The United Methodist Church And Its Failure On Race

by Aaron Gray
Wheat Ridge United Methodist Church
Denver

I am an African American male serving a predominately Anglo congregation and sharing our facility with an Hispanic fellowship in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Wheat Ridge is a small community of 30,000, which is in transition and trying to find its identity. The Town of Wheat Ridge has invited the pastors of the various churches here to be apart of these discussions. I have participated as I just believe that this is the nature of the United Methodist Church.

But after the recent Supreme Court deccision on the Voting Rights Act, and in my opinion, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, I feel that the United Methodist Church has been quiet and that is sad. We have publicly stated that what we stand for is opposed to so much of what is happening around us.

I am referring to our Social Principles which has this powerful statement in regards to race-part of the whole section on the Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons. These words seem to have particular value at this moment. ” We further assert the right of members of racial and ethnic groups to equal opportunities in employment and promotion; to education and training of the highest quality; to nondiscrimination in voting”

There is that old expression, we must practice what we preach. Why is this so important? Again in my opinion, our Supreme Court is now another activist and, I would dare say, political body. the gutting of The Voting Rights Act was a political action and we can see the results already as some states are banning early voting or requiring a political ID to vote. Other examples are gerrymandering, which has the greatest impact on communties of color, eliminating voting on Sunday which was a practice in the Black Church in the deep south to go to worship, and then head to the polls together to vote.

These are all political moves now supported by a politically active Supreme court. We know that our current Congress has the lowest standing in history, but we can save this for another conversation about the failure of collaboration and its impact on the world. For now, my concern is the right to vote and, if this a politicaical moment, let us recall our history and the marches led by Congressman John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is not grandstanding to say that people were beaten and killed while advocating for many civil rights which included the right to vote. Some of our most respected political figures feared signing on to the movement of civil rights, and the demands that in every part of our nation, people of all races would have equal access to the voting booth. But the pressure they received was not only political, but also that it was morally and ethically right.

My generation recieved the benefit of the sacrifices of so many others. Sadly now, a new generation may know more of the past than the present, and may face battles that were for this right, which is now threatened. The Church was at the forefront of the voting for this right which is now threatened. The Church was at the forefront of the voting rights initiative and truly to be quiet at this time, is running the risk of being irrelevant.

I do not expect everyone to agree, in fact I hope there are some who do not. We could then model what conversation and dialogue are really about, and out of this struggle will come a process which can give leadership at this crucial time. All of this feels much better than simply letting the world pass us by and being safe in our comfort zones.

“We can be keepers of the aquarium rather than fishers of men and women”. We often use this expression in regards to church growth, but it applies in so many other ways. Any thoughts?

Rev. Aaron M. Gray
Pastor Wheat Ridge United Methodist Church
Wheat Ridge, Colorado

 

Join the conversation....

  1. The Supreme Court is an activist court, on that we agree. I agree with the striking down of the voting rights act because of why they did it. They declared that it was essentially no longer the same era and as there have been many improvements in racial relations that the act as purposed in the 60s (1965 I think?) was no longer applicable. It went to great lengths in the published opinion stating that this did not in any way prevent congress to revisit the issue and to draft legislation that would better reflect the current culture. I think that we often chose how we wish to look at things and rather than look at this as threatening the voting rights of anyone, I chose to look with hope that the court is correct and those measures taken in the 60s are not needed now. Is there a necessity for new protections? Perhaps there is and congress has promised to consider that. As imperfect as it is, that is how our government functions. I do not believe that the court said that there did not need to be protections, or even that there did not need to be protections, it simply acknowledged that we are in a different world now than we were in in the 60s and because of that the protections once needed are not needed now. They did not say there was not a need for voting protections, just that the ones enacted previously were out of date.

  2. What is your point? Speaking of the present, Hispanics and Blacks are able to vote without obstruction, but unable to worship together in many mainstream church congregations. Outside of the U.S. Supreme Court "so-called" activists, the immediate concern should be with U.M.C. pastors who continue to promote their own political activism and ignore the obvious Sunday morning isolationism within their own church pews. Out of curiosity, why is the "Hispanic fellowship" in the Wheat Ridge United Methodist Church segregated from the "predominately Anglo congregation," as you indicate in your first sentence?
    Dios le bendiga

  3. pastorjon1 says:

    Aaron you're comments are right on and yes our church leadership is as quiet as they are on many of our pressing issues. Perhaps the majority of our clergy comrades are also quiet for personal protection vs. prophetic courage.
    The silence is very troubling especially since all of us have a pulpit painted with the blood of those who died for others including the greatest radical of all time,Jesus. Take care Aaron and keep up the challenge.

  4. Gil Caldwell says:

    Thank you Aaron Gray for your letter. I have long felt that the United Methodist

    Church, more than most denominations, could be more active in response to our continuing need to teach, preach, discuss and provide leadership re; issues of race that still challenge us. Most of us now know that the election of Barack Obama as our first African American President did not usher in a post-racial/racist era. We celebrate his election, regardless of any differences we may have with him and his administration, because his election gives living testimony to the movement toward racial equality that is a reflection of our nation at its best.

    Yet, we know that even as every President experiences criticism, some of the criticisms of President Obama reflect the fact that there are those who have not

    yet exorcised the demons within them that relegate black persons to second class status. The questions about his birth and birth certificate, his religion, and

    the legitimacy of his "Americanism", suggest that some persons have not yet

    embraced the rich human diversity of our nation. These persons seem to believe

    that some Americans are more equal and legitimate than other Americans. I was

    astounded when some persons who on camera were asked what their opinions were of Obama Care, offered opinions that indicated that they did not like it or trust it. Yet, when asked about the Affordable Care Act, they praised it.

    The United Methodist Church at every level of our structure, has persons of color

    in leadership and participatory roles. We have been intentional as a denomination in achieving this. But, if we who are people of color and those who

    are our allies and advocates, do not consistently express the fact that on matters

    of racial justice, "We have miles to go before we sleep" (Quoting out of context the words of poet Robert Frost),we fail the future. And, our children and their children will have to confront "America's Original Sin; Racism". (Sojourners magazine), as we have. Thanks Aaron for your words expressed with such

    sensitive clarity.

Your thoughts?

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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