Ethnic groups add voices to inclusion calls

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The National Federation of Asian American United Methodists and Black Methodists for Church Renewal have joined with a 2012 General Conference coalition that supports all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation in The United Methodist Church.

This will be the first time two of the denomination's ethnic caucuses has joined with the Love Your Neighbor Common Witness Coalition, founded in the mid-1990s by Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries Network, three unofficial United Methodist organizations.

Several United Methodist bishops, retired and active, as well as ordained elders, deacons and laity have signed a statement to "embrace unity in Christ in the midst of diverse opinions" during the gathering of the denomination's top lawmaking body. The United Methodist 2012 General Conference will be April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.

Leaders throughout the church have signed the "For Love of God and Neighbor" statement, said the Rev. Steve Clunn, Common Witness Coalition coordinator.

"In the past they have typically done so as individuals. However, this is the first time that individual leaders have signed on our witness statement and in addition, whole organizations are signing on and have pledged to work as full coalition partners," Clunn said.

Focus on racial justice and inclusiveness

This coalition focuses on racial justice and full inclusiveness, said Pamela Crosby, executive director of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.

"Many decisions at the 2012 General Conference potentially directly affect churches/communities of color. This coalition means we will have common goals in ensuring the voices and ministries of justice, inclusion, global connection are valued, heard and respected," Crosby said.

Don Hayashi, president of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, said Asian Americans often are overlooked.

"We know what it is like to experience discrimination, so working in coalition with others for the elimination of discrimination &ellipsis; is part of the way we are living in to the Great Commandment of loving God and Neighbor together."
- Kathy Thomas-Sano

"We wish to be valued for who we are and the contributions we make," he said. "Our faith dictates that we respect all creation for we are all created in the image of God. We have no higher calling than to love God and our neighbor."

Signers of the Love Your Neighbor statement pledge to, among other things, work for racial justice, welcome gender diversity and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in full membership and ministry in The United Methodist Church.

"This is not BMCR's first advocation for LGBT rights. Last year at BMCR's national meeting, the caucus endorsed 'A Statement of Counsel to the Church,' the 2011 statement from retired bishops," Crosby said.

Advocating for full inclusion

"I think it is important for us to work with groups that are advocating for full inclusion of LGBT and all of God's people in the life of the church. We have worked together in informal ways in the past, so formally working together now just seems to be a natural progression of who we are and what we do," said Kathy Thomas-Sano, a member of the Asian-American caucus.

"We know what it is like to experience discrimination, so working in coalition with others for the elimination of discrimination in the church against LGBT persons and anyone else, is part of the way we are living in to the Great Commandment of loving God and Neighbor together," she said.

Affirmation was formed more than 40 years ago, "when the church decided some people were 'incompatible with Christian teaching,'" said Tim Tennant-Jayne, Affirmation co-spokesperson.

"It has beeninspiring to see the growing partnerships that embody a deep appreciation for our God-given diversity," said Jill A.Warren, executive director of Methodist Federation for Social Action. "Each of our groups has a long and storied history of speaking out when it would have been easier to be silent.Together we will speak out about what is possible through the love, grace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ."

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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