The General Commission on Religion and Race invites United Methodist Christians 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 racialized 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 the Commission, 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 Christians 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.
So, for the next year, the General Commission on Religion and Race will release one or two video discussion-starters each month for your use. 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 Cabinet, 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. 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 Asian friend told me” or “My co-worker says Blacks don’t.” Also, affirm that frustration, confusion and fear are all part of the discussion—do not attempt to tamp down those feelings. And suggest that what is said in the group stays in the group.
Questions/Discussion Starters: Ongoing Acts of Repentance by Rev. G. Chebon Kernell
NOTE TO LEADERS: Research how your annual conference or district has participated in the Acts of Repentance Toward Healing Relationship with Indigenous People, first observed by the 2012 General Conference. See the following United Methodist News Service articles and videos—Starting Along the Path of Repentance and Acts of Repentance Guide Stresses Healing. You may want to ask participants to view this video from the service at the 2012 General Conference before you gather to discuss this video. Be prepared to talk about what your congregation, district or annual conference has or has not done in response to this call by United Methodist leaders.
- What do you know about how Native Americans’ first encounters with Christianity in our nation’s history? How did European Christians teach, invite and cooperate with Native Americans?
- Describe any new information you received in watching the “Acts of Repentance” videos and reading articles about the 2012 General Conference? What feelings did the videos evoke re: Christian teaching, encountering “the stranger,” loving neighbor as self?
- What are/were the purpose of the Acts of Repentance and the invitation to be in dialogue and acts of healing with Native American/Indigenous people? What are the church and its members being asked to do? What are we being asked to repent about?
- Has your congregation, district or annual conference participated in subsequent ministries or gatherings around the Acts of Repentance? If so, describe how? Then discuss your regular interaction with Native/Indigenous people in your ongoing Christian life? Workplace? Social life? What do you know about tribes and Native people in your community?
- How are Native Americans portrayed in news and entertainment media that you watch or hear or read? Many Native Americans oppose using “Indian” symbols or mascots for sports teams. Why might these symbols be offensive?
- For Native American leaders in your community: What are some ways that institutional racism, historical trauma and ignorance about Native Americans are still affecting your community? Your faith practices? Your perception of Christianity?
- Mr. Kernell expresses concern that the Act of Repentance must go beyond a one-time worship service or event. What kinds of activities or discussions might your group, church, district, etc., participate in to add depth and meaning to the call for repentance? List what you are willing to take leadership in.
- What else do you and your congregation/group need to know in order for you to take action re: the Acts of Repentance? What would it take for your church to become involved in education, advocacy, dialogue and movement toward healing? List three starting ideas, and add to them.