After September 11, 2001, a U.S. bishop hosted a series of conversations for conference pastors and laity about whether or not engaging in war was compatible with the teachings of Jesus. (As a starting point, the group reflected on the United Methodist statement on “Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation” No. 6127, 2012 Book of Resolutions.) The purpose was not to reach an agreement, but to learn to talk and listen to one another about tough issues.
A step toward intercultural competence and cooperation is understanding how division, bias, colonialism, and discrimination have affected our church and world. Ask your bishop; district superintendent; conference Religion and Race team; or district women’s, men’s, or youth group to plan and host conversations about racial-ethic or tribal differences, prejudice and conflict. Offer to be part of the planning and leadership.
For a topic, choose a current event or the anniversary of an event or incident that affected your community (i.e., the headline-grabbing murders of two Black teens in Florida, immigration rights, refugees fleeing war and ethnic-based genocide, the state of public schools, the treatment of Native Americans in your state). If a concern or events hits the news, ask your bishop or superintendent to start a conversation.
Suggest that a trained facilitator help guide the planning and conversations. Be sure to include people from different cultural groups and assign materials for participants to read, view, or study in advance.
Invite diverse friends and partner churches representing different cultural groups to join you in the conversation. Establish ground rules for the discussion based on mutual agreement (i.e., speak for yourself only, affirm the feelings and experiences of others, speak from your heart, etc.). Be prepared for people to express pain, anger, sadness, and frustration, and rely on solid facilitators to work through those.
Talk about ways individual United Methodists and congregations might to make a difference; but don’t move too quickly to problem-solving. Just coming to a common table and talking honestly are monumental moves toward authenticity and understanding.
Remember that rage, guilt, confusion, pain, fear, and insecurity tempt us to steer clear of those topics, particularly in intercultural settings. They are the legacies of division and failure to see all people as beloved children of God. However, understanding is the beginning of authentic relationships—particularly in faith communities. Bishops and superintendents are uniquely placed to lead church members to tackle these topics with clarity and courage.