The Bishop of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria, John Wesley, and his former administrative assistant, Emmanuel Ande, share different perspectives on gay rights and the crisis in the church in Nigeria.
The United Methodist Church (UMC), one of the largest mainline Protestant denominations, is entangled in internal conflict over same-sex marriage and the ordination of Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) clerics. At the February 2019 general conference of the church in the USA, the leaders rejected moves to remove restrictions on LGBT clerics and same-sex marriages.
Instead, delegates from across the world voted 438 to 384 to pass what was called the Traditional Plan, which maintains the church's rules. As the church prepares for the next general conference in 2022, centrists and liberals who favour LGBT inclusion are in conflict over the issue.
The conflict has also affected the unity of the church in Nigeria, whose headquarters is in Jalingo, Taraba State. While the head of the church in Nigeria believes the conflict is behind the crisis in the Nigerian branch, others locate the cause elsewhere
In this report, our reporter, Chuwang Dungs, listens to the Bishop of the UMC in Nigeria, John Wesley, and his former administrative assistant, Emmanuel Ande, who is a leader of a group opposed to the leadership of the bishop, as they make their cases.
On the background to the dispute over the gay issue and its effect on the church in Nigeria?
Wesley: For many years the LGBT community has been advocating for acceptance in the United Methodist Church, but the church has objected to that. In each of the annual general conferences, it has always been ruled that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with the practice of Christianity. In 2016 when they were defeated, there was an uproar among the LGBT community. They came into the session of the general conference and disrupted the proceedings, forcing the presiding officer to stop at a certain point. We had to move out of the venue because they were rioting and protesting. Because of that, we calmed the situation by promising to look into the matter.
In 2019, a special session was called and the Council of Bishops set-up a 32 member committee which it called the Commission on Way Forward. There were LGBT community members and different interest groups in the commission. To the honour of God, the Council of Bishops nominated me as a member of the commission. We had a series of meetings in the U.S. and came out with a report and presented it at the special session. But in that special session again, all the plans to include the homosexuals or the progressives were defeated.
The United Methodist Church upheld that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings and I also share the same position. Looking at Genesis chapter 2, a man was created and God felt he needed a suitor and he created a woman for him; not a fellow man. That has been my position.
In 2014, I was granted the opportunity to present a message in the U.S.during a meeting of the Council of Bishops. In that message, I preached about love because the argument by the homosexuals is that they are not being loved. So in the message I cited that the concept of love is like a flowing water, flowing in a room causing a lot of mess. I said that is what I saw in the United Methodist Church. So when I finished the message, some homosexuals or progressives asked why I should say that. They raised questions and I gave them answers with Biblical backing.
Again, when we went for another meeting of the Council of Bishops, we were worried about the entire scenario and we went to paragraph 161 of our Book of Discipline, which says we will continue to be in ministry with everybody regardless of their sex, be they homosexuals, and be they pagans or traditionalists. Whatever, we will be in ministry with them. Being in ministry means we cannot send people out of our church. Rather, we will worship with them and praise God together.
So the press in the United States of America came to me after that meeting and said: "Bishop, we heard you preached last time and now the Council of Bishops has affirmed that the church will continue to be in ministry with LGBT, would you continue to be in ministry with them?" I said yes, I have been in ministry with them, I don't kick them out of my church and I will continue to accept them in the church. But the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings. So being in ministry does not mean accepting the practice of homosexuality, it simply means accepting them in the church to worship with them.
Some groups in Nigeria, because they want to stain me, picked up that statement and said that I have accepted gay practice in the church. So I referred them to the Book of Discipline and I told them it was a collective decision because we don't want to segregate anyone out of the church; that was why we adopted that section of the Book of Discipline and that doesn't mean we have accepted the practice of homosexuality, these are two different issues.
I tried to explain that to people but they went about campaigning that I am the one encouraging the issue of LGBT, whether to please their sponsors somewhere which I don't know. Of recent I had some press conferences, I had radio and video interviews where I made it clear that I will not accept the practice of homosexuality, I remain a traditionalist and I will continue to be a traditionalist.
Sometimes in February I came across a document written by a group that called itself Africa Voice of Unity and there were four persons from Nigeria that endorsed that document. Those four persons are Rev. Ande Emmanuel, Rev. Eunice, Pastor Ahmed and then Amos Davidson, who is the lay person among them. The remaining three are clergies. In the whole of Africa, the highest number came from Nigeria, so people started calling me from all over concerning the document. Because in point number 7 of the document, these people said they affirmed the teachings of Christmas Covenant.
Now what is Christmas Covenant teaching? It is advocating for the regionalisation of the United Methodist Church. Why they are advocating for the regionalisation of the church is because the United Methodist Church is a collection of churches and at the apex of the church, at the general conference, each time we come together, petitions on homosexuality are defeated. So now the Christmas Covenant people are saying that the best way to handle things is the church should be regionalised so that when we go for the conference, the issue of homosexuality will be treated on regional basis.
Because the votes from Africa against homosexuality come in bulk and that helps other traditionalist in the US to defeat the LGBT community. So what they are trying to do now is to regionalise the church and when the church is regionalised, you can go to your region and do whatever you want to do and that is to allow the practice of same sex. I said no to that because the United Methodist Church is one church, you cannot say a member should be allowed to practice homosexuality in the US and you come to Africa and say no to the practice. I said this is a double standard and there is no honesty in that. We can't have a divided theology, using the same scripture. I said I cannot do it and I continue to stand in their way.
In one of the petitions the Christmas Covenant is taking to the general conference for consideration, they removed paragraph 340, 341 of our Book of Discipline. Paragraph 340 is saying homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings and that money from the United Methodist Church cannot be used for wedding or any other ceremony related to LGBT. They said those paragraphs should be removed in our Book of Discipline. Now when you advocate for the incompatible language in our Book of Discipline, what are you standing for? You are simply a promoter of homosexuality and I said no, I cannot belong to that group.
So when I got that document, I called the leaders of the United Methodist Church Conferences in Nigeria and we met in Karim Lamido, Taraba State and I told them this is what some of us have done. They have written to other Bishops but refused to give me a copy. But another Bishop somewhere sent a copy to another lay person and that lay person sent it to another lay person in Nigeria and that was how I got a copy. I explained to the leaders, I have been conducting the annual conferences in Nigeria for many years. In each annual conference we have always maintained our position that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings, so I am not doing anything outside what the United Methodist Church in Nigeria is asking me to do. I am doing what the United Methodist Church in Nigeria stands for.pp
So when I explained that, Emmanuel Ande and his group felt offended and said the meeting I held with the church leaders in Karim was unconstitutional and they went round saying all sorts of things, making publications and even wrote letters abroad. I called them and explained things to them and made it very clear to them that I am the presiding bishop of the annual conferences in Nigeria and each conference has affirmed that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings, therefore, I said even if the entire church in Nigeria will endorse homosexuality, I as a person will not continue to be in the United Methodist Church; I will leave the church even if it will cost me losing my seat as a bishop. I will leave because I won't preside over a church that will condone the practice of homosexuality. This is my position and I maintain that.
Come 2022 general conference, if the United Methodist Church endorses the practice of homosexuality, I will leave the church. This is my position and I will not change it. I will continue to retain it and I will continue to say it anywhere I go. And I am not saying it out of pride or because I am sinless. No. Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". I consider myself a sinner, but I am talking about what God said in Genesis chapter 2; that marriage should be between a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Therefore, it is not an issue of being righteous. So when I called for those meetings they became angry.
Apart from the plan by Christmas Covenant, there are also proposals for an emerging denomination. One of those is the Protocol Plan. The Protocol Plan is saying because of this irreconcilable difficulty, the whole church will be separated, which will give birth to an emerging denomination and that emerging denomination will not practice homosexuality. And some people are proposing Global Methodist Church (GMC) but we are not sure of the name which will only be known after the general conference in 2022.
They said I have exited the United Methodist Church because of my position against homosexuality. Look at me sitting here in the office, I am still the Bishop, how can I ask people to join GMC that is not in existence? What are they saying, am I a GMC bishop? Is there any church called GMC in Nigeria? I cannot understand what people are saying. These are some of the few issues causing the problems here and there.
On the division in the church in Nigeria
Wesley: In the United Methodist Church, there are so many groups with different motives and intents. But since they cannot make it public and they cannot express it, you can intelligently read what is going on? They themselves cannot voice it but they are doing it. For instance, when you say you will remain in the United Methodist Church and you don't care about what is happening in America, let them do their own thing, is that Christianity? Is that what Christ has asked us to do, not to be mindful of one another?
It is all about a desperate need for leadership. There is one magazine called Wax. In that magazine, one of them said he is vying for the position of the Bishop and that he is being called by people. These are some of the things causing all the problems, desperation for leadership.
One of the accusations against me is that I have picked up my friend and I want to make him the next bishop of the church and I am not supporting them because they ganged up against me. And all those who have ganged up against me are people that I have relieved from one position or the other. Go and check their records. They are angry, so they are doing all these. People like Nicodemus. Some people approached me saying that I must make him the youth leader. I said no, I have given him a position as leader of ILI, an international organisation in the church that supports the training of young people in the church. I always asked him "where is that organization?" No answer. I gave him free hands, so I cannot entrust him with leadership again.
I told the team that came to me - Ahmed, because he was the youth director in the central, I assigned him somewhere, he was angry. My former administrative assistant, Emmanuel Ande, because I removed him from here they are angry. These are some of the things. Go to them one after the other. Because they are aggrieved of being relieved from one position or the other or because they are desperate to get another leadership role they are doing all these to create division in the church.
And I am very sure they are receiving support somewhere. Where they are receiving the support that I don't know. If they are not receiving support somewhere where are they getting the money to host meetings? More often, they travel to different places. There must be sponsors and they know them. Like I said earlier, if you are saying you support the Christmas Covenant and it is saying regionalise the church, by implication you want the church divided.
On his support base in the church regarding his position on LGBT issue
God is my support base. When God is the basis of my support I work stronger because He is everything. What was the resolution of our annual conferences? It was clear that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings and if the whole annual conferences are in support of my position, it shows I have the support of the church in Nigeria. And I still maintain that if the whole of United Methodist Church will endorse homosexuality, I will quit the church and I am not going to force anybody, everyone is at liberty to choose where to belong.
On government intervention to end the crisis in Nigeria.
Many interventions by the government, in fact I want you to pursue the last committee that was set by the governor (Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku), headed by the CAN chairman. The meeting comprises Innocent Solomon, the former CAN chairman, the present Anglican bishop, the former Lutheran bishop and then CRCN president. They asked me all that they needed to know and I gave them all the answers with documents supporting my submissions. They promised to submit their report, which I believe they did. The governor promised one month but it is now getting to two years and there is no call, nothing. If the government hadn't gotten the report they would have asked because they gave one month. Why is the government silent? There are many things when we say people tend to react differently and as a leader of the church, if I don't say it who then will talk?
On the church and politics
Wesley: Some people are mortgaging the United Methodist Church for politics. Let me tell you the reality. The United Methodist Church is being used as a stool for political achievements for some people and so they are sustaining the crisis to continue to meet their political goals, because having the unity of the church will mean a very strong Christian community in the state.
And I tell you, there are people in the Christian community that are working round the clock to ensure that there is no peace in the church. And if they are yearning for peace what are they doing?
Take CAN for example, of which the United Methodist Church is a member. TEKAN wrote to the Taraba State government, wrote to CAN that Micah faction does not belong to TEKAN, therefore, they should not be given responsibility in CAN. But do you know what CAN Taraba State did? They ignored the letter. As I speak to you Micah remains ECWA/TEKAN president and we are the ones paying TEKAN dues, we are the recognised body in TEKAN.
After telling you all these you will hear stories that the bishop is accusing CAN. But I am telling you the reality. If I don't say it, who will say it? If CAN as a body that is supposed to lead the Christians is not willing to tell the Micah group that you don't belong here, because of reasons best known to them, then something is wrong. I am not being given an invitation for CAN meetings because they recognise Micah against the position of the church and that of TEKAN, which is the fellowship of all churches under the defunct Sudan United Mission (SUM). There are so many complexities. Don't forget the United Methodist Church produced the first civilian governor in the state, and he was an ordained clergy of the church in the person of Jolly Nyame.
My friend, people are afraid of the United Methodist Church coming together. So this division is being sponsored by those benefiting from the situation. I once asked the governor that, when you contested and won, late Aisha of blessed memory took you to court and the court upheld your victory, and I asked him, can Aisha set up a parallel government in Taraba State? And he got angry with me that I was insulting him and that I am comparing myself with him. And that is not true, I was only trying to make him understand the scenario but he wasn't willing.
Our largest denomination in Jalingo, the government shut it down for over four years just to deny me access. The government said there was rioting, people are coming to fight. That is to say the Taraba government is incapable of securing the lives and properties of the people. If the state is capable, why can't you stop rioters or people who illegally want to stop a right system on ground? And when we talk, people accuse us of being against the government, which I am not. I only want the government to do the right thing.
We elected him as governor, but some people for cheap political blackmail said I didn't vote for him and they are busy using that against me. The unit where I voted is in the name of my father, Angwan Isa, let them check the result of the unit and see the number of votes he got. Yet because of blackmail they are making all sorts of noise. However, is he not supposed to be a governor to all Tarabians and those living in the state irrespective of religious, ethnic or political affiliation? Let him do the right thing; that's my appeal to the governor.
On the way forward
Wesley: I am calling on all members to uphold the resolution of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria and the resolution is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, be it in the U.S., be it in Asia, Europe, in Africa, in fact the entire globe. Let's do the right thing. That is my call to the church. I also want to call on my fellow clergymen in the church to see ourselves as servants called by God to lead His people, to be stewards and faithful to his words and also to work as a team in unity, respecting one another. I am calling on all Christians, not only members of the United Methodist Church, to see this problem happening in the church from a scriptural basis.
Emmanuel Ande: Christmas Covenant has no connection with homosexuality
On Christmas Covenant and homosexuality
Ande: Christmas Covenant has nothing to do with the issue of homosexuality. Anybody that told you that Christmas Covenant has anything to do with homosexuality, that person is misleading you. There is nowhere in the document that shows that Christmas Covenant is in support of homosexuality. Those are fabricated lies that people brought in to lure and mislead people that are ignorant and those that cannot read very well. Christmas Covenant is only one of the legislations that is going to be submitted to the general conference, it does not have anything in it that has to do with homosexuality.
The Christmas Covenant is a proposal. Like when you go to a parliamentary sitting of any assembly, you make a proposal. The Christmas Covenant is a document which is proposing the decentralisation of the church. Like in Africa we have what is called a central conference, and the proposal is suggesting a name change. And in the US from jurisdictional conference to central conference. That is all the Christmas Covenant is agitating for, it has nothing to do with homosexuality or whatsoever.
As Africans, we totally believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings and as Nigerians, our constitution frowns at it. So there is nothing like that and there is none of our members from the United Methodist Church in Nigeria that is supporting or promoting homosexuality. Our position up to date in the Book of Discipline is homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings.
We are asking for autonomy to decide our own theology. We want to decentralise the church in terms of teaching, worship and theology, and in terms of understanding the Bible. So we Africans are saying nobody can force us to accept homosexuality. So if Americans are saying they will do that, we are capable of maintaining our own position.
Reasons for the conflict.
Ande: The major reason for the conflict is leadership. People are vying for leadership, some people want extension in their leadership, they want to remain in office till they die, they want to maintain positions where they will get and control resources. That is all. Any spiritual Christian will not go about fabricating lies for selfish gains. They are desperate for leadership. That is why they want to create a new church within the United Methodist Church.
We are the United Methodist Church in Nigeria and our position is that we will not go to any other church, we will maintain our position in the church as Africans. Those people propagating these lies are people that are creating a new denomination out of the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. They want to go to a denomination that is called Global Methodist Church, they have made alliance with some white people in the U.S. We don't depend on white people. We believe that we can be on our own, we can be self-governing, we can be self-propagating and this is what Christmas Covenant is talking about.
On allegation of ganging up against the Bishop
Ande: It is not true that we ganged up against the Bishop because we were relieved of our positions as being insinuated by the bishop. I was relieved of my position as administrative assistant to the bishop on the 23rd of April 2021 and this issue has been going on since January, so how is that related to that? The first complaint they brought against me was written in March when I was still the administrative assistant to the bishop. So, this is just an excuse.
Why he was relieved of my position
Ande: The bishop just relieved me of my position because I told him the truth. And what was the truth? I told him we are not going out of the United Methodist Church. He wants us to agree with him because he has signed and he wanted us to follow him but we said no. I told him clearly and openly that I am not going to be part of the Global Methodist Church in which he has made up his mind to join. That was the reason for my removal and everybody can attest to that.
On if the church decides to adopt homosexuality at its next general conference in 2022.
Ande: If the Americans decide to do it, that's their problem. But there is no legislation that is coming to the general conference to call for adoption of homosexuality, they are just telling that to people that don't know.
The Christmas Covenant has nothing to do with homosexuality. As Nigerians we are talking about ourselves, we don't have control over Americans. Even what they are doing today, do we have control over them? We don't. So they are living in their own nation and we are also living in our own nation. What we are asking for is autonomy to worship our God the way we want to, not to be influenced by white people.
Let me give you an example. The British Methodist Church in the UK adopted homosexuality and even went to the extreme to allow same sex marriage in their church, but we still have British Methodist Church in Nigeria. They did not change their name but cut their ties. They went public to tell the people that the decision of the British Methodist Church is strictly their own, which remains in their country and it has no bearings on the Methodist Church in Nigeria. How is that different?
It is the same thing we are also asking for. Not a name change but total autonomy. If today the Americans decide to allow homosexuality or same sex marriage in their church, they are not going to force that on us. We have our constitution and our rules. We can develop our theology, our own worship and we are going to remain the United Methodist Church in Nigeria.
On funding the church in case of break-up
Ande: That is why they are fighting to be part of the Global Methodist Church because they think the white men will give them money. Yes, if they are sincere let them do like our own. We want autonomy, we want to be independent where we can decide on our own. We don't want any funding, they can take their funding and we sustain ourselves. No American, no English will impose their theology on us. Again they cannot force us to change our name. We are asking for powers that we can make our own decisions, that's all. And how is that hard for people to understand?
On the way forward
Ande: The way forward for the church is honesty, transparency and accountability. The reason you are seeing all these happening is because there is no honesty and transparency in the leadership. I have worked as an administrative assistant, I know the struggle I have throughout the four years I have been serving as a voice for justice, accountability and it is part of the reasons why I was removed because I stood up and maintained that everyone must be accountable, including the bishop.