Note: This was written before the Black Lives Matter protest at General Conference. I will update as soon as I feed and bathe the kids and put them to bed. [Done. See below.]
I wish I had submitted a petition to General Conference calling for the United Methodist Church to initiate conversation to unite with our African Methodist sisters: the AME, AME Zion, CME and Union AME churches.
Such a unification would serve several purposes:
It would heal one of the more painful divisions in American Christianity.
The racial divide in Methodism is often thought of in terms of North and South Methodist churches splitting over slavery. That was certainly a painful division. But prior to that Methodism committed all sorts of racial sins. The most explosive being the expulsion of black worshipers, including Richard Allen, from St. George’s church in Philadelphia, giving rise to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. To rip praying Christians from their knees because of the color of their skin is about an egregious as I can imagine from a people claiming to be Christian. (“Perspectives on American Methodism,” page 111.) Similar incidences gave rise to the AME Zion Church.
Perhaps there has been work done to fully unify that I am unaware of. But these seem like wounds in the family that we have forgotten about. The Christian way seems to favor acknowledgement and reconciliation over forgetful separation.
It would legitimize Methodism as a voice on conscience in America on matters of race.
OK, so unifying the UMC with our black Methodist sister denominations would not cure racism in American overnight. In fact a new unified Methodist denomination would struggle internally with former UMs trying to dominate the others. Many UMs would feel like “they joined us”. I wish I had a solution to that conundrum.
At the same time, the UMC in America is 94% white as the nation is becoming increasingly non-white. This allows the UMC to be on the sidelines of some very critical matters in America. Do Black Lives Matter to the UMC? Do Hispanic lives matter? How can such a monotone denomination have a legitimate voice in a pluralistic society? In order for the UMC to have any legitimate voice on race in America, we need more color. We need the AMEs, AME Zions, the CMEs and the Union AMEs. In fact we need them so baldy, that we will have to give up being the UMC and form something altogether new.
All this because I believe America’s racial divisions need Methodist wisdom. Methodism provides both theoretical and practical concern. Our mission ethos is characterized by both justice and compassion. We speak smartly about walking with people and empowering the disempowered. Our organizational prowess means that a unified, truly diverse Methodism in America, truly devoted to healing the many racial divides in this country would be a true force to be reckoned with. If you dream of a diverse UMC and a racially healed America, well, bringing together the various Methodisms in America seems like a necessity. And it is such a necessity that I think a whole new Methodism is required.
It would honor, embrace and expand the work of the General Commission on Race and Religion and turn thoughts of dissolution of GCORR on its head.
GCORR is one of the best things about the United Methodist Church. They are our conscience and our guide on matters of race. So long as the United Methodist Church struggles with matters of diversity (and we do) we need a dedicated but independent guide. If the UMC were to unify with her black Methodist sisters, we would need GCORR to keep us from dominating. In fact we would need GCORR to better help us understand what it means to be both Christian and non-white in America.
In light of the current efforts to disband GCORR (because people of truth dislike monitoring?), an opportunity to grow in America by over 5 million members and over 10,000 congregations should appeal to any rational United Methodist. And any UM of conscience would understand that we need a healthy dose of humility and wisdom to unify in a right way. GCORR, through its emphasis on intercultural competency is well-suited for such an endeavor. It’s almost like they’ve been working hard for decades to help the UMC be less racist. Unifying with our black Methodist sisters would put this ethos and principle to its highest use.
So…given that the United Methodist Church still exists this Friday, perhaps we need to get to work to bring true racial unity to Methodism.
So as this post was in the hopper waiting to publish, a Black Lives Matter demonstration led by Dr. Pamela Lightsey disrupted General Conference for about 15 minutes. A march took place as chants denouncing racism and homophobia rang through the convention center. A lot went right about this. It was disruptive but not rude. It was passionate but not belligerent. The presiding Bishop allowed the matter to run its course without resorting to security. He then offered an explanation for international guests (which contained its own controversy) and a prayer. The conversation really took off on twitter where the echo-chamber of knee jerk reactions led the way. It was a perfect demonstration of a church’s struggle with matters of diversity.
Which leads me to an egregious omission from my original post…
One of the reasons the UMC needs her black Methodist sisters is for a jolt of black leadership. A church where only 2% of the membership is African-American cannot hope to effectively address racism in America. But I want my church in on this crucial matter (hell we helped start the mess…it seems only right that we help clean it up.) But we can’t because we’re too white. But we also have a lot of resources, both tangible and structural to effect great change on this matter…if only we knew how. So…add the need for more black leadership to the list of reasons we need to join with our black Methodist sister denominations.