The Black Church Must Walk with Young People


By The Rev. Phil Lawson

When we founded Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) in 1968 it was the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was marching and Americans were protesting the Vietnam War. It was also the year that Dr. King died. It was weeks before General Conference.

In 1968, when BMCR was formed, black laity and clergy were very involved in the liberation movements in the Church, but also beyond the Church. I was involved in peace marches against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. At the same time, I joined a group of pastors who were working with the Black Panthers. While this angered a lot of people in the Church, we could see that the Panthers were also concerned about the future of black men, and that was exactly where we felt the Church should be.

The Rev. Phil Lawson

Now, just as in 1968, racism and racial violence must be challenged, and when BMCR formed, we pushed for the creation of the General Commission on Religion and Race, as well as other measures to ensure that black people would not be powerless and voiceless once the Central Jurisdiction was abolished.

My concern is that neither BMCR nor The United Methodist Church are, as a whole, visibly involved in movements like #BlackLivesMatter, nor are they concerned with issues such as mass incarceration, poverty, illiteracy, or failing public school systems that marginalize children of color and poor children. I don’t see or hear the Church’s voice. And we need to make our voice heard.

To that end, the ministry of Black Methodists for Church Renewal is still needed, but we must reconnect with our congregations, our community, and our young people. The Church needs to be engaged with young people who are at the forefront of the Occupy movement, #BlackLivesMatter, healthcare reform, justice for LGBT, and all of the issues that affect black people and people of color.

In 1968, young people and black people were in the streets calling for justice. Today, in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, young people and people of color are in the streets calling for justice. People are crying out for leadership and for a clear, prophetic word of God about the needs of God’s people.

The caucus is needed now, and more than it ever was before. This is not the time for us to be silent. We are still being called to action.

The Rev. Phil Lawson, one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal in 1968, is a retired United Methodist pastor. He has spent his life preaching, teaching, advocating, and engaging in civil disobedience to champion everything from the civil rights movement and the Occupy movement, to immigration rights and same-sex marriage. He lives in the San Francisco area. 

GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.