The latest board meeting of the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) took place on September 16-18, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. During the Race Matters plenary session on the second day, Conferences provided an overview of racially-heated events that took place in their area and the response. Afterwards, those present were asked to engage in table discussions. At the end of the session, U.S. race issues were not solved but I left ready to address race matters of my own.
How is God working within our midst?
Ken Nelson, of the South Carolina Conference said, “Vital work is hard, difficult, and painful. It’s transformed us and reminded us that it really does matter when the church stands up in its witness, in its action, and in its message.” Bishop John Hopkins, of the East Ohio Conference, shared a reminder of the strength and the resolve of The United Methodist Church, “Government leaders have gathered before to address these issues and their question before moving forward is always, ‘Will the people of the United Methodist Church stand with me?'” We are a powerful force of action oriented people with the ability to inspire others to join us in action when an injustice has occurred.
We heard from Susan Burton, Director of Women’s & Children’s Advocacy at GBCS. I was fascinated by the actions of Susan’s daughters in response to Eric Gardner’s death. With their church, these young girls organized a candlelight vigil 6.5 miles long, from the White House to Silver Spring Street. Their story was inspiring and the vigil was reported by the Washington Post and other news media. Susan’s daughters are United Methodist so they know they can inspire people to do great things. But because they are Black, Susan pleaded, “When they leave my sight, there is nothing I can do to protect them. I need your help with that.”
Next, Kristen Kumpf, Director of Organizing at GBCS, spoke about the struggle of a white church not knowing what to do regarding the violence taking place in the Black and Latino communities; she made me rethink my own response to race issues. My children are not adopted, they are bi-racial. Kristen said it wasn’t enough to say we don’t know what to do.
In the small group discussions I shared with my table that my family is bi-racial and that some of my kids’ closest friends are also mixed-race. I explained my uneasiness about how freely mixed-race teens joke with each other about their minority stereotypes. I used to scold them for joking like that until one day when they corrected me, saying the hang ups I spoke of were from my generation and before me. It wasn’t their way of thinking. They said they accepted the stereotypes and believed those labels didn’t mean anything anymore. I explained to my table group that I didn’t know how to respond. I was conflicted about the impact of their way of thinking. Should I have argued with them, citing racial violence in the news or my shared my own stories of discrimination? Kristen said it wasn’t enough to say we don’t know what to do.
The GBCS asked how we thought they should respond to race matters but we’ve all been called to action. As United Methodists, “We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.” We must ask the questions that Kristen asked:
“How do we go about building relationships?”
“What are you building?”
“What are you changing?”
Among other ideas, GBCS is working on a 40-day Lenten series on repentance and reconciliation to help churches and individuals address race issues. To sign up for Faith in Action, an e-newsletter, visit www.umc-gbcs.org/faith-in-action. Sign up for Action Alerts by visiting www.umc-gbcs.org/take-action and receive alerts when bills are being considered that require a response.