Moderator's Note: A video in which Bishop Lowry directly and fervently addresses the recent events surrounding the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd and the blight of racism and shares some ideas for concrete, specific action to fight racism and transform the world in the image of Jesus Christ is at the end of this blog post.
I wish to carefully convey that this is not in any way intended as an anti-police blog. In my 30 years as a local pastor, I have had the privilege of pastoring a number of wonderful, deeply Christian peace officers. I wish to also carefully convey that we cannot simply shake our heads, dash off a quick prayer and move on. As I have stated before, faithful prayer propels us to action.
The horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery do not take place in isolation. They represent an ongoing crisis in our culture. It is been six years since Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, gasped out the words “I can’t breathe” on New York City sidewalk. In our own conference, right here in Fort Worth (a city my wife and I have come to love), it has just been a half a year since the tragic shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in her own home.
We must be a better society than this. Rev. Julian Hobdy, who worked for many years in the Central Texas Conference office, now serves as one of the Associate Pastors at First United Methodist Church, Mansfield, Texas. In response to this ongoing crisis he wrote,
“I’ve had several conversations and encouragements from people I love dearly and trust even more. What I’ve come to realize, just maybe, my hurt and broken heartedness might be just as helpful as any proposed solution. If you know me, then you need to know that I’m hurting. Men, women, children that look like me and have a similar felt experience as me are hurting. . . . All of these things that make me who I am, I’ve come to know through the lens of being a black American. I came to know God in the black church. I was raised by a black woman in a time and place that was not always particularly kind to black people. In that environment, I learned that I must occupy at least two worlds. It informs, to this very day, how I make decisions in this world. I cried for Brentwood [the Church in which Rev. Hobdy was raised] and First Methodist Mansfield. I cried for me. I cried for you.
After I cried, I came to this conclusion. Dr. Howard Thurman was right when he said, "When I identify with a man, I become one with him and in him I see myself." Until we can identify with one another, until there is a real unity and solidarity that doesn’t require unanimity, we will constantly find ourselves in this moment. It’ll be the same song, but a different dance. In truth, there are significant differences between us, but there can be oneness without sameness.
But in order to get there, you have to see my kids as your kids. In seeing me, you must see yourself – not seeing me as yourself, but seeing me in yourself. We share a common humanity with a diverse experience. But if we are all equally made in God’s image, then we are all made in God’s image. So any loss of life, particularly in the unrestrained, casual, apparently unremorseful manner that seems to keep happening in this country, is a loss for all of us. Whole communities are devastated right now, and that devastation belongs to all of us, whether we feel it or not.”
The degradations of entrenched racism and callous indifference have no place in a Christian world view. United Methodist Church doctrine (our official teaching as a denomination) states, “we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.” (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016, ¶162 A), p. 120)
Our regular prayer as a Christian people is called “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Do you recall setting? Jesus was asked by his disciples how they should pray, and He instructed his followers (us!),
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases. . . Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:7a, 9-10)
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The heart of the Christian affirmation of faith is the earliest three-word creed of the first Christians…
“Jesus is Lord.”
If the mission of the church is to make disciples and we have not addressed racism, we are not making disciples.
We have been working on inclusivity and ending racism:
- Both the Cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) have taken “Implicit Bias Training” developed by the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).
- The Cabinet and BOM have also worked with a special consultant from the Pacific Northwest Conference on “Intercultural Competency Training,” including taking the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) to enhance our own growth in inclusivity and ending racism.
- Following the Atatiana Jefferson shooting in Fort Worth, each of the Districts in Central Texas Conference engaged in a follow-up learning and discussion event.
- The Cabinet has read and studied together the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
- The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church has engaged in anti-bias training and studied the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.
While these steps have enhanced our understanding and response to the evils of racism, they are not enough! Our Central Texas Conference Inclusiveness Umbrella Team recently met, and they will soon be offering resources and suggested action steps for our consideration. The following is my own brief list of possibilities and suggestions for concrete specific action designed to fight the blight of racism.
1. Do not turn a blind eye. If you see what looks like racism, graciously but firmly challenge it. The curse of racism is such a huge problem that it often overwhelms us. Too often, “I don’t know what to do” translates into “therefore, I won’t do anything” or “I’ll just be enraged”.
2. Engage in conversations across the ethnic & economic lines. Look for opportunities to build bridges. Intentional relationship building is an important step forward. For instance, pastors Tim Bruster and Lance Marshall (Co-Pastors of First UMC, Fort Worth) are leading a study group on Discerning Our Part in God’s Work for Racial Reconciliation based on the book Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison that is open to all. Invite friends and colleagues from ethnic & socio-economic backgrounds different from yours to join you in this or other like opportunities to share experiences, fears, hopes and dreams.
3. Share ideas for solutions. Our Conference Inclusiveness Umbrella Team, whose role is to help us engage issues like racism, will be working to offer ideas, suggestions, and resources about specific steps CTC local churches might take to deal with the issue of racism in their own areas. Details on these specific steps will be widely shared throughout the conference as they are available.
- As part of the Inclusiveness Umbrella Team’s effort, they will partner with the Conference Communications Team and the Cabinet to establish a resource page on the conference website to help congregations move forward in combating individual and institutional racism. More info will be available on the conference website soon, so please log in to ctcumc.org regularly for further information.
4. Increase your own awareness. Our lack of awareness and fear of doing something wrong has often left us (especially many well-meaning Anglos) paralyzed. Take steps to educate yourself by getting to know and becoming more familiar with your entire community and mission field.
5. Address institutional racism. The problem is often not at the personal level but rather at the highest levels of our culture – white privilege. Together we must learn ways to address racism at the highest levels of our culture. Implicit bias is a human condition that we need to face and work through; many “white” people have never had a conversation with someone of color about their experience of racism.
6. Realize that there is no “quick fix.” Combating racism remains a long-haul struggle and not a short-term engagement. “And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9, RSV)
Let our praying propel us into action. Lord, help us build your kingdom here “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Click on the below to view Bishop Lowry's video message to the CTC and Christians everywhere.