June 23, 2020

Dismantling Racism, Pressing on to Freedom

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On June 19th, the College of Bishops of the United Methodist Church initiated a new campaign for United Methodists to oppose racism, calling it “Dismantling Racism, Pressing on to Freedom.” Bishop Palmer of Ohio said “we wanted to initiate another focal point for conversation…But it is a conversation that will not settle for mere words, for empty pious platitudes.  For we believe that without works, faith is dead.”   There was an online broadcast kicking off the campaign on June 19, and an on line service of repentance on June 24th, and an on line town meeting on July 1.  (Sorry about not being able to get out the word about these things until now).  There is a web page now set up at UMC.org/EndRacism.

The 2016 Book of Discipline (the official statement of the rules and policies for the United Methodist Church, issued every four years) says, “We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God.  We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.  We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection.  We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity , or religious affiliation.”  The social principals go on to define both individual and societal racial discrimination as sin, and says that as United Methodists we should fight against it.  It also goes on to reject discrimination against religious minorities, children, young people, the aging, women, men, immigrants, and persons with disabilities and mental illness.   In one form or another similar words have been in every Book of Discipline since the founding of the United Methodist Church in 1968.   The Bishops are saying we need to put actions behind these words about what we believe.

An interesting item I saw, tangentially related to this campaign was a statement released by Students at Africa University in Zimbabwe, “A Public Statement on Racism and Abusive Police”.  They denounced excessive and racially motivated violence by. Police and governments in the US, comparing it to the tribalism they are fighting in Africa.  A student from Nigeria described the situation in his country where there are 520 languages spoken by over 300 tribes.  “But one tribe controls the majority of political and influential positions, and has declared that all other tribes are their subjects”.  Armed mobs have attacked villages and towns inhabited by minority tribes, killing and maiming people who are “inferior”.  This was compared to the race riots in the US in the 1920’s where many black owned businesses and homes were burned, and people killed.  The students went on to talk about how when a person from a given tribe gains a position of authority, they are expected to use it to grant favors to members of their own tribe, even within the church.  The statement concludes, “Therefore, for us to have confidence in accusing white men about racism, we Africans ought to start advocating for equal rights starting from our families—nursery schools through to universities and colleges—because our tribes are brainwashing their wards or children with the idea of being superior than others.”

Back to the Bishop’s initiative.  The Bishops also put out a call for United Methodist throughout the world to spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in prayer at 8:46 AM and 8:46 PM.  The focus of prayers is that God will work in and through us to bring about a more just society, and for an end to racism, tribalism, ethnocentrism, sexism and all other prejudices that say “I and my group are better than other people.”  We pray that we may see ways to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and that God will remind all of us that we have value and worth in the Kingdom of Heaven.