With sixteen days before General Conference, it may feel like the final moments of a sinking ship. There are over 12 million of us aboard, and though the ship is large enough for all of us, we find ourselves now in the trough between waves, worried that we may sink.
A recent and troubling online discussion centered on “whether Africans will change their minds about LGBTQ people.” Soon, the question brought out answers from individuals who felt called to speak on behalf of a whole continent that they do not represent. Someone mentioned that Asia posed a similar conundrum. Some respondents even called for the severance of Africa from the connection altogether.
As progressive and affirming Christians, we are invited to model justice. After all, the world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another even when we disagree. And justice, we know, is not just about one vote or one action; it is also the sustained conviction that all are beloved children of God.
During this time of high tensions, we must take care to remember the blessings of our faith and our connection as United Methodists. Ours is a diverse community of believers collaborating to bring the message and work of good news around the world and deep into our own locales. Such work is dependent on equal consideration and respect for marginalized voices in our Church.
In the middle of this discussion about African United Methodists, some friends from Africa have spoken out and connected with us in frustration. Were their shipmates suggesting to abandon them?
“You of little faith,” we may hear Jesus say before this is over, “Why did you doubt?”
In the pursuit of justice for LGBTQ people, there is no place for the insinuation that an entire continent be severed from The United Methodist Church or that such severance would solve the problems of the Church. Embedded in the accusation that Africans will not change their minds about LGBTQ people are racist categorizations; the assumption that a continent 14 times the size of the United States has uniformly believing residents; a lack of understanding of the history of homophobic colonialism; and the harmful assumption that African LGBTQ people do not exist in or outside of The United Methodist Church.
We know that our conservative peers in the denomination have used and sustained colonial practices to paint the image of an entire continent to fit their narrative. Our faith compels us to join our African siblings to dispel the harmful myths about them.
The global nature of our connection is an expression of the kin-dom of God. It is an ambitious one – yes – but one that must strive for the wholeness of justice or be meaningless. Murri artist Lilla Watson famously warned, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.” Let this be a word of love and caution to our movement, too. “But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
We are bound together. Ours is one Church bound together. There is no liberation for LGBTQ people in the Church unless there is also liberation for African people in the Church. There is no liberation for African people in the Church unless there is also liberation for LGBTQ people in the Church.
Is the cause of liberation for all not a humbling and worthy call? Opponents of justice have much to gain from dividing African people and other people of color from LGBTQ people, as though the overlap were not great, multitudinous, and beautiful in its diversity. Let us not make their work easy by dividing ourselves.
Take faith. There is no room aboard for doubt.