The Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo was installed as General Secretary of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race on Oct. 14 in a worship service at National UMC in Washington, D.C. He is the first Latino to lead a denominational agency. Due to the pandemic, the Board of Directors postponed the celebration for the past 14 months but wanted to conclude Hispanic Heritage Month with this historic Installation Service.
Hailed as “one of the most potent United Methodist voices for racial justice,” Arroyo was born in Puerto Rico and entered the ministry in 2001 as a pastor in New York City. He served as one of three chaplains caring for families, victims and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, has pastored cross-cultural churches in the New York and Baltimore-Washington Conferences and has served as a staff person (2010) with the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) in Washington, D.C. He began serving as General Secretary in August 2021.
“I come to serve with a vision of a church that liberates the oppressed, seeks genuine relationships and loves one another,” Arroyo said. “Creating relationships is pivotal to a discipleship that shares our Christian hope.”
Arroyo recognized that the role race, culture and faith play in people’s lives is increasingly complex.
“We must embrace that The United Methodist Church and the world are more globally focused, multicultural, multi-textured, virtual, and complex than ever before in our history. We as a denomination are at the crossroads of new horizons, which needs leadership that can lead in the intersectionality of diverse lived experiences with creativity and enthusiasm.” He is hopeful that GCORR’s work will continue to empower United Methodists around the globe to “live out a welcoming spirit of God’s children that will make the Church a place of healing, restoration, and liberation.”
Arroyo has been nominated by MARCHA, the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino caucus to be a candidate for the episcopacy for the Northeastern Jurisdiction, which meets to elect bishops in November. He has also been affirmed by the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf and has been recognized by them as a leader who is not only committed to inclusion but is also dedicated to accessibility.
The following is the text of the sermon Arroyo preached at his installation service:
We find ourselves at a crossroads. When you are at a crossroads in life, it can be very confusing, challenging, and even an emotional time. A Crossroad is, first, a place where roads intersect. They position us to be in a place where we can no longer be focused on a direct or narrow path, but it requires us to consider more things than we might want to in that particular moment. At the crossroads, in that intersection, we are pushed to expand our vision, comfort, and understanding of who we are in the midst of the community. However, when we are at a crossroads in life, as an agency, as the church, it may feel like everybody and everything is moving around us, but we are stuck. Church, do we find ourselves at a crossroads! Church, do some of us feel like God is pushing us to look beyond ourselves and recognize the ministry and mission that is right there at our reach but that we are unwilling or are paralyzed or even feel stuck to move towards because it requires of you and me, of the institution we call the church to Let Go and Let God. At the crossroads of life, we are at a point at which vital decisions have to be made. It is essential to understand that life's crossroads will force us to make tough decisions, even when our default might be. Let's not deal with it, and it will go away. Even when our default has been a narrative that as a Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color, a member of an oppressed community, I have no power or voice because the dominant culture knows what is best for us.
Siblings, you have power, you have a voice, you have Jesus the Christ who overcame adversity, who challenged religious lawyers who tried to hold him tied to ways of status quo, whose ministry was not in the temple but out in the world where people were facing crossroads day in and day out. Because we love Jesus, we must not allow ourselves to be silenced for justice, equity, and love.
The General Commission on Religion and Race Board of Directors found themselves at a crossroads in 2022. A crossroad that required the board to discern who would lead the agency into the next chapter of their ministry - an intersection that came with 53 years of leadership since the beginning of United Methodism and the GCORR's existence. It was a crossroad moment to consider a historical status quo approach or do we recognize the intersection we find ourselves - a church that needs to ensure we are more than a binary place, a church that gives a chair at the table for voices that have not been part to be centered, a church that is willing to do the Jesus way - center the voice of the marginalize and the oppressed.
The Gospel of Matthew read this evening places Jesus in a crossroad moment. A moment where Jesus, the son of God, the Lord of our Lives, the Savior of the cosmos, the Divine healer, the transformational leader - must confront his own understanding of ministry and mission. Jesus, in the verses before tonight's encounter, is addressing breaking out of tradition (status quo) in, furthermore, engaging the power of our mouth - something we need to be reminded of day in and day out as Disciples of Jesus the Christ. Jesus says the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them." Church, how is your heart this evening? Turn to your neighbor and say - watch your mouth.
Jesus, after engaging in those teaching moments, enters our scripture tonight. Jesus withdrew himself from the public square and went to Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon are on the coast of the Mediterranean immediately northwest of Galilee. They were the most famous cities of Phoenicia, known for their trade and production of expensive purple dye, and glass. Jesus moves from what would be considered his territory.
See, Jesus in this scripture places himself and the disciples in a crossroads moment. Jesus has left his commonplace and entered a space where "othering" has happened. A place where there was a straightforward, established narrative of "us and them." Jesus withdrew from controversy in the prior verses and found himself in a position of further controversy or developing more profound compassion for those not part of Jesus's tribe.
It is in that space that Jesus has an encounter with a woman who recognizes Jesus. Matthew makes it explicitly known that she is a Canaanite. Matthew is interested in the ethnic issues present. He centers it by stating she is Canaanite, for she lives in a culture partly shaped by descendants of the ancient Canaanites and still worships Baal. The Canaanites were ancient enemies of the Jewish people.
The history that already is at play can dictate the behavior in the encounter of Jesus, the disciples, and the woman. We all have a history, and we all have narratives that have permitted the church to continue to have a mindset of ethnocentrism as we engage in mission and ministry. The church has benefited from a mindset as a means of centering power and whiteness as the norm by which we operate. The status quo is comfortable, is what we know, and is what allows us to have control and power. As a result, the church has fallen into a place of "othering" versus embracing and welcoming. This Canaanite woman is willing to place herself in the spotlight of disagreement for the healing of her child. How many of us know what it means and feels to be the other? A person who is willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of the wider community we are part of so that justice can be experienced.
Despite all the opposition she could face, this woman enters into an engagement that highlights behaviors and actions that dares to give us a very human Jesus and causes us to ponder. Matthew details that this woman, who is not part of Jesus' group, knows who Jesus is. Not only who he is, but she must have been informed of the Divine power that has healed others. She comes with desperation and shouts to Jesus for healing. She greets him as the "Son of David." Her recognition is remarkable because the disciples have been a bit slow in recognizing Jesus. It causes me to ponder that there are people labeled as the "others," the "outsiders" of the church who can recognize the work and power of Jesus more quickly than those of us who have professed in Jesus Christ. We might have become comfortable within ourselves that we have decentered our witness of who Jesus is for us - or, as we are reminded in our board meeting - the glory sightings. But as she acknowledges who Jesus is and names her reality, we have a silent response from Jesus. Some biblical scholars say Jesus uses this moment to test the woman's faith. However, I would contend that Jesus is engaging in some self-examination. But disciples know what is best for Jesus, we know what is best for the church - they come with a resolution, that her crying out, her persistent call for healing is now distracting us from what we are here to do - send her away.
For decades, the United Methodist Church has heard the cry out of our Caucus leadership for inclusion of racial/ethnic leadership and for creating space at the table where we are not just seen but heard; we have listened to the cry out of our immigrant sisters who have been displaced around the globe and who are seen as children of God, we have heard the cry out of oppressed communities for equity and justice, we have listened to the cry out of children of God who have been harmed by the church and who have felt not loved but judge by it. There is crying out today in our communities for the church to be the church of Jesus Christ that is made of anti-racist disciples who are willing to disrupt the status quo for you and me to be at the table of Jesus Christ.
Let us not model the disciples' approach to the cry out. Let us not try to redirect the cry to somewhere else; let us not try to speak over the cry with Hallelujahs and praise as a way to make ourselves feel good and not deal with the work of the Gospel - of loving each other in our joy and pain. Church, let us not allow for our strategies or the rhetoric that we know best for the church when there is a cry out for us to no longer continue to do things as we have been historically doing it. This is the day when Jesus' encounter with this woman challenges him. We are challenged to confront the crossroad reality of the status quo or step out in faith where the intersectionality of ministry is.
I would even contend say Jesus is now faced with the reality of his teaching in the prior verses; what comes out of our mouths is where our heart is. Como decimos hay tela para cortar aqui - pero no tenemos tiempo. Jesus told her that his blessings were intended for the Jews. Ouch… you can say ouch..But, hey, Jesus has a justice fighter in his hands, she does not get silenced, and she keeps crying out for help. If that was not discouraging enough that he is here for the Jews, he then goes to dog reference. But this Canaanite woman is feisty and stubborn, and she is like, "Si, se puede." She takes Jesus' narrative and confronts him with what we can contend are stereotypes and prejudices that have skewed his view of this woman. The human side of Jesus shows up in a way that reminds us that our stereotypes and prejudices need to be checked if we are going to do the ministry of Jesus Christ that centers the voices of those who are oppressed and shunned to the sidelines. This woman places a mirror before Jesus in how his mindset impacts how he views her.
We need to continue placing the mirror before us; we must continuously challenge ourselves to recognize how our assumptions, perceptions, narratives, and others have oppressed God's children. Jesus' understanding of mission and ministry is expanded in that encounter, and the Divine goes to work. Jesus does what Jesus does best, breaks the cultural norms, engages in the holy work of healing and transformation, and recognizes the Godliness in her! The Divine shows up once again for those who have been silent,
for those who have been or are harmed,
for those who have been disregarded,
for those who have been told they are unworthy,
for those who humanity has not been recognizing,
for those whose lands have been stolen,
for those whose ancestors have been enslaved,
for those who have been displaced by war, terror, political advantages,
For those whose tribal communities have been treated as inferior,
For those whose skin tone is not acceptable,
For those whose accent is not comfortable to our siblings,
for those who are facing rejection by the church that told them Jesus loves them and not says your not whole,
for those of us who are worthy of more than crumbs under the table,
for those of us who have not even been allowed to get to the crumbs,
For those of us who are oppressed,
For those of us who are told we cannot claim our identity and or culture,
For those of us who have been othered,
For those of us who do feel like we belong,
For those of us who have not seen our community at the tables of power,
For those of us who stand on the side of justice, equity, love, and inclusion, Jesus the Divine showed up for the Canaanite woman, recognized her, and created a space at the table for her. Bishops, General Secretaries, GCORR, Church, God is challenging us to break down barriers, resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and be at the crossroads and grant God's children not just a crumb but a place at the table!! Amen. Amen. Amen.