The General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) invites United Methodists of goodwill to engage in conversations about race, racial identity, and the challenges that come when racial prejudices and bias are combined with institutional power and privilege, typically defined as racism.
These discussions are not easy to undertake. Our shame, fear, race, anger, frustrations, confusion, personal biases, separation, and segregation—including that which is institutional, personal, and familial—often render it nearly impossible for even well-meaning people to “get at” how we feel about and how we can move through differences toward becoming God’s beloved community.
Still, God in Christ Jesus is calling us to be courageous, steadfast, and true to our calling to transform the world from one divided and warring to one where God’s peaceable kingdom will come. The Scriptures beckon us:
- “Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all time.” (Psalm 106:3)
- “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18)
- “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:12)
- “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
We, the laity and clergy who are members of the staff and board of directors of GCORR, believe that now is the time to start conversations about the realities of race and racism and how they affect our communities, our congregations, our families, our nations, and ourselves—even the ways we live out our faith.
As we read and watch news reports, observe and participate in the happenings in our cities and towns, and assess the racial dynamics in our communities and in our churches, we believe that we can and must bring our understanding of the power of God’s reconciliation and God’s justice to bear on the conversations and the situations in which we find ourselves.
We invite you to begin this conversation in your Sunday school class, as a weekly class meeting among United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men’s groups, young adult fellowships, ministry leadership teams, annual conference cabinets, or as a study with team with people from other congregations or denominations.
- Invite people to participate in a weekly/biweekly/monthly discussion group about race and racism. Explain the time commitment, the fact that each person will take turns facilitating and that you will use discussion-starters from the General Commission on Religion and Race (listed below). Set a firm meeting time and stick with it.
- Plan for two sessions for each video, with each session lasting at least 60 minutes.
- Keep your group small, say no more than 8-10 people, so that everyone has the opportunity to reflect and speak.
- Rotate the roles of facilitator and recorder each time, so that everyone may participate fully. (Note-taking should be limited to any ideas the group wants to carry forward, including possible ministry/action items for the future).
- Set ground rules for the discussion—but not too many. Remind participants to speak from their own experiences and no on else’s and avoid saying things like, “my friend told me” or “my co-worker says.” Also, affirm that frustration, confusion, and fear are all part of the discussion—do not attempt to tamp down those feelings. Finally, suggest that what is said in the group stays in the group.
Questions/Discussion Starters – Video: Building Beloved Community with The Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre
- Describe the racial tradition of your congregation(s). Who were the founding members? If your church/Wesley Foundation is mostly white, discuss how people of color have or have not participated and been a part of your church. What percentages of people are non-white? (Based on U.S Census categories, i.e., black/African-American; white/European origin; Latino-Hispanic (not from Europe); Asian/Pacific Island American; Native American/indigenous; biracial; multiracial). Discuss why your church is or is not racially diverse?
- For white participants: What does it mean to be white in the United States—and your church—with regard to political representation? Primary language spoken and written in your community? Your own social location? What is viewed as “normal” and “all-American”? For other participants: What does it mean to be a person of color or a mixed race person in the United States? In your congregation? In the United Methodist Church?
- Rev. Dr. De La Torre challenges the “colorblind” approach that white people often take when discussing race and racial disparity. (“I don’t see color. We are all the same.”) What are some difficulties with this “colorblind approach”? NOTE: A discussion leader may point out:
- Bias and racism are not caused by differences, rather it is how people and groups respond to difference that cause bias;
- “Colorblindness” assumes that cultural, racial, and language differences are insignificant, but this ignores and denies the daily experiences of people of color;
- A colorblind approach promotes tokenism and assimilation by suggesting that as long as people of color “act like us,” then they “deserve” to be treated as “normal.”
- Rev. Dr. De La Torre further challenges the notion of colorblindness as a failure by church and society to address systems of race and class supremacy. He included a chart on poverty that showed that at this moment black and Latino American children are more likely than other groups to live in poverty. Describe any recent efforts by your congregation or group to address institutional racism or economic disparity. How was involved and how? If your church has not been involved, talk about why not?
- In what community partnerships does your church participate in which there are a significant number people of other races? When your church group looks for opportunities to be in mission in your community, who are the objects of mission? What race and class of people are more likely to be “objects” of mission? “Doers” of mission?
- People of color: Tell a personal story about being the only personal of color at a church, social, or political event. Describe for other participants feelings and thoughts you may have had in that setting.
- Rev. Dr. De La Torre refers to 1 Corinthians 12: 4-8, and Paul’s admonition to the Church to honor diverse gifts as all emanating from God’s Holy Spirit. He further said, “Diversity makes unity possible.” What new gifts might people of color bring to a predominantly white congregation? What specific gifts might white people bring into a truly interracial/multiracial Christian unity and community?
- Rev. Dr. De La Torre also refers to the need for the Church to be “saved,” and to nail notions of supremacy “to the cross.” What would have to change in your own mindset for you to welcome people of color—including their ideas, cultural expression, worship styles, and mission priorities—into your congregation? What would have to change among the movers and shakers of your church?