There have been many outcries from within the United Methodist Church wondering why an “official” statement from the UMC has been amiss following the events in Ferguson, MO. In times of social despair, we often seek the “voice of the Church.” What we seem to forget is that each and everyone of use is “the voice of the Church.”
We look to the Council of Bishops, our General Commissions and Agencies, United Methodist News Service and other groups representing United Methodists. We rely on their statements and, in the process, relegate our own words and deeds.
Every time we walk into our Sunday services, Wednesday night programs, weekday Bible studies, small groups and Church Council meetings, we are obliged to raise the voice of the Church.
Well folks, let me state it simply: “YOU ARE THE VOICE OF THE CHURCH!”
If we are “to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the World” as our mission statement suggests, we cannot do so in a vacuum. The very word disciple etymology from both Hebrew and Greek suggests student or learner. We must learn what social woes affect our communities and speak out…from the pulpits, in Sunday school classes, in our small groups and classes, and in our church committee meetings. And we must respond in voice and action.
It has been reported that there a approximately 400 police-involved killings a year. One-quarter killings involve black victims. This issue goes beyond race. There is a purported quote of Julius Caesar (provenance is questionable) which only compounds the race issue: “Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.
And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.
How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.”
Whether this quote is Caesar or not, it poignantly points to a reality in America…we live in fear of our differences and we allow those who speak loudly to direct the conversation, of which we are often blind followers.
For too long we have allowed all of our civil and human rights to be compromised, some would say since 9/11, others for a time period much longer. The results have been the systematic militarization of police forces, draconian 4th Amendment violations, and lack of governmental oversight. Citizen Review Boards of police agencies are totally dependent upon police unions, not citizens’ rights to transparency. These shortcomings only exacerbate the race issue. The U.S. currently imprisons one-quarter of the world’s prison population. Men of color are a disproportionate number in this statistic.
Many never realize that for parents of children of color, these are prayers and thoughts we have everyday. We teach our teen children things most never give a second thought to. We remember our experiences when we were treated as second-class citizens or profiled by police, not just as teens, but as grown men and women. Our anger and pain are always there because we, as well as our children, could be the next Michael Brown.
In our churches, we avoid the discussion of race. We speak of lofty plans and great vision to “embrace the ethnic community” without contemplating ethnicity and cultural differences. We look for assimilation and call it diversity. We lift up Ferguson this week and start planning for our Youth Ski trip next Sunday.
If the Church is to evolve, then on-going, sustainable discussions and ministries of reconciliation must take place. We are in need of a paradigm shift…one of embracing our differences rather than seeking assimilation. We must openly discuss, with love, our fears and concerns about change, whether it involves race, socio-economics, gender-orientation, or cultural differences. In order to do this, we must recognize our own shortcomings. On both sides of any issue, we cannot move forward if we don’t address our fears, our anger, our resentment and our biases and prejudices.
And we can’t have these discussions only in the wake of tragedy.