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Côte d’Ivoire Breaks From United Methodist Church

Methodists from West Africa country vote to leave denomination over LGBTQ policies

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The United Methodist Church of Ivory Coast (EMUCI) has withdrawn from the United Methodist Church over its stance on LGBTQ issues, namely the ordination of pastors who identify as LGBTQ and the celebration of same-sex marriages.

United Methodist Church of Ivory Coast. Jubilee Temple of Cocody in Abidjan. (Photo by Zenman / Wikimedia Commons)

Members of EMUCI (Eglise Méthodiste Unie Côte d’Ivoire), located in the West Africa country of Côte d’Ivoire, met in Abidjan on May 28 and cast their votes to disaffiliate from the UMC.

The decision follows the denomination’s General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, where delegates overwhelmingly overturned a measure barring clergy who identify as LGBTQ from ordination. The changes included a motion barring superintendents or overseers from punishing clergy for officiating a same-sex wedding or prohibiting a church from holding one.

EMUCI joined the UMC in 2002, but says the denomination now “deviates from the Holy Scriptures” and prefers “to sacrifice its honor and integrity to honor the LGBTQ community,” according to La Croix International.

The UMC has deep roots in Côte d’Ivoire. After William Wadé Harris established the church in 1914, it expanded from Grand Bassam to become autonomous in 1985. The EMUCI integrated the Protestant Methodist Church in 2004 and now has 700,000 members serving a community of 1 million in a population of 21 million.

With 900 churches and 100 preaching points, the church has experienced 7-8% annual growth. Its demographic reflects the country’s, with 60% under 35 and women as the majority. Alongside its spiritual mission, the church runs schools and a hospital while engaging in community development.

The Côte d’Ivoire Conference was granted provisional membership in the denomination during the 2004 General Conference and fully admitted in 2008. It quickly became one of the denomination’s largest conferences, with over 1 million professing members as of the most recent report.

During the organization’s annual conference, Bishop Benjamin Boni, the president of EMUCI, declared: “The United Methodist Church now rests on socio-cultural values that have consumed its doctrinal and disciplinary integrity.”

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The church has historically maintained prohibitions on same-sex marriage and the ordination of pastors who identify as LGBTQ, making the topic of gender and sexuality a divisive subject for many years. Delegates at a special assembly in St. Louis, Missouri, in February 2019 affirmed its stance by voting 438 to 384 in favor of the “Traditional Plan,” which reiterated the “incompatibility” of homosexuality with Christian doctrine.

Nevertheless, the denomination has wavered in past years, causing a friction that eventually resulted in the formation of the Global Methodist Church in May 2022, a conservative alternative to the UMC. The schism has resulted in more than 7,600 U.S.-based churches splitting from the UMC.

At this year’s UMC convention, delegates approved the doctrinal change and 22 other legislative texts, casting 692 votes in support and 51 against—or 93% in favor. UM News, the official news agency of the UMC, stressed, “Nothing adopted by the General Conference or under study would compel churches to accept a homosexual pastor. The legislation approved today also explicitly protects the right of clergy and churches not to officiate same-sex marriages or host them.”

Minority African churches, especially those in Ivory Coast, continue to hold to the Traditional Plan.

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Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.