Turmoil After General Conference

Children dance during Sunday school at Temple Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Man, Côte d’Ivoire, in 2015. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

By Thomas Lambrecht

The actions of the 2024 General Conference are reverberating around the church. Right now, they are mostly reverberating around Africa. Some African bishops have yet to return home, but members are hearing reports from delegates and others, and many of the members are not happy.

Ivory Coast

Barely two weeks after the adjournment of the General Conference, the Ivory Coast Annual Conference voted unanimously to depart from the UM Church. Reports on the number of members involved range up to 1.2 million by some sources. The 2016 official number is 677,355 (unchanged from 2012).

The reasons given for the Ivory Coast action included the reversal of the Traditional Plan adopted by the 2019 General Conference and the “promotion of organization based on regionalization which enshrines the adoption of the practice of homosexuality.”

In a press statement received by Good News, Ivory Coast makes the case that “The United Methodist Church, in its new policy of Regionalization, is now based on cultural facts and not on the Word of God, so that Regionalization asks it to adapt the Book of Discipline to the cultural standards in different contexts.” After citing a number of Scripture references related to homosexuality and marriage, the statement goes on to ask, “How can we maintain that marriage between people of the same sex and all its LGBTQIA+ corollaries up to their ordination in the Church, is a matter of culture?”

“Therefore, it is rather the cultural frame of reference opposed to biblical values ​​which poses a problem, and which forms the basis of the position of the Ivory Coast Annual Conference not to rally behind the new policy of Regionalization of The United Methodist Church.”

Having rejected regionalization, the statement turns its attention to the definition of marriage. “Why does The United Methodist Church choose its own terms to define marriage, this divine institution as old as the world, in abandoning what has always been biblically known?”

The statement cites its agreement with biblical teaching and Ivoirian law, which defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman.”

The statement continues, “The singular definition of marriage as being ‘the union between two people of faith’ is a pernicious deviation from the Word of God, and from the teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ from its beginning until this day. And yet, the Social Principles [containing this definition] are intended to serve as an official summary of the beliefs expressed by the Church on the important questions of the world.” (Note that the Social Principles may not be adapted by conferences outside the U.S. to fit their cultural context.)

“The change in language related to sanctions in the 2016 Book of Discipline seriously violates the Wesleyan principle which rests the Methodist Church on two key pillars: doctrine, on the one hand, and discipline, on the other. Thus, doctrinally, from the point of view of biblical orthodoxy, it is no longer a question, we believe, since The United Methodist Church calls into question the Bible as the Word of God, encourages sin, and no longer teaches the confession of sins and repentance. There is also no longer any question of discipline, since the Church now opens the way to a libertine and abject life. It authorizes sin and advocates the theology of cheap grace (Cf. Romans, chapter 6).”

“As a result of the above, the Ivory Coast Annual Conference has unanimously by the delegates adopted the following resolution:

  1. that The United Methodist Church, resulting from the 2020 General Conference postponed to 2024, held from April 23 to May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina of the USA, is not based on any biblical and disciplinary values;
  2. that The United Methodist Church is now based instead on values of diverse socio-cultural contexts, which consumed its doctrinal and disciplinary integrity in the “Regionalization Plan;”
  3. that The United Methodist Church actually preferred to sacrifice its honorability and integrity to promote worldly practices;
  4. that the new profile of The United Methodist Church, resulting from the General Conference of Charlotte, which stands out from the Holy Scriptures, is not suitable any more for the Ivory Coast Annual Conference.

That, therefore, the Ivory Coast Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in extraordinary session on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, at the Temple EMUCI—the Jubilee of Cocody, out of conscience before God and before his Word, supreme authority in matters of faith and life, decides to leave the denomination United Methodist Church.”

It is yet to be determined whether the conference will withdraw immediately or will seek to use the Par. 572 disaffiliation process that could take a number of years. It is also uncertain whether the conference will become an independent Methodist church or will align with the Global Methodist Church or another denomination. Ivory Coast was originally part of British Methodism. It became an independent Methodist church in 1984 and then joined The United Methodist Church in 2004.


The Rwanda Provisional Annual Conference, reporting 6,200 members in 2016, met on May 30 to respond to the actions of the General Conference. It voted unanimously to withdraw from the denomination. It is currently constituting itself as an independent Methodist church.


The four annual conferences of Nigeria, reporting 464,000 members in 2016, met in special session together on June 1 to hear reports of the General Conference. During debate, the delegates adopted a resolution declaring:

  • This General Conference removed restrictive language and changed the definition of marriage, which no longer aligns with our traditional Biblical beliefs.
  • The current United Methodist Church has altered the original language of our Discipline to accommodate cultural values divergent from ours;
  • The United Methodist Church now prioritizes the LBGQ+ community over the traditional beliefs held by many United Methodists in Nigeria;
  • The New UMC has changed our doctrinal beliefs.

Accordingly, the combined conferences voted “to leave the United Methodist Church pending the determination of litigations.” The four annual conferences will meet individually later this summer to elect officers and carry out the other business of the annual conference.

The original purpose of the special session was to attempt once again a reconciliation with a breakaway group headed by the Rev. Ande Emmanuel. Emmanuel was the bishop’s secretary but was removed from that position three years ago. He still claims to be the conference secretary, although he was not elected to that position. He served as a General Conference delegate and spoke several times on the floor of the conference in Charlotte. He claims to be the true spokesperson for the Nigeria United Methodist Church, while making the false claim that Bishop John Wesley Yohanna has left the denomination for the Global Methodist Church.

Several attempts at reconciliation have been made, involving bishops from Africa and the U.S. as mediators. Legal cases were filed in Nigerian courts. Complaints were filed against Yohanna and also against Emmanuel. The complaints were resolved through a “just resolution” process. However, it was alleged that Emmanuel has not lived up to the agreed terms of the just resolution.

This recent special conference was disrupted for several hours by armed ruffians who attempted to prevent the meeting from taking place, allegedly having been hired by Emmanuel’s faction. Security was called and several were arrested, so that the meeting could continue.

As reported by Nigerian leaders, in light of Emmanuel’s alleged continued failure to live up to the terms of the just resolution, his spreading falsehoods, his refusal to withdraw legal cases, and his disruption of the meeting, the body voted that “The breakaway members are welcome back into the United Methodist Church by following all the required procedures or may continue their stay outside the bar of the conference.” Regrettably, these reconciliation attempts appear to have failed. Unfortunately, Bishop John Schol, who was scheduled to attend the conference as a mediator, was unable to be there due to problems with his visa to enter Nigeria.


The Zambia Annual Conference, with nearly 130,000 members reported in 2016, met this week in their regular session. After hearing reports from the delegates to the General Conference, much debate ensued, but no vote on withdrawal from the UM Church was taken. At that point, two districts and their superintendents announced their withdrawal from the UM Church with all of their churches. Other individual clergy and churches also announced their withdrawal.

Liberia and Zimbabwe

Lay leaders and other laity staged demonstrations outside the respective annual conference headquarters clamoring for the bishops to hold a special session of the annual conference to consider the results of the General Conference. Sentiment is strong for withdrawal in both conferences, but it remains to be seen what decision they will ultimately make and whether their bishops will hold special annual conference sessions as they promised prior to the General Conference.

Other annual conferences in Africa continue to learn about the actions of the General Conference and formulate their responses, which will be forthcoming over the next six months.

The United States

Congregations in many conferences in the U.S. are learning that their annual conference has no plans to allow them to disaffiliate now, despite promises they could do so after the General Conference met. A few conferences are allowing disaffiliations under Par. 2549, the paragraph that allows the conference to close a church and sell its property – in this case to the departing congregation. When it is impractical for a congregation to disaffiliate, some members are voting with their feet. Some are leaving to start a new congregation. Others are leaving to find a home in a more compatible church.

Two court cases were resolved in opposite ways recently. In Alabama, 48 churches sued the Alabama-West Florida Conference because it changed its rules in the middle of 2023 to disallow further disaffiliations. The supreme court of Alabama ruled that it had no jurisdiction to decide the matter because it involved religious beliefs and practices.

However, two of the justices went out of their way to call out the unfairness of the conference’s rule change. Associate Justice Tommy Bryan wrote in his opinion, “There is something extremely unsettling about changing the rules during the course of the game. I question whether this process was fair. However, as noted, we simply do not have the jurisdiction to decide this matter.”

Associate Justice Greg Cook wrote, “I write separately to express my sympathy for the predicament faced by the churches in this case. In particular, I am concerned by the churches’ claim that the Conference unfairly engineered the disaffiliation process to prevent their departure from the UMC.”

“Although I sympathize with the fairness concerns raised by the churches, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (and our existing caselaw) leave this Court with no choice but to deny their request for relief. Instead, the only remedy for the conduct alleged by the churches in this case must come from the members of the Judicial Council, the UMC’s ecclesiastical tribunal (that is, its own judicial system), guided by their faith, consciences, and the principles of Biblical justice,” he added.

It remains to be seen whether this appeal will be heard by the conference, resulting in a change of heart. Of course, if the court cannot intervene in an intra-church dispute, maybe those local churches could just depart, and the conference could do nothing about it. (Just speculating here.)

That is what happened in the Rio Texas Conference. Forty-four churches withdrew from the conference without going through the Par. 2553 disaffiliation process. The conference sued the churches, and the court recently dismissed the suit. In Texas, the trust clause is almost unenforceable.

As United Methodists around the world continue to digest the results of the General Conference, it is definitely causing turmoil and conflict. It will be a while before the dust settles and the final outcomes are known.

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