Sound the alarm: An open letter to the United Methodist Church

by the Reverend Doug Cunningham*

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.  Between the vestibule and the altar, let the pastors lead our congregations in weeping.  Let them say: “Spare your people, O God, and do not make your heritage a mockery…”  JOEL 2:15-17 

This is not the time for usual pastoral letters indicating support for the aggrieved while being careful not to offend the white majority. The killing of black teenagers is rampant nation-wide, and is now legal in Florida.

A lot of white people don’t see a problem with this verdict and United Methodists in the United States are 92% white.  Denominational leaders, who are already concerned about institutional decline, may not want to risk ruffling white feathers on this one.  But this moral crisis must be addressed.

When an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed in my community by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer last year – in the teenagers’ own home – it occurred to me that this wouldn’t have happened in the white suburb where I grew up.  When I joined twelve pastors in a  meeting with the NYPD’s Bronx commander about the shooting, the black and Latino pastors also shared their personal experiences of being harassed by the NYPD.  Neither I nor any of the other white pastors had a similar story to share.

To what extent was George Zimmerman’s suspicion of Trayvon Martin connected to race?   Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and its interpretation in the Sanford verdict declare that it was legal for George Zimmerman to follow his suspicion, confront the teen, and then when feeling threatened, to kill him.

In the words of one black father, “Now, what do I tell my boys?  We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly. So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?” (Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed page, New York Times, July 15, 2013.)

It is time for United Methodists to declare a fast – a national day of mourning in all our congregations.  And then we should decide not to hold any denomination-wide meetings in Florida until it rescinds its “Stand Your Ground” law. This will sound the alarm in Florida and across the country, and encourage some much-needed straight talk about race.

*The Rev. Doug Cunningham is a the pastor of the New Day United Methodist Church in The Bronx, NY. Rev. Cunningham has previously served as a General Board of Global Ministries missionary to the Philippines. 

Leave a Reply

13 Comments on "Sound the alarm: An open letter to the United Methodist Church"

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)
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
There is nothing wrong with Stand Your Ground Laws. How would you like to be a woman living only with her children when an armed intruder, intent on who knows what, breaks into your home? Or a woman driving alone on her way home from her job late at night when she is run off the road or has car trouble? There is nothing wrong with being able to defend yourself and your property. Why do liberal church leaders continue to demonize perfectly legitimate actions just because they do not personally agree with them? Why should I feel guilty because… Read more »
Segregation–fear–blatant racism–is never one sided. It is NOT one color. No ethnic group–from caucasian to black–has a franchise on it. Be mad!! Yell names at each other !! Blame everyone except oneself!!! Have conversation!!!! And, after all of this is said and done–and voices are hoarse from all of the screaming, come together in dignified forum, with no preconceived ideas or philosophies that dictate "YOUR side should give in to MY side" and start dialogue anew. Oh, and first and foremost–invite Father/Son/Holy Spirit into the midst of the dialogue. Genuine solution/peace will come–but it will come very, very slowly…………………………..
Stand your Ground was incorporated in the Jury instructions which are easy to find online. Pay attention to page 12: "If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." This is at the… Read more »
If we stop for a moment and view history in the eyes of all black persons. You can see from slavery that white masters took advantage of slave women and then crawled into bed with a wife fearful to speak the truth. During the following years white men would kill blacks on Saturday night and sing amazing grace in church the next day. I see all the laws being pass by white men with the same mentality and white women and other afraid to speak for fear of past retributions. The killing in Florida is a look into the reality… Read more »

This is one of the most irresponsible articles I've seen published in a long time. It is NOT legal to kill anyone in Florida. I categorically REJECT your assertion that the United Methodist church should boycott Florida or anywhere else where Constitutional protections of our fundamental right to self-defense are honored, and furthermore, your distorted logic and pandering to racist allegations is abhorrent, especially by someone who purports to be 'clergy'. SHAME ON YOU.
Rev. Cunningham has a point all persons of faith should be concerned about but to use the Zimmerman Case in Florida may be the wrong case to bring his argument to the table. At least with the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law. This law was not used by the defense. They argued self defence which appeared to be the right way for them to argue the case. It sounds as if Rev. Cunningham is not in agreement with the verdict of the jurors who had all the evidence before them to study. We all who followed the trial have an… Read more »

As a life-long white member of the UMC, I implore bishops, district superintendents and pastors to heed the wisdom in this open letter to the UMC. We must shame ourselves if we do nothing to condemn the wholesale murder of teenagers.


Of course, the only reason General Conference was held in Tampa, Florida, was because Richmond, Virginia, had a minor league team called The Braves. At this rate, we'll eventually run out of states to boycott. Trayvon Martin's death was a tragedy, and I do not count myself a George Zimmerman "supporter," but the case had "reasonable doubt" written all over it.


I agree, although a more telling economic boycott might be needed. What would hit those who can change the law in their pockets? Something marketed as "from Florida" or available only in Florida. Oranges? Lemons? Disney?

%d bloggers like this: