Campaign against racism marks one year
It was a nightmare scenario that could have been fatal.
Two toddlers locked in a car on a hot day. Keys left by mistake inside the vehicle by their mother.
âIt was a very hot day and the air conditioning was not on,â said Morgan Stafford, executive director of the Memphis Wesley Foundation. At the time, he was working with children at the Antioch United Methodist Church in Nashville as part of the Transformation Tennessee Project.
Stafford was going to call the police for help, but the mother begged him not to.
âNo politics! No politics! She pleaded.
âMy heart sank,â Stafford said. âI knew she was in a vulnerable situation because of the documentation. It was a very difficult experience seeing a mother who was in a place where she had to risk the safety of her own children because a phone call could not be made.
The tragedy was averted as one of the trapped children was able to follow the instructions to unlock the car from the inside.
The incident was on his mind when Stafford documented on his Facebook page in June 2020 his efforts to take intentional action every day for a month to combat racism. Activities included participating in a protest, watching an anti-racist documentary and supporting a black-owned business.
The idea was adapted in September 2020 by the national United Methodist Dismantling Racism campaign, which also began in June of the same year after the death of George Floyd and protests across the United States.
The denomination campaign is now over a year old, and church leaders say discussions are just beginning.
“There are many committed leaders at all levels of the church who are actively working to dismantle racism, tribalism, xenophobia and white supremacy,” said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, who also chairs the Council of Bishops Against Racism. Intervention force.
“Although we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go.”
Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, who is president of the Council of Bishops, agrees on both points.
âI don’t think it’s the kind of job that has a beginning and an end,â Harvey said. âI think it’s on the continuum. It will not end. It will continue. “
Like everything, the Dismantling Racism initiative has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The lack of face-to-face meetings and the postponement of General Conference have required creative approaches to anti-racism work,” said Erin Hawkins, executive director of Connectional Ministries for the California-Pacific Conference, the former top ruler of the United States. Methodist Commission on Religion and Race and consultant for the campaign to end racism.
âWe have relied on Zoom meetings and the creation of digital assets to successfully support the initiative’s efforts, but these methods have their limitations. The in-depth work of changing hearts and minds and dismantling the systems that support oppression requires us to physically present ourselves in spaces where transformation is needed. “
Despite this obstacle, dismantling racism has had success, Easterling said. These include:
- A service of lamentation for the sin of racism;
- a series of town halls in partnership with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women;
- a series of Lenten devotions featuring bishops from all over the world; and
- provide support and resources for diversity, inclusion and anti-racism efforts at annual conferences.
The response has not been entirely positive. An oft-heard complaint has been that the campaign is “too political”.
âThe crucifixion of Jesus was pretty political, but we don’t necessarily like going there,â Harvey said. âI think dismantling racism is deeply theological. I think it’s deeply gospel focused.
âWhen we think of Jesus’ words to love God and love our neighbor, I don’t know how deeper you can go in the Bible and theology. “
Some church leaders avoid racial discussions because it can be divisive, Harvey said.
âWhen we start talking about the fragility of whites, it’s an uncomfortable conversation,â she said. âWhen you point out white privilege, it’s a tough pill to swallow. The resistance, I think, is not wanting to cause more division than there is already in the church.
Although the campaign to dismantle racism takes place primarily in the United States, racism is also a problem abroad. Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Region said discussions were also taking place in Africa, the Philippines and Europe.
âEthnic discrimination and violence resulting from tribalism is a very serious problem in many parts of Africa,â Muyombo said. âThe bishops here are working to solve this problem and end the bloodshed, corruption and division it causes. “
In the Philippines, preventing discrimination against indigenous peoples has been a priority for bishops. In Europe, the focus has been on working with migrant and refugee populations as well as denouncing nationalist efforts that promote white supremacist values.
There are several new anti-racism efforts underway, Easterling said, including:
- An ecumenical briefing on how The United Methodist Church partners with other faiths and faith groups to fight racism;
- a truth and reconciliation process to support healing from the legacy of racism in local communities;
- an Advent devotional series;
- a social justice program against racism for the church; and
- educational materials and digital resources for ongoing discussion and action.
The Council of Bishops has a long-term commitment to tackling racism, Easterling said.
âThe central message of this campaign is that justice, freedom and belonging are inalienable personality rights and birthrights as children of God,â she said. âWherever we see a systemic attack on liberty and liberty, we must work to bring about real change. “