Highlights from the Video Conversation:
Bishop Linda Adams:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
We are approaching this conversation with ears wide open to one another and to God.
It’s time for honest conversation. We believe this is a Kairos moment and that it would be God’s will for us to be careful, to pay attention to one another, respectfully listening during this time, and affirming what we can affirm together.
Lord God, … I pray that you would give us hearts to receive the wisdom, the words, the experience. …I pray that you would give us ears to hear and hearts to understand. Amen.
Bishop Keith Cowart:
Paragraph 3221 from the 2019 Book of Discipline was enthusiastically and overwhelmingly approved at the 2019 General Conference on the Dignity and Worth of All Persons. (From Paragraph 3221 from the 2019 BOD) Racism represents a particularly egregious affront to the dignity and worth of persons and its presence is manifest in the life, history, and institutions of all nations. Slavery and genocide are grievous stains, warranting collective lament, repentance, and repair. Racial oppression in all its forms continues to exact harm throughout the world, distorting the dignity of persons and God’s love for the great multitude of all nations (Acts 17:26, Revelation 7:9). The Free Methodist Church was itself born out of a desire to stand against the evil of slavery and we continue to recognize the sin of racism and oppose it in all its forms.
Bishop Matt Whitehead:
This is not a one-off conversation. We’ve been on this journey when we began our role as Bishops in October. This is an important priority and an important conversation.
We can do better and we will do better by God’s Grace.
Franciscan Benediction May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejections, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen.
Dr. Amelia Cleveland–Traylor – Co-Superintendent of the River Conference
Each one of us here has had to learn how to live in a white world. We were made to learn how to live in a white world. …I am not seeking a colorblind world. …Our God is so wonderful and creative that He built us in beautiful technicolor. When you see me, I want you to see the proud black woman that I actually am.
I’m not here today to be a doctor, I’m not here to be a superintendent, I’m not here today to even be a pastor. I’m simply a black woman who happens to be a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, and hopefully a friend.
I am one voice of many. I believe my experiences are typical of many black people, but I will allow each of us to be the individuals that they are.
“False weights and unequal measures – the Lord detests double standards of every kind” (Proverbs 20:10, NLV). “Here are some further sayings of the wise: It is wrong to show favoritism when passing judgment” (Proverbs 24:23-24, NLT).
Jesus’ earthly ministry was marked by His care and His compassion for marginalized people. It’s funny to me how often the Church forgets that. We understand in the context of His time because people were expecting Him to be different than He actually was. But somehow or other we’ve divorced the idea from our present time as we deal with the real person right next to us.
The Church is so incredibly happy and faithful to support hurting people around the globe but not around the corner. How can we be missional and only see the people that are around the globe?
These issues really hit to the core. And it’s just wrong. It’s just wrong that many people said absolutely nothing about what was going on, had no opinion about George Floyd or the things and the pain people were feeling.
Dr. Michael Traylor – Co-Superintendent of the River Conference
To understand that history of being against slavery does not necessarily mean an environment or a culture that empowers persons of color.
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” (President Abraham Lincoln, December 28, 1860) [President Abraham Lincoln] is known for having the release of slavery and bringing the union together but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he promoted equality, equity for people of color.
[Being against slavery] is significantly different than saying we want to promote people who are ethnically, culturally different, and that we see them on the same plane.
Years ago, Pastor Jeff Harrold at our Ann Arbor New Beginnings Free Methodist Church, he said, “In order to minister in the Free Methodist Church you have to be called to it.” What he was saying specifically to the members of the African Heritage Network, at the time, was that there are significant obstacles in terms of being understood and being perceived as equals. That the way that we were evaluated, the opportunities that were given to us to minister were significantly limited.
Our history will show an occasional participant and an occasional voice but rarely is there an institutional backing where resources were put to bear. The result has been a segregated denomination with pockets of isolated cultural ministries.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove who wrote a book called, “[Finding Freedom from] Slaveholder Religion,” said this, “To be white and Christian in America is to be on average more segregated than your unchurched neighbors. Regardless of the color of their skin.” What he was really trying to say is that the Evangelical white church has had structures put in place that has given us the outcomes that we have. The difficulty as an African American person in that is to give voice to that without triggering significant fragilities that cause defensiveness and anger and then we never get to have the discussion about what’s going on.
Chanequa Walker-Barnes wrote a book called, “I Bring the Voices of My People,” and she was talking about what we’re going for in terms of what is Scripture calling the kingdom of God to look like. …She talks about the concept of the beloved community that idea that Martin Luther King, Jr., made famous but it actually proceeded him. Essentially, her definition is a liberated people in transformed relationships coming together to make a new world.
As Free Methodists that we should be a liberated people, we’ve got to deal with our own racisms and sexism and stuff. To really be free we’ve got to deal with those things and as we deal with those things, we’ll see our relationships with one another be transformed.
Dr. Robert Marshall – Director of the African Heritage Network for the Free Methodist Church – USA, and Pastor of LA Community Church
The church needs to hear from God. The church needs a prophetic word in order for us to advance the kind of, not just conversation but, action that has to take place.
When the [African Heritage Network] got started there was a feeling of abandonment. There was a feeling of being alone if you were a pastor of African heritage. There was a feeling of being isolated. Coming together helped this group of people realize it’s not just its worth but its value to the church at large.
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made in perfect love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:16-21).
There is a duality that exists in not only America but within the church. There is the duality of us saying that we love each other, that we have the love of God in our heart but at the same time there exists a hatred, a kind of detesting, if you will, of some brothers against other brothers and sisters.
The idea of love is to have this unconditional affection, this high regard for the other human life. Then, on the other hand, there’s the hatred, which is this disdain this complete dislike, complete disregard for the humanity of somebody else. …But when we get to the Book of Ephesians, especially in chapter 2, verse 10 we are the workmanship of Jesus Christ. We were created in his image to do good works.
The peace that all of us want to see was already created. That peace was created by Jesus Christ himself when he died on the cross. And not only was it peace that he created, “he made the two into one” human race (Ephesians 2:16). The idea is that there is no longer all these nations, tribes, and tongues. There’s just one new man, one new humanity. …When we come to the church that’s who we are. We’re this new man created in Christ Jesus to do good works. …Each one of us is different and Jesus, himself, God, himself, embraces all of the differences because he inscribed on each one of our hearts a whole different sum.
In Christ, we are one human race. …The hope of the world is the church.
If we only listen to each other we will never hear each other. Listening and hearing are vastly different. …I want you to hear us. You’re at the place now where the alarm has already been sounded. And now you can shut everything else out and begin the process of hearing. Begin to measure what we say by not only the Scripture but by what you’ve already seen in society.
I am not surprised by sin in the world … but when it’s in the church, when my white brothers and sisters refuse to acknowledge what we see and say, “I don’t understand why you protest. I don’t understand why you’re so angry.”
Love is not lip service; love is hard.
Superintendent Charles Latchison – Co-Superintendent of the Southern California Conference, and Pastor of Light + Life West in Long Beach
I thank the Lord for the opportunities it would birth and the doors it would open in our denomination. In light of all the things that we could comment about what’s challenging us spiritually, I believe the things that we’re doing like this is making breakthroughs spiritually. …We may not all see it right now. There’s no question that it’s happening. If there’s any picture of the Lord doing a new thing breaking forth streams in the wilderness, this is in fact one of those streams.
It is a challenge when you’re desiring those who you serve alongside in ministry in our efforts to seek to understand one another. To see the protests happen on a global scale like we’ve never seen it before, there is an awakening that has taken place. For us to have this conversation will help that awakening in our churches throughout our denomination.
As an African American leader/pastor, there were some scenarios I didn’t understand, and I found out quickly that I could not be angry about it or I could not express frustration about it. No one was willing to give me clarity. I had to swallow it. Right at the crux when I was ready to leave, …a good friend of mine, Bill Cross, advised that I stay still until the Lord said otherwise.
However, anyone is feeling about what’s going on and how should one respond. …You cannot deny what your heart feels. So, either you care or you don’t. If you want to preach on racism, if you want to show up at a rally, if you want to protest so that you can check that off or so that you don’t look bad not doing it. …If there’s a time to evaluate your heart, I think this is the best time.
If anything that COVID has done, COVID has caused us to look at ourselves in so many different dimensions. And then here we are in this way looking at anywhere from blind spots to however dark you want to go down the spectrum and addressing our hearts. 1. Do I care? 2. If I am to respond, in whatever way to respond, what is my real motive for responding? And therefore, how do I align my will with the Father’s will for this?
If I am going to do something in this season, I am going to ask the Lord, “Lord, increase my heart.”
Because of the diversity of ministries, because of the diversity of gifts, and callings, because of the diversity of graces upon our lives there will come activists from there, and advocates, and artists, and different ways of expression to declare and to cry out.
We will not lack in the abundance of resources to do this. I absolutely love the fact that there has been a legitimate response in the cries that went out last year. I’m grateful. I thank the Lord that there’s been solid work given to develop the Diversity Task Force.
Steps have been made to make sure that blind spots or insensitivity or ignorance, you know ignoring things too long and not listening, there’s some movement away from that. Yeah, we still have far to go. But I love the courage that we have made in the steps that we’re taking so far. So, let’s keep moving. It would be a lot harder if we had to fight one another just to take another step. But it would be a lot stronger with words of encouragement and we come to the altar together and bless God and let His Spirit move us in power in these things.
Superintendent Fraser Ventor – Co-Superintendent of the Southern California Conference, and Pastor of Cucamonga Christian Fellowship in Rancho Cucamonga, California
So, eight minutes forty-six seconds got us to this end. But let’s be real that we have 210,500,000 minutes to contend with which I guess is about the equivalent of 400 years. We have to recognize this moment as a catalytic moment for the body of Christ to say enough is enough.
But let’s be really honest, brutally honest, which I don’t like to use those words together, but it seems appropriate in this moment that there’s been a knee on the neck of my brothers and sisters including my own family for 400 years.
I think we have to recognize that it is one thing to say I will celebrate diversity on Sunday and sing, “Kumbaya,” but not really be in the struggle on Monday and sing the songs of what we would call strange fruit. …But it is that reality that on Monday the disparity and difficulty that the people of God experience that are my brothers and sisters they don’t need another check-in for an hour and a half on Sunday and for me to say and feel really good that we are a group with a lot of different ethnicities and colors but we’re not going to do the real work on Monday. …I love the fact that we are a beautiful Crayola box. But here’s the reality, the crayons in that box are in a box of one color. It’s a color of a dominant culture and we’re at a moment right now where the crayons going to have to come out of the box and recognize that it’s a different time for us as a church and as a people.
I think the Free Methodist Church is poised in an excellent position theologically, biblically, and relationally to do a great work, but it is going to take a deep work.
This fight is much longer in its game. That we’re in a moment not of a sprint or a chase but of a literal marathon. We’re in a moment where we have to get in the arena finally and say, “Close the doors. Lock ‘em all up until there is blood, more blood on the ground over this issue than any other issue we’re facing in our nation.”
We need to recognize that it is not right that shepherds have not discipled their people to a depth of understanding the importance of the Imago Dei. It’s not right that we would just say, “Let me tickle your ears with the five easy ways of how you can now have a great prayer life if on Monday my brothers and sisters are afraid to get in their car and just go to a supermarket.
We need to rise up and say in this moment, “God, would You deepen us with a stamina that is worthy for the people that have gone before us who have protested, laid down their lives long before there was technology to find the script.” Four hundred years ago there were men and women calling out for their mama’s and papa’s and no one could answer that cry.
In this moment the church must rise up and say, “This is our moment to be the prophetic voice of the people God. That the church was born in a prayer movement where the tongues of fire came down and everyone began to understand in their own language who the body of Christ could be, who the glory of God is, and who the saving work of Jesus could be.”
That in this moment we cannot just pause and do this once a thing. This has got to be our thing for now and forever. …I am in to promote the man that should be famous over all and his name is Jesus. A brown, homeless, poor man who came to change the world and was lynched on a tree for our behalf.
I need to be a shepherd that believes in justice and follows the mission of a Savior who says, “I can make a change but it’s going to be a long fight, Beloved.”
If we are just beginning because of eight minutes and forty-six seconds, we’ve got 210 million minutes to make up. But by the power of the Holy Spirit exponentially we can move forward.
It is time for us to move as the body of Christ. I am trusting as the Free Methodist Church for such a time as this that when our children’s children look back, they will say, “That was a group that didn’t stay silent. That was a group that sat down and listened. That was a group that stood up for justice and that was a group that could really proclaim yeah, we are an abolitionist movement, yes we are a people that want to reconcile all races and we do it by the Spirit of the Living God.”