By Will Jones*
Awaken. Confront. Transform. These words suggest how we, as United Methodists, must respond to racism in our midst.
April 4, 2018, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In remembrance of that tragic day, civic leaders, and clergy and laity from countless faith communities gathered in Washington, D.C., to honor King’s legacy and recommit to continuing the work he began. Hosted by the National Council of Churches, the Rally to End Racism called on Christians and people of faith everywhere to commit to ending racism in our churches, in our communities and in our nation. The event began with morning prayer and a silent walk from the Rev. Dr. King Memorial to the National Mall, front porch of our nation’s capital. The remainder of the day’s activities took place just a short distance from the newly-completed Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture, a powerful reminder of the sinful racial history of our country and of the Church.
Prominent speakers addressed the need to awaken to the reality of systemic racism, to confront the truth about its causes and effects, and to transform our hearts, our actions and our communities. Co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield acknowledged that their success would not have been possible had they not been afforded opportunities often denied to people of color. DeRay Mckesson, a prominent civil rights activist, reminded the crowd that they must #staywoke to the challenges that still face black and other minority communities.
Confronting racism begins with acknowledging the past. “We must not ask how to bring about unity and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey, author of Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation.
“Our own history makes clear that that’s not the question our brothers and sisters of color have been asking,” Harvey said, referencing a number of incidents since 1960 in which white churches failed to fight for equality. “They’ve not been asking for more togetherness. They’ve been organizing and insisting on justice.”
Part of the issue we face today as Christians is that we have become complacent to how racism and injustice still exists today. In a way, it’s more insidious and hidden, which forces us to more closely examine ourselves and our churches if we are to confront and commit to resisting racism. Issues like mass incarceration and unfair housing practices remain deeply rooted in our society and are more likely to affect people of color.
“In a sense, the solutions are easier than we want to admit,” said Joy Parker, coordinator of New Ministry Development in the North Coast District, who attended the rally. “Many people are willing to have conversation about racism from a safe distance, but we get uncomfortable in a hurry when that conversation shifts toward action that demands real sacrifices of money and other resources.”
Following the Rally to End Racism, participants from East Ohio had the opportunity to meet with Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, team leader for Program Ministries at the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). From is offices in Washington, D.C., GCORR consistently engages in work that enables vital conversation, drives institutional equity, and builds intercultural competency within The United Methodist Church. Among its upcoming events is Facing the Future, a training opportunity for clergy in cross-cultural appointments. Arroyo offered encouraging examples of best practices that have enabled church growth and inspired healthy cross-cultural ministry in contexts throughout the United States.
In East Ohio, we must recognize that we have not consistently risen to the calling of Jesus Christ in terms of standing with our brothers and sisters of color. As painful as it can be, we do have both an opportunity and, perhaps, moral obligation to recognize the complicity of the Church in maintaining systems that privilege a few without regard for the “other,” most often people of color and people of lower socio-economic means. Our response to this is clear.
Commissions and caucus groups in the East Ohio Conference are joining together to present Resisting Racism, an enriching and challenging event for lay and clergy who seek to find ways to implement the totality of Jesus’ message and ministry. On Saturday, April 28, we will gather at Family of Faith United Methodist Church [800 East Market Street, Akron] to hear from the Rev. Michelle Ledder, director of Program Ministries for GCORR.
Building on our nation’s greater and more public awareness of racism and white privilege, this workshop will provide opportunities for participants to deepen their own knowledge (mindset), motivation (heart set), and capabilities (skillset) for resisting racism. It will also include specific strategies for taking knowledge back to a local context.
*Will Jones is director of Multicultural Vitality for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.