Beloved of Eastport United Methodist Church,
Over the past several weeks I have been in conversations with you and others in our community about issues of race and racism in our nation and neighborhoods. These issues and outcomes have weighed heavily on our collective hearts. We wonder what to do, or say. Maya Angelou wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” In that spirit, I want to deepen our collective conversation as a church so that we may grow in the likeness of Christ together.
These times have me examining my own behaviors and noticing when I have been complicit in racism, even when I thought it didn’t exist. For instance, I used to say “I don’t see color” but in doing so I learned that I invalidated the experience of people who are affected by racism (individual and systemic). I also realized that we cannot discuss and change problems if we do not see and acknowledge that problems exist.
We begin this conversation as a people who are rooted in our baptismal covenant and grounded in our love for Christ. We are not just any ordinary collection of people; we are not a private club or neighborhood association, but we are a people set apart with a specific trajectory: to join in God’s already present and saving work of creating a just world. The United Methodist Church makes this its mission: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
We see this trajectory throughout the Hebrew scriptures; pointedly in the prophets; coming to fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; the birth of the Church; the voice of the martyrs; and the ongoing witness of the Church. While we long for the Church to be a respite from the worries of the world, it may not be so at the expense of its prophetic witness. The church is undoubtedly called to speak to the need for justice for the oppressed and marginalized.
Racism is a persistent evil. It pervades every area of our society. The current spotlight is on the criminal justice system in the United States, yet it is present and actively at work in education, healthcare, housing, banking and finance. It plagues every political party (no exception). It infects the Church. Even with decades of anti-racist efforts in the Methodist and United Methodist Church, racism toward non-white people is very present at every level of our denomination from local churches to Jurisdictional and General Conference. You may have heard or read the saying “silence is violence” or “if you see something, say something.” It is beyond time for the church to speak up for those affected by anti-Black racism.
It need not be a radical thing to speak about racism, to confess our complicity in it, to own up to our responsibility, and to require accountability. Is it painful? Uncomfortable? Yes. But any path toward healing involves pain. This is what the Church does: we confess and lament our brokenness and by God’s grace we repent and work toward reconciliation.
This isn’t white people apologizing for “being white,” but people repenting that they have been complicit in harm. And beloved, I trust my non-white colleagues and friends (from across the theological spectrum) that racism exists, it harms, and that people who are bound to me by baptism are suffering.
While Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church longs for unity in the body of Christ, he makes it clear that when one part of the body suffers, the rest of the body must become the advocate of that part of the body. I can hear Paul insisting to the Church: the body can’t matter until we honor that which has been oppressed or marginalized. Until Black lives are also valued then we have not yet reached the goal of all lives mattering.
Now, to the issue of policing. The very public incidents of police-involved deaths of Black people have once again highlighted issues in policing and the criminal justice system. I grew up around police officers, and my father worked in the District Attorney’s office. In undergrad and seminary, I studied the history and issues in criminal justice. In every pastoral appointment, my congregations and I have had plenty of relationships with those who serve in law enforcement.
What I learned through those relationships is that most law enforcement officers are people who go into their work with a dream of public service, with plenty of integrity, and hearts full of compassion. I also know that they are overworked, underpaid, and improperly equipped for their work. We ask them to do the work of ten very different professional jobs in one shift. Their training isn’t uniform from municipality to municipality either, for instance: officers in Anne Arundel County have 6 months of training before entering the field, whereas my hometown (at least years ago) only required 6 weeks. Because of those relationships and realities, I believe we owe those who serve a transformation of policing. We have to support them enough to reduce the cultures of violence within and without their organizations.
Anne Arundel County Police Chief Altomare and Annapolis Police Chief Jackson have been very transparent about their need and willingness to transform. Before COVID-19, EUMC was to be a host site for the Police Chief’s lecture series. Since that has been cancelled, I invite you to attend “Conversations with the Chief” virtually via Facebook at www.facebook.com/AnnapolisPolice. This is a series of conversations between Chief Jackson and Apostle Craig Coates, who serves as a Chaplain to the Annapolis Police Department. I hope that you will listen and participate in these conversations to learn about our community’s needs.
Beloved, because of my commitment to follow Jesus, I will continue to be involved in these conversations and speak to these issues. I believe there is plenty of room for different perspectives when we are rooted in love of God and neighbor, and that the only way we can do the work of the church is together.
As a start, I offer you a list of resources on Church teaching below, specifically as it pertains to the United Methodist Church. I hope you will take time to read and reflect on them and join me in a conversation on how we at Eastport United Methodist can see God’s justice be made real in our community.
In addition to the “Conversations with the Chief” series, join me in participating in the virtual town hall sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the General Commission on Religion and Race, the General Board of Church and Society, and United Methodist Women on July 1 at 1pm UMC.org/EndRacism.
Finally, please share with me what ideas you have about how we can work proactively against racism and be the force that will dismantle racism in the future.
We all have room for better together.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Chris Broadwell
Eastport United Methodist Church Baltimore-Washington Conference
From the United Methodist Women: https://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/racial-justice/factsheet.pdf
From the General Commission on Religion and Race https://www.gcorr.org/resources/
The Baltimore-Washington Conference has provided a number of resources here: https://www.bwcumc.org/ministries/advocacy-action/racial-justice/
A number of books and studies are available through our denomination’s bookseller Cokesbury: https://www.cokesbury.com/resources-on-race