Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Racism in the United Methodist Church

Check out this article from United Methodist News Service:

Delegates say racism affected Southeast jurisdictional elections

Some excerpts:

July 28, 2004

A UMNS News Feature
By Michael Wacht*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. — While delegates to the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference celebrated the historic election of two women bishops to the jurisdiction, some were also left hurt, angry and empty by proceedings they felt were unjust and racist.

The Rev. Geraldine McClellan, a member of the Florida delegation to the July 14-17 session, said racism was blatant at the conference, both in the balloting and in the way delegates interacted with each other.

Referring to the record 34 ballots taken to elect the slate of six bishops, McClellan said the balloting went on so long “for one reason—the SEJ refuses to elect a qualified, visionary African-American woman."

"In 1984, Bishop Leontine Kelly was an episcopal nominee in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. She left the jurisdictional conference, flew to the Western Jurisdiction and was elected to the episcopacy,” she said. “What was prevalent then is prevalent now: the blatant sin of racism.”

Lynette Fields, a lay member of the Florida delegation, said it was “really powerful” to hear the stories of ethnic conflict in episcopal elections from past conferences.

“The experience of those last ballots [this year] brought back those stories,” Fields said. “The experience reminded people of our past and how far we have to go. It was a celebration that we elected two women, but the process was so obviously divisive and painful, that it was hard to fully celebrate.”

Dawn Hand, a lay delegate from Western North Carolina, said she does not like to make things into racial issues, but is sometimes “painfully reminded … that somehow, at the core, it unfortunately turns out to be a racist issue.

"It’s painfully obvious it’s not the will of this conference right now to support a Native-American person who is qualified, a black woman who is qualified,” she said. “Racism, whether intended or not, is a painful experience, but one I have become accustomed to.”

Some would deny the charge of racism because one African American, Bishop James Swanson, was elected on the fourth ballot, Sheila Flemming, a Florida lay member pointed out. “It’s tokenism,” she said. “White people are comfortable with one. As a historian, I see from the very early days that whites are more comfortable with a few blacks. Racism can still exist when a few blacks are at the table.”

The Rev. Roger Hopson, the Memphis Conference’s director of connectional ministries and a member of the Memphis delegation, said he didn’t think the racism was conscious and believes it came out of a rush to get through the process.

"The great majority of Euro-Americans weren’t consciously trying to keep African Americans out,” he said. “For the majority, I think it was unconscious racism. We are so programmed to think of only one [minority] and one [woman]. There were too many competent African-Americans to elect only one.”

McClellan said she saw the quota mentality in the report of the nominations committee. When delegates challenged the report on inclusivity issues, a nominations committee member said the 2000 Book of Discipline set a minimum of 30 percent racial ethnic representation and the SEJ had included 31 percent."

--I am glad to read this article, to know that there is attention drawn to issues of racism that we still have to battle, but sad, of course, to read of these realities as well. I am even still amazed at how few female bishops we have in the jurisdiction - 13, I think, before these most recent elections, give or take a couple, and that includes, I think, retired female bishops. I think it is so difficult to recognize our own racism (speaking as a white person). We can recognize its existence, recognize it in others, all while insisting we are not racist. For me in seminary, recognizing my own racist behaviors and attitudes was an important part of my journey. Learning about white privilege, learning about my ignorance of black history, etc. - these things were painful things I did not want to confront and with which I still struggle, all while considering myself a progressive, open-minded, social-justice equality minded person. We have much work to do, and a long way to go.

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