Asking the hard questions about race

Translate Page
The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo serves as top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, the agency formed to hold the denomination accountable to its commitment to reject racism in the life of the church. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo serves as top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, the agency formed to hold the denomination accountable to its commitment to reject racism in the life of the church. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Key points: 

  • The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo went from preacher prodigy to lead executive at the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.
  • Arroyo is determined to avoid tokenism as a substitute for racial progress.
  • A friend and colleague said Arroyo is skilled at navigating subcultures.

The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo poses a difficult question to white United Methodists who say they want an end to racism.

Do you want racial justice enough to voluntarily relinquish some of your power? Even those who say “yes” to this tend to make such changes in ways that don’t really shift things, said Arroyo, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race since Aug. 31.

“The church has all these committees,” Arroyo said. “They look around to see who's missing, which is a great question that we should be asking.”

But the tendency is to add a chair to the existing table for minority representation, rather than have one of the current committee members step down.

“As long we keep adding a chair, the power dynamics still don't change,” said Arroyo, the first Latinx person to lead a United Methodist general agency. “When people are willing to step up and relinquish that seat and get someone else, then you start to shift that power and allow new ways of being. To me, that's a challenge for the church, and that's the challenge of diversity and inclusion.”

Arroyo knows firsthand about being an “other.” A native of Puerto Rico, he arrived in the U.S. as a boy. His family attended Knickerbocker United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he first felt a calling to ministry.

“My parents were Presbyterian, but we couldn't find a Spanish-speaking Presbyterian church in Brooklyn,” he said. “My aunt … found a Spanish-speaking church in Brooklyn, and Knickerbocker was a place that nurtured me. It was there that the community embraced my family, and they really cared for discipleship that provided a deep mission of who God is in that time.”

By the age of 10, Arroyo was “playing church” in the living room of the family apartment, leading 16-20 other children in worship.

“By the age of 12, I preached my first sermon at Church for All Nations in Manhattan,” he said. “And then I started to preach in my local church and preach for the district.”

Arroyo was a pre-med student and studied psychology in college. He earned advanced degrees in clinical mental health, management and divinity.  

Before committing to ministry, Arroyo was a researcher at The City College of New York, studying language and psychology. He’s researched violence and child abuse, drug addiction in young adults and taught English as a second language.

“Gio is bilingual, probably trilingual,” said the Rev. Stephen Handy, pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. “That helps him navigate through subcultures.”

Handy got to know Arroyo in his role as a Religion and Race board member.

“He has an appreciation for difference — difference of language, difference of customs and practices and patterns. He finds a way to align himself and integrate the value of other people's culture and perspectives in his work.”

After starting his career as a pastor in 2001 in Connecticut, Arroyo was called into service after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, counseling bereaved relatives of victims at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He left the New York Conference on loan to the Baltimore-Washington Conference in 2004 to serve as pastor of two Hispanic congregations and hold other leadership posts. 

In 2010, Arroyo was hired as the team leader for program ministries at Religion and Race, responsible for programming and resources.

Subscribe to our
e-newsletter

Like what you're reading and want to see more? Sign up for our free daily and weekly digests of important news and events in the life of The United Methodist Church.

Keep me informed!

Since being appointed to the top job at the agency in 2021, Arroyo has continued the policy of making GCORR less U.S.-centric.

“In 2012, activities expanded to the worldwide church, but our budget was reduced,” he said. 

The agency’s budget was cut from about $7.7 million to $7.4 million for the 2013-16 quadrennium. 

“There's more need with less resources; more demand, but not enough supply,” Arroyo said. “That's the reality of where we live.”

Historically, the agency generated its educational materials in the U.S. and made them available to Methodists who live elsewhere.

“Those resources were very U.S.-focused,” he said, “and so I have invited siblings from the central conferences to be contributors to the development of resources.”

African United Methodists have an act of Pentecost resource being finalized for GCORR, and it will be offered to U.S. churches, he said.

“We really had to be intentional about our central conferences and the worldwide nature of this work,” Arroyo said. “What does that look like when we look into the contextual reality in South Africa or the Philippines or Europe?”

Arroyo said he has many questions still to answer about the agency’s future, including:

  • “How do we get GCORR resources to churches more efficiently?”
  • “How do we respond to the reality of white churches who want to make this work, but don't know how to do it?”
  • “How do we continue to provide spaces for training and consulting, but still lead the church in conversations?”
  • “What is our strategy with the central conferences?” 

“When we look at the reality of who we are as United Methodists, the denomination does not reflect our society,” Arroyo said. “We have very, very white family membership. … Churches are in places that sometimes don't reflect the community that we serve.”

To change this, Arroyo is cultivating agility among his staff.

“I told the staff, ‘Right now, we are in the airport terminal trying to get boarding passes printed so that we can get on the plane and figure out where we sit,’” Arroyo said. 

“This is our Southwest Airlines approach, where you want to be very clear about what role you will play, and how each will build on each other’s skill sets.”

Patterson is a UM News reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected] To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Bishops
During his first address as Council of Bishops president, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton urged fellow United Methodists to begin pivoting toward what they hope The United Methodist Church will be in the future. Bickerton’s address was livestreamed on the opening day of the Council of Bishops virtual meeting, which will be in open session again Aug. 26. Screengrab courtesy of the Council of Bishops via Zoom by UM News.

Bishop urges end to falsehoods, pivot to future

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton used his first address as Council of Bishops president to call on backers of a breakaway denomination to stop mischaracterizing The United Methodist Church.
Church Leadership
A Duke University study on salary disparities between Black and white United Methodist pastors in North and South Carolina shows that Black pastors make substantially less than their white counterparts. Researchers have offered strategies to close the gap. Graphic by Laurens Glass, UM News.

Striving for equity in pastor salaries

A Duke University study on salary disparities between Black and white United Methodist pastors in North and South Carolina shows that Black pastors make substantially less than their white counterparts, and the researchers offer up some strategies to close the gap.
Racism
The Revs. Pauline Kang and Motoe Foor lead Holy Communion during opening worship at the 2018 Ohana Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference was held by the Association of Asian American and Pacific Islander Clergywomen (AAPIC) and the National Association of Korean American United Methodist Clergywomen (NAKAUMC). Photo by Thomas Kim, UM News.

Ask The UMC: How can United Methodists address racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders?

Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States have continued to face racism from governmental actions and white supremacy since at least the middle of the 19th century. United Methodists are called in baptism to resist these and all forms of evil, injustice, and oppression.