Racial justice: A new movement

April 1st, 2016

As the Movement for Black Lives erupted from Ferguson, Missouri, and swept across the world, it expressed a sentiment that is consistent with our United Methodist theology and witness: Black Lives Matter. Wesleyan trained pastors Richard Allen and Absalom Jones expressed this sentiment in the 1840s when they led the African American members of St. George’s out the doors of a church in Philadelphia because they were treated as if their lives and prayers were not of equal or sacred worth. Despite the protests by early Methodists about belief in equality in the eyes of God, Jones and Allen knew that the truly Wesleyan way must balance acts of piety with acts of mercy.

Our actions must be consistent with our words. If we believe in racial justice, we must have no
tolerance for injustice in our leadership, churches, and neighborhoods. This is a part of our DNA as United Methodists. It drives us out of the pews and into the streets to make the world a reflection of our good and loving creator.

Complacency haunts our steps, however, which is why the white members of old St. George’s didn’t follow Richard and Absalom out those doors into the world. We struggle to make our beliefs and our behaviors line up.

Yet, we have another chance. At the end of 2014, shortly after the death of Michael Brown, the young adult leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church wrote to their church leadership demanding a response. At the beginning of 2015, the African Methodist Episcopal Church shared that demand with leaders in The United Methodist Church. At the beginning of 2016, many Methodists united with the Movement for Black Lives to lift up a name both movements claimed: Sandra Bland, who was until her death while in police custody a Methodist evangelist and a Black Lives Matter activist.

Within the branches of the pan-Methodist movement, a renewed commitment is rising to align and reform our theology and our practices concerning racial justice. If our young people are in the streets hurting and demanding justice, we must be there with these reformers, confronting and stopping abuse and oppression just as Wesley did, and Jesus before him. When the refugee is turned away from any of our borders because of xenophobia—fear of stranger—we betray the savior who was once a refugee fleeing for his life to Egypt. This reformation asks why human-made borders should supersede the God-made bonds put in place through baptism, through marriage, and through parenting, as voices cry out “not one more deportation.”

Something is happening in our world. Something dreadfully important is shifting in our neighborhoods and social structures. A reformation is taking place that seeks to cause our theology and practice of racial justice to line up with who we know God to be and how we know God to love. As this chapter is written, we pray that when future generations look back they will say that United Methodists did their part, kept their sacred promise to confront evil in the form of racial prejudice and violence against our neighbors.

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