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COSROW calls for work against racism, sexism

Ending racism and sexism in both the church and the world is an emphasis of the women’s justice organization of The United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Ending racism and sexism in both the church and the world is an emphasis of the women’s justice organization of The United Methodist Church. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.

March 20, 2007 | MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (UMNS)

M. Garlinda Burton
M. Garlinda Burton

A commitment to justice for all and continued efforts to exorcise sexism and racism are needed if The United Methodist Church is to meet new mission goals.

That is the opinion of the 45-member United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

During its Feb. 22-24 meeting in Myrtle Beach, the commission affirmed "in spirit" a proposed four-pronged mission emphasis by which the United Methodist Council of Bishops and worldwide Connectional Table would set the future course of the denomination’s work and life.

However, the church’s women’s justice organization reminded denominational leaders that "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" – what the church understands as its "primary task" – must include working to end worldwide racism and sexism, beginning in the hearts of each church member and in the "bones" of each congregation.

Transforming the church and the world

The bishops, the executives of churchwide agencies and the Connectional Table have proposed that all levels of the denomination work together to transform the church and the world by promoting leadership development, starting new congregations, addressing global heath concerns and tackling root causes of poverty.

Members of the women’s commission said those strategies should include:

  • Offering ministries with the poor that address systemic political and social concerns and recognize that most of the world’s poor are women and children;
  • Making deliberate efforts to include women’s expertise, styles and perspectives in developing effective leadership as laity and clergy;
  • Recognizing young women, women of color and poor women as gifted and essential to the growth and effectiveness of the church’s life and work;
  • Countering sexism and sexual misconduct in the church through dialogue and training about power dynamics and the rights and responsibilities of leaders;
  • Respecting cultural contexts of communities and churches, along with committing to cross-racial and interracial evangelistic and discipleship opportunities;
  • Allocating financial and other resources to empower ministries in rural and urban poor communities, as well as middle- and upper-income suburban areas;
  • Including women and people of color at all levels of planning, ministry and leadership development; and
  • Insuring that Christian education stresses the sacred worth and gifts of all people.

"A congregation that doesn’t invite and welcome people from other races can’t transform the world," said M. Garlinda Burton, COSROW’s top executive. "A disciple who rejects a pastor just because she’s a woman is not following Christ.

"United Methodist Christians have nothing transforming to offer the world if we continue to cling to sexism and racism."
-M. Garlinda Burton

"United Methodist Christians have nothing transforming to offer the world if we continue to cling to sexism and racism," Burton added.

The Rev. Rosetta Ross, a United Methodist clergywoman and professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, echoed those sentiments. "Getting people to come to church is one thing. But the church must also foster compassionate justice in disciples and ask what it means to be responsive and responsible Christians."

A look at South Carolina

Commission members heard from a panel of South Carolina clergy and laity that opportunities for African-American women in the state have expanded, and two of them now serve on the annual (regional) conference cabinet.

However, black women still face challenges including a lack of cross-racial pulpit assignments, racist stereotyping and resistance to woman pastors – often by lay women, panel members said.

The United Methodist South Carolina Annual Conference historically has boasted one of the largest black memberships of any region in the United States. At the same time, while the rest of the denomination banned racial segregation in 1968, a few Southern conferences, including South Carolina, remained segregated until the early 1970s.

Bishop Mary Taylor

Today, however, racial and gender inclusiveness in leadership are evident in congregations and other church agencies. Of the 780 pastors serving churches in South Carolina, more than 19 percent (155) are women, according to Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, president of COSROW. And nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of those women pastors are African American.

"Folks are learning in our churches that women can count money and preach, that women can chair the trustees, women can scrape paint off the walls," said Geneva Stafford, pastor of two United Methodist churches, Jeremiah and Mount Seal, in Hemingway, S.C.

Laywoman Evelyn Gethers Burwell of North Charleston, S.C., agreed. "Black women are now represented at almost every level of work and life in South Carolina," said Burwell, a member of New Francis Brown United Methodist Church. "Our unique gifts and approaches to leadership are being recognized, and we are pushing for more and more inclusion of women and people of color."

Panelists said roadblocks remain for racial-ethnic women with leadership gifts. "Women, especially black women, are penalized if we’re not ‘nice’ enough," said the Rev. J. Jeannette Cooper Dicks, pastor of Cumberland United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C.

Along with fostering more dialogue and "sister-circles" of support among black clergywomen and laywoman and mentoring younger women into church leadership, the panelists encouraged the women’s commission to push for cross-racial appointments and support for financially or spiritually struggling congregations.

*Information for this story was provided by the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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