African Christians Rescue United Methodists

By now you have read the news about the United Methodist Church—that conservatives within the denomination beat back an effort by liberals to affirm gay marriage and LGBT clergy. The New York Times reports:

After three days of intense debate at a conference in St. Louis, the vote by church officials and lay members from around the world doubled down on current church policy, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote served as a rejection of a push by progressive members and leaders to open the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Now, a divide of the United Methodist Church, which has 12 million members worldwide, appears imminent. Some pastors and bishops in the United States are already talking about leaving the denomination and possibly creating a new alliance for gay-friendly churches.

This is without question good news. The United Methodists are now the lone hold-out among the mainline denominations which have embraced the sexual revolution and affirmed gay marriage and gay clergy. That alone is a big deal. And a welcome development.

In large part, we have the African Methodists to thank for this result. They form about 30% of United Methodists worldwide, and they are vastly more conservative than their American counterparts. With the help of the African Methodists, the liberal plan to affirm gay marriage and gay clergy was defeated in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. North Africa gave birth to Western Christianity centuries ago. Now Africa is coming to the rescue of a compromised Western Christianity—at least in its Methodist version. Thank God for our African brothers and sisters.

Dr. Jerry Kulah, an African delegate who is a professor at the United Methodist University in Liberia, addressed a group of reform-minded Methodists who were attending the conference in St. Louis. Among other things, Kulah said this:

We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up”…

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!…

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us…

Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.

Amen. Thank God for such clarity of conviction. The Africans understand that there can be no fellowship with those who affirm LGBT immorality. None. The Africans were willing to walk alone rather than continue on with an apostate American Methodist movement. The key word there is “apostate.” To embrace LGBT immorality is to embrace apostasy. The Africans understand that.

What the liberal American Methodists wanted was a “One Church Plan,” which would have treated LGBT as a matter of moral indifference among United Methodists. Although it was pitched as a compromise, the plan’s effect would have been a total capitulation to the liberals.

What the liberals want—more than anything—is for the conservatives to concede that LGBT affirmation is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree. The Africans said no. And they were right. To grant that LGBT affirmation is in any way compatible with Christianity is to lose the essence of Christianity. You can have LGBT affirmation or you can have Christianity, but you can’t have both.

This is the bottom line that I fear many so-called evangelicals have yet to come to grips with. There can be no compromise with LGBT affirmation. The Bible and the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church simply won’t allow it. This is why so many of us signed our names to article ten of The Nashville Statement:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.

And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. And yet, scripture teaches that anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). The stakes are higher than the revisionists want you to believe.

Authentic Christians labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.

Real love—as God defines it—always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). And that is what the Africans did in St. Louis this week. My hope and prayer are that American evangelicals will draw strength and courage from the example of these African brothers and sisters. I know I have.