Highlights from the Video Conversation:
Bishop Keith Cowart
We must have the will to endure beyond merely talking to real change, to action steps that will bring about real change.
[Pertaining to churches that have worked the hardest to move towards diversity are the ones having the greatest struggle.] The struggle is a win. The struggle is an indication that yes we are on the right track, we are moving in the right direction and we want to continue to do that.
We are aware that the issue of race in America is not just a black/white issue. We are a multi-ethnic nation and we are a multi-ethnic denomination. It is not that we are tone-deaf that it’s a broader issue.
I’ve been sensing in my own spirit such a deep call of the Spirit to humility. We’ve got to come to the point where our greatest desire is to be open and soft-hearted before the Lord and before one another. To say our love for one another is greater than our pride, our ego, our lack of understanding. Bringing that level of humility I think is so critical right now.
What’s helped me more than anything else is to be a part of a diverse community where and I’m not just talking about I go to church. I’m talking about deep relationships, deep friendship, the kind of relationships where we’re really able to speak deeply into each other’s lives.
God is love. You can’t have love outside of community. Community has to be defined by love. Anything that comes against love is obviously anti imago dei. It’s absolutely contrary to everything that God is.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a picture of diversity. They are three in one. Diversity is an essential part of community. There are three separate persons that make up the image of God.
We desperately need that relational connection with people who are fundamentally different. That’s part of what makes us made in the image of God.
We fear what we don’t know. We fear the unknown which drives us to cling to that which is comfortable. To cling to that which is known and that begins to contribute to the kinds of things that we see in systemic racism. I think we have to have a willingness to say, “I am going to intentionally step out of that comfort zone.”
Bishop Linda Adams
[In response to the question “Are there degrees of systemic racism and, if there are degrees, how would you define them?”] Last summer, when the General Conference approved a resolution against racism, I am talking about the worth and value of all persons, out of the four things we resolved to do and we commit ourselves to do; one of them is to recognize and learn that structures are a huge part of the issue.
Just recently the three of us [bishops] read an article by John Rice [“The Difference Between First-Degree Racism and Third-Degree Racism” – The Atlantic, June 21, 2020] talking about the difference between what he calls First–Degree and Third–Degree Racism. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2020/06/three-degrees-racism-america/613333/
In terms of fear, we are afraid of change. …We have a certain denominational culture that needs to change. For the voices who are helping us to understand how it needs to change, I am grateful. This is a God-moment, a Kairos moment, there’s a change brewing … this is a breath of God-thing. …There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, and love, and of sound mind.
Bishop Matt Whitehead
For some of us, there’s a degree of discomfort around the discussion and we acknowledge that it is uncomfortable. We recognize that but as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, as Free Methodists, we are called to have this conversation.
[Racism] It’s not a conservative issue, it’s not a liberal issue. It’s a gospel issue. It’s a Jesus issue. In the Free Methodist Church, as Bishop Keith said, we’re going to continue to talk about this and ask God to help us understand what does it mean to go forward with an understanding that we will lead differently. We will be different in the future.
[In response to listening to others whose opinion and lived experiences may not match our own.] … my brother, my sister, I want to know, I want to hear. And try not to project on someone else my own story and my own journey because truly if the image of God is in every member of the human family it’s an incredible responsibility that we have …
We cannot let fear guide us. Fear-based decisions are not right. We want to make faith-filled decisions and we want the Lord to help us.
Dr. Michael Traylor, Co-Superintendent of the River Conference
[Commenting on “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America,” written by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith]
One of the things that they found there not only were evangelical churches separated by race but that often times white evangelical self-identified conservative Christians often had a difficult time understanding the systemic or structural means of almost everything. [For example,] so if you were to say that there are obstacles that make the school system really bad here they would say, “no,” the students just need to try harder, bringing it back to the individual.
Part of the thing that we need to do is to work on equipping our pastors and our leaders with this theological imagination that allows you to see Scripture in all of the different levels in which the Word shares. We honor God by honoring one another and seeing that dignity in one another is a core principle in our creation narratives and in our salvation narratives. Racism is the distortion or the denial or the dehumanization of the image of God.
We, as the Church, have to get back to the core of what God is calling us to do. The kind of radical love that we’re called to express that’s demonstrated by Christ, embodied by Christ and having a radical ability to give dignity to those who are made in the image of Christ. Even if they’re culturally different, even if they’re characteristically different in any way …
Dr. Amelia Cleveland-Traylor, Co-Superintendent of the River Conference
The conservative church really values history. They’ve been unwilling to recognize that the history that it’s valued so much is incredibly skewed and that the lens through which people of color see the history of the church and the history of the country is very, very different.
When will the church get to a point where they can separate patriotism and citizenship from Christian discipleship?
We have to be willing to open our eyes and separate what it means to be truly a Christian disciple and following the teachings of Christ and the Bible from what it means to be American.
If it’s been drilled in your mind for years and years, or over centuries or over decades, whatever time period that something is wrong or something is less than or something is dirty or something is evil, you can’t turn it off in a moment. You can’t jump over the broom and then everything is okay.
I really feel that those years of slavery where black and brown people were always less than, it didn’t matter when you changed their condition in society so that they were no longer slaves. They remained less than in the minds of everyone around. That ultimately led to people feeling there were some who belonged to the country and owned the country and some who did not. That didn’t change. Those ideas are still the undercurrent that keeps moving forward.
The goal of most African Americans isn’t to actually harm white people. The goal of most African Americans is just to level the playing field, to be invited into the game, to be seen as valued, to be respected, [and] to be treated right.
Pastor Fraser Venter, Co-Superintendent of Southern California Conference, Lead Pastor at Cucamonga Christian Fellowship in Rancho Cucamonga
I think that one of the things that we forget about is that we should be a people of the kingdom and when Jesus entered in and really inaugurated the now not yet tension in so many ways. He was kingdom-minded, and the kingdom had to have some structural change. There was the individualist part of them not liking Jesus as a person. There was the relational part of [they] didn’t like the people that Jesus was hanging out with. But there deeply was, when we read our Gospel story, they didn’t like the fact that someone was coming to change their system and to recognize that the kingdom was about to be turned upside down for the good.
I would encourage the body of Christ to remember that holiness is not only a set apart, it’s a setting into. …As Free Methodists, we are a holiness people that are set apart but we’re also a holy people that are wholly invasive. Which means we’re not going to go after and condemn culture, but we have the ability to change the culture.
Harriet Tubman was asked a question on her view of defining racism. [Her response] “I couldn’t justify being free while others were enslaved.” The church should be in a position and with the anointing and authority to step into the culture and say, “I can’t justify being free in Christ while others are being enslaved.”
We need more kingdom agents that are willing to prophetically engage in the public square again. In this moment the Church has an opportunity to actually reset herself and reestablish herself in the public square.
…God can only reconcile the heart that then says a redeemed heart should then move in by the power of the Holy Spirit to change the actual environment in which they’re standing.
The imago dei is so crucial. Discipleship is a vital thing that the church must return to. Racism is discipled. Racism is actually the antithesis of the imago dei and is the counterfeit of what God has called us to be. I think there are holy, sacred moments when I get to see the vulnerability of one of my brothers or sisters’ hearts saying, “Here’s my story. I don’t want you to fix it. I don’t want you to change it. And I actually don’t want to hear your story right now. I just want my story to play a melody right now.” …I’m just going to listen with my heart.
Fear is one of the deep roots of the challenges that we are facing in so many ways. That it is our opportunity to begin to think about what our response should be. As a people of faith, our response should be of faith.
Do I really trust You, God, more than I trust myself or the person in front of me? What do I [have] to lose to trust You in this moment? …We have to come back and [ask], “Where is my level of faith?” And then ask the deeper question, “God, where in this moment don’t I trust You?”
Pastor Charles Latchison, Co-Superintendent of Southern California Conference, Lead Pastor at Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach
Three months ago, I had a very strong debate with a leader about their blind spots and their main argument was they didn’t see it.
These are exceptional times and there needs to be a surrender like we’ve never engaged before. And I think we could not be in a better season to be able to do that you know being on quarantine. You cannot have enough quiet time during the quarantine.
When I first started to go to the AHN, I would hear stories of encounters and experiences from the Midwest pastors and the East Coast pastors that I couldn’t even relate to. Just conflict and misunderstandings and dismissal and not even considered and they would cry. It was the only place we could be as expressive without any consequences for complaining and being angry.
We need the Spirit’s power to engage our hearts like never before.
We all should be asking ourselves, “What are these times challenging in us?”… If we’re seeking to keep a pure heart before the Lord, if we’re seeking to please Him, we have to be asking that question. If we recognize that something is missing in our capacity, ability, desire to care and love this is where we confront that. …It calls for all of us, not just the ones on this phone call but [also] those who are listening to really go there and in our approach in going there that will help to engage and move and help us to be accountable to what this phone call is trying to hold us all to be accountable to.
Pastor Dr. Robert Marshall, Director of the African Heritage Network, Pastor of the Los Angeles Community Church
Racism isn’t only an issue we’re dealing with in the streets. It’s one that we deal with in churches and in every institution that we have in America.
With seminaries, the history has been that there are no black contributors to the Church. No black contributors to thought. No black fathers to the Church. That is patently false.
The thought of western history in the church is that these are all white theologians and the white perspective is dominant and it’s the only one … that even brought up. It’s really important to know these people came from all over the world. Because the story of God is that He made us in His own image and in His own likeness.
As people of God, we can no longer be played. We can no longer be attacked and forged into bastions of fear. That’s not what we’re called to. We’re called to be a city set on a hill and a people who are salt and if the salt loses its flavor, what good is it?
The image and likeness of God is where we get our personhood from. Without personhood, you can be thought of as 3/5 of a human being. Without personhood, your rights can be trampled on or you won’t have any rights.
We have to recognize it’s a decision, just as salvation is a decision, just as taking the step to become a true disciple of Christ is a decision, just as coming into accepting the mantle of being a minister of the Gospel or deacon/deaconess in the church is a decision. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a decision.
When I make the decision to love God’s people, God goes to work in my heart. Changing all of the stuff that does not look like Him. And our bigger issue is the spirit of fear. …Perfect love casts out fear. God’s ability to love has the power to override all of our fears. My prayer tonight is for each and every one of us to seek that. We need to seek that more than money, we need to seek that more than the Democrats or the Republicans having a White House. Imagine if the Free Methodist Church sought the love of God as our chief weapon. What would our church be?