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An author of the ‘call’ reflects on race and the UMC

September 8, 2016

Lillian Smith
Pastor, Cheverly UMC

Lillian Smith
Lillian Smith

W. E. B. DuBois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line — the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” In 2016, DuBois’ insight is still true and relevant. There have been weeks when, almost nightly, we heard news reports of unarmed young brown or black males who were killed under questionable circumstances.  Like many people, I cried and wondered “what is going on?” “How many more people are going to die due to senseless violence because of color, fear and misunderstandings?” This carnage of brown and black persons, as well as the slaughter of police officers has to stop.

Great progress has taken place in the United States of America.  We have an African American president. Our children and youth live with a multi-ethnic world view as evidenced by the cast of teen television shows and music.  My teenage sons demonstrate an ease to connect with peers of diverse cultures and ethnicities that is not always demonstrated by people of older generations. Nonetheless, this country’s seeds of racism have resulted in a harvest that is rocking our very existence. In many of our congregations, worship services are still, in many effects, segregated.  The growth of increased populations of racial ethnic minority persons in this nation is not evidenced in many of our churches. Why? 

United Methodists are called to fully face and dismantle the sin of racism.  Much was done through the dismantling of the Central Jurisdiction but remnants of racism still exist. Racism is an issue of the heart not changed by legislation. The love of God helps us overcome “our stuff” to love others of diverse ethnicities and cultures.

Defined as “prejudice plus power,” racism is a reality that affects everyone. No one is immune. If any people are called to address the issues of racism, white privilege and internalized oppression, it is surely the people of faith of the United Methodist Church. We are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people of all ethnicities and cultures. When we address racism we will be able to reach out in love to share in ministry with the other – of any color and language. Let’s heal the wounds of racism.

The problem of racism is as serious today, as it has always been. Through the NEJ Call to Action, adopted by the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference.  Everyone — bishops, laity and organizations like the Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry — has a role to play. The Holy Spirit can transform us to become the “beloved community” of God’s people. Now is the time. We are the people for such a time as this. It is my hope that every laity, clergy and congregation will heed the call to action and make a difference for God’s kingdom.

*Cheverly UMC is a multi-ethnic congregation in the heart of the community with the community in its heart.

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