Churches should make fighting racism a priority

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Churches across America should make ending racism and race-based violence a priority, an African Methodist Episcopal bishop told a gathering of four historically African-American Methodist denominations in announcing a new initiative to fight racism.

When President Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was elected in 2008, many declared that the United States was entering a “post-racial era.”  

But AME Bishop Reginald Jackson on Sept. 2 reminded a gathering at the National Press Club that gross inequalities persist and vicious acts of race-based violence are ongoing. United Methodists took part in the Pan-Methodist Commission press conference.  

“It seems that 239 years after our nation’s founding, and 151 years since the Civil War, we are still not ‘One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all,’” Jackson said. “It is also discrimination and bias built into laws and policies — the racism of being stigmatized and targeted because of the color of our skin…that must be confronted.”

The four denomination held a series of events in Washington that concluded with a meeting at the White House. Leadership of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Union Methodist Episcopal Church joined together to launch the “Liberty and Justice for All” campaign.

Be sure to add the alt. text

Jim Winkler, secretary of the National Council of Churches and a United Methodist, spoke to a gathering of historically African-American Methodist denominations who are launching an initiative against racism. Photo courtesy of Steven Martin, National Council of Churches.

United Methodists support initiative

The Rev. Stephen Sidorak, ecumenical staff officer for The United Methodist Church, expressed his hope that the denomination will become full participants in this historic new partnership.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, the ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and Sidorak sent a letter to Jackson and the Pan-Methodist Commission bishops to say publicly that they stand with the Pan-Methodists in the event the work that will follow.

“Both our church and our nation have been in denial about the systems of racism that continue to exist.  Over the last year and a half, we have seen what the results of that denial can be.  The pain, injustice and death are heart-breaking and unnecessary,” they wrote.

“It is our fervent prayer that together our voices will be heard, and we may truly be the leaders God needs us to be.  We continue to uphold our commitment to the Pan-Methodist Commission, to looking at our own systems and how we hurt others, and to standing in solidarity as we face this evil together,” they wrote.

Jim Winkler, a United Methodist and top executive of the National Council of Churches, also spoke to the Pan-Methodist gathering.

“Today, all Americans, whether they admit it or not, have to be prepared for the possibility each and every day they may be shot and killed or wounded, whether they are in Bible study in church, sitting in a movie theater or attending school, driving their car down the street, standing at a bus stop, or reporting on tourism for the local TV station,” Winkler said.

“This is insanity.  This is a crisis of faith that most houses of worship do not address in any way.”

Objectives of campaign

CME Bishop Lawrence Reddick said the objectives of the “Liberty and Justice for All” campaign include criminal justice reform, education reform, economic justice, gun safety reform, and voting rights.

“As people of faith, we believe hearts can be changed.  But the problems and consequences of racism cannot, and should not, wait for changes in the heart alone,” said Reddick.  “Political leaders must act to do in legislative action for fairness and equality what changes of heart may be slow to do.”

Kathryn Lohre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for all Christians to join in this partnership, which touches issues at the core of the Gospel. “All of us are suffering—all of us together,” she said. “We are called first to confess and repent for our complicity in racial injustice, and then to recommit ourselves to overcoming racism in our houses of worship, and in society.

Churches are encouraged to celebrate Sunday, Sept. 6, as a Sunday of "Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.”  A litany has been developed for use in congregational worship.

Martin is director of communications and development for the National Council of Churches USA.

News media contact: Linda Bloom at (646) 369-3759 or [email protected]

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