Archive for June, 2015

Racism: Silence is Complicity

Friday, June 26th, 2015

It’s impossible to comprehend the anguish felt by the families of those killed in the racist act of terrorism committed at Emanuel AME Church last week.  As a former clinical psychologist, I find myself asking myself the question, “What went so badly wrong with Dylann Roof?”  Yet, there’s a much deeper and more important question to ask: “What is wrong with our society that racism, hate, and extremism can grow so easily and unchecked?”  There’s a social context to Roof’s descent into racial hatred, and like almost all mass murderers and terrorists, he warned his friends before committing the act.  As is typically the case, they didn’t believe him, and now it’s too late.

Mississippi State Flag Concept by Graphic Artist Rocky VaughanEvents over the past few years prove the continued existence of systemic racial bias and injustice in every aspect of our culture.  Many of my neighbors in Mississippi cling to a false sense of pride in the “Heritage” of the Confederate Battle Flag, which they think honors those that fought for the South.  Such individuals often cling to the false belief that the Civil War was about something other than the domination/subjugation/enslavement of African-Americans.  To them, I can only suggest they reread Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession.  The fact that we still fly a flag that embodies the struggle of the South to maintain the institution of slavery brings great shame upon modern Mississippi.  The sheer insensitivity astounds! 

As a person of faith, I take it as a fundamental truth that we are all interdependent, bound together as Children of God, and ultimately responsible for each other and the world under our care.  We are called as Christians to speak for the disadvantaged and the oppressed, or  “the least of these”.  Our silence is complicity.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  This is why we as Mississippians of faith, must join together to remove the Confederate Battle Flag symbol from our public spaces.  To be sure, it is a part of history, a shameful one that must be acknowledged in order to heal and reconcile with our African American sisters and brothers.  We are currently building a new Museum of Mississippi History and a new Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson.  It belongs there no doubt.

Will changing Mississippi’s flag, in itself, “fix” the problem?  Of course it won’t!  But, as our friends at Rethink Mississippi tweeted on June 18th: “Removing the Confederate emblem won't dismantle white supremacy, but keeping it on Mississippi's state flag says we don't even want to try.”

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Scott Crawford, PhD lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He is a graduate of Millsaps College and the University of Southern Mississippi. Scott is an advocate for disability rights, is a photographer, and is a member of the Mississippi Chapter of MFSA. 

“Come and See”: Taking Responsibility for Racial Biases

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Like everyone, I am guilty of having biases about people I do not know, but I want to share a story of a time when I was the victim of people having biases against me. At my current place of residence in Washington, DC, there are no sufficient washing and drying units I can use to clean my clothes. One day I decided to leave directly after work and go to a laundromat. I placed my laundry in a duffle bag and I put a book in my book bag for me to read while the clothes washed. Upon arrival to the laundromat the store owner informed me I have to use cash and the nearest ATM is in a CVS down the street.

I quickly found the CVS and as I walk in the cashier calls to me and asked if I need anything. Slightly perplexed, I reply "no" and focus my attention to see which aisle has laundry detergent. She called to me again and asked if I need any help and I once again reply "no". At this time the entire store is focused on our interaction and I started to become a little embarrassed. She then said I would have to leave my bags at the counter if I want to proceed with shopping in the store. At that moment I looked like the epitome of respectability. I am still in my business casual work clothes, a fresh hair cut, and nothing about me was being rude or disrespectful. She comments on my bags again and after noticing that no one else's bags were at the counter I immediately knew I was racially profiled.

I stood there completely humiliated as everyone in the store is focused on me anticipating my next move. I hear a lady in the line mutter in disapproval of how the cashier has insinuated that I came into CVS to steal. I opened my mouth to say something, but all I could do was drop my head and walk out the store.

After much reflection that regarding the situation evening, I knew that it would be best for me to share how this experience is not a random, isolated incident. This is happening in businesses in everyday interactions throughout this world and it needs to end immediately. Biases such as racial profiling are morally reprehensible, and to those who are being profiled there are no words to describe the dehumanization that is felt.

Is there any hope in addressing biases, prejudices, and stereotypes that oftentimes seems fixed into our society’s social fabric? I believe the encounter of Nathanael and Jesus sheds light on how to deal with such evil.

In the John 1, Jesus calls Philip to be his disciple. Philip informs Nathanael that he has found the one who was written about by the prophets and that the one is Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. Nathanael inquires in a biased way, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” To which Philip replies, “come and see.”

A gem is found in this conversation regarding ways we as a society can confront the issues of biases and prejudices. The first is that we must take responsibility for dealing with the biases we hold. Philip could have easily responded “Of course good things can come from Nazareth; however, he made Nathanael responsible for seeing it for himself. No longer can we hide behind the shroud of ignorance in regards to the assumptions we have about people. It is time for us to go and see that the ways in which we think about those who are different than us is completely wrong. This is a call for the Church to truly be a community of diverse people who struggles through our prejudices and see that we are all created in the image of God. For those of us who have biases, which is everyone, we must heed Philip’s call to “come and see” that we are often times wrong and need to take a responsibility, to not just change our thinking, but develop an entire new way of understanding and loving our neighbor, even if our neighbor comes from Nazareth.

And, it’s not the responsibility for black and brown bodies to have to shape shift and make everyone else comfortable with our presence in certain spaces. It’s the responsibility of the law enforcement, business owners and those who have negative assumptions about black and brown bodies to rid themselves of their negative perceptions.

The Good News is that Nathanael was able to experience change when he was willing to go and see that he was wrong. Where is God calling us as a world to go and see?

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Deontez Wimbley is a graduate of Claflin University where he studied sociology. He is pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Boston University School of Theology. He is an Ethnic Young Adult Summer Intern with the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church. He is placed with the National Council of Churches of Christ (USA), a leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States, and whose 37 member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American and Living Peace churches include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation. His home church is Trinity UMC in Orangeburg, SC. 

Daring to Believe?

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Just last week, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church overwhelmingly voted to ask our General Conference to remove the “incompatibility clause” in our Book of Discipline. It was a celebratory moment for many. But two days later, I sat in the ordination service and witnessed an unintentional act of exclusion to LGBTQ persons. Indeed, while our hoped for change in policy is to be applauded, we must be ever vigilant about our practices which can also create harm.

During the service of ordination’s altar call, a time to welcome and receive those with a call upon their life to seek the journey toward ordained ministry, one young adult lay member sat frozen. He had answered the altar call at the previous annual conference, but this year he sat in silence. And tears ran down his face. Others who understood his pain surrounded him in prayer along with an elder who was, for an unknown reason, standing in the rear of the worship space. Wishing to remain anonymous at this time, I agreed to share parts of his reflections on this experience.

“The altar call was an inspiring moment for me last year. I walked up with such enthusiasm and conviction. I had known and discerned my call for many years prior to this point, but this was my moment to declare this call to my brothers and sisters of the Annual Conference. Over the next few months, I reviewed the “Christian as Minister” book with my pastor, the first part of the formal discernment process. This served to help smooth over some questions I had about the candidacy process as well as to affirm my feeling of call to the sacraments of the UMC. There is only one problem: I am queer.

I am queer, I am United Methodist, and I feel a call to the life and work of an ordained elder. To some these are conflicting concepts, for me it is who I am. I do not see either as contradictory to one another. I might even say being queer helps me know and deepen my relationship with God to work through the exclusion I have felt growing up.

As I finished “The Christian as Minister” with my pastor, we talked about the current situation the United Methodist Church (UMC) finds itself in regarding queer folks and their inclusion in the church, including ordination. I tried to see myself serving a congregation in spite of my sexual orientation but there are so many unknowns,  I decided to put my call aside. I decided to tell God no. I decided that I would not answer my call, which is something I have longed for many years. In a way it was a relief, I don’t have to pretend, I don’t have to lie. I can be as queer as I want.  But at what cost?

One year later, I worshiped at the ordination service, celebrating with friends being commissioned and ordained, but apprehensive about the altar call. When it came, I began to cry. Tears rolling down my face from what can only be described as guilt, exclusion, sadness and inadequacy all in one. I buried my face in my hands and hunched over in my seat. Why couldn’t I answer my call?  Why couldn’t I have enough faith to believe that God would give me the grace and ability to answer and follow through with the call regardless of my sexual orientation?  Why can’t my brothers and sisters see that this is not sin? Why can’t God fix it? Is God asking me to give up part of myself to answer the call? Will there be guilt when I am older and the UMC accepts queer ordination? Why can’t I trust Jesus? I am like Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus and doubted. These thoughts flood my brain and make me feel like a second-class Christian.”

Indeed, this faithful queer United Methodist is living the conundrum of the annual conference’s theme, “Dare to Believe.” How can one dare to believe in an institution that  says one thing (“all persons are of sacred worth”) yet acts in another (exclusionary policies and practices)? His reflection continues, truly an affirmation of where he and so many other LGBTQ United Methodists stand, and it’s a word the Church needs to hear and understand:

 

“No tears should come from feeling God’s call on your life. God does not require that.  I know that the God who made me queer is the God who was at my baptism and is calling me each day to the ministry. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know how I’ll make it or what kind of ministry I will have and for how long. There are so many unknowns for a queer person-entering candidacy, but I will not be deterred by fear, I will jump in to God’s grace.  Will you join me?”

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Chett 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.

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