“Mainstream UMC” Condemns Nigerian Bishop
By Thomas Lambrecht
In a recent fundraising piece, the self-identified centrist caucus group “Mainstream UMC” condemned the United Methodist bishop of Nigeria, Bishop John Wesley Yohanna. Its principal accusation was that Bishop Yohanna made a public statement on TV in which he “lied about the African delegates who gathered recently in Tanzania, saying they support gay marriage.” It alleges he did so “in an effort to intimidate his delegates” and by doing so “putting people’s well-being at risk to support his political agenda of taking the Nigerian church out of the UMC and into the GMC.”
A recent meeting of some African General Conference delegates and other members issued a statement supporting regionalization and opposing disaffiliation for the church in Africa. Bishop Yohanna apparently made his public statement in response to reports about that meeting, reassuring the Nigerian church and public that the church in Nigeria opposes both regionalization and same-sex marriage.
Mainstream UMC leads the story by asking its readers to “please forward this email to your Bishop and demand that the Council of Bishops take immediate action against Bishop Yohanna.” This is plainly an attempt to support Mainstream UMC’s allies in Nigeria who are actively working against Bishop Yohanna’s authority as bishop (see more details below). It is also highly ironic that Mainstream UMC is attacking a traditionalist bishop in Nigeria who has not violated the Discipline, while previously defending two bishops in the Western Jurisdiction that are ineligible (according to the Book of Discipline and a Judicial Council decision) to serve as bishops due to being in same-sex marriages.
Anyone who watches the TV clip of Bishop Yohanna’s statement can clearly see that Yohanna never said that the Tanzania delegates support gay marriage. In Yohanna’s words, “Some years back, some groups within the church have been advocating same-sex marriage. For some of us, this is unbiblical and also is incompatible with church teaching according to our Book of Discipline, which is the laws [sic] of the church.” He went on to state that the United Methodist Church in Nigeria says no to same-sex marriage.
It was actually the news reporters – not Bishop Yohanna – who stated that the delegates in Tanzania were supporters of same-sex marriage. We should all be able to agree that Bishop Yohanna cannot be held responsible for what they said.
Further, it should be clarified that while a previous meeting of the United Methodist Africa Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, supported changing the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex marriage, the delegates and members meeting in Tanzania voted to retain the current definition of marriage between one man and one woman. That is an important distinction.
The only mention Yohanna made of the delegates in Tanzania was to allege that they were taught at the meeting by caucus groups supporting regionalization how to vote at the 2024 General Conference. He emphatically stated that the Nigerian United Methodist Church “says ‘no’ to regionalization.” The truth of the bishop’s statement was confirmed earlier this week when nearly 1,000 delegates at a special session of the Nigerian annual conferences unanimously voted to oppose regionalization.
There is no doubt there were presentations made by representatives of the caucus groups in Tanzania advocating for the church to adopt regionalization. According to the announced results of the meeting, those Africans present agreed with the caucus groups in favor of regionalization. Undoubtedly, the caucus groups explained that if the African delegates present wanted to support regionalization, there were certain petitions they would need to support. That is a legitimate lobbying activity.
But it is important to note that not all those present were General Conference delegates, nor did the delegates present represent a majority of all African General Conference delegates. One cannot therefore take the Tanzania statement as representative of all African delegates. It is certainly the prerogative of the Nigerian bishop to argue publicly against regionalization as a counter to that meeting.
Certainly, nothing that Bishop Yohanna stated was of a nature to “put people’s well-being at risk.” He did not name personally any of the delegates who attended the Tanzania meeting. He did not call for any form of action or retribution against those delegates. Mainstream UMC’s urgent tone and strident call for Council of Bishops action against Bishop Yohanna is an uncalled for attempt to undermine the bishop, his ministry, and his authority.
Other False Allegations
The Mainstream UMC fundraiser also alleges that the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Global Methodist Church, is portrayed in video footage during the newscast because he was in Nigeria to “actively work with Bishop Yohanna for the church in Nigeria to leave the UMC.” The news footage was actually taken during the recent centennial celebration of United Methodism in Nigeria – a full month prior to the meeting in Tanzania. This was Boyette’s first and only trip to Nigeria, and he was there as an invited guest to help celebrate the centennial, along with many United Methodist officials, political dignitaries, and representatives of other denominations. He was not there to lobby the Nigerian church to join the GMC.
Long ago, Bishop Yohanna made it clear that, if the Book of Discipline changed to allow same-sex marriage and the ordination of non-celibate LGBT persons, he would withdraw from the UM Church, and he believed that most of the Nigerian church would withdraw, as well. It did not take Boyette’s presence at a centennial celebration to prompt such a course of action on Yohanna’s part.
The Mainstream UMC piece casts other aspersions on Yohanna meant to undermine him.
It refers to the fact that Bishop Yohanna’s election was challenged in 2012 by some Nigerians before the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council declined to rule because no official body of the church had requested a declaratory decision. The Council of Bishops argued in its brief that “John Wesley Yohanna was ‘validly nominated and elected as a bishop of the West Africa Central Conference.’” Yohanna was elected unanimously out of three candidates by the 57 delegates who cast ballots at the central conference meeting. Thirteen delegates who believed Yohanna was improperly nominated boycotted the meeting. The Council of Bishops stated, “While the resulting boycott by 13 delegates from two annual conferences may have had some impact on the eventual vote totals distributed among the three candidates, there is nothing decisively evident that the outcome of the balloting would have changed the results of the election. Nor is there evidence that any attempt was made during the balloting process to challenge the legitimacy of the election by the West Africa Central Conference.”
The group of challengers was led by the Rev. Philip Micah Dopah, who eventually led a breakaway movement in southern Nigeria that is no longer part of The United Methodist Church, despite many efforts by Bishop Yohanna to resolve the split. One of the issues in the election was tribal identity and the unwillingness to accept a bishop of another tribe. There is no question that Bishop Yohanna was fairly nominated and fairly elected as bishop.
Mainstream UMC also alleges that Bishop Yohanna “worked with the civil authorities in 2021 in Nigeria to jail four members of his clergy.” This is not true.
From a Nigerian clergyperson, Good News received an article from WAX-FAITH Magazine that extensively quotes DSP David Misal, Deputy Superintendent of Police and the Police Public Relations Officer in Jalingo – the capital city of Taraba State in north-eastern Nigeria. In the article, Misal states the four were invited to the police station as part of an investigation into complaints that they were “instigating members of the Church against others, setting division, causing violence among members of the Church and training others to cause violence.” The four came voluntarily and peacefully for police interviews. The article states that, unfortunately, “at the arrival at the Police Headquarters they secretly took photographs of the Police Headquarters gate … and other sensitive locations within the Police Headquarters and attached it with a written complaint and forwarded it to United Methodist Council of Bishops alleging that the police is [sic] been used and paid by Bishop John Wesley Yohanna to harass and torture them.” The four were then charged with spying because taking the photographs was illegal.
According to the article, the police spokesperson stated that, “the Police Command consider the complaints of the clergymen as false misleading and a deliberate attempt to portray the image of the Police in a bad light, as such the Police were professional courteous and civil in handling the case.” The spokesperson “further debunked claims making the rounds that Bishop John Wesley Yohanna was responsible for the trial of the accused persons.”
It is important to note that the group raising concerns in Nigeria is led by the Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel, who was once the secretary of the conference and a trusted aide of Bishop Yohanna. Emmanuel turned against Yohanna and for the last three years has refused an appointment by the bishop. He and his group have been recruiting churches and pastors to defy Bishop Yohanna’s leadership. Those churches have refused to pay their conference apportionments and clergy have refused appointments from the bishop. Emmanuel has announced his own intention to run for bishop, if the General Conference grants an additional bishop to Nigeria, as proposed.
This group has also been holding alternative annual conference meetings with their own delegates, claiming to be the rightful United Methodist Church of Nigeria. As noted in the above article reporting from the police, the group has been accused of fomenting violence. In one incident, a gang of “thugs” invaded a conference youth event and attacked participants, inflicting injuries. Police responded and arrested twelve suspects and recovered weapons. The suspects are being prosecuted for assault.
Complaints were filed by conference leaders against Emmanuel and his group, who in turn filed complaints against Bishop Yohanna. There was a just resolution of the dueling complaints in 2023, but it is apparent that Emmanuel and his group are still not willing to accept the authority of Bishop Yohanna, in accordance with the just resolution. The fundraiser from Mainstream UMC can be seen as part of an ongoing attempt by this group to undermine Bishop Yohanna’s ministry and ruin his reputation. Readers should not accept unchallenged the inaccurate and false allegations that the Mainstream UMC piece makes against Bishop Yohanna.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo: Nigeria Area Bishop John Wesley Yohanna is joined by the Rev. Jolly T. Nyame, former governor of Taraba state and onetime director of connectional ministries for The United Methodist Church in Nigeria, during a commissioning service for a new emergency ward at Jalingo United Methodist Hospital in Jalingo, Nigeria. Photo by Ezekiel Ibrahim, UM News.