FEARS OF SPLIT IN METHODIST CHURCH OVER HOMOSEXUALITY . . . local leaders contemplate future

26 May, 2024 - 00:05 0 Views
FEARS OF SPLIT IN METHODIST CHURCH OVER HOMOSEXUALITY  . . . local leaders contemplate future The local UMC joined congregants from several other African countries who objected homosexuality

The Sunday Mail

Veronica Gwaze

A RECENT decision by the United Methodist Church (UMC)’s General Conference to repeal the long-standing ban on homosexuality has the potential to divide the denomination, especially after the local chapter took a stand against what has since been described as an overly liberal new dispensation.

There are now growing fears that the church could split along liberal and conservative fault lines. UMC rescinded the ban on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) clergy, as well as same-sex marriages, after delegates voted 692 to 51 at the General Conference held in the United States early this month.

Zimbabwe joined several other African countries that objected to the decision.

The election essentially reversed the age-old position of the church, which held that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.

Bishop  Nhiwatiwa

Bishop Nhiwatiwa

However, the overwhelming margin of the vote reflects a sudden seismic shift within the denomination following decades of controversy over the subject.

Past general conferences had consistently reinforced the ban.

Some members of the congregation believe the shift has largely been influenced by powerful Western groups that have “corrupted” the apex body, while others opine that many conservatives, who previously upheld the ban, had left the denomination in recent years.

Unwavering

However, the local UMC leadership maintains they will not condone same-sex marriages and would consequently not preside over such unions.

Resident Bishop of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area of UMC Eben Nhiwatiwa said the General Conference’s vote was not going to influence a shift in their position.

“The position is that homosexuality is an abomination for Africans, as espoused in the Bible, and the local United Methodist Church will maintain that,” he said.

Biblically, Bishop Nhiwatiwa added, homosexuality is not in line with Christian teachings.

He also said marriage, as defined in the Holy Scriptures, is a union between a man and a woman.

In any case, UMC marriage officers are expected to solemnise unions according to Zimbabwe’s Marriages Act (Chapter 5:17).

“We will not solemnise same-sex marriages as the church. We adhere to State laws and the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” said Bishop Nhiwatiwa.

Split

However, the latest development raises the spectre of a possible split between traditionalist and liberal factions.

Churches in the Western world have been at the forefront of supporting the practice.

But fissures started emerging from 2019, when the UMC voted to allow regional conferences to decide on the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages.

“Everything that they are doing is meant to accommodate homosexuality by those who identify themselves as LGBTQ, yet it is against the Bible,” said Edward Nyerere, a Chitungwiza congregant.

Exclusion

A senior priest with the church, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said a separation with the apex body could not be ruled out.

But if this comes to pass, he added, it would be of no effect considering the direction UMC has taken in the past.

It is believed the church’s highest board recently adopted a worldwide regionalisation system in which every region is expected to align itself to its own biblical, social and legal context. Resultantly, this gives denominations in different countries room to come up with their own “Book of Discipline” for the respective region.

“What this means is that our faith and position on marriage remains intact. We are guided by the Bible and the Constitution, so we will remain resolute,” said the senior priest.

“Due to regionalisation, most African countries are in one corner, thus, we will not support or preside over same-sex marriages. However, there is a possibility that we will be excommunicated.”

Reverend Xolani Ngcwele says the church can still survive even in the event of a separation. Such an outcome, he surmises, would result in the United Methodist being renamed the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.

“We cannot rule out chances that we can be disowned, but if that happens, the church can and will still go on. It can change to the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, just like what happened to the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. Also, this is the direction we had naturally been moving towards,” notes Rev Ngcwele.

The Methodist Church originated in Wesleyan British Methodism before coming to Zimbabwe under the leadership of Reverends Owen Watkins and Isaac Shimmin.

The duo arrived at Fort Salisbury, now Harare, on September 29, 1891.

Owing to various issues and disagreements, the local church later went on to be renamed the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.

Solidarity

President of the Zimbabwe Christian Ministers Association Bishop Christopher Choto said local churches are guided by the Bible and moral values in the community.

“In Zimbabwe, we do not recognise that (homosexuality) because it is morally improper. Besides, we also have the Bible and the Constitution that give us direction in such situations,” he said.

“Marriage was created for a man and a woman. That way, there is room for procreation, so we stick to the Word of God. We cannot change the Word of God on marriages, sexuality and morality, regardless of one’s race.”

Apostolic Churches Council of Zimbabwe leader Johannes Ndanga said it is the church’s role to support and defend Zimbabwe’s Constitution.

“Supporting homosexuality means violating our laws and the Bible. Zimbabwe, being largely a Christian country, means almost everything that we do should be guided by Christian values,” he said.

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