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United Methodist bishops visit mayor of Washington

 


United Methodist bishops visit mayor of Washington

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A Web-only image by Lateef Mangum

Mayor Anthony Williams speaks at the grand opening of a community center in D.C.
May 9, 2005        

By Erik Alsgaard*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)--A small delegation of United Methodist Church leaders met privately with the Honorable Anthony Williams, mayor of Washington on May 5 to discuss various opportunities and concerns.

The discussion ranged from gangs and youth violence to the name of the city’s football team.

Bishops Linda Lee of the Milwaukee Area, Beverly Shamana of the San Francisco Area, and John R. Schol of the Washington Area, along with Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, based in Washington, talked with the mayor.

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Bishop Beverly J. Shamana
Noting the city’s football team is the Washington Redskins, Shamana said, “Our church has taken a strong position on sports team’s names that denigrate Native Americans.” She told the mayor that the church has passed a resolution encouraging denominational meetings not be held in cities where team names reflect racist attitudes.

She asked the mayor to make a public statement acknowledging the tensions that exist around such monikers.

Williams, a Democrat who is in his second term as mayor, said that the city council has made statements that would support the church’s position, as recently as last year. But, he admitted, the issue is not on the front burner.

The impact of budget cuts on urban areas was also discussed. “President Bush talks about churches helping cities,” Schol noted, “when budgets are cut. Where is the money going to come from?”

Williams responded with two thoughts. He said that cities and urban areas need both to spend their money more efficiently and to seek to find ways to deliver services in partnership with private organizations, such as the church.

“I grew up in a faith-based family,” said the mayor. “I think there should be more partnerships with faith-based communities.”

However, he said, it’s not fair to expect faith-based organizations to take care of everything. “Don’t cut the dollars (at the government level) and then say that the faith-based communities will take care of it. They can’t.”

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Bishop John Schol
Responding to Lee’s question as to what he saw as some of the critical areas across the country where churches could make an impact, Williams didn’t hesitate: gangs.

“That’s a huge thing right now,” he said. “The kids aren’t hearing the right message of self-discipline, and they also need to find a sense that someone cares about them.”

Lee said that she recently downloaded some hip-hop music and noticed in the lyrics a definite cry for help.

Churches and faith-based organizations, the mayor said, can be helpful in providing alternatives to gangs.

Schol asked Williams how churches can get the attention of mayors and city officials across the country, regardless of how large the municipality.

“Treat public officials with more respect,” Williams replied. “We’re doing important work, and we need your prayers, too. Don’t forget us. If you’re not praying for your public officials, what does that say about the church’s view of public officials?”

*Alsgaard is managing editor of the UMConnection newspaper and co-director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

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