A group named by Bishop Bard will focus on anti-bias and anti-racism, “an essential part of our journey with Jesus.”
November 23, 2020 | LANSING — Reading the New Testament, one cannot help but be struck by the emphasis in Paul’s letter on the need for creating a new kind of community in Jesus Christ—one that breaks down dividing walls. Though this work should always be a part of the church, we have often failed at it. The events of this summer, particularly the brutal killing of George Floyd, the increased incidence of harassment and assault against Asian-Americans due to COVID-19, and the recent FBI report that violent hate crimes, especially against Latinx and transgender people, reached a 16 year high, are all stark reminders that the church in the United States needs to engage in anti-bias/anti-racism work afresh.
This is a painful, unfinished necessity for our country, as we come from a history of genocide, slavery, and laws of racial/ethnic discrimination, and many other forms of injustice and exclusion. In an honest and challenging self-reflection, we recognize that the church has often been complicit in keeping this work unfinished.
To respond and take seriously a call to address the ways we perpetuate bias and racism, Bishop Bard has formed a working group, at the request of leaders of the Board of Ordained Ministry, Conference Leadership Council, Committee on African American Ministries, Committee on Asian American Ministries, Committee on Hispanic/Latinx Ministries, Committee on Native American Ministries, and Board of Justice. Bishop Bard explains, “I am pleased to develop this group so that our church might engage in work that I view as an essential part of our journey with Jesus.”
The working group will be focused on several tasks for the good of the greater church and world. As an important part of our own spiritual journeys, we will engage in our own anti-bias/anti-racism work as a group. We affirm a commitment to identifying and dismantling all forms of oppression and injustice, but the working group will emphasize addressing racism. We recognize race as omnirelevant—it may not always be the single determining factor of a given inequality, nor even the most prominent one, but race is fundamental to understanding current systems of inequality. Analyses of inequality and privilege are incomplete without a systematic discussion of race.
The working group also recognizes that simply being “not racist” is not enough; we work to be anti-racist—being actively conscious about race and racism and taking actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives. Furthermore, as part of our tasks, we will involve outside consultants to help look at the conference’s structure and policies to make them more inclusive. We will encourage and develop resources for local United Methodist congregations to engage in anti-bias/anti-racism work to support this. We will work with district superintendents and conference staff to assist their engaging in anti-bias/anti-racism work as an essential part of the journey with Jesus.
The working group hopes to move the Michigan Conference more decidedly in the direction of the Beloved Community, which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as requiring “a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” The hope is that the Michigan Conference, its members, its ministries, and its congregations can progress its policies and engagement to embody diversity and equity values better.
Members of the working group were invited to serve in consultation with the Board of Justice’s divisions of Race and Religion and Church and Society, Committee on African American Ministries, Committee on Asian American Ministries, Committee on Hispanic/Latinx Ministries, and Committee on Native American Ministries. The working group consists of the following members:
- Emily Burns (Kalamazoo: Sunnyside UMC member and Sunnyside Free Store staff member)
- Ernestine (Tina) Campbell (Detroit: Second Grace UMC member and Convener of the Board of Justice’s Division on Religion & Race)
- Ken Chalk (Birmingham: First UMC member)
- Sang Chun (pastor at Atherton/Phoenix United Methodist churches )
- April Gutierrez (Adrian: First UMC member)
- Jennifer Hahm (Lansing: Grace UMC member and Ministerial Assessment Specialist with Board of Ordained Ministry)
- Robin Lees (Greensky Hill Indian Mission UMC member)
- Sonya Luna (Conference Coordinator of Hispanic/Latinx Ministries)
- Marshall Murphy (pastor of Harper Woods: Redeemer UMC)
- Simmie Proctor (Committee on African American Ministries co-chair)
- Albert Rush (pastor of Eastpointe: Emmanuel UMC and Convener of Board of Justice’s Division on Church & Society)
- B. Kevin Smalls (pastor of Southfield: Hope UMC)
- Shonagh Taruza (Minister of Outreach, Social Justice, and Diversity at Ann Arbor: First UMC)
- Matt Weiler (pastor of community formation, Kalamazoo: First UMC)
Bishop Bard will be actively engaged with the working group and said, “I am delighted to have this opportunity to work together with a diverse and talented group of people who will help our church take down barriers that stand in the way of realizing the Beloved Community.”
April Gutierrez and B. Kevin Smalls were elected as co-conveners of the working group. The conference staff support for the working group is Paul Perez (Director of Connectional Ministry) and Brittney Stephan (Associate Director of Multicultural Vibrancy). The working group meets monthly and has three smaller groups (Writing Team, Local Church Resources, and Consultant Selection) that meet between the larger group meetings.
The Working Group offers two resources it co-created with Brittney Stephan for you and your faith community:
- “Anti-Racism and the Church” Webinar, which aired November 10.
- “Birthing a Promise, Building a Movement: Ant-Racism Readings & Reflections for Advent,” an online devotional and daily advent calendar.
Additional intercultural competency and anti-bias, anti-racism resources can also be found at the Conference’s “Cultural Vibrancy Toolbox,” “Hispanic/Latino Toolbox,” and the Children’s Ministry Toolbox’s “Anti-Racism Children Playlist.”
Please be in prayer with the working group for humility and introspection as we examine and engage in our own anti-bias/anti-racism work. Pray for wisdom and discernment as we seek consultation and address policies and procedures. Pray for boldness and strength as we cultivate resources and move to encourage our whole community to do the difficult yet lifesaving work of being anti-racist.