Next Sunday and the Sunday after that…
Last Thursday I sent out a very short statement regarding the shooting of nine people at the historic Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. It simply said:
Keep our brothers and sisters in the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in your prayers. While this is the crime of one man, we still live in a climate that breeds hate in many forms throughout our communities. Keep the whole A.M.E. Church in your prayers as our pan-Methodist brothers and sisters suffer together from this attack.
I hope that every church in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference had a time of prayer on Sunday, June 22nd, as we were thinking and praying for the people of Emanuel Church and this senseless violence. Lots of other church leaders had posts and pastoral letters immediately and I found many of them helpful in getting perspective and insight into this isolated event in the floodwaters of historical racism. But I also had another question in mind:
What about next Sunday? And the Sunday after that? And the Sunday after that? And what are we teaching in our Bible studies that shifts a worldview from prejudice and denial to that of truly being followers of Jesus in this modern age of hate and racial violence?
Will we continue to pray about racial injustice and violence, basing our prayers and sermons in our biblical roots? How will we as United Methodists be leaders in our churches and communities in addressing the racial prejudice that leads to violence, especially with the prevalence of guns in our communities? How will we unleash “justice (to) roll down like mighty waters” (Amos 5:24a)?
Charles P. Pierce wrote in Esquire on June 18th (http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a35793/charleston-shooting-discussion/?fb_ref=Default):
Think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened. Talk about why it happened. Do these things, over and over again. The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence. It must reject the false comfort of learned disbelief and the narcotic embrace of concocted surprise.
In other words, we can’t just talk about these things and wonder what in the world happened to this one young man that he would do this atrocious thing and then forget about it. We must keep reflecting on the deeper underlying racism that afflicts our country and our churches. (Warning: if you find yourselves with some pat answers on these things, think about it again…)
Another writer, Liz Mosbo VerHage, featured on the Sojourner’s page calls out the “white church – wider church” to talk about race with others, bring it up, and pursue the perspective of others in the conversation (https://sojo.net/articles/we-are-one-body-white-christians-time-get-game):
If you’re not sure what to do – start paying attention right now. Read articles from the black community, notice the particular beauty and pain within the black church, start to feel this pain and shock and repeated abuse as if it were in your own family, because, well, it is. Pray, pray more, confess, lament, and learn more, and pray some more. Bring this up with your people. Ask about this reality of race and death at your church – where will it be addressed within worship this Sunday? Where will we take our part of the responsibility of educating, advocating, understanding, speaking out, and helping change how race and faith and life and death are seen in the U.S.? Publicly share information and lament and hope with others. Publicly stand for and with and fight this sense of black life not being as valuable, as noticed, as mourned. The more we join the outrage and point to the truth that #faithandracealwaysmatter and #BlackLivesMatter, the more we help open up spaces of lament, healing, Good News, justice, reconciliation, hope, and the potential for life to flourish.
Reaching out to our General Board of Church and Society, Bill Meffords (who did our Bible study at annual conference in 2013) offered this free, downloadable Bible study on gun violence. I commend it to you for discussion, teaching and preaching: http://umc-gbcs.org/content/general/Kingdom-Dreams-Violent-Realities.pdf
I also asked him if we had a social principle or resolution regarding the confederate flag. He said no, but offered this:
My only guess is that most of us thought the civil war was kind of over. I was wrong apparently. One sentence in the Social Principles (162-A Rights of Racial and Ethnic Groups) states, ‘Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly and explicitly the racist value system.’ It seems to me that the confederate flag is part of the explicit racist value system…
United Methodist Women has been working for racial justice for decades. They have led the church in many ways on racial equality and yet too often in local units, the topic of racial justice is never mentioned. I commend an excellent (and well-done) resource on the timeline of racial justice to all, not just UMW units (but each one in this conference should look at this and talk about it). It would make fascinating conversation if members of a small group would remember what you thought at the time about the events and statements compared to what UMW was calling you/us to because of the gospel: http://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/racial-justice/timeline
We need to keep the conversation as well as the prayer going from week to week. I’m looking for a helpful book that will promote holy conversations about race. If you know of such a book—fiction or non-fiction—that you think would promote holy conversation in a wide range of congregations, accessible, and historical in the sense of how we got from slavery to racism and its hateful violence today, please let me know the title and why you think it would be good. I’d like for us as an annual conference to have a one-book/one-people conversation (and certainly others can join us). You can add the title and reason to the comments at the bottom of this blog.
In the mean time, please keep praying, teaching and preaching as well as modeling what it means to be followers of Jesus in communities and churches in need of racial justice.