The Breath of Life


By The Rev. John Culp

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We live in the United States of America, a country with a history of enslavement, economic discrimination, and political suppression of African-Americans. The attitudes and beliefs that supported these actions did not evaporate into thin air when we passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or when we elected a biracial President. They are still here. Bishop Woodie White said, “so much of American history has been defined by race. Race is the ‘elephant in the room’ that will not be acknowledged.”

From the National Education Association came this statement, in 1973, which can serve as a definition of racism:

“All white individuals in our society are racists. All of us who are white: every bishop, every district superintendent, every pastor, every lay person, every male and female, every teacher of an adult Bible study class, every leader of a prayer group, every Boy Scout troop leader. Even if a white person is totally free from all conscious racial  prejudices, he remains a racist, for he receives the benefits distributed by a white racist society through its institutions.  Our institutional and cultural processes are so arranged as to automatically benefit whites, just because they are white.”

In a speech to the South Eastern Jurisdictional Convocation on the Black Church at Lake Junaluska, N.C. on July 14, 1975, Dr. Eben Taylor quoted Dr. Delmo Della-Dora, who said, “Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves having the power to carry out systematic discriminatory practices through the major institutions of our society.”

Our founder, John Wesley, did not abandon the effort to reach the social ills of his times. The Council of Bishops have, in the past, addressed the social issues with Pastoral Letters, but do not now because the current Bishops do not want to upset their conferences and the payment of apportions. The unwillingness and timidity of clergy to speak or act on social issues is at an all time low, with 78 percent saying they “seldom or never” take a stand from the pulpit on a social issue. Another 72 percent say they have never organized a study or action group in the church to address a public issue. Finally, 89 percent of clergy say that they have never taken part in a protest march. ( The Hebrew meaning of the word “soul” is the “breath of God,” yet the protests on the streets of our major cities are crying out, “I Can’t Breathe.” Are the souls of the people crying to be heard?

The Rev. John Culp is a retired United Methodist minister.


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.