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Anti-Bias Anti-Racism moves forward

Call to anti-racism

The Michigan Conference, districts, and congregations will be aided on the journey to the Beloved Community by the Bishop’s Anti-Bias Anti-Racism Working Group.

March 15, 2021 | LANSING, MI — In the fall of 2020, Bishop Bard formed an Anti-Bias/Anti Racism working group for the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church 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 the Board of Justice.

The Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Working Group is developing resources for local United Methodist congregations, district superintendents, and conference staff to engage in anti-bias/anti-racism work. The group affirms a commitment to identifying and dismantling all forms of oppression and injustice, but the working group specifically addresses racism. The ultimate hope is to make as a reality Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the Beloved Community.

The working group met for a two-day retreat on January 29th and 30th in order to plan the way forward for the group and the Michigan Conference as a whole. As the group is made up of diverse members with a wealth of experiences with personal stories that inform their ministry, the group spent some time sharing their different personal stories and perspectives, as well as experiences within the local church and conference in order to help build relationships and trust as a group.

The work of the group is dependent on God’s guidance, and so some time was dedicated to worshipping together and being open to the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. It was acknowledged that there was a need to lament some of the pain and hurt experienced both on the personal as well as the collective level. This was facilitated by a time of lament and confession during worship. There was also room for hopeful celebration in anticipation of the work the group hopes to achieve.

It was important to clarify the group values that will inform this work. Some time was dedicated to this process. Both the group and the Michigan Conference are on a steep learning curve as far as the work of anti-racism goes, and it was recognized that a spirit of humility and a stance of openness are essential for this process. The group acknowledged that they are dependent on God’s grace, as well as grace for and from each other as they work together. They realize that it is inevitable that some mistakes will be made, but to also be courageous and boldly step out in faith as they proceed in this work. An emphasis was placed on the need for collaboration; valuing the different experiences, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives of the individuals while working together as a collective. This will enable them to truly envision and work towards a multicultural church, the Beloved Community.

After laying the foundations for the work together, the group started to set goals for their role in guiding the Michigan Conference in anti-bias/anti-racism work. They explored both one-year and five-year scenarios. For the one-year goals, the lessons of 2020 were acknowledged along with the need for the conference to recognize that anti-bias/anti-racism work should be a priority for all churches in the long-term.

While the team functions as a working group at the moment, the goal is to transition to a more permanent task-force in the future. The hope is:

  1. to be able to provide support and guidance to pastors and congregations looking to diversify their leadership,
  2. to encourage congregations to offer anti-bias/anti-racism programming (a book study, review of Social Principles, discussion of a race-related documentary/film, etc.),
  3. to provide stronger training for cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments (preparing both congregations and clergy),
  4. to include anti-bias/anti-racism training in the Provisional Process as well as continued Board of Ordained Ministry Training in cooperation with the General Commission on Race and Religion.

The five-year goals envisioned a future where the church is a safe place for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) with more diversity within the congregations, clergy and lay leaders, and more young people of color empowered in leadership positions within our churches. In order to achieve this, we need actively anti-racist congregations. The working group would help facilitate this. The goal would be for the Church to become a place of trust, embrace, acceptance, rest, and healing. At the same time, the need to strengthen and support historic congregations of color (Black, Latinx, Korean, Vietnamese, Native American, African immigrant) was acknowledged.

Out of the retreat, the working group submitted three resolutions for the Annual Conference to consider. The first motion would affirm and support the Bishop’s Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Working Group to provide guidance and coordination of Conference-wide anti-bias and anti-racism work in collaboration with appropriate Conference leaders and agencies. This would affirm that anti-bias and anti-racism work is a priority for the Conference and essential to our journey with Jesus. The second motion would move for the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Bishop’s Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Working Group, and the Cabinet to collaboratively create and implement training and support for clergy and congregations in Cross Racial/Cross Cultural appointments. The third moves to require all active clergy, Conference staff, and District staff to attend anti-bias and anti-racism training at least once every four years. The Board of Ordained Ministry and the Bishop’s Anti-Bias Anti-Racism Working Group shall develop this training. The first round of training shall begin in 2022 and be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2024. A report shall be provided to update the 2022 Annual Conference.

The Bishop’s Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Working Group consists of the following members:

  • Ernestine (Tina) Campbell (Detroit: Second Grace UMC member and Convener of the Board of Justice’s Division on Religion & Race)
  • 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: Immanuel UMC and Convener of Board of Justice’s Division on Church & Society)
  • 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)

The Conference staff support for the working group is Paul Perez (Director of Connectional Ministry) and Brittney Stephan (Associate Director of Multicultural Vibrancy). April Gutierrez and B. Kevin Smalls are co-conveners of the working group.