By Keith Boyette
October 8, 2021
I just returned from Nairobi, Kenya. Yes, you read that right. I traveled with four colleagues from the United States to meet with sixteen Methodist leaders who came from countries across Africa. All of us, whether we came from the U.S. or from Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and several other nations, successfully navigated the process of getting negative Covid tests before we departed our home countries and also secured visas and health authorizations from the Kenyan government. And then we all navigated the process in reverse, safely returning to our homes. In short, we demonstrated it is possible to travel internationally to conduct a multi-day meeting, while also observing health protocols. We pray and trust we will all continue to find ways to safely go about our work together despite the challenges we face.
Why did we gather with African leaders in Kenya? First and foremost, to continue to deepen relationships established over decades. Second, to listen to one another about developments in The United Methodist Church, especially as they relate to the next General Conference (Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 29 – September 6, 2022), the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, the Christmas Covenant, and the launch of the Global Methodist Church. Third, to have in-depth discussions about the hopes and dreams for a new Methodist movement in Africa and to receive their input on other matters.
As with other regions in the UM Church, we heard reports that church leaders in some areas of Africa are not sharing information about legislation coming before General Conference and what will happen should that legislation be adopted. Regrettably, we also learned of instances where bishops and district superintendents in some African annual conferences have attempted to silence and punish persons who share information all United Methodists are entitled to know of and consider. We have received similar reports from areas in Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.
Such restrictions are by no means universal and, in fact, in some places, church leaders have welcomed and even facilitated the sharing of information. In some annual conferences bishops and district superintendents have invited people with varying perspectives to make presentations and respond to questions about General Conference legislation and the implications of its adoption. Likewise, local churches have invited people with diverse theological convictions to make presentations to administrative boards, church councils or even the congregation at large. As a result, critical information is shared, uncertainty dispelled, and people are empowered to make good decisions for the future of their local churches.
In a series of meetings held recently in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, Bishop Latrelle Easterling urged pastors to make information available to their congregations about matters coming before the General Conference and the options local churches would need to consider if legislation is adopted. At one meeting, Bishop Easterling said, “Pastors have a responsibility to be sharing this information. There ought to be some times when . . . individuals are pointed toward resources where they read and make themselves aware. There is a whole website on the Protocol that one can go to. The Global Methodist Church has a website that one can go and peruse. And if, when there are opportunities for some of these broader conversations throughout the districts and conference, individuals should be told that that is happening so they can avail themselves of such information.” We thank Bishop Easterling for her fair and wise counsel.
The legislation implementing the Protocol expressly provides for the sharing of information freely, fairly, and fully. It requires that new Methodist denominations that emerge from a restructured UM Church “be allowed to share information . . . with central conference and annual conference members, as well as local church leaders,” and that “United Methodist bishops, clergy, and other leaders shall forward pertinent information to central and annual conference members, clergy, and local church leaders, and they shall not hinder representatives . . . from meeting with interested parties.”
Healthy organizations ensure the free flow of information. They create processes that ensure information is fairly and fully presented. By enabling parties with different perspectives to participate in sharing information, individuals hold one another accountable to provide accurate and complete information. Organizations that restrict its flow encourage mistrust, anxiety, fear, and conflict.
Thankfully, the UM Church leaders who produced the Protocol recognized the importance of sharing information. For the sake of an orderly and amicable separation, the leaders said it is essential all United Methodists be given the opportunity to understand, discuss, and discern how they will decide matters sure to impact the mission and ministry of central and annual conferences, and local churches.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is committed to providing information that will help people understand the Protocol and the emerging Global Methodist Church. Its website provides a wealth of information, including critical articles addressing this season in the life of the UM Church. The Global Methodist Church (in formation) also has a website where, among many other things, it shares its core confessions of faith and its governance structure while it is in transition to a convening General Conference. The entire Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline can be accessed there, including the ability to identify provisions through keyword searches.
Finally, The United Methodist Church and others, including UMC Next and the Liberation Methodist Connexion, provide critical information concerning their visions for churches likely to emerge after the adoption of the Protocol. We welcome their efforts to share information fully and fairly. We can all make our best decisions when we are fully informed.
Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and chair of the Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church. He is an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.