About 200 delegates of color and friends gathered for a pre-General Conference orientation sponsored by the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race in the Oregon Convention Center May 10.
Participants included leaders of the ethnic caucuses and General Conference monitors as well as African, African-American, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic and Native American delegates.
Erin Hawkins, top executive for Religion and Race, said that while General Conference is “a wonderful opportunity to share, to learn and to live into what it means to be a worldwide connection tasked with the role of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” the work is not easy.
“We are still on the journey of moving from the paradigm of being a U.S.-centered church to a global one and from being a primarily white church to a truly multiracial one,” she said. “While we celebrate the diversity that exists within the church in every country and on every continent, utilizing that diversity as a pathway for deeper relationships … can only be achieved through intentional effort.”
Participants received Religion and Race’s “How to Be an Interculturally Competent Delegate at the 2016 General Conference” booklet designed to help delegates build relationships across the diversity of peoples and cultures represented at General Conference.
Small-group work at the gathering allowed participants to meet with other members of their legislative committees to discuss proposed resolutions, parliamentary process and the challenge of providing leadership to the various committees on which they would serve throughout General Conference.
With issues related to religion and race driving daily news headlines, delegates participated in the briefing with a heightened sense of purpose.
“I would love to be able to say that one day a briefing like this is not needed, but that day is not today,” said Sandra Johnson, a delegate, superintendent of the Abington District in the Holston Conference and a briefing participant.
Three basic principles
Referencing race-laced vitriol in popular political speech and religion-based discrimination and violence experienced in the U.S. and around the world, Hawkins said the church needs the work of the commission as much now as ever before to be relevant in the world the church is called to serve.
“For those who say the issues of religion and race are no longer relevant, turn on the television,” Hawkins said. “There’s no more code language, no more doublespeak.”
Hawkins urged delegates and the church to “wake up and stay woke” to the need to be vigilant in the work for racial justice and inclusion.
She also shared with the delegates three basic principles to consider as they evaluate proposed legislation and in discussions throughout General Conference.
- Intercultural, a term characterized by people being involved with and caring for one another, as opposed to “cross-cultural” relationships.
- Institutional equity, which involves creating systems and processes that level the playing fields and broaden inclusion rather than setting up new systems that exclude certain groups of people.
- Vital conversations, which describes conversations that focus on what is most important.
“There can be no vital church if we are unwilling to have vital conversations about the things that matter most,” Hawkins said.
She challenged delegates to evaluate discourse throughout General Conference by considering, “Is this a vital conversation or a smoke screen for something else?”
The Rev. David Wilson, Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference superintendent, prayed for the delegates at the close of the event, asking God to prepare them “to speak out for justice and to just do what is right.”
Moore is director of communications for United Methodist Women.