Confronting Racism

A Newsletter Article to the Members and Friends of the Rush United Methodist Church

Over a six-week period spanning January and February I participated in an Upper New York Conference supported class titled “Imagine No Racism,” or INR, as most call it. It was my third time in the past five years. Why would I repeat a class that I’d already completed twice before?

Racism matters to me.

If I do not intentionally address the issue of racism, I regress in my cultural competency and ability to pastorally shepherd the Rush United Methodist family. Empathy wanes. I let things slide. I look the other way. Personal discipline is required to intentionally remain engaged in the conversation about the evils of racism and the effort to stamp it out. It is important to make the intentional effort to educate myself, to listen and learn, because I am constantly discovering how complex and pervasive the evil of racism has become today. Listening and learning lifts every voice and makes it sing.

Racism is a Christian issue. Our baptismal vows define racism as anti-Christian and must be renounced and resisted “in whatever forms they present themselves.” Jesus confronted racism often and everywhere. Samaritans were mix-race people who many Jews despised, yet, Jesus identified a Samaritan as a neighbor to be loved. (Luke 10:25-37) Nathanael resisted Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus because he asked if anything good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:43-51) Jesus healed a man born blind. The Pharisees investigated and terrorized the man’s parents, who feared being put out of the synagogue. Jesus challenged the religious system that supported an unjust status quo. (John 9:13-34) A Canaanite woman humbled Jesus by her faith when she begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Sisters and brothers of color depend on Christians in the white community to renounce and resist racism. Thaddeus, a member of my recent INR class, observed the fact that aggressively resisting and renouncing racism might quickly lead to him being dead like George Floyd. As a white person, I must take responsibility to aggressively resist and renounce racism when my black brothers and sisters cannot.

Too often attention is focused on individual abhorrent acts of racism. You have seen the videos on the news or in social media. Each act of racism is gut wrenching. Yet, rarely is attention focused on the institutions, systems, and laws that support wickedness, evil, injustice, and oppression. This lack of light and clarity provides cover for many of us to say “I’m not like that. I’m not a racist” all-the-while justifying apathy and inaction to break down the very systems that allows racism to continue.

Shane Wiegand, a wonderful teacher in the Rush Henrietta Central School District, opened my eyes to the history of structural racism in Monroe County in a class he gives to the community. I learned veterans of color following World War II were ineligible for home mortgages, leading to many families growing up in rental housing, depriving them of building home equity and bequeathing that wealth to future generations. Have you ever heard of deed covenants and redlining? Structural and institutional racism surrounds us. The resulting injustice continues from generation to generation. Do an internet search on “Shane Wiegand”. His class and slides are on YouTube. His research, data, and presentation is stunning.

Racism harms the church and silences the voice of the Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church, as well as others, has a long history of being guilty of racism. Why are there black Methodist denominations like the African American Episcopal Church (AME) and the African American Episcopal Church Zion (AME Zion)? Because people of color were not welcome and grew tired of being treated unjustly. Being a life-long United Methodist, I own it. As United Methodists, it is our responsibility to own our history, to repent, and to deconstruct racism whenever and wherever possible.

Racism silences the Holy Spirit. This cannot be tolerated. The Holy Spirit speaks through all people, if only you and I listen. When I don’t listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through neighbors of color, I’m turning a deaf ear to God. Lord, forgive me.

When the membership of our church family is rich in diversity we become vital and strong, much more aware of the needs of the community in which we live, and better able to love every neighbor. I’ll never understand the needs of my black or brown neighbor if I don’t ever hear their voice. Diversity doesn’t just happen. A passive approach is insincere. Intentional effort is required to learn and employ effective means of inclusive, welcoming discipleship.

You matter to me. Your race, culture, experience, gender, values, and beliefs matter to me. I hope and pray that you will Imagine a World without Racism and will work with me to make it happen. Learn more about INR at our Upper New York Conference webpage: https://www.unyumc.org/ministries/corr/inr The content and videos are worth your time, attention, prayer, and reflection.

Learn more about the intersection of racism and my personal journey of faith from the MLK Keynote address in January for the Rush-Henrietta Interfaith Clergy Council worship service: It is located on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/BJ67MzOeNUg

With pastoral love,

Todd

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