What Then Shall We Say?

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What then Shall We Say? A toolkit of faithful responses to the racist rhetoric of U.S. President

Introduction by GCORR President Bishop Bledsoe and General Secretary Erin Hawkins
As the President and General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, we join with other social, spiritual, and political leaders who have expressed their outrage and denounced the racist comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump in relation to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some parts of Africa.
The comments themselves are willfully ignorant, hurtful, and unbecoming of any person who calls themselves a leader. The fact that the very nations criticized by the President have been subject to an insidious history of colonization, where their rich human, natural, and material resources have long been and even today continue to be exploited, stolen, and unethically controlled, only gives further evidence to the reality of ongoing systemic racism. For too long communities of color around the world have been simultaneously targeted for their gifts and contributions, yet at the same time they are stereotyped as having no gifts or contributions worthy of acknowledgment and embrace.
While the comments made by the President are horrendous and a demonstration of the very ugly racial bias that he holds personally, what makes the sin of racism deeply harmful is the accompaniment of power to codify such bias in laws and policies. The negative impact of such bias shows up in immigration, education, justice, health, and humanitarian policies and erodes the fabric of communities around the world by denying access and opportunity and by undermining the provision of basic human rights.
Those who support and defend racist views like the ones attributed to the President and who encourage the exercise of power to oppress those who are the subjects of those views must be challenged at every turn.
When situations that shine the glaring light of truth on the sinful persistence of racism, bigotry and social division in our midst occur, a swell of outrage and condemnation typically ensues until the next news event rises to the forefront and everything goes back to business as usual. This coming Sunday, the gospel lesson recounts the story of fishermen leaving their nets behind to follow Jesus (Mark 1:14-20). We implore all who consider themselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ to leave behind the safety nets of nationalism, white supremacy, racism (and all other isms) and to follow Christ into a world where God’s intentional action of infusing diversity into all of creation still thrives. It is in this world where Christ fashions us to be Christians who share the love and embrace of Jesus with all people.
As long as oppression goes unchecked as business as usual, all of humanity suffers. It is our hope and prayer that United Methodists and all people of conscience will not allow business as usual to continue in the church or in the world. Our words and actions must continually work toward a new day, where love, peace, and justice reign and where all of God’s children can live a life of possibility and hope because the barriers of bigotry and exclusion have been torn down.

President, Bishop Earl Bledsoe
General Secretary, Erin Hawkins


Below you will find practical resources you can use in your ministry to foster productive dialogue that leads to greater community (vital conversations), promote awareness and relationships across lines of difference (intercultural competency), and work for equity in those systems that categorically exclude and disadvantage (institutional equity).    


Worship Resources

Scripture Reflection

Steps of Discipleship: A Reflection on John 1

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

We all have our own prejudice and bias. They are products of our cultures, learnings, and experiences. However, when prejudice and bias go unchecked, they are destructive to our humanity and tear at the fabric of community.

Like Nathanael, we ask “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” “Can anything good come from Haiti?” “Can anything good from Africa?” “Can anything good come from the other side of the track?” “Can anything good come from that neighborhood on the other side?”

As believers of Christ, we are called to follow Jesus. What does it mean to follow Jesus the Christ in today’s context where prejudice and bias are rampant and racism is displayed without shame?

Read Full Devotional Here


Prayer

Dear God, in our efforts to dismantle racism, we understand that we struggle not merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep racism alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.

Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by racial categories.

Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of racial stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.

Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed People of Color where we live, as well as those around the world.

Heal your family God, and make us one with you, in union with our brother Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Written by the Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team. Used with permission.

Litany

Leader: Come God,
Listen to the calling of those with nowhere to turn
at the point where support fails,
the majority turns away, and we/they are alone.

All: We cannot remain as bystanders and silent because we fear the authorities. For God you ask of  us to act justly.

Leader: We remember those who suffer family break-ups
as a result of unjust immigration laws.

All: We cannot remain as bystanders and silent because we fear the authorities. For God you ask of us to act justly.

Leader: We remember those whose human dignity is not valued and their humanity is not recognize as a result of rhetoric and actions that destroy imago dei.

All: We cannot remain as bystanders and silent because we fear the authorities. For God you ask of us to act justly.

Leader: God of justice, give us voice, take away our fear, move us from bystanders to advocates, shake up our prejudices and help us to get to a different place, to stand on common ground with those who demeaned and struggle for justice.
All:     Amen

                                                                        Adapted by Rev. Giovanni Arroyo
Resource: Evans, Abigail Rian. Healing liturgies for the seasons of life. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 374-475.

Prayer Offered by Bishop Schol

Most holy and gracious Creator,

Humbly we give thanks for you, a worker of wonders, a giver of life, the creator of us all. Thank you for reaching into the deep rich dark soil, for gathering gorgeous red clay, for taking handfuls of tan sand, and for gathering the warm brown earth to create your people. We are wonderfully made, each race, every person of every color reflects your image. Thank you for making us different and the same, for making us unique and like everyone else. Creator forgive us for hatred and bigotry. It is a sign of the continual struggle between good and evil, between honoring you as the creator and making the world after our own image. Give us the strength to love like you. Through Christ Jesus who taught us this same love we pray. Amen.

Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. Used with Permission.   


Vital Conversations Videos

Vital conversations help us to dig deeper than everyday talk, superficial debates between our already standing beliefs, or reinforcements of stereotypes, prejudices and privileges.

We have selected two videos from our Vital Conversations video series with nuanced reflections questions to further your learning:

Mistaking Urban Decay for “Blackness” by Brittany Campagna

1. When we equate urban decay with blackness we are saying that the people who have no other option but to live in debilitated areas of US cities are responsible for the sub-standard conditions in which they live. In reality, the systems that network to maintain and increase urban decay are the root cause and thrive in a context of systemic racism. Ms. Campagna names several systems that create, sustain, and protect racial injustice. What are they?

2. Rather than critically examine components of systemic racism, we are quick to blame those affected, criminalizing people of color who spend their days trying to navigate a social system designed to limit their options and reduce their quality of life. What are some of the ways we participate victim blaming and criminalizing people of color? How does our church engage in this?

3. Ms. Campagna states: “From the 1600’s to the 1800’s black folks were physically and mentally enslaved. From the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s Negros were economically and politically enslaved. Systems and practices, those derived from law and public policy, prevented African Americans from making strides in education, gaining their rights as full citizens, acquiring equal pay and gaining access to fair housing. While finally making strides in their education and careers, while finally sustaining black businesses and cultivating nuclear families, black folks are burdened with an identity they never earned.” Based on what you have learned, what is one way the church should engage in interrupting current systemic racism? What are three ways your church could engage in supporting social enterprise initiatives that could make a difference to people in your community who are caught in systemic racism?

Engaging Diversity in Vital Faith Communities by Rev. Jasper Peters

It is estimated that The United Methodist Church is 92% white and 8% ethnic. Many folks in all white churches claim a lack of diversity in their community as the reason for a homogenous church congregation. In doing so we fail to recognize those who work in restaurants and hotels as a part of our community and we render them invisible. Most of us live in multicultural communities, whether we choose to recognize it or not.

1. How might we transition our white congregations to a more multi-cultural or multi ethnic congregation?

2. How would you welcome those who are ethnically different from the majority of the congregation?

3. Imagine your new pastor is ethnically different from your congregation. How would you extend welcome to your new leader?

4. What language would your church have to eliminate to become a welcoming multicultural space?

5. What are the risks as a white church moves to a multicultural church? Are they the same as the risk for an all-Latino, all-Asian, all-African American churches moving to a more multicultural church?


Intercultural Competency Resources

“Culture is the everyday stuff of life that feels normal and natural, to a group of people, who share time, spaces, and meaning” (paraphrase from Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s definition of culture). Intercultural competency equips us to remember that our culture is not the only culture out there, that someone else’s culture is equally “normal and natural” to them, and that building relationships across cultures takes equal part learning and commitment. Just “knowing about” another culture is not the same thing as responsibly using another cultural lens to understand and respect another person, group, or place.

Entering into the Story of Others

Everything has an entry point. Our homes offer front, back, and sliding doors as entry points into our lives, our families, our celebrations, and our grief. Our stories offer places where we invite people into our experiences, values, hopes, and concerns. Entering into the stories of others often requires us to know or acknowledge our own “entry points.”

5 Ways to Diversify the Table

Jesus’ life was a prime example of what it meant to “diversify the table.” Sometimes the table was literal: a place where he broke bread and drank wine with his disciples or along the shores of Galilee with Peter after the Resurrection. Sometimes the table was metaphorical: a place where Jesus invited the marginalized into community with him, to be a part of building the Kin-dom of God. Jesus’ invitation to the table meant there was always perpetual space for whosoever wanted to come.

How can we model our invitations to the table – both literally and metaphorically – in ways that honor Jesus’ model and hopes for the world?


Institutional Equity Resources

Cultural incompetency and racism function on a wide spectrum ranging from individual biases and stereotypes, to interpersonal interactions, to organizational policies, to infrastructure (government, education, laws, justice) ethos. Institutional equity focuses on areas where “what we think” becomes what we do in the workplace and the common spaces, the denominational structures and the public square.

Akwaaba: Learning the Art of Hospitality from Akan Wisdom

“Akwaaba,” from the Akan language of Twi, literally means “you are welcome to this place.” In contrast to invitations which allow people simply to share spaces, Akwaaba points to a welcoming that is inclusive of a person’s full self – the kind of radical welcome that resonates in the life of ministry of Jesus the Christ.

Escaping the Cycle of Individual Racism

For the sin of racism to be eradicated, and for the harmful, even fatal consequences, of racism to be eliminated from people’s lives, we must resist racism not at the level of our own hearts but at the heart of racism itself – the systems. Each individual expression of racism is fueled or protected by the system of racism. Each racist comment made is the consequence of learning that the system of racism is true and acceptable. For us to truly escape the cycle of individual racism – we must be willing and capable of interrogating and dismantling racism at its core – the system itself.

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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.