Posts Tagged ‘race’

In This Moment…

Monday, January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

Weeping with Rachel

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

“Thus says YHWH: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and bitter weeping. Rachel, weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, for her children are no more.”  

- Jeremiah 31:15 (The Inclusive Bible)

Beloved MFSA Family,

Our hearts mourn acts of violence committed against black and brown bodies; our prayers join Rachel’s, and we too cry out into the wilderness refusing to be comforted for our children are no more.

In recent days we are once again in anguish but, cannot and will not let ourselves be paralyzed by our fear and feelings of helplessness. This is a time when we are called to listen more, learn more and lead more. We recall and reaffirm our baptismal vows to “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We must continually live into our commitments and move to make justice ever more real in our own lives, congregations and communities.

Audre Lorde once said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.” We need a new narrative and a new structure.  More importantly we need a new set of tools for us to build new houses.  The racism within our houses of worship, our houses of government and even the houses our movements reside within cannot be dismantled with the same tools we’ve used for centuries. It’s time to have a new conversation — a conversation that looks within our own movement first at the ways we continue to perpetuate a racist system. Only then will we be able to build a new house, one where the beloved community can call home.  

“Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system.” (Par 162.A 2012 Book of Discipline)

MFSA calls upon ourselves and our progressive partners, along with local churches, annual conferences, and all denominational bodies, to confess and condemn the sins of systemic and personal racism, and to engage in the hard work of repentance and reconciliation.  To assist in this, we recommend the resources and work of the General Commission on Religion and Race.

As an organization, MFSA will continue to educate our board and member leadership in anti-racism, bias, and white privilege. As we seek to increase racial diversity among decision-makers and prioritize anti-racism in our programs and ministry, we also will call The United Methodist Church, its general boards and agencies, and its leadership to join us in sacred change. In doing so, we hope to embody the beloved community to which Christ calls us.

The work for racial justice must go deeper than statements and endless pastoral letters. James Cone once said: “sympathy does not change the structures of injustice.” We invite you to partner with us in committing to listen more, learn more, and lead more. Linked here are resources to help you and your communities begin and continue to have conversations about race, racial justice, and white privilege as well as organizations committed to racial justice that you might consider partnering with locally.

 
Seeking Justice,  
Your Staff and Board of Directors
Methodist Federation for Social Action

The Bible and Blacks and Gays – “It’s Deja Vu all over again”

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

I believe honesty compels all of us to acknowledge, no matter if we think of ourselves  as evangelicals, traditionalists, liberals, progressives, etc., that knowingly or unknowingly, we have encountered, maybe been shaped by a misinterpretation of Scripture that has informed attitudes and actions about blacks. Genesis 9: 25-27 has been called Noah's curse, the curse of Ham, or more accurately, the curse of Canaan.

The story's original intent was to justify the subjection of the Canaanites to the Israelites. But, the Scripture has been interpreted by some Muslims, Jews and Christians as an explanation for black skin as well as for the enslavement and segregation of blacks. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), have been more honest than Methodists and other denominations  in admitting their practice of denying black men acceptance in leadership roles until the 1970's, was shaped by the misinterpretation of this Genesis scripture.

But, the fact of the matter is that our Methodist debates/divisions about slavery, and the decision to form the all-black Central Jurisdiction in1939, were informed by misinterpretations of the Genesis scripture as well.

I share this in the wake of knowing how Ireland has voted on marriage equality for same-sex couples. And, I share it because the above is an illustration of how the Bible has been misused to justify bias. I suggest that the Bible is being  misused to justify  marriage as being   between   only,   one   man  and one woman, because to do so is to ignore the Biblical accounts of men being  married to more than one woman. And, to ignore how married women were viewed as "property" in some Biblical accounts. My United Methodist colleagues, lay and clergy, with whom I disagree on the anti-gay, and anti marriage equality language in our Book of Discipline say that "the definition of marriage has not changed in 2,000 years". I respectfully disagree.

One of the reasons I use racial illustrations as an ally/advocate of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons and marriage equality for same-sex couples, to inform my advocacy, is that so many have not, or find it difficult, to acknowledge that "Noah's Curse/the curse of Canaan", historically, has been/is, a manifestation of how the Bible has been misused to justify anti-black, racial bias. And, today the Bible is being used by some United Methodists to justify their bias against same-gender-loving couples and LGBTQ persons.

Our love of Scripture in its totality, not selectively, ought not be compromised by allowing Scripture to be used/misused to demean, dehumanize, nor to discriminate against black-skinned or LGBTQ persons.

The decisions United Methodists make in 2015 and 2016 about the Bible and same-gender-loving persons, will not only correct the misuse of Scripture to discriminate against same-gender-loving persons, those decisions will remind us of how, historically, Scripture was used to discriminate against black persons. There are still some United Methodists who are unable and/or unwilling to acknowledge our history of Bible-based, anti-black racism.

The United Negro College Fund has as one of its mottos, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste". I suggest to the United Methodist Church; "The Bible is a Terrible Thing to Waste, By Misusing It." I have experienced personally, its misuse to justify racial segregation. I, and I hope all United Methodists, will vote to discontinue its misuse to discriminate against and thereby hurt and harm, LGBTQ and same-gender-loving persons.

——————————————————————————————

Rev. Gil Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy. Gil is a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and co-founder of Truth in Progress, a multi-media project highlighting the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and religion.

Not Waiting This Advent

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Anger. Frustration. Fear. Discomfort. Apprehension.

All of these emotions have coursed through my veins this past week and a half. From Ferguson to Staten Island to the streets of DC and beyond, never in my short 37 years have I witnessed blatant racism and rampant white privilege.

My understanding of white privilege started when I was 15 years old. I was getting off the bus from summer camp – the same summer camp where I recognized my sexuality – and was given a big hug by Tangela, an African-American camper with whom I became friends that week. The look on my father's face said it all – I'd be better off bringing a white man home to meet my parents than a black woman. That moment taught me a lot, and still I wrestle with how it shaped my understandings of race, racism, and sexuality.

This week I've seen gay, white men take to social media with incendiary statements like "Why should we care? Black pastors are all anti-gay," and subtle privilege: "Section 8 family moving next door. Time to move?" It's as if members of the LGBTQ community have forgotten our history of oppression and resistance.

Last Thursday, as I marched through downtown Washington, DC, I couldn't help but be reminded of the concepts of ubuntu and unhu. Simply put, "a person is only a person through other people." Or to put it in Pauline words, "if one part of the body suffers, all parts suffer with it (1 Cor 12:26)." As we meandered through the streets of DC, there were passionate activists and inquiring allies; there were Black, White, Filipino/a, Latino/a people of many hues; folks of varying sexual orientations and physical abilities were present  – all of us were clear: "If you can't breathe, I can't breathe."

I hope – no, I expect – that you'll be part of this movement for justice. Because black lives matter. Because mass incarceration matters. Because militarized policing matters. Because recognizing privilege matters. Because following the Gospel matters.

————————————————————————————————

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.

 

**This essay was originally published in the MFSA e-News on Friday, December 5 and can be found here.

Race: I’m Tired of Talking About It, Too.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

To all the people who are tired of talking about race:

I want you to know that I am tired too.

I am tired of white people touching my hair like I am a sheep in a petting zoo.

I am tired of being followed around stores by employees.

I am tired of never being able to find foundation or pantyhose.

I am tired of the looks I get from people when I walk down the street with my husband.

I am tired of the spikes of fear that go through my body when a cop looks at me too long.

I am tired of being talked down to and having to guess if it is because I'm Black, I'm a woman, I'm young or all three.

I am tired of the anxiety caused by people wearing confederate flags and not knowing if they want to lynch me or if they “Just support the heritage, not the hate.”

I am tired of having to explain the word 'privilege.'

I am tired of being asked if I like basketball, rap music, watermelons, fried chicken, kool aid, Tyler Perry and Oprah.

I am tired of being told that I only got my job, my admission letter, my scholarship, and my grades because I am black.

I am tired of being pushed aside by people who just think I'm an “angry black woman.”

I am tired of being stereotyped, and then being called an Oreo, or being told by incredulous people that I am so articulate, or being asked why I don't act Black because I do not fit the stereotype.

I am tired of never seeing women like me being called beautiful.

I am tired of never seeing women like me being called powerful.

I am tired of never seeing women like me at all.

I am tired of people saying this isn't about race.

If you think you are tired, try living my life. You don't know what tired is yet. So sit down, close your mouth, and listen for once because we have a lot of work to do if you want to stop talking about race.

—————————————————————————————

AhhnaLise Stevens-Jennings grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A graduate of Emory & Henry College, she and her husband, Garth, are students at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

Post-racism, Privilege and the NBA

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

ACLU imageWe live in a “post-racist” society. The educated and evolved populous of the United States are beyond racial epitaphs or slurs.  We are beyond the insidious practices that marginalize and convict those who look and act “different.”  We have even moved past the place of prejudice reflected in the admissions practices in our institutions of higher education.  That is what I am told.

At least that was the implied message, sent by the highest court in the land, when the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision (with Justice Elena Kagan not taking part) that the voters of a state, in this case Michigan, may bar the use of race in admissions to public colleges.

I was also told our society was beyond prejudice as I prepared for General Conference in 2012, when a resolution was proposed to subsume the Commission on Race and Religion and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women into The General Board of Church and Society.  Referring to the placement of office in the United Methodist building in Washington, D.C., one of my colleagues commented to me, “Why not? They’re all just right down the hall from each other?”  How silly of me to have missed that my parish, which is the world (thank you, John Wesley), has rid itself of all matters of racism and sexism! The fact that office doors are within feet of each other leads to the natural conclusion that the offices should be combined.  The issues we grapple with behind those doors no longer require the concentrated efforts of individual committees.  Racism and sexism are dead.

Except that racism and sexism are alive and living.  They are not hiding under a rock anywhere, but out in the open, breathing the air, and using it to pontificate hateful views in our society.  In quick succession, we heard from Cliven Bundy who suggested that African Americans might be better off to reconsider slavery over freedomthen Clippers' Owner Donald Sterling, whose racist remarks have been spewed all over the sports world and earned him a lifetime NBA ban.

Sadly, there are plenty of people in our society who agree with them.  Some folks still believe oppression is a good idea.  There are people who still think that blatant bigotry is okay.  Crosses are still burned on front lawns.  You can still hear the voices of discrimination in barroom banter and Sunday dinner with the family.  You can still see it in our nation’s practices around hiring, incarceration, and, yes, college admissions. 

Moreover, these opinions aren’t limited to racism, but spread like a virus to gender bias and homophobia as well.  And to those who might think any one of these is a “single issue” problem, this sickness easily morphs into economic injustice, immigration intolerance, and violence. 

Why not, they’re all just right down the hall from each other? 

_____________________________________________________________

Rev. Leigh Dry is the pastor of Lexington United Methodist Church in Lexington, MA.  She is the president of the New England MFSA chapter, and serves on the national MFSA Program Council.

The State of the Union & Labor: Race and Gender

Monday, August 26th, 2013

(part 2 of 4)

Steve Visits the 2nd March on Washington

I must confess: as a middle-aged, white man I feel woefully inadequate writing on the subject of work/employment and how they are impacted by race and gender.  I’m questioning why I feel so compelled to write about race and gender as one blog rather than two.  What right do I have to think that I have something meaningful to offer? 

In the midst of my questioning, Alan Van Capelle, former executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda (NY) came to mind. Speaking back in 2005 about the importance of working with straight allies and straight clergy, he said, “If it’s just LGBT people talking and organizing, then we lose.”  I also think of my seminary classes with Dr. Delores Williams.  She introduced me to “Womanist Theology” and got me looking down the road of intersectional justice issues.  I remembered discovering how my people, those raised with a White-Oriented Male-Dominated Approach to Theology (the WOMDATs as I called us back then) had attempted to divide and conquer marginalized people to in a seeming attempt slow the progress of justice movements and limit the gains their social achievements.  Dr. Williams introduced me to thinkers like Paula Giddings (through When and Where I Enter – I highly recommend), Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; and, Angela Davis’s Women, Race and Class

I need to write on the topic of Labor, Race and Gender simply because we have reached a point in the movement for human dignity and rights that depends on none of us being silent or separated from one another, neither because of our privileges and/or marginalization. Or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly put it, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Some seem to think that we are living in a post-civil rights or post-racism era but I believe they are far from informed.  While we have made significant strides in some areas over the past 150+ years, all anyone has to do is keep up with the current trends in voting rights suppression laws, unemployment statistics, racial profiling, mass incarceration issues and reports from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (monitoring hate groups) to know we are not past racism and institutionalized prejudice.  In fact, in June of 2005, the American Sociological Association (ASA) published a series on this very matter, entitled: “Race, Ethnicity, and the American Labor Market: What’s at Work?”  Some of their conclusions were quite telling about how deeply our institutional racism and sexism may run  and how the changes in work climate and the type of economy we are developing may be making institutionalized workplace bias even more covert and subjective than ever –

1)       “Occupational data are another indicator of racial and ethnic labor market disparities. One-third of white men and nearly one-half of Asian men are employed in managerial, professional, and related occupations, compared with one-fifth of African American men and one-seventh of Hispanic men. Conversely, more than one-quarter of both African American and Hispanic men hold jobs in production, transportation, and material moving occupations, compared with less than one-fifth of white men and less than one-seventh of Asian men. A disproportionately high percentage of African American and Hispanic women, compared with white and Asian women, are employed in service occupations such as food preparation, cleaning, and personal care. These occupations are often in work environments characterized by poor pay, few benefits, and little career mobility.” This is often referred to in this article as “occupational segregation.”

2)       “According to sociological research, occupational segregation helps explain persistent wage gaps between whites and both African Americans and Hispanics, especially for women.”  If you don’t think that pay equality and gender is still an issue, please read the latest case dealing with pay equality (and don’t miss tall the recent cases in the box on the right) that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEO) is fighting.

3)       “Sociological research documents a wide range of processes through which employers sort and rank workers, and workers jockey for positions in the labor market. For employers, the result is a ‘job queue,’ a ranking of workers from perceived best to perceived worst… In today’s service-based economy, employers often emphasize a preference for ‘soft skills’ (an array of employee characteristics that are subjectively evaluated by employers. They include how individuals look and dress and their manner of speaking; whether they are perceived to be team players; perceived motivation, cheerfulness, and interpersonal skills; and perceived ability to represent the organization), creating potential for bias in workplace decisions.” 

Last Friday, while in the midst of the 50th Anniversary events of the March on Washington, I attended a “town hall meeting” on race and poverty sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.  One speaker in particular stood out for me: Darnell L. Moore.  He quoted statistics from memory: “a poverty rate in the US of 15%, meaning 46.2 million people (or 1 in 7) live in poverty. Of those, 20.4% are now living in what is being termed “deep poverty”.  More than one-fourth of all Black people are unemployed or underemployed.  60% of Black women who are elderly are living in poverty.  Of the 27.6% of Black people who are poor, there are 5 million more Black women than men who are in poverty” (remember wage inequality) “and if you are Black and Gay or Lesbian, you run an even higher risk of being in poverty.  Keep in mind that 40% of all homeless individuals now are LGBT youth… The problem is that we are facing multi-dimensional, intersectional issues and trying to deal with them with a monolithic solution.”  Moore then challenged us, his audience, to grow our work together and not let the issues of human rights and dignity to be separated out.  “It’s not just about asking, ‘whose feet are situated on our necks?’  It’s also about asking, ‘whose necks are your feet situated on?’”  In a Huffington Post blog Moore has said, “single-variable politics and movement work solely focused on one issue will always result in limited gains.”

The playing field has changed, but it needs to be completely transformed.  No longer can we waste time and energy fighting over which disenfranchised group gets to get a piece of the WOMDAT pie first.  Now, it’s about all of us together, figuring out what kind of new economic, inclusive, equal opportunity pie we all going to make instead! Darnell Moore gave me hope on Friday! 

On Saturday, as I watched different groups commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, I had even greater hope!  That hope came from the labor movement, who like 1963, showed up in force.  It came from women and people of all different hues taking center stage like never before to advocate for the rights of all.  It came from a list of problems that seem almost overwhelming at times, but when you see all the people who are working and willing to see their issue and your issue as inter-dependant, you begin to realize this can really happen!  I also found hope in an amazingly articulate, courageous and limitless 9 year old named Asean Johnson. 

I’ll share more about Asean’s dream in the next blog on children and how their exploitation, access to food security and affordable quality education are crucial for the future of our society.

________________________________________________________________

Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.

Racial Injustice in North Carolina is a Threat to National Justice

Monday, June 10th, 2013

I love the Old North State. This is the land of the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils, the Wolfpack and the Demon Deacons. North Carolina has a diverse and eclectic history; whether Blackbeard at Wilmington Port or Daniel Boone in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this state is a wonderful place to call my home. However, the North Carolina Legislature has taken the state in a direction it dare not go and people here in this land known for being first in flight are not happy about it.

This past Wednesday, the State Legislature acted to continue the march towards social backwardness with the removing of the Racial Justice Act, a measure enacted to protect racial minorities from being wrongly convicted and put on death row. The measure allowed for minorities to use jury make-up, statistics and other means to commute their death sentence. The Legislature in the past 6 months has denied federal funding for Medicaid that covers 500,000 people; they have taken unemployment benefits from 165,000 people, and raised taxes on 900,000 low-income families. To complicate measures the Governor and Speaker of the House along with the majority of the House and Senate are pushing to roll back early-voting, re-instate the death penalty and take money from public schools and give them to private schools. All of this is being done in the name of democracy.

Honestly, I love my state but I join with the voices coming from religious and non-religious organizations across this beautiful land to say that enough is enough. Recently, in a conversation with the Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP, we were talking of the grave injustices that our state is committing and Dr. Barber remarked that people are scared. He went on to say that this is history repeating itself, members of the African American community along with those in other socio-economic, racial and ethnic minorities are terrified of what is happening. There are rumblings of Klan meetings cropping up again; there is talk of ‘those people’ and ‘the other.’ This bleak realization of racial degradation and prejudice is terrifying, but we can stop it.

Clergy from across the state are joining together to protest these measures. United Methodists from both Conferences in North Carolina, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Cooperative Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, and Presbyterians are all coming together to join hands on the steps of the State House and say enough is enough. These are protests that say that we as people of faith cannot stand idly by as Jim Crow seems to be rearing its ugly head again.

I can’t help but be reminded of Victor Hugo’s iconic book that later became theatrical and cinematic masterpiece, Les Misérables. In the book one line sticks out, Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices the real murderers. The great dangers are within us. Why worry about what threatens our heads or our purses? Let us think instead of what threatens our souls.” The very soul of a state I love is threatened. While money is thrown around like child’s play in Raleigh, people are suffering and our souls cannot allow this to happen.

So what can you do? Pray for those in North Carolina. There are countless organizations working within the state to change the course of this terrible journey, they could use your support and presence. Call a pastor who is supporting this movement and encourage them to involve the laity of our churches as well. This is the time that we can reverse what has happened. Otherwise it may be too late for the land of the Outer Banks and the Appalachian Mountains.

Finally friends, I am ever more inspired by what is going on here. The Spirit of God is moving amidst the people, even if the State Legislature is ignoring that movement. Denominations and people who are ardently different theologically are joining hands to protect that last and least of these. People are bound together in an effort to say to our state leaders that justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Even if we have to bring the waters of justice all the way to Raleigh, God is standing with the oppressed and equality will be accomplished.

When I was in middle school I had to take a class on North Carolina history, I can still remember the last stanza to our State Anthem, ‘The Old North State':

               Then let all those who love us, love the land that we live in,

As happy a region as on this side of heaven,

Where plenty and peace, love and joy smile before us,

Raise aloud, raise together the heart thrilling chorus.

Hurrah! Hurrah! The Old North State forever!

Hurrah! Hurrah! The good Old North State!”

North Carolina, the nation is watching. Are we going to take this message to Raleigh? Are we going to change the tides of racial injustice and prejudice? Are we going to reclaim the Tar Heel State? The task looms large before us but we can be thankful that God goes with us.

_______________________________________________________________

Rob Lee is a Religious Studies student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, with plans to attend seminary. A delegate to the 2012  General Conference, where he engaged others on a variety of social justice issues, he has been published with Reconciling Ministries Network, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and the Huffington Post. He currently writes a column for western North Carolina newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @roblee4 or on his blog, www.robleetheology.blogspot.com

One year Later, Reflection on the 2012 United Methodist General Conference

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

I was 5 years old when my Methodist-preacher father returned home from the "Methodist Unification Conference" in 1939 that united three branches of the Methodist Church and created the racially-segregated, all black, Central Jurisdiction. When I grew older and began to talk to my father about the Methodist Church and my beginning sense of "Calling to the ordained ministry", I remember how he expressed his disappointment with most, not all, of the black delegates at the Conference, that the Methodist Church that once debated the wrongness and rightness of slavery of black persons, in 1939 racially segregated most black Methodists.

Reconciling Methodists from many places

Above: LGBTQ United Methodists and their supporters witness to God's inclusive love at General Conference 2012.

There is an interesting article written by Donald W. Haynes, dated February 18, 2009, that
appeared in the April 27, 2013, United Methodist Reporter titled; "How the Central Jurisdiction came to be." Haynes critiques the late Bishop James Thomas, who said at the Conference that "The African American delegates sat in their seats and cried." Haynes seeks to minimize Bishop Thomas' comments without refuting them, by mentioning that there were some black delegates who supported the proposal. But then, in what I would describe as a "confessional corrective", he writes; "Whatever the rationalization for the Central Jurisdiction in 1939, it was later intolerable by the later standards of justice."

I paraphrase these words of Donald Haynes by saying; "Whatever the rationalizations of the 2012 General Conference for continuing the long-held anti-gay language and legislation of the United Methodist Church, THEY ARE INTOLERABLE BY TODAY'S STANDARDS OF JUSTICE."

The above is my prelude, written today at the age of 79, of my Reflections on the 2012 United Methodist
General Conference. These are my reflections.

1. A majority of the delegates at the Conference through their discussions, debates and actions, again performed a great disservice to the "Authority of Scripture" by "using" it to justify their pre-judgments and prejudices, in this case same gender loving persons. Sadly, Christians (Methodists/United Methodists included), have historically linked their bias to the Bible as a way to claim that, in their prejudice, they were being faithful to Scripture.

Martin Luther, painted by Cranach the ElderThis practice pre-dates the coming-into-being of the Methodist Church. Martin Luther, the icon of the Protestant Reformation early on expressed his antisemitism in his speaking and writing. His belief was that Jews should convert to Christianity and, when they did not, he found the words in the book of Ecclesiastes about "incorrigibility" useful as he described Jews. Later in life he sought to recant his anti-Jewish attitudes, statements and writings, and the Lutheran Church that bears his name has sought to critique his early Bible-based antisemitism and remind us that he changed. Evolving "STANDARDS OF JUSTICE" have a way of bringing about change.

This has also been true as Methodism has "evolved" in its affirmation of women. Once, "because the Bible says…", women were not allowed to be ordained into ministry in much of Methodism. But, "evolving standards of justice", despite the fact that the Bible had not changed, woman became "eligible" to be ordained in the Methodist Church in 1956, and the racially-segregated Central Jurisdiction, that some Methodists thought was Bible-sanctioned, was eliminated by merging the racially-segregated CJ into the geographical Jurisdictions in 1968. Again, evolving 'STANDARDS OF JUSTICE."

The contradictions that Historians of the future will point out the 2012 United Methodist General Conference and that despite, again, the evolving STANDARDS OF JUSTICE, LGBTQ persons and same sex couples in denominations with whom the UMC is in "Communion Relationships" and within the USA, the UMC continued to turn its back on these changes, "using the Bible" as it has been used to "bash" Jews, women and blacks, to bash same gender loving persons.

This caused my greatest disappointment about the 2012 General Conference. But the above prompts me to share the following.Broken Chalice, 2004 General Conference

2. Many of us in the United Methodist Church have felt that the Quadrilateral, SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, EXPERIENCE, REASON, as acknowledged and affirmed in our Book of Discipline, enables us as United Methodists to avoid the pitfalls of  the "limiting literalism" of some denominations. We have felt that as we unapologetically and unashamedely affirm the significance of Scripture, we honor it best by understanding it against the backgrounds that Tradition, Experience and Reason provide. I have paraphrased the slogan of the United Negro College Fund; "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" by saying to United Methodists; "Tradition, Experience, and Reason are terrible things to waste", if we claim to be serious about Scripture.

3. A specific, special and sincere word that I share with my conservative United Methodists sisters and brothers: You continue to enrich our United Methodist journey as you remind us of traditional values and the importance of being faithful to Scripture. Many of us, particularly those of us who are African American, share much of the language, values, rooting in Scripture and "Christian Boldness" that is yours. My conservative colleagues in the United Methodist Church, you seem to believe that maintaining and sustaining our prohibitions against United Methodist clergy performing unions and marriages for same sex couples is essential to your faith perspective. But if the declaration that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" represent the depth and breadth of your perspective and essential expression of your allegiance to Scripture and Christian teaching, then it weakens rather than strengthens that perspective. Martin Luther realized that about his antisemitism. Will you soon realize this about your heterosexism, that you claim is Bible-based. Once there were those who said the same about their sexism and racism, and now we realize the folly of those claims.

4. AFRICA! Some in the African American community refer to Africa as the "Homeland". I made my first trip to Africa in 1971 with a group of African American clergy and lay persons who went to Tanzania for a Consultation of African and African American leaders. At our meeting in Dar Es Saalam, we could not avoid talking about colonialism in Africa and the role white Christian Missionaries performed in maintaining it. The relationship between some African delegates and those who support the denomination's anti-gay language and legislation was evident again at the 2012 General Conference. I have wondered over the years how much discussion there has been  within this relationship of how the predecessors of and some of today's UM Conservatives "back in the day" resisted the Independence efforts of black Africans, and were anti-sanctions and boycotts as being important to the ending of South African apartheid?

It continues to be a mystery to me that those whose ancestors and they themselves were once enslaved, colonized and segregated because their oppressors used the Bible to justify slavery, colonization and racial segregation, now align themselves with those in the USA who have made the United Methodist a companion to Catholics, Mormons and Southern Baptists in their denial of equality and justice to and for same gender loving persons. "The more things change, the more they remain the same". (The need for human beings to deny justice to others as a way to affirm themselves and their "way of life").

5. The violence of our times, nationally and internationally, cries out for a prophetic and healing word from the United Methodist Church. Our history and the ministry that has been ours, historically, has made a profound difference in the lives of people all over the world. I have thought that the United Methodist Church is present in the world "for such a time as this" (Esther). But the General Conference of 2012 failed to claim its God-given place at this moment in history, because in Tampa we again "majored in the minors, and minored in the majors". A year later, it is time for us, to begin again, again.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Gill Caldwell, retired clergyRev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be.

National Office:212 East Capitol St., NE,Washington, DC 20003 * tel: 202.546.8806 *email: mfsa@mfsaweb.org