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Our Conexión ep. 1: Racism and Christianity

 

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In this episode, Aileen talks to Tim Tanton and Dr. Rev. Giovanni Arroyo to discuss studies that show racism among white Christians is higher than the non-religious and how existing structural systems support that. You can read the full article mentioned in the podcast here: Racism among white Christians is higher than among the nonreligious. That's no coincidence.

Transcript

English

Prologue by Paul: 

Buenas familia. You’re listening to our conexion, the podcast where we talk about the realities of our ethnic communities and what that means for the church’s response. I’m your cohost, Paul and I’m so excited and kind of nervous to bring you our first episode of a project I think you’re going to love. Joining me today is my colleague, Aileen, who has the privilege of chatting with some inspiring leaders on this episode where we’ll talk about Christianity and racism. 

Aileen: Thanks Paul. My name’s Aileen Jimenez I work for the United Methodist Church at the Communications agency. And like Paul said, joining me is Giovanni Arroyo and Tim Tanton and I’ll just ask you both to introduce yourselves and tell us what you do. 

Giovanni: My name is Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo. I am a staff member of the General Commission on Religion and Race. One of the agencies of the United Methodist church. I am the team leader for program ministries, who oversees the programmatic work of our agency across the church. I'm also an ordained elder in the Baltimore Washington conference.

Tim: And I am Tim Tanton. I am on the executive staff at United Methodist Communications. I lead the news and information team, which includes UM news, which communicates the news of the church in five languages, as well as the “Ask the UMC” ministry, which is our information service, for the United Methodist church.

Aileen: Great. Welcome! So, let’s just jump right in. Racism and Christianity. I think that just saying those two words together out loud sounds contradictory. But it's 2020, we're living through the coronavirus pandemic. We're waiting for a historic general election and our country seems to be as divided as ever. specifically with race relations in the United States. A couple of months ago, NBC news published an opinion piece by Robert P. Jones, the CEO and founder of the public religion research Institute, racism among white Christians is higher than among the non-religious. That's no coincidence. So this article talks about how the nation's dominant cultural power, which is white Christianity has constructed and sustained a project of perpetuating white supremacy that has framed the entire American story. That's a strong accusation. That's a strong statement, you know, that's really bold. So you both work for the United Methodist church. I also work for the United Methodist church, but the, uh, which is the second largest denomination in the United States. So what are your thoughts on that statement? Or, you know, the thing that, that article is trying to portray.

Tim: Well, when I hear that statement. And when I read the article, I mean, it certainly resonated, you know, I think our history as a Methodist movement. In America really corroborate it's that statement. Our inability to faithfully address racism led to African American Methodists leaving and forming the denominations. Not once, but multiple times. You know, we have Methodist church leaders who owned slaves despite John Wesley's ardent denunciation of slavery. Our history as a church in America, uh, is a very troubled one, uh, when it comes to confronting racism and slavery. And so, you know, coming up to the 20th century, of course, Uh, you know, Methodists created a segregated jurisdiction that lasted for 30 years, and it was only dismantled when we went through the merger with the evangelical United brethren church. So, I think if you take the Methodist experience and lay it over the history of our country, uh, you see that these same types of actions have happened really across every major institution and, and at every level. And so you know, white people building and controlling the structures of governance and other institutions in the country, the perspective and values that have dominated our culture, so to speak have really been those of people in power – of white people. And so if you also look historically at the fact that throughout our history as a country, the leaders of our country, the leaders of our cities and counties have been members of our churches and the church. It should be said the church has had a positive influence in a lot of ways in shaping our country. But the church also has accommodated, prevailing, thinking around things like slavery and the church has allowed itself to be co-opted. And so I think that just looking objectively and impartially at our history as a country, I think one can't help, but come to the conclusion that. was shared. And as you said, Eileen and, mr. Jones in his statement. 

Giovanni: You know, Tim.  I appreciated you going over part of our history as a United Methodist church and the role it played and continues to play in white supremacy. As we imagine that when I read that, when I read the article, I had the, my first reaction was like, “Wow. That's a strong statement.” I think that's a statement that many people will immediately have a jerk reaction to it because when we think about us being the disciples of Jesus Christ, we have this rose image that we are loving, that we are accepting, that we are embracing of difference that we are just oriented individuals. And then see that this article states that when you look at white Christians, compared to non-religious affiliated, that they are more connected to white supremacy. I think it's important to note that Jones does the research behind it.  He does the racist index and tries to analyze, where the story is coming from. And I think that gives it a little more opportunity for us to open the conversation. What is it that the church has been doing that has even at an unconscious level – if we want to put it that way – has continued to push white supremacy in its practices, in its policies, in the systems. And then we think about like, you shared a history of this country. It's built on these Christian values. You know, our currency has “in God we trust,” a Christian value that has been pivotal to who we say we are as a U S society. Even though we are no longer a one- faith-group society. I think we're missing out on the pluralistic society that we are, the multiple faiths that people have, but still when we look at the powers of this country and then we look at the powers of the church and the role it has, when we look at Congress it is predominantly Christian leaders who are the ones who are putting in, enforcing rules and policies that continue to allow our culture group, the white community, to have more dominant power than others. And like you said, Tim, these are people from our local churches. These are people who sit in our pews. You know, when I looked at the latest data of our Congress, we have over 38 United Methodists in those seats. How are we informing, what is our teaching of the church that is informing them in how they go about dismantling a system that continues to oppress communities in order for them to benefit, to have an advantage over others. And so I think when I see that for the church, I start thinking to myself, like, What are we doing? What has been the teaching of the church to break that apart? And what has been the benefits for the church to continue to push white supremacy? There’s a benefit for the church to be allowed to be the ones to hone down even stronger than the non-religious on that piece. So that's what started working in my head when I heard that statement. 

Aileen: You both mentioned the, I guess, evident systemic oppression that there is in the church. When I was reading through this article, it says that when white people are confronted with these results, they get very, you know, the automatic reaction is to be like defensive, like, “Whoa, no, like I'm not a racist.” And you know, that's a natural reaction because usually racism is associated with being a bad thing. And people don't want to be this bad thing that others are trying to label them as. So, this article says that most people who object this usually have two objections. The first one is that, it's not white Christian identity itself, but other intervening variables that account for such correlations. That's the first one. The second one is they argue that even if white Christian identity is complicated, the results are muddied by the inclusion of people who have no real connection to actual churches or folks who are Christian in name only. What do you guys think about that? Do you think it's more of a way to just like wash their hands and disassociate with the fact or could there be some truth to these objections?

Giovanni: So I agree with you and I think it's important the article also notes that even when we take that reaction and use a statistical analysis to consider those other variables it's still consistent that even when we consider those outside variables that people may use, that's not because of religious it still comes out that white Christians still affiliate themselves for higher white supremacy. And that's what I love about how we look at data. But like you said, I think the first reaction is denial. Like, you know, you talk about like it's a defense mechanism. We think about denial. I think about psychology. We use it as a coping mechanism. So we can remove ourselves from the stressor and not see what is our role in that situation. You know if racism is defined as a system of racial/ethic dominance, it is likely that the denial of racism also has a prominent role in the very reproduction of racism. And this is – I think – the case, dominance in equality provokes resistance. However, when the dominant consensus is that there is no racism, racial/ethnic groups and their protests and other forms of resistance have a very hard time being taken seriously. And so denial or racism helps control resistance. And at the same time makes racial inequity problems of an ethnically and racially, pluralistic society more manageable. But the other piece, when I think about reactions of people, the word that came to mind and it's, I don't know why, but I’m just going to say it: myopia. Near sightedness. We can't focus on the far away. It’s easier, I think, for us to contextualize and blame people at a personal level or interpersonal level and then when that happens, we try to control and say, “I'm not part of it.” And I think there's a lot of implicit biases that have been internalized about other culture groups, about individuals, and how we become so focused at that level that we can’t even imagine the broader picture of the structural and institutional racism. And so, when I hear people denying, try to justify that other variables that is not religion, it's because it's also challenging them to think about the issue of race besides the interpersonal level – it’s really thinking about the institutional systemic realities of how this is so embedded in how we function, how we are.

Aileen: It’s like everyone's lives are kind of interconnected. You can't just say it's only you and your family. Like it affects all of us.  

Tim: There's just so much here, you know, there's just, it's so complex. I mean, what is a Christian today? I mean, if you'd walk across the landscape of Christianity, there are a lot of different Christians. You know, you have Christians who are upset that children are being kept in cages at the border, and you have other Christians that support the institutions that have policies that make that possible. So it's very complicated. I think that one of the tremendous challenges that we have as a church. And I have as a communicator is the challenge of simply building awareness and understanding.  when we talk about things like white supremacy and white privilege, those aren't things that people can easily understand in a deep and meaningful way with a one sentence definition. I think that you really have to spend some thoughtful time thinking about how we got where we are today and the context that we got here in which has been the context of a culture that has been built from day one by people who were power holders, who were white, who were men. And I think that it's just inescapable. In fact, I wrote down, let's see somewhere in my notes here. Robin DiAngelo, in her book, White Fragility, she refers to the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy. And that sounds like a mouthful, but when you really get into it, it basically points to the fact that white privilege has shaped all of us. It influences all of us, whether we're white or not. And if we're white, then we're beneficiaries of it. So, it is like you were saying, Aileen, and I hear people say this all the time, “I'm not racist,” “my family didn't own slaves,” you know, all of, all of those things but regardless of that, the fact is that if we are of a certain skin color in this country, then we cannot escape being beneficiaries of white privilege. We can't separate ourselves individually from the experience of the whole and in this case what that means is that if you have a certain skin color, it's easier to get access to health care, to get a home loan, to be in certain neighborhoods, to have all sorts of other privileges and accesses that you don't have if you're not. And that is one manifestation of what white privilege means. White supremacists doesn't mean that we're all walking around with hoods and burning crosses. What it means is that we're in a context that we’re born into, or we come into, that has been over a few hundred years that does favor people of a skin color in subtle ways, as well as an obvious ways. I think one of the big challenges that we have is to help people connect with that because really, as has been pointed out very well over the last several months in particular, you know, racism is a white problem. I mean, that's something that white people need to understand and take responsibility for. And by owning it, we can start to affect some change. A pastor in Atlanta, Reverend Byron Thomas gave me a book a few months ago called The Mandate for white Christians by Kyle Hassell. And this was published back in the 1960s and Dr. Martin Luther King wrote the forward to it. And it's really telling, relevant. Every word in that book is to where we are today. Particularly around the call that we have as Christians and the call that white Christians have to really understand and to begin to see how we are personally connected with it. It's not something that we can walk away from.

Giovanni: Did you say that book was written in the 1960s? 

Tim: Yes. Yeah. 

Giovanni: And we're now in 2020, almost 60 years, the teachings of that book, I still like the teachers are to us today. And so to me, it's like what has happened in 60 years that we have not been able to move the marker of what was in the early beginning of the civil rights movement in the heart of it. That we still arguing with today and you know, hearts are changing – some people's hearts are changing, but the institutions have not changed. And so it goes back to, to me, it's just like, a reminder, that we cannot separate inter personal and personal racism from the institutional systemic racism, because if not the white supremacy ideology will continue to be taught and reinforced. And so we have these labels. And how do just talk about racism. This is what racism is. This is how we need to address it because once we start using those labels as good and bad it goes into that whole blame. 

Aileen: Can either of you on speak a little bit to the cultural context of the Methodist movement in America, because we talk about the institution, we talk about the foundation, we talk about the culture that is still prevalent in the year 2020. What I've heard that we're saying is you can't really separate the interpersonal relationships with the institution because they all blend together. I guess in my way of understanding it is this cultural norm that the institution and society are pretty much intertwined. I guess for those listeners who might not know a little bit about Methodism in America. Can either of you share a little bit about that history and how that could have been influential to the upbringing of this country as an institution and how that could be influential to the institution of the United Methodist church as we know it today?

Giovanni: I’m laughing because that's like a dissertation question. 

Aileen: I need your thesis!

Giovanni: You know, I think that's a great comp question. And I think Tim actually, at the beginning of the conversation, provided some broad strokes of major historical moments in the Methodist church. You know, like when we think, when I think about it, the three things that really come to me quickly are like 1816. In 1816, you know, the discrimination in receiving the Lord’s Supper. You know, we have a group of black members led by Richard Allen who were denied to come to the table, leaving St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. And that started the movement of the starting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Now, we proclaim the Lord’s Table is an open table for all. That's part of our Wesleyan Theology, our DNA. And then when you look at the historical fact, that people were not given the right to come to the table, right there you see this example of white supremacy in the church. Even when we have a theological understanding, that God's grace is offered at all. Before I go to 1968, I think the other big point in history of our church is when the Methodist South, the Methodist Church split between the South and North, because a Bishop did not want to let go of having slaves. He wanted to keep being a slave owner and the church split on that. And so that's another historical and it goes with our history of this country, you know. When the South and the North, free states and those who lived in slavery and all that. And then when the church in a way to bring the Methodist church back together in 1939, I believe it is. And tried to bring the white Methodist branches united, the conversation was by the South, is how do we create ordinances in the creation of what we call the central jurisdiction? Where the black hats and black churches could be part of their own conferences, but not integrated into the new white Methodist. Even when we were trying to bring together unity, they still have created what I call a stipulation on how are we going to do that by keeping the African-American clergy and churches apart from the main be nomination. So, those are like three pivotal moments. Then you could look at 1968, the whole, how the church comes together and, you know, we want to decentralize the Central Jurisdictions. And the whole purpose of 1968 was for us to move into being a racially inclusive church, a church that integrates and it's right in the heart of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King had been assassinated a couple of weeks before general conference, it’s all of this happening in our country and so the church is trying to bring this desegregation mentality. Right? But has the church in 1968, who was professing to be racial inclusive, really shifted as we look at it in 2020? When we look at the reality of membership and who we were in 1968 and who we are today, they have not been much difference in our racial makeup in terms of percentages and our membership. And so that just makes me ask the question. What was that racial inclusiveness for? Was it a simulation of just, I’ll say “tokenism”? To say that we have people color in our churches but when we look at leadership and the institution as a whole, where is the power being held? You know, it's the whole argument for me when I hear we have a diverse church, I always ask the question who sits in the decision-making power-tables.  Because if they don't look like the people in the pews, then you're still operating in the white, dominant, normative, mentality. And it's still, that is who the power is being held by. So I think about those historical moments, but Tim, you might be able to bring more into it. 

Tim: I would just add one historical moment. And this was my first General Conference in 2000. And to me, this is one of the most memorable moments. And that was the act of repentance for reconciliation, the act of repentance for racism that the United Methodist Church performed with pan-methodist leaders present. That was a real moment of hope. I think it was heartfelt and it was an emotional time. I remember one of the Penn Methodist bishops made the comment that, “We will be good fruit inspectors.” The pan Methodists we're talking about, you know, journeying with us and the accountability. Yeah. So now it's just amazing to me to think that suddenly we're 20 years later and where have we come? I mean, I think that there are a lot of hopeful signs. So, I derive some encouragement from that. I think though, that why is it that we're not further along as a church and as a society? How far have we really come since 2000? It feels to me like we’ve been trying to make progress. We had another act of repentance for those who – for African Americans who stayed in the UMC. We had an act of reconciliation for Native Americans. We're doing the symbolic things. How are we really taking those acts and living them out? We are seeing examples of that but obviously there's so much more that needs to be done. So I think that's where the frustration is today that. That it feels like we have not come as far as we would want to have or should have. And again, I think it comes down to things like lack of awareness, lack of understanding and lack of really engaging in empathetic ways with people who are different. I mean, look at churches on Sunday mornings. You know, they're pretty homogeneous and you know, why are they not more diverse? I think that we just have. to continue to push ourselves and overcome our own complacency. And that's going to be a long haul. But we have to, we can't allow complacency and you know that tendency, that all of us have to kind of sink back into our comfort zones. We can't allow those to prevail over the need to face hard truths and examine ourselves, and really try to engage people on a personal level, and walk in their shoes, and understand that we all have a responsibility for owning this, and dealing with it. Especially if we're going to call ourselves, you know, the people of Jesus Christ in this time.

Aileen: I do want to touch on one more point. When we talk about race relations we just leave it to black and white. You know, I'm a Latina. And so I obviously try to highlight my people as much as I can. And so I think that limiting the discussion of racism to black and white, that's kind of what's been embedded into our discussions. I think Jovanni, you mentioned the United Methodist Church, in 1968, kind of merged as a way to reconciliate the different racial groups. But you know, like you mentioned, our Membership data does not reflect the current reality of our country. You know, the people whose communities we're serving in are not the ones that are in our church pews. They're not the ones that are being a part of the life of the church. I grew up in a Hispanic/Latino congregation. We have the different racial/ethnic groups, usually ministries, which are under an Anglo congregation at a local conference level. I think a lot of people would say, you know, “that's good, that's great. We want to have diversity.” But oftentimes we have this diversity and it's kind of shown as like a, “Oh, look at all the great things that we've done, and these are all the great things that we're doing.” And we can look at it from that point. But I think we can also look at it from the point of view of the actual members who are sitting in that Pew. Because if I was a Senora that didn't speak English, I probably wouldn't want to go to an Anglo, culturally or English speaking congregation. So I can look at it in the way that's like, “Oh, it’s systemically oppressive.” Or I can also look at it from the point of view that like, “Hey, there's this congregation that has my culture speaks my language.” What do you guys think about that? Do you think that that is supportive towards us being an inclusive church, or do you think that it is a tool that further separates us?

Giovanni: That’s a good question. So as a Latino, you know, I came to the United Methodist Church through the Spanish church. Knowing who God is and who I see Jesus to be in my life and how I live my life has been shaped by the Latino church in the United Methodist church. It was fundamental for my family to be connected to a church that spoke our language, who was able to also embrace the cultural diversity on the Latino church, because you're right. It is not a homogeneous community. It is a cross-cultural community. So in itself, in my eyes, Latino churches are multicultural churches. It's by its DNA. It is a multicultural church. But as an institution. As an institution, this is how we start using the power. We see it as a linguistic group, but we can't see the diversity of cultures in that group. And I'll give you an example. When I was first appointed as a pastor, I was appointed to a Latino church in Connecticut. And when I got there, I was in a congregation that was about 96% Colombian. There was only one person that was not Colombian and me as their pastor, who's Puerto Rican. But for the conference, that was a Spanish speaking congregation. I spoke Spanish. “We put him there.” Not thinking of all of these other realities that interface me in that space, but in the minds of the institution, they were looking at language and not looking at the other elements the other variables that made that community who they were in their DNA. I think that's, that's been a practice of the church. A lot. And not seeing the diversity and the complexities of what it means to be in ministry in a multicultural sense and multicultural ministry there. Now going to your original question about the conversation about race being black and white, I think, we need to acknowledge that race in this country has impacted the African American communities in higher rates than other communities. You know, Tim, when he talked about George Floyd, my first thought that came to mind was “a life to a life lost that should have not been lost. Another life that should have never gone through that.” Because when we look at the data African Americans in this country, at higher rates are being stopped, being criminalized, being killed by the cops. They are the ones whose African American children are viewed by studies by cops to be older than they are by at least four years older. They are taught to be seen as more aggressive. So there has been this embedded with the academic community, but at the same time we are a country that has other realities that other communities are also being impacted by racism. And so how do we navigate as we addressed racism, that is impacting the African American community has also been impacting our native American communities who are being marginalized. You know, let's talk about COVID and how our reservations didn't get access to the healthcare. Let's talk about the South. Children who are still being detained because of that. Let's talk about all these other, which are all about a system of racism. And I think if we are going to be the church that’s going to address racism, we need to be able to have the conversation about the different elements of how racism is experienced by diverse communities. And how as an institution, in a way, how we perpetrate racism when we start putting policies and saying that there has to be a standard of a certain language level needed to be considered to be a clergy. That is another form of how we can use that power to oppress communities. I think we need to start being willing to engage in other conversations. And how do we together with the African America community, lift our voices in naming the oppressive forces, the systemic ways that continue to marginalize one community over another. When we do binary, what I think some communities of color experience is that they don't feel like they’re a part of it. Like they're even more marginalized. And I don't think that's the intent, but I think that's one of the symptoms that people are feeling because they don't see themselves in that conversation. And so as, as a Latino, I think that also talks about how the church has treated how Latino churches are formed in shared facility. You named the reality of shared facility. You know, the relationship of many churches who are in that kind of ministry setting is the tenant-landlord mentality. You know, the white church is the landlord, the Latino church is the tenant. It’s not about partnership in ministry. It’s again about power and control, it's about dominance over another group. And that's not even what we're called to do. It’s not even part of our book of discipline, but we still practice it. So those are examples of institutional racism.

Aileen: There's just so much to talk about and we can go into all these different points and we could honestly spend a lot more time on each one of these. Is there anything else you want to add as to practical steps that the individual church and denomination can take to be relevant in present times? Like we said, we're not reflecting the communities that we serve. I hope that conversations like these about, you know, race relations and other conversations that we're having as individual churches and as a church in general, will provoke the people in leadership to take actions that will benefit the life of the church long term. But we have to do the work. So is there anything, Giovanni or Tim that, you can suggest for individual local churches and the church overall?

Giovanni: I think, the Love on Wings study. The analysis of The United Methodist church from the seventies to the two thousands in terms of membership and the biggest point he says,  he talked about the relevancy of the church. The church is in a continuous decline. But the only way the church will be able to shift that continuous decline is by being intentional on reaching more people, younger people and more diverse people. And he further states that we are not to choose, which one of those three we need to do. We need to do all three or we aren't going to be a relevant church today. And so what does it mean for us to reach more people? What does it mean to reach more younger people? And what does it mean for us to be reaching more diverse people? What does that look like in a contextual level of our local congregations? I think, I'll be, I'll say this. I might get in trouble but I’ll say it. I'm tired of acts of repentance. We spend a lot of time in liturgy. We create symbolisms, we create rituals, but if they're not backed up with, like you said Tim, with the action. Those are words that actually cause more harm because we're saying that we're committed to do this, but our actions are not doing it. And so we are even hurting more of the community. So I think we need to stop, stop trying to make ourselves feel good by doing these rituals if we're not willing to back our repentance with true change of heart and mind. And if we are going to do that, then let's start having that first to have an honest and deep repentance of how we have contributed to what has occurred in those communities. And really engage the communities and what we need as a church, and I say, we, because as an institution, I'm part of that institution, what we need to do in order to make the relationship right, again. Because many times we as church think we know. That we know better than the communities that have been oppressed and we dictate how that should happen without even having their voice in those conversations. Whatever we are going to do, we need to really be engaged in conversation with the people that are being impacted. And also how, I think this article shows again, that there's needs to be a common analysis about what racism is. And how systemic racism operates. And so for us, the church today, how do we show up in the public square? You know, how do we show up that they know who we are in our communities. Because we are not protecting ourselves behind walls, but that we really put ourselves in the forefront and are willing to be risk-takers in these hard conversations of child deportations, about racism in our society, the killings, come on. Let's talk about children today who don’t have access to internet and can’t even have a computer to go to school. How do you speak against that? So whatever is your reality and your context, how do we really take a stand that Jesus calls us to be justice oriented? I’ll stop there or I’ll really start preaching. 

Tim: Yeah. Well then I'll pick that up. ‘Cause that's absolutely right. I mean, if you get right down to the basics of it all, you know, racism is spiritually toxic and Jesus doesn't tell us to stay in our homes and to love those who love us. But to act. To proactively love our neighbors and who was our neighbor? We all know from the gospel that our neighbor doesn't necessarily look like us and our neighbor may be from a community that we don't understand or have a relationship with, but should. So, I think, you know, one of the things that I feel challenged by – the talk that we hear, we talk about living the gospel. And yet there seems to be a real disconnect between that and actually authentically living the gospel. You know, how do I proactively live out Jesus's summation of what is important to love God with all of our heart, our mind and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And, you know, John Wesley's three rules, the first one, do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. How can I love God? And how can I expect to get to heaven if I contribute to creating hell for other people on earth. So really listening, engaging, and sincere dialogue and repentance. And then encouraging, not only individually with ourselves, but also encouraging our constituencies to dig deeply into the issue of racism and how it intersects with all of these other issues that we're struggling with as a society and as a church. You know, poverty, mass incarceration, illiteracy, unemployment, healthcare disparities, inter-ethnic violence, systemic oppression, all of these things. There are so many ills that when you really start to dive into them, racism is threaded through all of them. And so if we ever hope to solve these issues, and if we ever hope to have a policy around immigration that is humane and Christian and, you know, deal with the issues of mass incarceration and cradle to prison pipelines and all that. We have to confront racism and we have to do it in a way that is with all of our hearts and minds and beings. And I think that is what it means to love God and to love others. 

Aileen: Is there a hope for the United Methodist Church, knowing that we are founded in racism and structural oppression?

Tim: Well, is there hope for any of us and is our hope for our country knowing that we are in that context and are found in that context. I think the United Methodist church is in a position to really make a difference. I think there are things that we have put in place, as a church, that can offer hope. We do have challenges. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don't as a church, but I believe that there's a lot of hope for the UMC. When you look at the incredible diversity of cultures and contexts that we're in that to me is one of the things that makes being a United Methodist, so exciting. I have to have hope. 

Giovanni: It's hard to have hope in institution at times. What gives me hope? Because we talked about the institution. I think when I think about the institution, I think about who we are as United Methodist, our polity. Our Discipline by who we are from that, how we go abide our life as a church. I see hope that historically, General Conference is the body that could actually decentralized whiteness for this church. Because when we talk about the structure and we're talking about the institution as a structure and the system. It is General Conference that has that power to disrupt who we are and who we've been. What gives me hope, think of it from that perspective, is that there's been a shift in who's going to go to General Conference – if we have a General Conference next year, this body. If we look at the history of who has that power to direct the work of the denomination’s institution historically has been the same people going. It's the same people that in 2000 we're part of that act of repentance of our racism. It was the same body, 12 years later, that said we didn’t need to have a commission that deals with issues of racism or a commission that deals with issues of gender inequality in a church, the same body. And now we find ourselves eight years later in the midst of the pandemic of racism in this country. So what gives me hope is that, as a delegate to general conference, I hope, and my hope is that we are able to be willing to decentralize white normative practices and how we will operate in that space. What gives me hope is that we are willing to allow ourselves not to be US centric in our way of being and recognize that we are a worldwide church and that we don't have all the answers. People in our communities in Africa, in the Philippines, in Europe who have probably done better work at building the kingdom of God than we have here. And so are we willing to let ourselves step aside and disrupt who sits and who guides the future of the church? So that's where I see the hope for me. If we're willing to do that. Now that's a risk because disrupting the institution means that people are going to be holding on for life because the uncertainty of the unknown is scary. And it's, it's really hard for us to walk by faith. Because if we really, it’s our faith that we're walking, and not knowing what will happen, but we know that God is before us and that God will lead us and that God will ensure that the church of Jesus Christ will be the church of Jesus Christ. Despite if we’re United Methodist, despite if we're in a church building, despite if we’re virtual. God will be God.  

Aileen: I’m so thankful that you guys came on and share your perspectives and wisdom and experience.

Tim: Well, it was a real honor and I hope that there was a nugget of wisdom in there somewhere.

Aileen: Well, thank you both. And thank you listeners for sticking around. This concludes our episode of “Our Conexión.” Until next time. 

Disponible en español 

This conversation took place on the 14th of September, 2020.
OurConexion.org


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