Heartbreak. Prayer. Healing.
United Methodists are among many in the U.S. trying to figure out an effective response to violence and racism.
In a message sent July 8 to church members, politicians and police chiefs in Arkansas after two recent shootings of African-American men by police and the killings of police in Dallas, United Methodist Bishop Gary Mueller said his heart was breaking “for our nation enmeshed in a culture of violence.”
For those outside the church, an accompanying cover letter offered prayer and the bishop’s assistance as needed.
He expressed concern for “the violence unleashed against young African-American men in a nation that still has not yet addressed the reality of racism,” as well as for the deaths of the police officers shot in Dallas and for a situation in which the church “seems impotent” to bring about the reconciliation that society needs.
Most of all, Mueller wrote, his heart breaks “because we now are captives of fear. An entire community of people — especially parents — fear their sons will not survive. Police officers fear they will be vilified or killed as they try to protect and serve. We fear that the world is spinning out of control.”
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said the church is “in shock and mourning” even as it prays for those who lost their lives and for their families and communities.
“This week in the events of Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and in many communities across the U.S., we continue to see the horrors of oppression and racism that lead to acts of violence,” she wrote in a statement. “This is not who Christ calls us to be.”
Helping the church engage in this issue is a priority for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. “The deaths of five Dallas police officers in the wake of the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile serve as a reminder that the sins of racism and violence continue to plague this country,” said Erin Hawkins, the commission’s top executive.
How to respond?
“Recommit ourselves in prayer and action” to eliminating all forms of racism and a culture of violence, Henry-Crowe said.
React to violent incidents as “an opportunity to show up, speak out and be a source of healing in the communities that we serve,” Hawkins said.
Engage the power of the Holy Spirit “to embolden us to understand and act in ways we have not yet considered,” Mueller advised.
“We can seek to engage elected, community and spiritual leaders in serious and deep conversations to find a way forward by addressing the root causes of what is occurring,” he said.
Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected]