Archive for April, 2015

A Tale of Two Baltimores

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

“I’ve never been on this side of North Avenue before.” –Penny Pingleton, from John Waters’ Hairspray

As I walked along North Avenue in Baltimore yesterday, I became painfully aware of the truth behind this statement. The reality is that Baltimore in 2015 isn’t much different than the Baltimore of the fiction 1960s. On one side of North Avenue, there is a cul-de-sac behind high, wrought iron fences, blossoming trees, lush green lawns, ample parking, and back porches with fine looking barbecue grills. Not more than thirty steps away, on the other side of North Avenue, stands a brutal building with no windows which serves as the Office of Student Records for the Baltimore City Public Schools. Surrounding this building is a housing development with about fifteen apartment buildings. In stark contrast to the homes across the street, these buildings are painted in drab brown, there are no trees, the ground is not well-manicured. In that moment, I recognized there are two Baltimores: the one that people of privilege – not unlike myself -see and experience, and the one that is experienced on a daily basis by the men, women, and children who live the reality of systemic oppression every single day.

Walking further along North Avenue, I realized it was difficult to tell what was boarded up because of looting and what is the norm. In the Sandtown neighborhood, a United Methodist clergy person explained that for years rowhouses where families live are connected to homes that are abandoned and boarded up.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes, “Poor people of color, like other Americans –indeed like nearly everyone around the world – want safe streets, peaceful communities, healthy families, good jobs, and meaningful opportunities to contribute to society.” This was echoed in the voice of a Lutheran pastor who said, “Just for the record, our children are not thugs or criminals…they are children who are without hope and need our help.”

At Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church, bags of food were being handed out to those who sought assistance after stores were damaged or closed. Sure, it felt good to help out those in need: the elderly, families with young children, those with wheelchairs and walkers. But truth be told, many Baltimore residents needed this before Monday night and they will need this long after the media frenzy dies down. The same system of oppression that turns an eye to police violence is the same system of oppression that keeps poor black people economically marginalized and disenfranchised, while social safety nets disappear and larger budgets for prisons and militarized police forces loom on the horizon.

Baltimore is learning too well about militarized police forces. Outside City Hall there were busses and vans from the Maryland Department of Corrections ready to round up suspected criminals. The National Guard presence around City Hall and in other pockets of the city were a show of automatic weapons and institutional power against a people and a place that have known nothing but poverty and oppression. As Michelle Alexander continues, “Are we willing to demonize a population, declare a war against them, and then stand back and heap shame and contempt upon them for failing to behave like model citizens while under attack?” While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seems to misspeak and misstep, the clergy leaders in Baltimore have opened wide the doors of their churches, have walked the streets to talk with the people of their communities, and have literally fed the people. All without a national network media presence. All without an advance team. All without closed meetings. All without the help of the military. clearly, there are two Baltimores.

As a white male with privilege, I needed to see and hear it. My privilege of living in a society created for the prosperity of people who look like me; my privilege of not being called “angry” because of the color of my skin; my privilege of being asked for change and saying “sorry, I don’t have any cash on me” because I have a credit and debit card; my privilege of not having to worry about a police curfew in my own neighborhood – my privilege reminds me that I cannot ever believe I completely understand the experience of being black and poor and living in America (because if you think this is unique to Baltimore, think again). I can only listen and learn and seek greater justice, and be empowered to those tasks by a God who brings hope from despair, love from hate and ambivalence, and life from death.

Chett PritchettChett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

PRESS RELEASE: Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

April 21, 2015
Contact: Chett Pritchett,
Amy DeLong,
M Barclay,

Methodist LGBTQ leaders respond to General Conference Commission meeting

April 21, 2105, Portland, OR – The General Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the body organizing the church’s 2016 quadrennial governing meeting, General Conference, invited leaders from LGBTQ rights groups within the UMC to meet with it in closed session on April 20.

Following the meeting, the LGBTQ representatives – Dorothee Benz, Matt Berryman, Bridget Cabrera, Amy DeLong and Chett Pritchett – issued the following statement:

“The issue of whether the United Methodist Church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people is of paramount importance to the future and viability of the church, not to mention the well-being of queer people in and beyond the UMC. We are grateful for the commission’s invitation and the opportunity to be in ongoing conversation with them. We ask the commission to take concrete, affirmative steps to prevent the harm suffered by LGBTQ people at past General Conferences from recurring in 2016. Whatever the church’s theological differences, there can be no place for spiritual violence in the church of Jesus Christ.

We also request that the commission schedule the consideration of LGBTQ-related legislation at the very beginning of the plenary week in order for this discussion to receive adequate time.

Further, we insist that any attempt at “dialogue” or “holy conferencing” must begin with the explicit acknowledgement that in the context of discrimination and oppression true dialogue can never occur. Genuine dialogue requires equality, and in the UMC that equality does not exist. One party comes to these dialogues defined as less than the other party, and no amount of vocal wishing for us all to act as “brothers and sisters together” changes that.

We remain open to all discussions that contribute to the process of ending the oppression of queer people by the United Methodist Church, and we will continue to work tirelessly to bring about that day. We are committed to calling the UMC to its highest and best self.”

Dr. Dorothee Benz is the national representative for Methodists in New Directions; Matthew Berryman is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Bridget Cabrera is the deputy director of Reconciling Ministries Network; Rev. Amy DeLong is the founder of Love Prevails; and Chett Pritchett is the executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

MLK: Remembering and Transforming

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

April 4, 1968: a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was the day that put Memphis on the map, and not for a good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. had come to Memphis, TN for a sanitation strike. As he stood on the balcony of his hotel, the day after delivering his famous mountain top speech, a shot rang out in the night that put an end to his young life. He was only 39 years old.
Lorainne Hotel, Memphis

Growing up in Memphis, I heard this story so many times that I got bored by it. Every year my class would visit the National Civil Rights Museum and spend at least 2 weeks, talking about Dr. King, his civil disobedience movement, and his assassination. I honestly began to dread going to school on these days. I never wanted to tell my teachers or classmates my disinterest with this topic for fear of what they might think of me.

Since being in seminary, I have come to see Dr. King in a very different light. My background is that of a middle-class, white girl who has been provided for comfortably her entire life. Yet, as I get older and my eyes are opened more fully to the struggles of the world around me, I have begun processes for challenging my own experiences and putting myself in King’s shoes. I can now fathom the lengths to which someone would go to in order to see dreams for their children fulfilled. I have begun to feel how wanting, hoping, and wishing for change can move even the shyest person to action. I am starting to realize that, in many ways, we are not far beyond the world in which King lived. We have not come that far and for that I am ashamed It makes me weep that all of God’s children are not loved, protected, and treated as the glorious creations we all are.

Everyday we are bombarded with stories and images of the injustice and inequality. I wonder what Dr. King would say today? His quote from his mountaintop speech still rings true today. “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”

What would Dr. King do today? He would stand up and speak out. He would seek to effect change in systems and in the hearts of people. I often wonder what I can do to be more like Dr. King. Am I standing up for inequality? Am I speaking out about injustice? Would I have the courage, like him, to face those who perpetrate injustice? Martin Luther King Jr’s last speech was titled “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and it is one of my favorite speeches given by King because it sums up my call story. He says, “We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tells it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.’”

Jesus has anointed all of us to be preachers, teachers, and healers of this world. We are all called to speak up and speak out about the desperation and desolation we see around us every day. So on this day of remembrance I choose to honor Dr. King’s death by carrying of his legacy. I will speak out about injustice and do my best to walk with those who need it the most. Won’t you join me?

Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

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