Kenyan Methodists Pray for Unity in Their Denomination as They Oppose Allowing Homosexual Clergy in Upcoming Vote

A lay leader delivers announcements about the upcoming special session of the UMC General Conference at Kayole St. John’s United Methodist Church in Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan. 13, 2019. RNS photo by Gad Maiga

During a recent prayer service here at the Kayole St. John’s United Methodist Church, more than a hundred worshippers followed Rev. Wilton Odongo, one of the church’s head pastors, as he led congregants in prayer.

This prayer was addressing the unity of the church — specifically, the worldwide United Methodist Church.

Later this month, a special session of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis will renew its long-running debate over same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy. Several proposals under discussion would remove a rule in the church’s book of discipline that would prevent anyone who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” from serving as a minister.

Here in East Africa’s heavyweight country, though, most say a resounding ‘no’ to such measures.

“We are praying that God gives guidance to the delegates so that the result does not hurt the next generation,” said Odongo, who is also the district superintendent of Nairobi and the secretary to the Episcopal Office of the East Africa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Odongo, who is among the reserve delegates for the General Conference meeting, told Religion News Service that he believes the ordination of LGBTQ clergy goes against the teachings of the Bible.

The Rev. Wilton Odongo preaches a sermon at Kayole St. John’s United Methodist Church in Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan. 13, 2019. RNS photo by Gad Maiga

“In Africa, we have people in polygamous marriage and others who practice female genital mutilation, but we have never advocated for such issues to be universal,” he said amid cheers of ‘Amen’ from congregants. “We don’t want the issue to be included in the church because it’s a sin. God forbids it.”

For decades, the United Methodist Church, numbering 12 million members worldwide, has faced conflict over how the denomination should minister to LGBTQ individuals and whether or not to include them as leaders of churches. Two years ago, in Portland, Ore., the denomination narrowly avoided a schism over this issue during a heated General Conference meeting of 800-plus delegates from around the world.

The General Conference then authorized bishops to form a Commission on a Way Forward to envision changes in law and structure that might help preserve unity within the church.

Three plans for the church’s future emerged from the commission to be considered at the conference, which begins Feb. 23: the One Church Plan, which would allow congregations and conferences to decide whether to allow same-sex weddings and gay clergy; the Traditionalist Plan, which would strengthen the current rules; and the Connectional-Conference Plan, which would allow churches to sort themselves by theology.

Another proposal, called the Simple Plan, would remove any language about homosexuality from the Methodist Book of Discipline.

Many Methodists in Kenya said the “One Church Plan” would amount to a repudiation of Bible passages condemning homosexuality. Pastor Anthony Maiga, who oversees Rongai United Methodist Church in Nairobi, believes African Methodist churches are not ready to allow the ordination of LBGTQ clergy.

“We are all aware that homosexuality is a sin and the Bible condemns it,” he said. “We are fighting to defend the Bible and follow Christ’s teachings. There is nowhere in the Bible that encourages the ordination of homosexual clergy.”

Still, Maiga said, he doesn’t want to kick out LGBTQ church members.

“We can allow them to fellowship with us and be part of us,” he said.

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Source: Religion News Servuce