In keeping with the promise made at our meeting of the Racial and Social Justice Task Force, a vital part of Churches Uniting in Christ, it was decided to start sharing our stories of racial and social injustice each of us have experienced. Here is one of mine:
In November of 2007, I was a workshop leader at “Living Faith, Seeking Justice,” a symposium put on by The General Board of Church and Society as a precursor to General Conference 2008. Both General Conference and Living Faith, Seeking Justice occurred in Fort Worth, Texas, the home of the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. There were people from all around the world attending this event, presumably those representing some of the most forward thinking, progressive thought about social justice in our denomination.
On Saturday morning, I made my way to the valet parking stand, gave the valet my ticket and was waiting for my car so I could go to a nearby pharmacy and fill a prescription. I know, there is something wrong about that picture, but that story is for another day. I waited for my car, bedecked in running pants, running shoes, a t-shirt, my lanyard with nametag and workshop leader credentials and various United Methodist swag. One could not mistake me for anything but a radical Methodist. As I waited for my car, a woman drove up in a brand new Cadillac. I remember the paper tags being from Frank Kent Cadillac, a local Fort Worth dealership. This woman got out of her car, dressed like me, walked over to me, and handed me her keys. Dumbfounded, I was struck speechless.
I managed to utter that I was not the valet, handed her keys back to her and, at about that time, my car arrived. She said nothing to me and I did not see her again. The moment for reconciliation and learning lost.
A few months later I was attending a Jurisdictional CORR event in Oklahoma City. I told this story to the attendees. In this group, there was laughter over the event. Not the nervous type of laughter one might expect, not, there were those in the room that genuinely found this funny. I immediately chastised them.
There is nothing funny about the pain that racial bias can cause whether that pain is intended or implicit. What happened in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City hurt, not simply because I fell victim to racial bias, but that bias came from those one would expect would have known better.
These examples were not the first time, nor the last time, which I have experienced the pain of racism in the church. We, as a denomination, are quick to point out the mote in another’s eye, but loath to remove the log in our own. Having recently relocated temporarily from Lubbock, Texas to the Fort Worth area, the Central Texas Conference has once again become my window to view the need to address the issues in a proactive way, through the log in my own eye. That is not to say that this is the only part of the world this needs to be done.
As we seek racial and social justice outside the walls of our church, let us remember…there remains much work needing done within our United Methodist pews.