African Methodist Episcopal Church to Form Sexual Ethics Discernment Committee

African Methodist Episcopal Church to Form Sexual Ethics Discernment Committee
Senior Bishop Adam J. Richardson listens to discussion during the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Orlando, Fla.
Photo courtesy of the AME Church

The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story has been edited for length and two paragraphs added for clarification and context for readers from the Christian Reformed Church. You can read the original July 9 story on religionnews.com. 

A day after its General Conference voted down a bill that would have allowed clergy to perform same-sex marriages, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, meeting in Orlando, Fla., passed a resolution July 8 to appoint a sexual ethics discernment committee to make recommendations to the denomination about LGBTQ matters.      

The ad hoc committee will identify, study and explain all biblical texts addressing sexual orientation and gender identities, as well as relevant AME doctrine and traditions of biblical interpretation. The committee also will develop and propose legislation.

Importantly, according to resolution co-sponsor Jennifer Leath, an AME pastor from Denver, Colo.,, the committee “will hear the testimonials of LGBTQ+ individuals of African descent within and beyond the AME Church, so that we’re really hearing the voices of the people who are affected by the position of the church on these matters.”

Bishop Anne Henning Byfield, president of the AME’s Council of Bishops, said the committee will help preserve unity as well as address the place of LGBTQ members in the church.

“We had been praying that we did not become like some of the other denominations where this issue would split the church,” said Byfield. “By having the discernment committee, it really gives us the opportunity to pray, to seek God’s leadership in this and to give all persons—but particularly persons in the LGBTQ community in our congregations—(the opportunity) to begin to share and talk. I think this is an excellent thing.”

The formation of the committee in the African Methodist Episcopal church is reminiscent of a committee appointed by the Christian Reformed Church in North America in 2016. Following the receipt of a report from the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance Regarding Same-Sex Marriage, the CRC’s synod appointed a new committee, tasked with articulating a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality, paying “particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality.” That committee’s report was released in 2020 and is expected to come before Synod 2022. At a special meeting in lieu of synod in June 2021 the CRC’s Council of Delegates, in a decision with 17 registered negative votes, instructed the denomination’s executive director “to develop a mechanism or forum that would allow LGBTQ voices to be heard by the delegates to Synod 2022 with regard to the human sexuality report.” 

Many denominations are discussing matters of sexuality in general assemblies or other settings. Recent stories include: Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly: Those Who Identify As Gay Not Qualified for Ordination; Catholic Church Says No To Blessing Same-sex Unions; United Methodists Reschedule Meeting, Decision on Splitting.

The July 9 resolution was submitted by Leath and pastor Stephen A. Green, of Metropolitan AME Church in New York. It drew 20 other collaborators, including representatives from eight of the denomination’s 20 districts.

The measure was approved by a vote of 985 to 371, with 18 abstaining.

This resolution was years in the making. Leath has been studying and writing about the AME’s discourse on sexuality since 2002 and presented a paper on the topic at the 2016 General Conference.

Adding that she was “disappointed that we have not done more before this point,” Leath said she recognized that in a denomination of about 2.5 million members worldwide, “we have to take time and necessary steps to understand the will of the body.”

She added, “The Holy Spirit is speaking to us and moving us together.”

The bishop who is elected to serve as chair of the AME’s commission on publications will serve as the committee’s convener, and the committee will be co-chaired by the church’s historiographer, publisher, and Christian education director.

The chairs will appoint the remaining committee members, which will include a balance of clergy and lay persons as well as those who identify as both LGBTQ and as heterosexual. The committee will comprise 40 members.

“I think there was a transformation in the hearts of the delegates after the decision,” said Green, who co-sponsored the resolution with Leath. “After the outcry from young people, the voices of those who were disenfranchised, the cries in the wilderness were heard today. I thank the General Conference and the AME Church for recognizing the seriousness of this moment, and I’m glad that we began to open the door for conversation, so that we can move towards true inclusion and equity in the church.”

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a denomination with Methodist theology and episcopal government with membership in twenty Episcopal Districts in 39 countries on five continents, according to its website. “The word African means that the church was organized by people of African descent and heritage. It does not mean that the church was founded in Africa, or that it was for persons of African descent only,” the site’s description page says.

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