Church, Ethics, Human Sexuality, Racism

Suffering Servants Silent Leadership: The UMC Council of Bishops Still Refuses to Speak on the Subject of Racism

0 Comments 05 April 2015

No CommentThe United Methodist Council of Bishops consists of all active and retired bishops of the denomination. The work of the council is “to speak to the Church and from the Church to the world and to give leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships.” (The Book of Discipline ¶427.2). As a group, the council speaks to the denomination by statements that address matters it deems important to the life of the church and the society in which we live. Over the last decade it has issued at least seven statements, half related to human sexuality. During this same decade, the General Conference, the top legislative/decision making body of the denomination, followed its 2000 Act of Repentance related to the historical and institutional racism of the denomination by several additional acts of repentance and focused studies throughout its annual conferences.

The church was right to repentant of its ugly history of racism. This included the 1772 incident in St. George’s Methodist Church when a white trustee interrupted Richard Allen and Absalom Jones while they were down on their knees praying in the main sanctuary. The trustee told them that they were prohibited from praying in that area and instructed them to go to the segregated Negro section of the church (a newly constructed balcony area). Rather than participate in the foolishness of racism within the church, Allen and Jones walked out never to return. Allen became the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination and Absalom Jones, the founding pastor of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas (Philadelphia). The very existence of the AME church is a constant reminder of the history of racism from which the UMC must never be allowed to forget.

When our nation was in the throes of disagreement about whether to end slavery, the Methodist church leaders debated over the relationship of members who refused to manumit their slaves. Bishop James Osgood Andrew’s ownership of slaves was among the disagreements that led to the split of the church in 1844 creating The Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Division was no solution; the conversation regarding slave ownership continued through the years. During General Conference 1860 Methodist Episcopal Church, the church debated whether the Book of Discipline ought prohibit holding, buying and selling slaves. Southern state laws prohibited slave owners from emancipating their slaves. “Do the majority intend to say that the Church should place herself in a position to do what the laws will not permit to be done?” Justifying the ownership of slaves, some church leaders argued, “Nine-tenths of the slaves held come to them by inheritance or marriage…the law compels no man to buy or sell but it does compel men to hold.” No sufficient ground was made and so when the northern and southern Methodist churches reunited in 1939 they did so by agreeing to establish a racially segregated jurisdiction called the Central Jurisdiction. Black members of the Methodist Church remained loyal to the church despite its betrayal. When the 1968 merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren eliminated the Central Jurisdiction, it resolved legal segregation but could not end institutional racism.

In 2000 the church amended its constitution to address racial injustice saying, “The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.” ¶5 The Constitution, The UMC Book of Discipline 2012

Given its shameful history of racism, its acts of repentance and its constitutional goals of eliminating racism one would think that the United Methodist Council of Bishops would have issued a statement to address racism especially doing so over the last eight months of unrest in our nation. Gil Caldwell and myself wrote an open letter to the council, which was published September 4, 2014. We did not ask the council to take a stand one way or the other regarding the guilt or innocence officer Darren Wilson. In light of the increasing evidence of racism against Black citizens by the Ferguson municipal court and police department we asked: “Rather than be seen as having never shed its denominational support of racism, we call now upon the Council of Bishops, a predominantly white leadership, to address this urgent crisis impacting the lives of Black people living in Ferguson. We urge you to take a bold stand against racism including the militarized armament and surveillance being used against Black people.”

Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Cameron Tillman, VonDerritt Myers, Jr., Martese Johnson, Floyd Dent, the Department of Justice report on Ferguson, a noose found hanging on campus of United Methodist related Duke University and now the murder of Walter Scott. The Council remains silent. The only mention of the Council on the subject of race in recent news is contained within the terms of the just resolution for a complaint made against one of the church’s most senior Black bishops, Melvin Talbert (retired) for officiating a same-sex marriage: “Encourage the Council of Bishops to actively pursue sustained theological conversation especially around human sexuality, race and gender in a world-wide church.”

The Council of Bishops has not confronted the rampant racism of this 21st century. One could wonder is this because Blacks represent less than 7% of its total membership? We hear you clearly when it comes to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination. Racism…not so much.

While Black bodies bleed on the streets, while black bodies suffer under mass incarceration, while Black police officers suffer the impact of racism on Black communities and within police leadership ranks, and while Black people continue to suffer systemic racism, while the nation and our churches remain divided over this perennial issue you have chosen to remain silent.

Guilty.

 

Citations: NY Times 5/25/1860 “Methodist General Conference…”

 

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Black Girls Understand Betrayal

0 Comments 02 April 2015

Maundy Thursday For Black GirlsJust as the sisters of Jesus are given little notice, Black girls get little to no attention within our Holy Week sermons. With the exception of Jesus charging his mother and one disciple whom he loved to care for one another as family, even the imagery of our Seven Last Words sermons is fairly male. Moreover, in most sectors including some Black churches, that imagery is pretty much that of white males. It is a serious matter for me, as I sit in my office peering up at a portrait depicting an Ethiopian rendering of The Last Supper, that not only Jesus, but Black girls also understand betrayal.

Black girls understand what it’s like to do the heavy work of ministry only to be “kissed off” by male preachers who take all the credit for the church’s growth and financial stability. Back girls make the choirs rock. Black girls bring their homegirls and family members to church. Black girls and Black women are writing the sermons, college essays and ordination papers of a good number of Black male clergy. Black girls have had their hearts broken by clergy and laypersons who have the effrontery to challenge their mothers’ call to ministry saying, “God never called a woman to preach.” Some Black girls have been so betrayed they now believe the lie they’ve been given. You know that lie: Women are not fit to be “the head over a man.” The truth is that many Black girls are more than fit, they are exquisitely competent and “well able” to be clergy, priests, bishops, CEOs and presidents.

Preceding Passover, Maundy Thursday rests between Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and crucifixion at the Place of the Skull. In many settings Maundy Thursday is an opportunity for the church to teach us yet again that Jesus knowingly offered his body for police brutality, incarceration, and murder. This image of Jesus, as Delores Williams wrote, “represents the ultimate surrogate figure.” It is not a good model to teach anyone, especially young Black girls.

Instead, on Maundy Thursday we should be reminded of the capacity for deception by our highest officials: The whole damn system was and is guilty as hell! We should use Maundy Thursday to teach Black girls about Jesus talking to his disciples, his allies saying, “One of you will betray me.” Be truthful with Black girls and caution them that friends may betray them. Especially these days teach them that this includes some of their white friends, those who call themselves “allies” in the struggle for #BlackLivesMatter. Some white “allies” will, like Judas, become easily offended when they are called out on their unfaithfulness and white privilege. Tell Black girls to be strong when they speak the truth about racism. Don’t let the denial of the Peters of the movement or the historical revisionism of bigots make them ashamed of the truth of the oppression that they experience each day. “One of you will betray me.” Stand on it whether the betrayer owns it or not! Remind Black girls that thirty pieces of silver, money, is still being exchanged for betrayal. Check the municipal court budget in #Ferguson.

Black girls are being murdered by relatives, boyfriends, corrupt police, trafficked by pimps, and even raped by men who called themselves our “brothers.” I don’t have time to weep about the story of the Savior this Maundy Thursday. Jesus Christ will be alright until Sunday. Today I’m praying for Black Girls who without our prayers and intervention won’t make it to tomorrow.

Jesus be a fence for #BlackGirlsMatter.

Education, Ethics, Race

White Allies – How About Shutting Down Racist Greek Organizations?

1 Comment 10 March 2015

The video of University of Oklahoma chapter Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) members singing racist lyrics is neither unbelievable, unreal, shocking nor isolated.  Face it: The author(s) of that song were not passengers on that bus. That song has been around for quite some time and those young men have learned its lyrics and the sentiment of its lyrics well. That said, surely we ought respond to this egregious act but I’m compelled to respond to other words spoken by white students on college campuses: “I don’t know why Black people need Black student associations?” Viewing the video I immediately thought, “See it’s because of this kind of brutality!”

Yes, this behavior was racist but the responses to the video show an increasing effort to deny racism exists in the “hallowed halls of academia.” Don’t tell me this is “shocking” because it’s not shocking if you live in America. White people hurling racial epithets and threatening lynching is not new behavior and is very believable. Change the talking points. Better to say it is “horrific and inexcusable behavior.” And say it in ways that count to eradicate such behavior. The quick action taken by University of Oklahoma is right and just but let us not forget some history: the history of segregated white fraternities and sororities. The answer to why we still need Black fraternities and sororities is in that history, it is in this story about SAE and it is in the unwritten but lived stories Black students face in schools across our country.

As we speak about SAE I urge us to remember the very first fraternity founded in 1906 for Black men, Alpha Phi Alpha was established “as a study and support group for minority students who faced racial prejudice, both educationally and socially, at Cornell [University].”  This nation’s oldest Black fraternities and sororities were established to address the very kind of behavior shown in the video of SAE members and the ongoing patterns of racism among its chapters at other schools!

Black fraternities and sororities were also designed to be spaces where Black students would be safe to express the discrimination they felt on campus, to encourage one another to strive for excellence and to complete their degree programs. This need has not diminished and the video is no eye-opener for Black university students, alums, faculty and administrators. When a Black student receives a degree from many institutions of higher education across America they are receiving more than a degree; they have overcome years of institutionalized racism. “Getting that degree” is the attainment of the hopes of our ancestors and it is often the first example for other family members to be assured “that it can be done.” Unfortunately, it is also a bittersweet achievement. Black students very often must face the failure of schools to properly prepare them and their colleagues for a world that does not turn on white thought and scholarship; the burden of excessive student loan debt; few vocational networks and having spent 4 or more years with very little sense of “community” as advertised in the school’s glossy marketing material. And yes, there are exceptions to this critique but they are, proportionally speaking, few.

Diversity, statements about “zero tolerance” for bigotry, showing solidarity among the student body and working assiduously to ensure the campus is welcoming is great and we have good examples of this among some of our schools.  However, as long as Black scholarship is not respected, as long as it is treated as an appendage to curriculum; as long as Black students’ voices are ignored in the classroom; as long as our experiences are deemed as having little to no epistemological value then what remains “unbelievable, unreal and shocking” to me is that more of these incidents aren’t revealed.

So here’s another work for our white allies in the protest movement: Time for you all to move from the malls and highways and turn your attention to predominately white fraternities and sororities. Use your white privilege to disrupt and say, “Get out of here!” to those damn Greek organizations housing the bigots that will become the lawyers, judges, politicians and police officers that oppress and refuse to believe that #BlackLivesMatter. Shut. Them. Down.

 

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On the day that I write this, the death of Bishop Eddie Long fills the headlines. I have mixed feelings about even mentioning his name. Like all humans, he was a complicated soul. Long pastored one of the largest predominately African American churches in Atlanta, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. In an article found in […]

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