While I have been in Europe attending the Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin, we as the world-wide Council have lived with the ongoing news of racial strife across the globe. One regular aspect of the nightly news here in Europe has been the struggle of European countries to respond in humanitarian ways to the refugees from North Africa. (For those unaware, there is a veritable tide of refugees crossing the narrow parts of the Mediterranean seeking the safety and financial opportunities that Europe offers. Typically, they land in Italy. By analogy for Americans, this is very similar to the Cuban and Vietnamese boat refugees that the United States has experienced in the past.) We have also been following the news of continuing clashes over police action in places like Baltimore. We are constantly aware of racial and tribal conflict in the Middle East. However someone understands any given situation (whether in Italy, the United States, the Middle East or somewhere else in the world), it is clear that racism is a world-wide issue. We who follow a Lord and Master who reached out in love to all people are committed to love, justice and mercy for all people. All really means all! Thus as a Council we believe we are to offer pastoral leadership on this critical issue for the whole church. As such, our episcopal pastoral letter is also shared as a witness to the wider world. I am convicted by the love of Christ to vote for this pastoral letter to the church and the world. I am honored to join my sister and brother bishops in sharing it with the church and the world.
"Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ! We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, are meeting in Berlin, Germany, 70 years after the end of World War II. As we gather, we renew our commitment to lead, as together we seek to become the beloved community of Christ. We are a church that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. On every continent, people called United Methodist are boldly living the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Yet, the people of our world are hurting, as injustice, violence and racism abound. Our witness to the dignity of all human life and the reign of God is needed now more than ever. Our hearts break and our spirits cry out, as we see reports of migrant people being attacked and burned in the streets of South Africa, note the flight of Jews from Europe, watch the plight of Mediterranean refugees and see racially charged protests and riots in cities across the United States that remind us that systems are broken and racism continues. The evidence is overwhelming that race still matters, that racism is woven into institutional life and is problematic to communal health. This reality impacts every area of life – in the church and in the world. Racism is prejudice plus intent to do harm or discriminate based on a belief that one is superior or has freedom to use power over another based on race. Xenophobia is an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange. Racism and xenophobia, like other sins, keep us from being whole persons capable of living up to our full potential. They deny the profound theological truth that we are made in the image of God with the handprint of love and equality divinely implanted in every soul. As bishops of the Church, we cast a vision for a world community where human worth and dignity defeat acts of xenophobia and racism. We acknowledge that silence in the face of systemic racism and community fears serves only to make matters worse. We commit to lead, model and engage in honest dialogue and respectful conversation and invite people of faith everywhere to join us. Let us repent of our own racial bias and abuse of privilege. May we love God more deeply and, through that love, build relationships that honor the desire of people everywhere to be seen, valued, heard and safe. As we proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, may we lead the way in seeking justice for all, investing in and trusting God’s transforming power to create a world without hatred and racism. As United Methodists, we affirm that all lives are sacred and that a world free of racism and xenophobia is not only conceivable, but worthy of our pursuit. We renew our commitment to work for a Church that is anti-racist and pro-humanity, believing that beloved community cannot be achieved by ignoring cultural, racial and ethnic differences, but by celebrating diversity and valuing all people. “This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.” 1 John 4:21 (CEB) RESOURCES A New Dawn in Beloved Community: Stories with the Power to Transform Us, Linda Lee, ed., Abingdon Press, 2012 Pan-Methodist Statement on Racism from the 72nd Consultation of Methodist Bishops Understanding and Dismantling Racism: the Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America, Joseph Barndt, Fortress Press, 2007"