Witnessing Against White Supremacy: August 30, 2017

Missional OutreachAround the Conference, Missional Outreach

Examples of faithful leadership and take-aways moving forward

By Rev. Andrew Fiser
Associate Director of the Center for Missional Outreach

In the aftermath of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., United Methodists have responded in a number of ways to denounce racism and white supremacy. Bishops and clergy have called upon congregations to denounce racism and white supremacy as moral evils (See Bishop McKee’s statement here). Many of us assumed these were self-evident truths in modern day America. We were wrong.

Methodists of color have persistently attested to the continued violence and biases people of color have continued to face. Names like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and Jordan Edwards have reminded some that racial bias and systemic racism are still deadly.

It appears now that there is a rising tide of hate and animosity on the part of disgruntled whites that has been emboldened by the recent presidential election. White supremacist groups have felt encouraged by the mixed messages coming from the highest offices of the land. Hate group watch-dogs like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) say that more hate crimes and violence should be expected.

Here are a few ways that some North Texas United Methodists have responded:

Preaching & Witness: North Texas clergy were urged by Bishop Michael McKee to address the events at Charlottesville in the following Sunday’s worship. Many clergy took time in prayer, preaching, and witness to denounce white supremacy and racism. Statements were issued by many congregations and pastors to help congregants find the moral and theological footing to stand against racism as they encounter it during the week.

Presence at Rallies: In Dallas, more than twenty UMC clergy and numerous lay persons attended one of the two Rally Against White Supremacy events demanding the City of Dallas remove Confederate monuments from public property to appropriate museums. Clergy at these events spoke at these gatherings, stood in solidarity with interfaith colleagues, or served as “peace-makers” who de-escalated potentially disruptive situations. When a known violent protest group (Antifa) began moving to pick fights that would overshadow the rally, a group of clergy attempted to intercept the group and preached against using violence. And at the rally the two days before Charlottesville, clergy physically blocked the path of white supremacist protestors who disrupted the speech of Rev. Michael W. Waters of Joy Tabernacle AME Church.

Thousand Minister March: In solidarity with other groups across the country, Rev. Rachel Baughman and Oak Lawn UMC hosted an interfaith gathering remembering the 54th Anniversary of the March on Washington as well as the anniversary of the death of Emmett Till. After a time of prayer, readings, an address by Bishop McKee, and preaching, the clergy group marched to the statue of Robert E. Lee nearby and prayed for the uprooting of not only the statue, but the white supremacy it undergirds.

Ecumenical Leadership: In Dallas, several United Methodist clergy are active leaders in Faith Forward Dallas, which is “a broad and diverse coalition of Dallas’ faith leaders, dedicated to service, hope, and a shared vision for our North Texas community.” Faith Forward has assisted with a number of the rallies and efforts against white supremacy in Dallas.

What You Can Do:

  1. Community Leadership Groups: Find or start a multi-ethnic ministerial alliance or leadership group in your community and commit to being a part of its work. Relationships across lines of difference take time. But building trust and the capacity to hear one another creates the infrastructure for change in a community.
  2. Public Events: If there is a rally against white supremacy or racism that you can attend, go and just be present. Listen for what God is saying. How is God’s justice for the oppressed at work? What is behind the emotions expressed?
  3. At Home, Work, and Deer Camp: Few people enjoy confrontation. But it is only through being called-out on racist, anti-Semitic, or white supremacist language and ideas that we can learn to follow Christ whose life, death, and resurrection opened up communion with God to all people. If it’s important enough for you to talk about it on Sunday morning, its important enough for you to talk about it elsewhere.
  4. Study Together: Pick a resource to study racism and structural racism as an individual, Sunday School Class, or small group. The UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race has a number of resources to guide you.