Today I went to Church!

I went to church today. Even though I was attending the GCORR Open-Space Summit, it wasn’t at this morning’s worship service. As I walked into our worship area at the Albuquerque convention center I saw signs posted with directions to a naturalization service, so I skipped our opening worship.

 If you’ve ever been at the Albuquerque convention center it straddles two sides of the street. As I was heading out the door to cross the street to where the naturalization service was to be held I met a man and his son who were on their way to the swearing-in. It was apparent that the older man was being sworn in. I help them locate the place where the event was to be held and planned on observing the process myself.

I found my seat at 8:15 this morning and sat in observed the many people that were there to observe or to become naturalized US citizens. There was great pride, happiness, excitement and exuberance. Even the governmental officials seemed happy and joyous.

There was no fear in the room; there was a sense of peace. I have always heard that piece is the absence of fear and the presence of justice. That is what I felt and it was apparent that all those around me felt the same.

It was announced that 193 children of God were to be sworn in as new American citizens. They came from many countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, peoples Republic of China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Laos, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Before all the pomp in circumstances began, a young man who was to be sworn in, made the following statement: “I just love our flag, it is so symbolic.” I think sometimes we forget the symbolism of our flag. I may be an exception in that I think about it often mostly because my birthday is on flag day but I can’t say that I’ve ever said those words with the emotion that came from this young man. I didn’t turn to look at him and could not tell you from where he might have come from four he spoke with no accent.

As the young Junior NROTC cadets presented the colors and the nearly 900 people present saying the national anthem a strange feeling came over me. Sure, I love my country, I’m a Navy vet, and I’ve always loved the national anthem, but those were not the things that moved me and stirred my heart. It was the fact that I was in the room in which we were truly welcoming the stranger.

I have read the texts; I have studied the Scripture; I have heard countless times how we are to welcome the stranger, but today I experienced it and participated in the welcoming. But more important than simply hearing and participating, I received a mandate.

Despite all of that the words that kept returning to me were the words of Emma Lazarus in her great poem the new Colossus. Many of us know the final few verses of this sonnet and we rarely hear the complete poem. It reads:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” Cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am sure that many in that room were Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or some other faith. I’m sure that there are Catholics and Protestants. I’m sure some were devout and some were nominally so. I imagine there were a few that professed no faith whatsoever. But speaking for myself, I felt the presence of God in that room. And the voice of God came to me. I can no longer simply sign letters to senators and representatives about immigration issues. I can no longer simply retweet or share Facebook postings proclaiming my support for immigration reform. I must be an advocate and an activist to embrace scriptural obedience in order to welcome the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, the outcast, the marginalized, and the despised . I have been commissioned by the highest authority.

But as part of this awakening, I also recognized that all migrants and immigrants are from other countries. Someday soon my wife may get a new appointment to a different church. The itinerant system of the United Methodist Church will create migrants of our family. Will we be welcomed in our new home? Will there be joy and exuberance?

Do our churches build walls that keep out the migrant and the immigrant? Do we refuse to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the outcast, the marginalized and the despised? Are we satisfied with programs to be in ministry for people but not ask them to join us in our pews?

Yes, today I went to church. It was in a makeshift Federal courtroom. There was no cross, there was no altar, there is no pulpit, there were no stained-glass windows. There was only the presence of God in the Church Universal. And for me, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Posted in Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, christ, Christian Churches Together, Christian Unity, Churches Uniting In Christ, General Commission on Religion and Race, Hope, Immigrant, Immigration, Inclusiveness, Justice, law, Marginalized, Migrant, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Peace, Race and Religion | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Easter, 2016…and 2017

From last year, but worth repeating.

Walking with The Wesleys.

I saved this for after Easter Sunday. So often, after the anthems are finished, our special meals are cleared off the tables and our friends, family and guests have returned from whence they came, we put our Easter-spirit away like a well-used Easter basket, not to see the sun again until the following Spring. But if we are to be an Easter people, we are to share the Good News that Christ has died, Christ has paid for our sins, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. It is the miracle of our faith that must be told, shared, and lived each and every day! As Christians it is our “raison d’être.”

With the nature of an unstable world full of matters that try to tear our faith asunder, we have the opportunity, no, rather we have the duty to share the news as Easter people.  We are obliged…

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The Parable of the Good Terrorist

Yesterday, I delivered the devotional to open our daily work of The General Commission on Religion and Race’s CORR Action Fund.  I had intended to talk about Christian Unity but, early in the morning, the blueprint  to the new Presidential Executive Order was released.  That took me back to this blog posting that touched upon how I feel as someone whose family includes Native Americans.  The Executive Order begs the Church Universal to ask the question “Who are our neighbors?”

I’m fairly confident that much of the discussion around welcoming our neighbor will deal with the numerous selections of scripture dealing with immigrants.  I am always drawn to Luke 10: 25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan.  I have been reading Dr. King’s draft “On Being a Good Neighbor” located in the archives of Stanford University’s The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Center.  Dr. King’s words are as timely today as they were in 1962 when he first started penning them.

In Dr. King’s retelling of this parable, he reminds us that the story “begins with a theological discussion on the meaning of eternal life and ends with a concrete expression of compassion.”  In this well-known story, a lawyer answers the most basic question of the law, a test not worthy of his knowledge and experience.  Perhaps sensing that his answer leaves the perception upon those around the scene that he could only answer the most basic questions, he counters by challenging Jesus asking the question “And who is my neighbor?”

As a GCORR Board member representing the General Commission at this event, I want to state the three aspects of the GCORR Ministry Model in addressing the question “And who is my neighbor?” They are:

1)      Intercultural Competence;

2)      Institutional Equity; and

3)      Vital Conversations.

Intercultural competence requires “GCORR be the catalyst and partner with other leaders in the UMC supporting the development of interculturally competent leaders who are engaged in ministry that promotes intentional diversity and equity.”[1]

Institutional Equity envisions that “GCORR will critically examine examples of racial and cultural injustice in local and global contexts: setting goals for overcoming them, intentionally measuring progress, and resourcing culturally competent leaders (lay and clergy) to promote and sustain institutional equity.”[2]

Vital Conversations, the area that I hope to focus in this paper, suggests ” GCORR will initiate and model holy conversations throughout the Church about race, cultural diversity and institutional equity.  We will gather and share learnings from these conversations that will help grow a movement that honors all of God’s creations.”[3]

In this parable, or morality play, there is only one speaking part, that of the Samaritan.  Theologians and Biblical scholars, Midrashim and laity, have sought to explain the actions, or rather, inactions of the Levite and priest.  We feel we know the actions of the Samaritan well, through his actions and his words.

Today I ask you to place yourself in the role of the other two characters in this tableau; that of the Jew in the ditch and the innkeeper in Jericho.  There is a long history to the enmity between these two groups and we must go back to 2 Chronicles 28: 6-15 to see this:

Pekah son of Remaliah killed one hundred twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all of them valiant warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. And Zichri, a mighty warrior of Ephraim, killed the king’s son Maaseiah, Azrikam the commander of the palace, and Elkanah the next in authority to the king.

Intervention of Oded

The people of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters; they also took much booty from them and brought the booty to Samaria. But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded; he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria, and said to them, “Because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. 10 Now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. But what have you except sins against the Lord your God? 11 Now hear me, and send back the captives whom you have taken from your kindred, for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” 12 Moreover, certain chiefs of the Ephraimites, Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war, 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring on us guilt against the Lord in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” 14 So the warriors left the captives and the booty before the officials and all the assembly. 15 Then those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.[4]

What a surprise this is!  An Old Testament story reflects that of the New Testament parable.  We have the dreaded Samaritans; we have the downtrodden Jews from Jericho; we have the Samaritans taking care of the Jews, treating their wounds, feeding them, clothing them, giving them shoes, placing them on their donkeys and escorting them to Jericho.  And then the Samaritans return to Samaria.  Sound familiar?  This history affords us a window from which to view how the Samaritan was viewed.  This would not have been a vision of a “good” person.

At some point, we have changed how society sees the Samaritan.  Today, the connotation of the “Good Samaritan” is someone we want to emulate.  We use the term to describe someone who helps others.  However, 2000 years ago, using today’s vernacular, this parable might have been better entitled “The Parable of the Good Terrorist.”  It is a true reflection of how the Samaritan would have been viewed within the cultural context of when Jesus walked.  Let’s keep that in mind.

In the context of the New Testament parable and the GCORR concept of vital conversations, imagine what was going through the mind of the injured Jew in the ditch.  Near death, beaten severely, and passed by those the tossed-aside man would have expected to help him, he is approached by the Samaritan, someone of another race.  Despised because of the Samaritan history of killing 200,000 of the residents of Jericho, the injured man must have been in great fear for his life from this Samaritan.

What could the Samaritan have possibly said that would allow him to approach the man in the ditch?  On the road, in a ditch, infamous for thieves and murderers hiding behind curves, rocks and trees, the hurt, tossed-aside man allowed a despised outcast to approach him.  Whatever it was, it had to carry great impact to bring down the defenses of both parties.

Now we turn to the innkeeper.  First, Samaritan and the Jew, an unusual duo, arrive at the khan, located on the road to Jericho.  They check in; the Samaritan treats the wounds on his new acquaintance and then, the next day gives the innkeeper 2 denarii, about 28 cents, and asks the innkeeper to “take care of him, and whatever you expend more, when I return I will pay you.”[5]  The innkeeper accepts this.

One has to ask “What is it this Samaritan says or does that makes folks do what he asks and let their defenses down?”  What is it that develops the trust that quickly forms between these three parties?

Trust is the key in these relationships.  Without trust, it is difficult, if not impossible to develop a relationship.  The Samaritan’s success is grounded in his ability to develop trust immediately.  How does he do it?  The Samaritan sees, hears and responds to the needs of the injured person in the ditch.  His spirit is open to loving the stranger.  He gives of himself with no expectation of recompense.  His actions are unconditional upon anything the Jew might say or do.  He epitomizes altruism.

As far as developing trust with the innkeeper, the formula is simple.  The Samaritan says what he’ll do, and he does what he says.

With regard to where the United Methodist Church is today, the need for Samaritan-type conversations is great.  If we are to make neighbors, be neighbors and love our neighbors, we must emulate the Samaritan.  Not only must these vital conversations incorporate our ears, eyes and hands, they demand our response in a compassionate, meaningful manner. We must engage our neighbor without expectations of accolades for our actions, without the intent of meeting some metric of church growth, and most importantly, without question of whether our neighbor is deserving of our goodness and grace.

What Jesus does in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect reversal of fortune.  If we were to revise the story to reflect the mindset of most of United Methodism today, we would have the Christian walking the road and rushing to the aid of a non-believer laying in the ditch.  Christ intentionally placed the despised, heretical Samaritan as the savior of the Jew in this parable.  The person we are inclined to identify ourselves with is the person who is despised.  The person we are instructed to love is the one we look down on.

When I read Luke’s account, I often see myself as each of the characters in the parable.  I have been the Priest, I have been the Levite.  I have been the person in the ditch and I have been the innkeeper.  With the vitriol around immigration, more time than note, I feel like the “Good Terrorist.”  Who are you in the parable?  Who have you been and who do you hope to be?  Regardless of what character you are at this point in your Christian walk, you have a talking part.  You must speak out against the hate and vitriol of xenophobia, racism and fear-mongering.

There is Latin phrase that I scroll across my computer screen.  It reads: “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris” which means it is human nature to hate a person whom you have injured.

Who is the neighbor we are charged to love?  The one we despise, the one we hate, the ones who fail to act, and the one we have injured.  And it is also ourselves.

[1] What We Do | GCORR, (accessed January 11, 2014).

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] New Standard Revised Edition

[5] Ibid

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When Systemic Racism Hits Home

This posting was written last year.  It is worth repeating.

If we are to celebrate Black History Month as a people of faith, we should make sure that history is accurate. Where it is inaccurate, we are obliged to correct it. Mere reconciliation and repentance is not enough, we must make reparations to make the Body of Christ whole.  We need look no further than our own communities to make a start.

Despite what it says in the book “The Central Texas Annual Conference 1866-2010. At the Center of Texas Methodism” by John Michael Patison, et al, Prince Memorial CME was the first church in Weatherford, Texas AND the second church in Parker County. Founded in 1854 under the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, founded by freed slaves, it predates the City Charter by two years. First Methodist Weatherford, was also founded, less than a mile away, but a few years later, and was also a Methodist Episcopal Church, South congregation. Despite transferring to the newly founded CME in 1870, after, for a short time, being part of a separate, ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the M.E. Church, South, for 16 years, Prince Memorial was the first Methodist church in town. I read this omission this morning in the aforementioned book.  Coincidentally, I spoke with folks at United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History at Drew University earlier this week in search of documentation of this history of Prince Memorial on a completely separate matter.

How a publication printed as recently as this book could eliminate this historically significant Methodist church is beyond me. Even the Weatherford Democrat, our local newspaper, recognizes the significance from a 2012 story:

“Prince Memorial Christian Methodist Church celebrated its 158th anniversary in April of 2012. The present church building, constructed after a 1912 storm, is a white clapboard edifice featuring an original bell tower, arched “cathedral windows” and steeply pitched gables. Prince Memorial is the oldest church building standing in Weatherford, and is the second oldest in Parker County.”

We cannot be a multicultural, multiracial denomination if we ignore, excise, delete, and fail to learn from our rich history of failing to be an inclusive church.  And we cannot live in unity if we continue to twist history, both secular and church, to only depict what shows the dominant culture in a favorable light.

Posted in Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, christ, Churches Uniting In Christ, CUIC, General Commission on Religion and Race, implicit bias, Inclusiveness, Jesus Christ, Justice, Race and Religion, United Methodist, Wesleyan | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to The Council of Bishops

Today, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, the President of the Council of Bishops released the following statement:

To the People Called United Methodist:
Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ!
On the eve of Advent and in the post-election climate in the United States, I write as President of the Council of Bishops to call for a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ.
Isaiah prophesized that a child would be born to re-establish the beloved community – a time of endless peace, a time of justice and righteousness, a time of reconciliation and unity.
For a child has been born to us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He shall establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6-7 NRSV
In a post-election article, Bishop Gregory Palmer eloquently stated the reality of a divided United States. “Everywhere we turn we are reminded of the profound fissures along the lines of gender, race and class, just to name a few. The truth is these fissures and divisions are not new and not directly attributable to the long campaign season just ended. For many years, there has been a growing trust deficit in public leadership and institutions. These are trying times, and the fabric of who we are and who we aspire to be has been stretched beyond anything we desire to look upon. But look upon it squarely we must.”
This state of division and discord is global, fueled by the racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric of the recent U.S. election cycle. Recently, Pope Francis warned against the “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people of different nationalities, races and beliefs. He was blunt and warned against animosity creeping into the church, as well, noting “we are not immune from this.” Pope Francis reminded us of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”
As followers of the Christ, we are harbingers, models and guardians of the Beloved Community. As those baptized into the Body of Christ, we “accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and to renounce the spiritual forces of evil in the world, our respective nations and the church. As disciples of Jesus, we stand against all expressions of hatred, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. As those who serve Christ, we love whom Christ loves. As stewards of Jesus’ Good News, we are peacemakers, pray for our enemies and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have become estranged.
At the November 2010 meeting of the Council of Bishops in Panama, the Council issued a pastoral letter calling for United Methodists to be bearers of the beloved community across the globe. The letter is eerily contemporary and relevant to our current context. It points to the opportunity that is uniquely ours to bind up the wounds and to proclaim the Advent prophecy of a time of justice and righteousness. I include the full text as a reminder of the kingdom reality we are call to incarnate:
“We, the bishops of The United Methodist Church, feel compelled to renew our commitment to work to become the beloved community of Christ. We, as a Council, desire to deal with the crucial issues of racism and the sacredness of every human being. Therefore, as the spiritual and administrative leaders of the church, we issue an urgent call to the whole people of God, lay and clergy: to speak the truth in love in public and private discourse, to act with compassion, and to work for peace with justice in the world.
In order to transform the world, in faithfulness to Christ’s command, we must model respect and kindness and extinguish the fires of animosity. And thus, we call on all churches to engage in genuinely honest dialogue and respectful conversation, such that others who observe the action in our lives might declare, ‘See how they love each other!’
As people of faith, we are charged to build the beloved community because Christ has broken down the dividing walls and ended the hostilities between us. Yet, we continue to build walls in the church and the world which separate us and cause our hearts to grieve.
On the continent of Africa and in many parts of Asia, including the Middle East, the Philippines and India, the historical and contemporary impact of colonialism, racism, tribalism, hostility and religious persecution continue to affect human relationships. The challenge in the Philippines is to break down the barriers between mainline society and tribal peoples. Meeting this challenge will accord equal rights such as land possession and free education for all.
By nature, colonialism in Africa thrives on hostile, violent and demeaning human relationships. Racism and tribalism cut deep wounds, not in one’s flesh and blood, but also on the soul and the spirit. These gaping wounds leave permanent scars.
In Europe racism is a growing issue, with political parties openly working against minority, ethnic and religious communities. Prejudice is overly articulated in the media, in politics and even in churches.
Throughout the United States, there has been a rapid escalation of violence related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious preference. This escalation includes personal attacks, bullying and vicious and criminal acts of violence to the mind, body and spirit of persons. These actions diminish life for victims and their families, as well as for the perpetrators and the whole community. They are the ultimate, insidious and irreverent attacks on the sacredness of God-given life.
Across the world, terrorism – as demonstrated by wanton acts of violence against innocent persons – leaves a trail of loss of life, limb, home and community. Discriminatory treatment is widely practiced against immigrants and refugees everywhere around the world. All of this creates a universal atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust and fear. Often this is the result of religious persecution of various faith communities, including Christians, which threatens the capacity or hope for reconciliation and peace. The church is called to decisively and directly counter these acts and engender and empower a ‘perfect love that casts out all fear.’ (I John 4:18, NVSV) Through intentional action we can ‘overcome evil with good.’ (Romans 12:21, NRSV)
It is incumbent upon the bearers of this vision of a beloved community to do whatever we can today to hasten the day of a just world with peace. This is our hope, our prayer and our commitment.”
Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice.
We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack and criticism. As Richard Rohr recently noted, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual.
So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment. May it be so!

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church

Well, I must say, this is a start.  And yet, I too, am reminded of the words of the Old Testament, those of Jeremiah (Chap. 23: 1-6):

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

As a Latinx and  a person of color with deep Native American roots, I must speak to the President of the Council of Bishops’ statement.  Missing from Bishop Ough’s statement are some extremely important words and concepts I hope to see in future statements.

In his statement earlier this week, Bishop Mike McKee of North Texas called racism a sin.  By committing that phrase to writing, Bishop McKee did something no other Bishop has done during this time period, he forced us to recognize we have a race problem, not only in society but also in our pews.  Unlike the statement by Bishop Ward of North Carolina, he did not turn the victim into a participant.  He spoke a truth; one that is hard to hear but one that can no longer be ignored.  How can we address a problem if we only talk about it behind closed doors?

For the last quadrennium, we, as a denomination, have been participating in an Act of Repentance for sins and atrocities against our Nations First People.  Additionally, we have voted for a resolution in the past that repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery.  And yet, we stand by with mere words and photo ops while human rights and sacred lands are trodden down by oil companies and militarized police. We wring our hands and use such words as “best public interest” and do not make a stand again eminent domain or stand by our Nation’s treaties. True repentance requires accountability of words and accountability of actions.  To truly repent is to seek to not commit the sins we claim to detest.  We can no longer turn a blind eye to a newer versions of the same sins.

We must seek restoration of damaged relationships.  This cannot be done my talking about bridge-building.  Nor can this be done by preaching about unity.  Restoring relationships requires being in relationship.  As important as cultural competency training might be, the lessons learned must be put into practice.  50 church leaders were participating in this type of training in the North Carolina Conference two months PRIOR to the incident at the youth camp there in which Latinx youth were confronted with blatant racist actions  Were was that trained leadership then?  And then, when a Latinx youth counselor (who had been asked to preach before the racist actions arose) addressed the youth, parents, camp participants, many left.  Even more, including some of the leadership, pointed fingers at the Latinx seminarian for bringing “politics” to a church camp. Well, what about the kids wearing the Trump campaign hats? Was that okay? This is akin to saying a sexual assault victim deserves rape because she was dressed, in a provocative manner.

And finally, reparation.  Reparation is not something our denomination can use to create equality.  And it is not solely about money.  Rather, it is a means to true equity.  Frankly speaking, my community is tired of hollow words with little follow-up.  How do you think it looks to have had resolutions on the books that strongly recommended not holding church meetings in cities that have sports teams that use pejorative and demeaning mascots and names, only to have the renewal of that resolution watered down?  And, to add insult to injury, move one of our largest General Agencies to Atlanta, a city that does that very thing.  One can’t hid behind phrases like “the team plans to move to Smyrna.”  True reparation demands staying true to our words, both as a denomination and as part of the Church Universal. It requires  equitable funding for churches serving constituents of our Ethnic Caucuses.  It means supporting our small, urban and inter-city churches suffering from an economy that has hit those communities with a force that has torn many of those communities apart, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Being the Church is not about mottos and taglines.  Being the Church is not about acronyms and clever sayings.  Being the Church Universal is not asking “What Would Jesus Do” but rather “What Would Jesus Have Me Do.”  I think we know what that is.  Let us all feel empowered to speak the truth and act courageously upon that truth.

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Looking Death in the eye…in the Courtroom.

Well, the jury has been selected, the witnesses sworn in, the defense team has had its last minute meetings to tie up loose ends.  And tomorrow, the trial begins.  The State of Texas is seeking to kill one of its citizens-accused.  I, and the rest of the defense team stand between our client and state-sanctioned homicide.

I’m sure the media will be there.  I know the families of the defendant and the victim will be there.  The vocal anti-death penalty advocates will be nowhere in sight.  The pro-lifers wouldn’t find themselves near the place because that would mean that they recognizing that the sanctity of life means every life.

Capital Punishment is one of those topics that our denomination gives little ink to and even less time preaching on the subject.

Our Social Principles are quite clear:

164.G The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

This statement has changed little over the years.  But, like so many things we do as United Methodists, we work in our missional silos.  We don’t see the nexus between crime and mental health.  We don’t see the connection between unequal access to  education and poverty.  We ignore to tie between mental health care and criminality.  We fail to see the powerful impact that race, colorism and culture are embedded in who the government seeks death against and who the government waives the death penalty.

I remember a time, not too many years ago, that one of my clients was being executed.  I was teaching my Death Penalty Project class at SMU Law that day and decided to stay on campus, as a vigil was to be held at the flag pole in front of Dallas Hall that evening at 6:00 pm.  I didn’t want to be alone so I decided to join the vigil.

The case I will never forget.  The defendant was accused and convicted of breaking into the home of an elderly neighbor, brutally stabbing her, and stealing some of her personal effects.  During the early stage of the trial, the victim’s twin sister approached me and asked if she could testify on behalf of our client.  She informed me that both she and her sister were Christians and felt it was her duty to forgive our client and ask the jury for leniency.  The lawyers felt she couldn’t be trusted to say those things and refused to use her as a witness.  I carried the guilt of not pushing hard enough to convince counsel that we needed to put her on the stand throughout the trial.  I carried that guilt to that flag pole on the night of the execution.  I carry that guilt to this day.

You see, Michael, our client, died alone on a gurney that night.  And the vigil?  I was the only one to attend.

It is apparent that,  despite eloquent statements like the one in our Social Principles, no one really gives a damn.  Not the advocacy groups, not the pro-lifers, and certainly not The Church.  There will be no protesters at the trial, there will be no clergy willing to risk their reputation by standing up for someone accused of such a heinous crime as capital murder.  There will be only family of the victim and family of the accused.  There will be the media because “blood leads.”  There will be the State prosecutors and staff and the defense team and staff.  There will be 12 jurors and a few alternates.  There will be a Judge and his courtroom security staff.  And there will be one man, sitting in the courtroom, who, despite all those around him, will be alone.

I often use a quote in class, “proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris.”  Translated, it means  it is a condition of human nature to hate those we have hurt.  That is how the death penalty is often meted out.  Rather than recognize our societal responsibility, and thus our own moral culpability for creating an environment that breeds violence and mental health treatment shortcomings, we demand individual responsibility and accountability.  So what if we have a disastrous Child Protective System?  Who cares if the justice system is fraught with systemic racism?  Why worry that our education system is failing our student, teachers and administrators?  And why care that we use our penal system as mental health treatment facilities?  Because all these factors, as well as many others that we allow to occur in our communities, help create the person who often stands charged with the most serious of crimes and faces the ultimate punishment.  We, as a society, sweep our own societal responsibility under the carpet we like to call Justice.  The hurt we inflict is often the failure to take action to save children from the ills of society (brought on by governmental budget cuts to invaluable programs like education, mental health systems, foster care/CPS programs, drug and alcohol treatment programs and health care) and then we hate those kids when they grow up and commit these crimes.  Well, if we aren’t going to take care of our vulnerable children, we might as well start executing 7 and 8 years-olds as a preemptive strike.

I was once asked, after the particularly brutal trial of the case I mentioned above, if I ever got tired of losing.  My response was that, “If I measured victories by verdicts, the answer would be yes.  But I don’t measure success by verdicts.  I have the ability to change lives.  It might be the defendant, it might be the defendant’s family.  It could be a juror or a member of the victim’s family.  But more times than not, it is my own life that changes.  I develop a greater sense of the sanctity of life and a closer relationship with my God.  And when my time comes to be judged by that God, I wouldn’t have tired of losing.  I will have done well because I did good!”

So, tomorrow my client will not be alone.  I will treat him with respect. I will treat him with compassion.  I will treat him with grace.  I will treat him with love.  I will see Christ in him.  May he see Christ in me.




Posted in capital punishment, christ, Civil Rights, death penalty, guns, implicit bias, Justice, law, Marginalized, Police, school-to-prison, Social Principles, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Four Little Girls

Every year, since 2012, I have posted this piece I wrote.  In light of today’s racial unrest, particularly from the campaign trail, we need to hear these words more today than  ever.

By Vince Gonzales, September, 2012
Four little girls. So few remember the event, fewer remember their names.
Four little girls on 16th Street in Birmingham, Alabama.
Four little girls, on a Sunday morning, walking into church. A box of dynamite, planted under the steps with a timer.
Four little girls, with 18 of their friends, entering the basement to hear a sermon…”The Love That Forgives.”
Four little girls, their lives ended by hate.
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley.
Four little girls, a moment of time, frozen in our hearts and minds, so many years ago today…on that Sunday morning in church.
I, for one, will say their names today.
I will say their names with a resounding voice.
Let our collective voices be louder than that hate-filled explosion.
May the memory of the sacrifices Addie Mae, Denise, Carol and Cynthia made never be forgotten.
Not martyrs by choice, just four little girls.
Four little girls that changed the world.
Posted in Balm in Gilead, Baltimore, Birmingham Church bombing, Charleston, christ, Christian Churches Together, Christian Unity, Churches Uniting In Christ, Civil Rights, Council of Bishops, CUIC, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Ezell Ford, Ferguson, General Commission on Religion and Race, Global AIDS Fund, Good Samaritan, guns, Hispanic/Latino ministries, Hope, implicit bias, Inclusiveness, Jesus Christ, Justice, law, Marginalized, Martin Luther King, mass shootings, Michael Brown, MLK, OCUIR, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Peace, Police, Race and Religion, SC, school-to-prison, Uncategorized, United Methodist, Unity, Wesleyan | Leave a comment

From the ruins and ashes, much was raised.

September 11, 2001. As was my practice, I was watching the Today Show that Tuesday morning. At about 7:50 am, the coverage changed. There were dramatic scenes of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, with smoke billowing from the upper floors. I watched, thinking a horrible accident had occurred. I remained glued to the screen, listening to the ever-changing thoughts of the reporters. I remember the confusion of the type of plane that had struck the building.

My eyes, still affixed to the screen at 8:03 am, teared up when the second airliner struck the South Tower. I, like so many others, sat in disbelief. A little more than 30 minutes later, reports came in that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I couldn’t move away from the television, paralyzed by the images that I was seeing broadcast. The scenes were horrifying yet riveting.

And then, the South Tower collapsed.  It was a little before 9:00 in the morning.

About a half hour later, the North Tower fell.  A short time later, there were reports of a plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania.

I peeled myself away from the coverage and decided, for reasons I can’t remember now, to head to the Wells Fargo branch at the nearby grocery store.

One of the tellers was using very strong language, cursing “those G-damned ragheads.” I was standing in the line. With my complexion and full beard, I have been mistaken for being Middle Eastern on more than one occasion. The teller’s anger and bias were overt.  I remember turning to him and asking “Like those that bombed the Murrah Building?” I chastised him for his comments, knowing that my words would fall on deaf ears. I followed up with a call to the Main Branch. I’m sure that those words were equally unheard.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that in those moments we all watched that day and saw repeated on our televisions and in our collective memories seemed to change America. On the one hand, we took our eyes off of domestic terrorists and seemed to, overnight, focus on a single foe. The Middle Easterner. We saw the rebirth of a racism we had hoped we had left behind (although, we really knew better) back in the Sixties. And we experienced the birth of an American form of xenophobia that, in retrospect, had been gestating for decades. We merely needed a reason to deliver this bastard child.

I returned home and called the church I was (and still am) a member. I was Chair of the Church and Society Committee and felt we needed to do something in response. The church is directly across from several dorms on the Texas Tech campus.  I feared for the new students, many away from home for the first time, needing a place of solace and comfort.  I thought of the many foreign students studying in Lubbock, facing the possible (and likely) repercussions from angry Americans.  And, I feared my own ability to become that which I detested…one who turned against the teachings of my God.

Our Pastor agreed that we should be a refuge from all that was going on around us and we put the word out that our doors would be open for those needing sanctuary. Sanctuary from the media coverage. Sanctuary from the pain. Sanctuary from the racial slurs that would certainly be coming. Sanctuary from the hate spawned, not from the evil events of the morning but rather, from the history of racial and cultural bias that only needed a reason to come to the surface.

We provided counselors and psychologists that were present every day for that week and available the following week. We had our pastoral staff available. The doors of the church were open from early morning until late at night. The sanctuary was darkened, with only dim lighting and the Christ Candle lit.

There were those who wanted an American flag posted in the sanctuary. We did not do that. Instead, we put a flag outside of the church building. After all, this was the house of God, not a bully pulpit for jingoists.

We also extended our sanctuary, as well as our protection, to our Muslim brothers and sisters, who, almost immediately, began to receive threats. Their building sustained damage during this time.

It may have been The Church’s greatest moment. It certainly had the potential to be so. There was Christian Unity. There was meaningful Interreligious relationship. Doctrinal differences were set aside.  Denominational lines ceased to exist.

We stopped arguing about full-inclusion long enough to, well, be fully inclusive. We strived to love our neighbor, contrary to what was happening around us locally, regionally, Nationally and Internationally. We set aside our fears to do so, and in those moments, we experienced God.

While the media focused on the perceived enemy, the church focused on its covenant with God. Where anger, bias, prejudice, xenophobia and vengeance became the by-products of those espousing hate, for a brief moment in our history, the church became The Church.

Sunday, September 11, 2016, marks the 15th Anniversary of that day. We will watch the replays of the attacks. We will hear the stories of survivors. We will calculate the costs in dollars and in lives. And fuel will be added to a fire that is best extinguished, not fed.  Politicians will spew messages to further divide us.  So will some pastors.

We long ago returned to our petty doctrinal warfare. Yes, petty.

We long ago returned to our denominational divisions.

We long ago assumed our air of superiority over those we see as heathens and non-Christian.

We espouse racist, sexist, homophobic diatribes as if they are a God-given right.

And we look to 9/11 to justify all of the sinful hate we exhibit in the Name of God.

I, for one, will not do that. I will not watch the inevitable television programming. I will not listen to a sermon placing Country above Church. I will not be a lemming, blindly led to a cliff, to toss myself into a sea of hate, bitterness, and sacrilege.  Instead, I will remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah that I read during worship on Sunday, September 16, 2001:

6The oracle concerning the beasts of the Negev. Through a land of distress and anguish, From where come lioness and lion, viper and flying serpent, They carry their riches on the backs of young donkeys And their treasures on camels’ humps, To a people who cannot profit them; 7Even Egypt, whose help is vain and empty. Therefore, I have called her “Rahab who has been exterminated.” 8Now go, write it on a tablet before them And inscribe it on a scroll, That it may serve in the time to come As a witness forever. 9For this is a rebellious people, false sons, Sons who refuse to listen To the instruction of the Lord; 10Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions“; And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right, Speak to us pleasant words, Prophesy illusions. 11Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” 12Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Since you have rejected this word And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, 13Therefore this iniquity will be to you Like a breach about to fall, A bulge in a high wall, Whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant, 14Whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter’s jar, So ruthlessly shattered That a sherd will not be found among its pieces To take fire from a hearth Or to scoop water from a cistern.” 15For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing, 16And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses,” Therefore you shall flee! “And we will ride on swift horses,” Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift. 17One thousand will flee at the threat of one man; You will flee at the threat of five, Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top And as a signal on a hill.  Isaiah 30:6-17 (NASB)

I will pray as I remember the time, that short time, that the church became The Church.

May it be so again.

Posted in 9/11, christ, Christian Unity, Inclusiveness, Jesus Christ, Justice, OCUIR, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Peace, Race and Religion, St. John's UMC Lubbock, Unity | 2 Comments

Churches Uniting In Christ Responds to Violence in Orlando and Multiple Police

In June and July of this year, Churches Uniting In Christ has responded to the pandemic of gun violence that has rocked our Nation.   Churches Uniting in Christ is a covenant relationship among eleven Christian communions that have pledged to live more closely together in expressing their unity in Christ and combating racism together. The member churches of CUIC include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church, the International Council of Community Churches, the Moravian Church (Northern Province), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a partner in mission and dialogue. For more information, please see our website at

The innocent lives taken, both police and civilian must stop.  I have included both statements CUIC has released regarding the shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Anthony, Minnesota, as well as other towns and cities.  These messages are clear and to the point.  I hope you will read them in their entirety and with an objective eye.


July 22, 2016

We are deeply concerned with preserving the lives of all God’s children, especially men of color whose lives are imminently and lethally threatened. In what seems to be a weekly, if not a daily occurrence, gun violence has led to the deaths of 3 police officers and the wounding of several others.  In the month since Churches Uniting In Christ released a statement in response to the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, we have witnessed the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  In response to those deaths, demonstrations arose in cities across the country.  During a peaceful protest march consisting of Black Lives Matter members and other groups in Dallas, Texas, 12 Dallas police officers and one demonstrator were shot by a sniper.  The gunman was not affiliated with the demonstrators.  Five officers died as a result of their gunshot wounds.  The assailant, Micah Johnson, was killed by a bomb attached to a police robot.

On Sunday, July 17, in Baton Rouge, law enforcement officers again were the victims of gun violence.  Three officers were killed and three others wounded.  Gavin Long, the suspected shooter, was killed by police officers at the scene.

We are deeply grateful for the police officers, first responders, medical care personnel, and chaplains who are providing direct aid and assistance to victims and their family and friends. They are truly a sign of the common humanity which unites us all. Such signs can serve to show us all how to act for positive change in society.

To the fallen officers, may God grant them eternal rest.  To the families of the fallen officers, we mourn with you and pray for your well-being.

We also extend our compassion and prayers to the families of the assailants, for they are suffering too.

As violence seems to beget more violence, we must remember the words of Jesus Christ, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them…”  (Luke 6:27-42, ESV).

Is some change needed in our communities? Yes. 533 fatal police shootings of civilians so far this year. 990 last year. There is no debate, one is too many.

Since July 8th, 9 police officers have lost their lives to gun violence. There is no debate, one is too many.

In the onslaught of recent police killings, we cannot lose sight of the fact that other communities of color are suffering too.

The rhetoric that creates a rationale for senseless gun violence cannot be tolerated.  It is illogical and unacceptable for identified leaders to refuse to consider legislation which would screen applicants for guns and limit access to certain weapons that should be reserved for wartime uses.  Words can kill when we create an atmosphere identifying some cultures/ethnicities as perpetrators and others victims based on biases, prejudices, and discrimination.

Standing with the Black Lives Matter movement does not mean one does not support our law enforcement community.  It also means that one cannot stand by silently as the Latino community suffers from police shootings. In the same week that Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile were killed, five Latino men and women were also shot and killed by law enforcement officers.  There are places in our communities where the number of police-involved shootings of Latino men and women is proportionally higher than those of Black men and women. Albuquerque, San Jose, Los Angeles County are particularly troublesome.

For our Nation’s First People, we must recognize that that demographic is statistically the most likely to be killed by law enforcement.

For too many years we have been spoon-fed lies that have only added fuel to this inferno that rages across our society. Lies like the War on Crime, legislation that has punished our communities of color at a disproportionate rate, with more severe punishments, resulting in the need to build more prisons and privatized prisons. These lies were non-partisan in nature. They have created, what Michelle Alexander called “The New Jim Crow.”

The militarization of our police forces, stemming from an over-supply of military hardware from constant conflicts since 2001, as well as the lack of, or poor training in de-escalation of dangerous situations, capped off by reductions in funding for mental health services and the use of jails as mental health treatment facilities have created a powder-keg.

The militarization of our citizenry, with laws that allow the open carry of weapons in public, is acting as the fuse.

“Fear not.” God, in scripture we hear that message from you again and again. Our minds and our streets are now full of fear—fear of police, fear of men and women of color, fear of foreigners, fear of people we think are different from us, fear of people whose faith is different from ours. Help us to admit our fears. Keep us from letting our fears drive our lives. Fill us with hope for the best from ourselves and from our neighbors as we seek your beloved community.

With each new headline of a police-involved shooting or a police officer shot, the fuse gets shorter.  We may never know the impetus behind the police shootings, but both Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were veterans.  Many of our Country’s veterans return from these conflicts suffering from wounds we can’t see on the outside.  Compounding the problem is that our Country’s veterans are suffering from untreated-PTSD and are winding up on many of our police forces. They are also ending up in our jails and prisons. Too many Vets are on our streets homeless.  We pray for peace but recognize that we cannot abandon the needs of those who faced the horrors of war.

Demanding policy changes that call for better community policing is not the same as being unsupportive of law enforcement. Demanding that our justice system provides the fair and equitable application of the law whether one wears a badge or not is not too much to expect.

We feel the woundedness of our communities.  As people of faith, we have experienced the loss of members of our churches, our denominations and the Body of Christ reels with the pain.

The sin of racism, both overt and implicit, combined with the seemingly unbridled violence toward law enforcement, has created an environment of discord, mistrust, and tension that exacerbates an already volatile situation.

We implore that our churches preach messages of reconciliation, teach lessons of understanding, and exemplify a model of Christian love for all.  There are no sides to be taken other than the side of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

We beseech our churches to create safe places for law enforcement agencies and community members to engage in meaningful conversations about the fears and concerns of all sides of these festering issues in an effort to bring peace, tranquility, and respect to our neighborhoods.  These conversations should be preemptive as well as reactive to the trauma experienced by all.

As our congregations reach out beyond the walls of their buildings, we encourage speaking as if the Holy Spirit were part of the conversation.  There is no room for invective in our pews, nor is their space for heated vitriol in our communities.  As the Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:32, ESV).

Bishop Teresa Snorton , President, CUIC

Mr. Vince Gonzales, Chair, Racial and Social Justice Task Force

Rev. Michael R. Fisher, Jr. , Chair Young Adult Task Force

Mr. Abraham Wright, Vice President, CUIC

Rev. Hermann Weinlick, Secretary, CUIC

Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, Treasurer, CUIC



Churches Uniting in Christ’s (CUIC)

Statement on the Mass Shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL

On this, the anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, once again, our Nation and the World hear the names of the slain from another mass shooting. And once again, the Body of Christ weeps over another evil act that has taken lives of 49 souls, as well as the life of the assailant in yet another mass shooting. This time, it was at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando on June 12, 2016. 54 were left injured. The victims, many who were persons of color, of Latino heritage, or both, gathered to celebrate their culture. The impact is felt across our churches, schools, and workplaces. The shockwaves have been felt around the World, as the global community grieves the loss of so many lives.

In its quest for unity with justice, Churches Uniting in Christ offers our lament as well as our hope that all divisions amongst God’s people will be reconciled. We recognize that many families, but especially families of color, have been directly affected by this tragedy. We deplore that the Latino community, Muslim community and the LGBTQI community will continue to suffer, even after the news media turns to the next headline-grabbing story.

Across our denominations, many prayers have been and will be said. Numerous vigils will be held. We pray for compassion and understanding and are especially concerned about the two communities particularly experiencing the impact of the Orlando massacre. Everyone in the LBGTQI and Muslim communities deserves to know they are safe and free from any kind of discrimination and hateful, divisive language and retribution. As people of faith, the dignity of every human being is without question. No form of violence, whether it is terrorism or spiritual teaching, has the right to denigrate any person. In this moment of grief, we implore all of the members of our churches as well as the public in general to hold the human dignity of everyone in the highest regard and courageously speak up for the rights of the minorities and marginalized when they are attacked. As followers of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, we stand up against invective and vitriol. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the World, but has not solved one yet.”

To the fallen, may God grant them eternal rest. To their families, we mourn with you and pray for your well-being. We also extend our compassion and prayers to the family of the assailant, for they are suffering too. We are deeply grateful for the police officers, first responders, medical care personnel, pastors and chaplains who are providing aid and assistance to victims and their families and friends. This sign of the common humanity unites us all. Such signs can serve to show us all how to act for positive change in society. To political leaders, we implore you to address the elements that allow these events to happen time and time again. We must recognize that our society has yet to provide adequate mental health care to those who resort to acts of violence out of their own despair prior to a tragedy occurring. The same type of assault rifle used at the Pulse Night Club was also used in Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Let us not be shy about taking the necessary steps to increase oversight in the sales and purchase of these types of weapons. Enough is enough!

We are people born from the pain of the cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth was executed. Our solidarity with the victims and their families is visceral from the very core of our faith. We pledge our houses of worship as spaces in which comfort for the grieving can be found and the rhetoric of hate has no place. We also recommit ourselves to ministries of reconciliation and justice in our city streets – for we believe that “God is in the midst of the city” (Psalm 46:5a).


Bishop Teresa Snorton , President, CUIC

Mr. Vince Gonzales, Chair, Racial and Social Justice Task Force

Rev. Michael R. Fisher, Jr. , Chair Young Adult Task Force

Mr. Abraham Wright, Vice President, CUIC

Rev. Hermann Weinlick, Secretary, CUIC

Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, Treasurer, CUIC

Posted in Baltimore, Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Charleston, christ, Christian Churches Together, Churches Uniting In Christ, Council of Bishops, CUIC, Dallas, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Ezell Ford, Ferguson, General Commission on Religion and Race, guns, Hispanic/Latino ministries, implicit bias, Jesus Christ, Justice, law, mass shootings, Michael Brown, North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, OCUIR, Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Peace, Police, Race and Religion, SC, Uncategorized, United Methodist, Wesleyan | Leave a comment

Hispanic/Latin@ millennials and the Church

This past April, I attended a gathering of Hispanic/Latin@ church leaders with the intent of discussing how to reach Hispanic/Latin@ millennials for the church.  There was great diversity of denominations, national origin, language and polity among this group.  I was fortunate enough to have been asked by our denominational Ecumenical Officer, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and the good people of The Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the UMC Council of Bishops to attend on behalf of the UMC.

The event was put on by Christian Churches Together.  The UMC is a partner communion of CCT.  Christian Churches Together is a relatively young ecumenical group made up of denominations across the spectrum of Christianity. Its stated purpose is as follows:

The purpose of Christian Churches Together is to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world. The by-laws list seven specific tasks:

  1. to celebrate a common confession of faith in the Triune God,
  2. to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and theological dialogue,
  3. to provide fellowship and mutual support,
  4. to seek a better understanding of each other by affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences,
  5. to foster evangelism faithful to the proclamation of the gospel,
  6. to speak to society with a common voice whenever possible, and
  7. to promote the common good of society and engage in other activities consistent with its purposes.

To fulfill its purpose of growing closer to Christ and to each other, Christian Churches Together focuses, in its annual meeting, on praying together, discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and theological dialogues, and providing fellowship and mutual support. Out of this process, participants discern how and when to take action together in common witness to our society. In 2006, CCT began to address the scandal of domestic poverty; specific proposals for CCT actions will be brought to the next annual meeting for consideration and decision.[1]

From this initial work, a vision was set to bring together Latin@[2] church leaders together in an effort to:

  1. Meet and develop relationships with other Latino/Latina leaders
  2. Pray together and celebrate our common identity in Christ
  3. Learn of other’s efforts, actions, and programs
  4. Talk about our differences and seek a better understanding
  5. Coordinate common actions in support of the Latino community

The April 2016 meeting was the third gathering of Latin@ leaders to date. It was held at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, CA on April 26-27. I have attached an agenda of the meeting to this report as Attachment A.

There was ample attendance to facilitate good conversation and adequate denominational representation from a diverse group of communion. The demographics were heavily male in the makeup of the delegation. There were few young adults with an estimate average age of attendees being around 50 years of age.

Those in attendance were:

Rev. Carlos L. Malave, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together, Louisville, KY;

Mr. Alejandro Aguilarea-Titus, Director Ministerios Hispanos de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos, Washington, D.C.;

Rev. Eddy Aleman, Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries, The Reformed Church in America, Grand Rapids, MI;

Rev. Luis Avila, Director Ministerios Hispanos de la Iglesia Internacional de Santidad y Pentecostal, Oklahoma City, OK;

Rev. Dr. Fernando Cascante, Director Ejecutivo, AETH – Director del Centro Justo L. Gonzalez[3], Orlando, FL;

Rev. Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, Director of Transformative Peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, Portland, OR;

Rev. Nancy Frausto, Associate Rector, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, CA;

Bishop Jose Garcia, former California State Presiding Bishop for the Church of God of Prophecy, now Director of Church Relations, Bread for the World, Washington, D.C.;

Rev. Rudy Gonzalez, Office of Race Relations, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Moreno Valley, CA;

Rev. Marco Grimaldo (PCUSA), Senior National Associate for Latino Engagement, Bread for the World, Washington, D.C.;

Rev. Canon Anthony Guillen, Missioner, Hispanic/Latino Ministries; Los Angeles, CA;

Rev. Enrique Baldeon, Director America Latina y Brasil; Biblia, Inc. (formerly known as International Bible Society), Doral, FL;

Pastor Florecita Merlos, licensed, Principe de Paz (Church of the Brethren), Santa Ana, CA.

Rev. Salvador Orellana, National Coordinator – Latino Ministries, American Baptist Home Mission Society, Valley Forge, PA;

Rev. Ruben Ortiz, Senior Pastor, La Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Deltona, American Baptist Church USA, Daytona Beach, FL.; and

Vince Gonzales, Laity, United Methodist Church, Board, General Commission on Religion and Race; Chair, Racial and Social Justice Task Force, Churches Uniting In Christ, Weatherford, TX.

Day 1

We opened with a shared meal, greetings, and introductions. After an opening prayer, Rev. Malave gave a brief devotional to start us on our path of discussion and discovery.

In the first session, we shared professional and personal stories of being a Hispanic, latin@ and immigrant within the context of the church. The stories, often of success, often reflected success within the Latin@ church and did little to shed light on a greater struggle to find equity in the mainline denomination. Regardless, these stories were encouraging as these leaders have shown the ability to overcome many obstacles that our congregant and those seeking a church have faced.

We fell behind schedule so we spent a little time discussing programs and actions that were working at reaching Latin@s in our communities. I mentioned the Hispanic/Latino Ministry Christian School in the Northwest Texas Conference. This joint project with United Theological Seminary has been training small group leaders with an eye to moving these trained persons into local pastor roles. This has spurred a leap in Hispanic new members within this Conference. The Iowa Conference has considered this program, the New Mexico Conference is starting to implement it and, as I understand it, the North Georgia Conference has reviewed this program and may be considering its implementation.

Our first presenter was the Rev. Marcos Canales. Rev. Canales is the Hispanic Ministries director at First Nazarene Church in Pasadena, CA. Born in Costa Rica, his family moved to Lima, Peru and then to Quito, Ecuador. His family then returned to San Jose, Costa Rica. He eventually came to the United States. After a one year stay in Miami, Florida, he then traveled to Asuncion, Paraguay.

Leaving Paraguay, he moved to San Diego, CA to attend Point Loma Nazarene University from which he graduated. After graduation, he attended Fuller Theological Seminary while serving as Senior Pastor at San Fernando Church of the Nazarene. After 8 years there, he moved to his current appointment.

His migration story is relevant when he speaks of what he sees as the Four Core Issues for the Latin@ church.

These Core Issues are:

  1. The Power of La Familia.
  2. The complex reality of migration.
  3. Leadership dynamics.
  4. Identity formation.

The Power of La Familia.

Self is defined by one’s relationship with one’s family. Stress/tension is created between 1st generation, Spanish-language dominant family members and 2nd generation, English-dominant family members. Children often have to take on adult roles as intermediaries for their parents.[4] The roles are often in the form of translating at doctor’s appointments, legal appointments, banking, school meetings, etc. This can often lead to low attendance or inability to participate in church programs.

The complex reality of migration.

Churches must be cognizant of migration stories to create effective ministries to Latin@s. The need for a church to be aware of community resources that prove to be valuable to Latin@s is extremely important. These resources must be more than benevolence programs. The two top concerns for Latin@ millennials are High Blood Pressure and Diabetes, followed by clinical depression. Knowing resources for health care, both physical and mental will assist in bridge-building. Being in a relationship with the community will help tp identify specific needs that might exist.

Leadership dynamics.

Latin@ youth suffers burnout and/or under use. In large part, this may be due to rampant patriarchy within Latin@ congregations.

To make matters worse, within predominantly white churches, the use of language often serves in a manner that invites, obscurantism, the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known to Spanish-dominant or bi-lingual speakers.

Identity formation.

Identity formation is dependent upon spaces for the narratives which define the Latin@ culture and character. Any missional agenda must embrace the issues which lead to Hispanic/Latino identity formation.

In an interesting exercise, Rev. Canales had the group watch a YouTube video by the group Las Cafeteras. The song title is “La Bamba Rebeledes”. It can be viewed here:

The purpose of viewing this video was for the attendee to answer the following questions:

  1. What values do you see reflected in the video?
  2. Which parts could one relate with in the video?
  3. Which parts made you uncomfortable?

Having been born and lived in Los Angeles until the age of 12 I was reminded of the four core issues Rev. Canales addressed in his presentation. The Latin@ love and respect of family, culture, faith traditions, the manner of dress, food and identity are often lost in the inadvertent (maybe even to some degree, intentional) attempt to assimilate Latin@s to become mainline church members.

Rev. Canales pointed out that it should be a major pastoral concern to know the difference between being an agent of change or a recipient of change. To be an agent of change, one maintains his or her self-identity and all that is attendant to that identity.

To recognize and respect the value of Latin@ Christians, we must be willing to give a load-bearing responsibility with the attendant high visibility in positions of church missional work and church leadership.

In a side-bar conversation with Rev. Dr. Cascante, he pointed out that many churches utilize the model:

Believe> Behave > Belong

This model requires a change in order to belong and creates a litmus test before acceptance.

The preferred model is:

Belong> Behave> Believe

Belonging to a community of faith is an ecclesiological question, not a programmatic one.

Day 2

We began with a moving devotional delivered by Rev Ruben Ortiz. We were asked to listen to a portion of an NPR podcast entitled “Walking Across America.” The selection can be found here: Start: 16:00 End: 18:41

We then discussed Race and Grace. It was moving to discuss who each of us extended grace as well as had grace extended to each of us.

Our next session was presented by the Pastores Molinas from Iglesias de Restauracion in Los Angeles, CA. A father and son pastoral team, Rene Sr., and Rene Jr. lead a 3,000-member church affiliated with Mision Cristiana Elim International, a Pentecostal group with approximately 60,000 members. Both pastors are working toward the M.Divs at Fuller Theological Seminary.

I have attached a newspaper article from the L.A. Times that covers most of their presentation, but would add the following points from their presentation:

  1. “Tradition is the dead faith of the living.”
  2. Proselytizing among millennials (doesn’t work because) young adults don’t like it.”
  3. Authenticity if very important. Do not treat millennials like a “bar-code.”
  4. We must stay fluid to develop meaningful relationships.
  5. We must decide what we intend to follow, the tradition of the Gospel or the tradition of the church.
  6. Millennials only have “space for grace” when churches fail when there are genuine relationships.
  7. “Closed small groups” lead to greater accountability based on trust and relationship. Once a small group is formed, there can be no new members. The privacy and sanctity of the small group have led to open discussions on issues such as homoeroticism, same-sex attraction, demons, etc.
  8. We must utilize relevant age and demographic appropriate social media.
  9. “Nones” (spiritual, not religious) people are an issue across denominational lines. They ask “Why go to church when technology usurps church structure?”
  10. Young Adults have experienced diversity within their social structures. Why does the Church create impediments to that practice?

Rev. Nancy Frausto asked the question “How do we deal with our sexuality conflicting with our theology?” Pastor Rene, Jr. responded, “We don’t as millennials, it is fluid.”

Finally, we must struggle with determining how to identify 1) leaders; 2) followers; and 3) those simply on a journey. Then we must provide appropriate resources for each group’s spiritual development and formation within the structure of our theological traditions.

Our next set of presenters was Mr. Alejandro Aguilarea-Titus, Director Ministerios Hispanos de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos, Washington, D.C. and Alberto Embry, the Archdiocesan Coordinator for Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Mr. Embry delivered most of the presentation. He emphasized that connexionalism is dependent upon bridge-building with marginalized groups. This is done through small group gatherings of these marginalized people and very intentionally draws connections back to the church. The “who” is more important than the “what” when it comes to programs. When the “who” is identified, the “what” defines itself.

It is important to address individual needs through identification, classification, and connection to appropriate resources. One size does not fit all!

Our final presenter was Pastor Christian Garcia, New Generation Church in Temple City, CA. Although his ministry focuses on youth rather than millennials, he feels that many of the techniques and practices are applicable to both groups. He states that one of the greatest challenges to working with millennials is they (millennials) desire immediate satisfaction and personal attention to their needs.

He suggests not using a set curriculum but to respond to the Spirit.

He went on to point out many issues which churches should be aware:

  1. Millennials are quite diverse, tolerant, free-thinking and more global.
  2. To millennials, friendship is more important than family (not consistent with comments made by a previous presenter).
  3. Ministry (preaching) from the pulpit is not effective.
  4. Leadership through dictatorship in ineffective.
  5. Leadership from a distance is ineffective.
  6. Leaders are judged by words and actions.
  7. The church must paint a vision of the future for ministry, family, community, relationships and work.
  8. Innovation as a work rule.
  9. Establish deep friendships/relationships.
  10. Boost up, as a faith leader, others and believe and trust in them.

Final thoughts from the group

At future gatherings, we should start a mentoring process by bringing a young adult/millennial from our denomination with us.

Be aware of the next National Convocation of CCT. Notices will be sent out.

Concentrate on the gender balance of the delegations. Only three women were present and that was a step forward.

What will unite us is the intentional development of relationships.

Our differences are relatively small compared to that which ties us together.

Important statistics and information:

According to Pew Research Data, among Latin@ mainline Protestants, 45% are English-dominant, 28% are bi-lingual and only 26% are Spanish-dominant.[5]

Among the general population, 36% a are English-dominant, 41% are bi-lingual and only 23% are Spanish-dominant

Approximately 54 million Latin@s in the U.S. Of that number 17.9 million are younger than 18 years of age.

14.6 million are millennials.

A millennial is defined as someone born after 1980.

Hispanic: a person of Latin American or Iberian ancestry, fluent in Spanish. It is primarily used along the Eastern seaboard, and favored by those of Caribbean and South American ancestry or origin. English or Spanish can be their “native” language.

Latino: a U.S.-born Hispanic who is not fluent in Spanish and is engaged in social empowerment through Identity Politics. “Latino” is principally used west of the Mississippi, where it has displaced “Chicano” and “Mexican American.” English is probably their “native” language. “Empowerment” refers to increasing the political, social, and spiritual strength of an individual or a community, and it is associated with the development of confidence of that individual or community in their own abilities.

Latin: an abbreviation for “Latin American,” or “Latinoamericano” in Spanish (written as one word), a Latin is a person who was born in Latin America and migrated to the United States. Regardless of his or her immigration status, a Latin is a foreign-born worker for whom English is a “foreign” language and who lacks the cultural fluency taken for granted by those born and raised in the United States. Spanish, Portuguese, or an indigenous language is their “native” language.[6]

My reflections and observations:

Bilingualism in our programs and church programming is imperative to maintain familial connections.

Latin@s make up a rich tapestry of cultural diversity. To approach all Latin@s as one body is fool-hardy and detrimental to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World. It fails to recognize cultural differences and creates an impediment to deep, personal relationship building.

The National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry of The United Methodist Church fails to recognize that the vast majority of Latin@s speak English. To focus on ESL courses and Spanish-language church startups further alienates Latin@s. As Rev. Canales stated so well, this is the difference between being an agent of change or a recipient of change. If the church is only interested in keeping Latin@s as recipients of change, it should continue on the path as outlined in the National Plan, however, in doing so it strips many Latin@s of their self-worth, self-esteem and his or her self-identity and all that is attendant to that identity. It ignores the Latin@ culture.

One thing is for certain.  Much can be learned from dialogue with other denominations and communions.  The “evangelical” churches seem to be doing a much better job at reaching millennials, as well as Hispanic/Latin@s than the mainline Protestant communions.

Once again, it is an ecclesiological question, not a programmatic question. May we prayerfully seek the way to be in relationships with our Latin@ brothers and sisters, rather than simply create programs where we are in ministry for, rather than with.


[2] For the purposes of this report, I have chosen to use the gender-neutral Latin@ rather than Hispanic or Spanish. The use of any descriptor raises objections from many seeking definitive “political identity.” I personally choose to believe that all Latin@s are Hispanic, but not all Hispanics are Latin@. I will further elaborate in the body of this report.


[4] Referenced Jeffrey Arnett, Ph.D.



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