Introduction: Seek Justice

October 1st, 2016

“Do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8 (CEB)

During a recent visit to the campus of a major university, I overheard a senior tell a group of potential recruits, “We are very blessed to have a really diverse student body on campus.” I found myself wondering how many United Methodist pastors could say the same thing about their congregations. According to the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of United Methodist members (in the United States) are white.[1] Our churches are not generally strong examples of racial diversity. And beyond their composition, how are our churches struggling for justice and seeking mercy amid increased social stratification and alienation?

Given the tone and inferences of too much of the current political discourse, we might even wonder what happened to affirming the core value of diversity expressed in God’s good creation. It has been a difficult year of polarizing rhetoric in the United States. In that context we decided that Circuit Rider could offer church leaders provocative analysis and engaging ideas by lifting up several examples of how embracing God’s gift of diversity and bridging gender, cultural, racial, class, and other divides are blossoming in our communities.

In this issue you’ll meet F. Willis Johnson, speaking from the parsonage and UM congregation that “bookends” the Ferguson, Missouri, police station, which for over a hundred days was the focal point of protests after the killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Willis tells how he learned to facilitate life-and-death conversations about race and inequality and offers counsel for leading change in your community. His new book Holding Up Your Corner, a video-based group study, encourages us to gather, talk, listen, and learn more about how we can join in the struggle for racial justice.

Mai-Anh Le Tran teaches Christian education at Eden Seminary in St. Louis. She, too, writes about the Ferguson protests and asks, “What does it mean to be a person of faith in a violent world?” In her book Reset the Heart, she calls for reform of Christian education and details how to prevent and unlearn violence.

Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, who helped shape the newly released CEB Women’s Bible, reminds us that “the variety of human voices, experiences, identities, and perspectives in the world is a God-given gift.” Will Willimon describes how to confront racism through preaching in a selection from his book Who Lynched Willie Earle? And Michael E. Williams offers three guidelines to help preachers “decide whether to take a stand on issues that the culture considers political.”

Stephen Handy delineates ways to thrive in a cross-racial appointment. Mark deYmaz and Bob Whitesel want us to step outside our self-protective bubbles, and they offer tips from their book re:MIX about how to do this. Josh Davis and Nikki Lerner, who lead at multiethnic congregations, present practical suggestions on how diverse people can authentically and joyfully worship together.

Tex Sample, whose book A Christian Justice for the Common Good shines a light on ministry among exploited and dominated white working-class folks, urges all “to enter into alliances with people of color so necessary to reform the violations of race, class, and gender in this society.”

With the benefit of so much insightful and well-grounded guidance, how will we seek justice and join in God’s transformation of the part of the world where we each live and work?

Rev. Brian K. Milford
President and Publisher
The United Methodist Publishing House

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