Home Christian News Legislation Aims To ‘Decolonize’ United Methodists, Give Parity to Non-US Conferences

Legislation Aims To ‘Decolonize’ United Methodists, Give Parity to Non-US Conferences

But regionalization is also an acknowledgment that cultural and theological differences are driving Methodists apart, especially around sexuality.

“Regionalization is seen as the only way the church can stay together,” said Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary.

The regionalization legislation, if adopted, would allow each regional conference to set its own qualifications for ordaining clergy and lay leaders; publish its own hymnal and rituals, including rites for marriage; and establish its own judicial courts. A new Book of Discipline would have one section that could be revised and tailored for each of the four regional conferences.

The idea is not new. Methodists have tried to regionalize their operations for years. The last attempt, in 2008, passed in the General Conference but failed to receive two-thirds ratification among individual conferences across the world, as required for constitutional amendments.

Unlike the 2008 regionalization plan, the new plan comes from outside the U.S. Beginning in late 2019, the Christmas Covenant, by then consisting of Asian, African and European Methodists, met monthly and worked with two U.S.-based denominational agencies on drafting the legislation. Their work has been translated into Portuguese, French and Swahili.

That does not mean all conferences outside the U.S. favor passing the regionalization plan.

Some African Methodists are wary. They are particularly worried that if the plan passes, U.S. Methodists may then decide to change rules on ordination and marriage of LGBTQ Methodists. Though African conferences would be allowed to keep traditional rules on sexuality, they don’t want to be tarred by association.

“This is deception; for by doing so, we would pretend to ourselves to be one denomination, yet preach different gospels,” wrote Jerry P. Kulah, vice president of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a network of theologically conservative Methodist churches based in the United States, is also opposed to the regionalization plan for the same reasons. It wants to allow African churches and whole conferences to disaffiliate en masse just as U.S. churches have been allowed to do over the past five years, a process that concluded on Dec. 31.

Advocates for regionalization insist the plan has nothing to do with changes to LGBTQ rights. And even if regionalization passed, there’s no guarantee that LGBTQ-affirming legislation on marriage and ordination would pass in the U.S. region.

“If you read the legislation there’s not one word about LGBTQ people,” said Prudente, the Filipino American. “But that’s how the other side is confusing people.”