionalists be purged, being replaced by enough handpicked delegates so as to threaten the implied agreement? Then would the so called “Progressives” entirely change things, thereby keeping the properties and telling the Traditionalists to simply; “Hit the road”? After all, real estate is worth a lot of money!

      • w.f. meiklejohn says

        re; “After all, real estate is worth a lot of money!” I read that and several thoughts come to mind:
        “Where ;your treasure is, your heart is also” Matthew 6:21
        “Do not lay up treasures on earth” Matthew 6:19
        And from Exodus 20; ‘have no other gods before God, do not make idols to worship’
        It almost seems with the statement ‘real estate is worth a lot
        of money’ that idolatry is being put in place. Are
        we being led to worship real estate/buildings/’things’?
        God have mercy on us all.

        • Charles Armour says

          You make a point well worth considering by all , But good folks having made great sacrifices to build a church from the ground up, and having given much effort, time and money to do so, would hate to have it taken away from them because Bible centered theology is suddenly considered out of fashion by those suddenly in power who stand in violation of a covenant previously made by all. If an Exodus must happen, so be it. But any divorce eventually ends with an argument over property. Sad but true.

          There is a reason why folks refer to their “church home.” Now Family, love and heart is where “home” actually is. But I doubt many folk would happily walk away from land that they cleared and a house that they themselves built just because of selfish interlopers from the outside who now covet it yet had no hand in its development. It is same for a church where people have buried their parents, got married and raised their children, especially one that they built themselves. Oftentimes in the Old Testament, the children of Israel were called to fight for the Promised Land.

          Folks who bent their backs to have built a church from the ground up, against all odds, don’t like the thought of being run off simply because they refuse to abandon their beliefs. And such could well happen.

          Lastly, some folk might take a some umbrage at the notion of such being called “Idolatry” by one who has not been involved in a particular situation. Idolatry is a very strong word. Before slinging such an anathema towards a total stranger regarding a particular situation about which one essentially knows nothing, a careful reading of Matthew 7:1-3 might be in order. And the last thing evangelical folks need to do is to contend with one another in such troubled times when all those beliefs we hold dear are being challenged.

          • w.f.
            Pastor Charles Armour speaks to the stark reality of the schism from the stark reality of serving and living the life of a pastor in a corrupt system. Shall we pause and LISTEN to him? But, to toss idolatry and completely inappropriate Scripture into the conversation over church properties is way over the top and insulting to traditionalists. NOTE. It will be the traditionalists who are DEPARTING the denomination. Any attempt to change the Protocol to deny them their church properties would be the height of EGREGIOUS EVIL. After all, liberals will retain the rest in their Post Separation UMC. That would not be enough to begin liquidating in order to cover their liabilities at least for awhile? Or, do they want ALL the church properties in order to extend the coverage of their liabilities for a little longer? Harsh words? Don’t think so given the history of our liberal brethren over the past 50 years. Bottom line, how could any delegate NOT vote for the departing churches to retain their church properties, their worship properties, God’s properties even under pressure from their “leaders”?

          • w.f. meiklejohn says

            I deeply appreciate your thoughts and insights and the opportunity to explore some of our basic tenets. A number of years ago, I became aware that some cultures take an approach to life that we should ‘Love people and use things’. To me, if we reverse those priorities we may be irreparably damaging the stewardship of each individual’s God-given gifts and talents. Hymn #558 in the United Methodist Hymnal makes the idea very graphic; viz. ‘the church is not a building, THE CHURCH IS PEOPLE’. In this challenging time of pandemic, blindly focusing on getting back into the
            church building for in-person worship time can place a great number of earthly saints at serious risk. I do understand the strong focus and emotional ties to buildings and ‘things’ but, as C.S. Lewis reminds us; ‘the purpose of church is to be able to show each other Christ’ . We are all off-balance, I can
            only hope and pray that we allow God to restore balance and to rejoice in new ways to love each other.

  5. Stanislas Kassongo says

    Dommage pour l’église méthodiste unie en Afrique.Les pasteurs et les laïcs fidèles aux Écritures Saintes sont plus nombreux et vaincront sur le mal( l’abomination ). Le plan “une église ) n’est pas le plan idéal si l’on veut rester dans le respect des Écritures Saintes.

    Translations:
    Too bad for the United Methodist Church in Africa. Pastors and lay people faithful to the Holy Scriptures are more numerous and will overcome evil (abomination). The plan “One Church” is not the ideal plan if one wants to remain in the respect of the Holy Scriptures.

  6. w.f.,
    Since it will be the traditionalists who are DEPARTING — are you suggesting that leaving WITHOUT their church buildings (God’s buildings) that they paid for and maintained over the decades while handing the keys over to the Post Separation UMC is a way “to love each other”?

    • w.f. meiklejohn says

      Anthony; If you choose to move to a different house, do you get to keep tho one you’ve moving out of? If you decide to trade your car for a newer one, do you get to keep your old car? Church property is held in trust by the local congregation to insure and maintain for the Conference who owns the property. In the United Methodist Church the local church family does not own the capital assets but has the honor and responsibility for them. As I understand it, this “Trust Clause” is in place to prevent a local church congregation from arbitrarily choosing to leave the denomination assuming that they have paid for all of the ‘things’ and therefore “own” them.

      • You seem to be talking about a church that is not in schism and about to split. The UMC, already two churches, is in schism and about to officially split. The agreed upon Protocol plan of separation essentially erases the current “trust clause” thus allowing a conference or an individual church to depart with their property. Are you saying that this needs to be removed from the Protocol so that the Post Separation UMC keeps all properties thus sending the traditionalists off without their places of worship and having to start over from scratch? Do you support the Protocol plan of separation or not?

        • w.f. meiklejohn says

          Would like to respectfully share several thoughts;
          From the musical ‘Oliver’-“Where is love?”
          From I Corinthians 13:4-5 “Love is patient, LOVE DOES NOT INSIST ON IT’S OWN WAY”
          From John Wesley-“If your heart is with my heart, give me your hand”.
          From JFK-” “So let us not be blind to our differences-but let us also direct our attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
          From John Wesley- “O never give me over to my own heart’s desires, nor let me follow my own imaginations!”
          From Miller and Jill Jackson-“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”

  7. OMANYONDO says

    Je vous salut au nom puis de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ.
    C’est avec une grande désolation et un profond regret que nous avons lu votre publication sur l’Eglise Méthodiste Unie au Congo.
    Si c’est vrai que vous œuvrer pour la paix et le développement de l’église, éviter la partialité, la haine et les propos discourtois à l’endroit des évêques.
    1. Avez-vous vérifié ce que vous avez publié ???

    I greet you in the name then of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    It is with great desolation and regret that we read your publication on The United Methodist Church in Congo.
    If it is true that you are working for peace and the development of the church, avoid partiality, hatred and discourteous talk about bishops.
    1. Have you checked what you posted ???

    • Hello, Omanyondo.

      We also grieve over the news of what is happening in the United Methodist Church in the Congo. We have confirmed all of the facts with people on the ground in Congo, including those who were punished. We also have copies of the documents that outline the charges and punishments. We have no hatred or partiality against Bishop Lunge or Bishop Unda. As one brother calls another brother to account for doing wrong, so we are calling for accountability for all our bishops, whether in the United States or Congo or elsewhere. Such a call is not discourteous. It is part of our Christian duty (Matthew 18: 15-17). We first went to them privately, and now we must share it publicly.

      Tom Lambrecht

  8. Gary Bebop says

    There you have it. Tom is trying to wage a battle for truth, but we have entered the twilight zone of battling narratives. Whenever a truthful account appears, a counterfeit cozies up alongside it. Remember how we used to talk about “cognitive dissonance” in the UMC? That’s way too mild a label for what has taken the microphone now. Pray for strength to endure “that hideous strength” now unleashed.

    • The counterfeit who relentlessly cozies up to the truth is none other than the great deceiver. Denying his role or even denying his existence in our UMC schism and corruption is to his great delight. He is enjoying a golden age, first in the secular culture and next in far too much of our church. Tom states, “if we stand for anything, we end up standing for nothing”. Well, that’s where the UMC has landed as a denomination. Of course the schism and corruption in our church has been talked to death — with a plan on the table to finally end it. There are certainly many real and viable individual churches remaining in the interim, thank God — but the overall denomination no longer fits under the definition of church. It is an institution with far too many of its various institutional players, who are on payroll, seemingly beginning to crunch the numbers and consider their future affiliation based on where they perceive most of the MONEY and ASSETS will end up.

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