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Love affirms dignity, value of life, ethicist says

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Revs. Tamara E. Lewis and Kyung Son Hong sing during the opening session of the 2006 Women of Color Consultation.
Aug. 15, 2006

By Linda Green*

CHICAGO (UMNS) — A United Methodist ethicist and a bishop emphasized the transforming power of love in relationships and society in remarks at the denomination’s Women of Color Consultation.

In the United States, the word “love” is thought of in terms of an intimate or private relationship, not as involving the social, political or corporate aspects of life, noted the Rev. Rosetta Ross, an ethicist and chairperson of the department of religion and philosophy at Spelman College, Atlanta.

Bringing both our public and private selves in harmony with each other would greatly impact social life, she said.

“Love is action that affirms the dignity and value of life,” she said. It involves accepting people for who they are, with all of their baggage.

Ross’ keynote speech Aug. 11 was followed by remarks from Bishop Beverly Shamana, who leads the United Methodist Church’s San Francisco Area. The bishop urged the women to use the power of love to build “pathways of peace” in the world.

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Rev. Rosetta Ross gives the opening keynote address.

The consultation drew more than 150 participants together Aug. 11-13 to pay tribute to those women who have transcended boundaries to obtain doctoral degrees through the denomination’s Women of Color Scholars Program.

The program was created in 1988 by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to address concerns about the lack of women of color faculty in the denomination’s seminaries. The consultation and celebration highlighted challenges, theological perspectives, and the academic work of the program’s 40 graduate scholars, mentors and current participants.

The Women of Color Scholars Program provides up to $10,000 a year in scholarship funds to women of color who are Ph.D. or Th.D. students. Recipients meet twice a year with mentors — women of color who are working in theological education.

Ross is one such mentor — and a graduate of the program. In her speech, she emphasized “religious work” and how love means attending to one’s “immediate needs and devising an interim plan after immediate needs are met.”

She drew on Toni Morrison’s recent novel, Love, about the relationship between a 14-year-old boy, Romen, and an 18-year-old woman named June Viviane. Romen is living with his grandparents, Vida and Sandler Gibbons, and June is on her own. The novel reflects how the two take different paths in life when one is wanted and the other is not. The grandparents pay attention to Romen and his needs and counsel him as he grows from boy to man. Romen is loved, while June has been left to survive on her own.

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Bishop Beverly Shamana responds to a keynote address given by the Rev. Rosetta Ross.

Through the novel, Ross examined the practices and meaning of love in intimate relationships.

She also used the story of the Good Samaritan to discuss the relationship between the public and private practice of love. In Luke 10, Jesus explains what it means to love one’s neighbor. Love is not what is defined as a sentiment, feeling or attraction, but involves having a social or moral fortitude to help someone in need, Ross said. The story, she said, is about love being the engagement of emotion, reason and will. It is a religious duty to show love to fellow human beings, she said.

Love also includes being faithfully attentive to that which is loved in order to be able to respond to whatever forces are affecting the beloved, she said.

Sometimes the necessity to act on behalf of someone or something is less than thrilling, she added. Being faithfully attentive is having the resolve to act, regardless of whether acting involves doing unpopular, uncomfortable, inconvenient and sometimes frightening tasks to help those that we love.

“We are behaving courageously when we have the resolve to take the action and create the context needed for overcoming the challenges we face in seeking to be faithful to what we love and are committed to,” she said. That includes providing for a need to ensure the beloved’s wholeness and well-being.

Ross told United Methodist News Service that love has a ripple affect and makes it possible for people to love others.

In her message, she said love is the most important aspect of Christian teaching.

“Love is acting or behaving in ways that affirm life.” She underscored acting because if one has not acted, one has not loved, she said. “Acting is expressed in our faithfulness to whatever we love in our behaviors.”

Peaceful pathways

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Rev. Yoo-Yun Cho-Chang looks at a book during a reception and book signing.

Using the image of shoes to respond to Ross’ message about love and how it should be used to help others, Bishop Beverly Shamana said women of color are called to be trailblazers. She urged them to put on whatever shoes are necessary to assist them in preparing pathways of peace.

Citing Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the bishop urged the women “to pay attention to our feet because we are going to be called to walk in places where we never thought we would walk before.” Those places, she said, might not “smell too sweet,” but she encouraged the women to be alert, spiritually discerning and ready to act in preparing those peaceful pathways.

She told the women of color that they may not be where they are today if someone had not paid attention to them, supported them, counseled them and enabled them to take their places in the realm that God made for them.

Women of color need to be alert to the sexism and racism still prevalent in the church and in society today. Shamana said that alertness provides tools and strategies to name it, disarm it and delete it so that “public and private power is unmasked,” to make a difference and change the landscape for women of color.

Agape love

She said Jesus provided the perfect example of advocacy when he described the man who paid the workers who came at noon the same wages as those who were there earlier. “Jesus shows us what it means to tip the scales in order to include the latter workers with the same rights as those who came earlier.”

United Methodist seminaries, she said, should take a page from the teaching of Jesus’ advocacy in bringing in women of color into greater numbers, “to make right what has been left out in the past” and bring women of color along as scholars into the academy and the church.

As the commandment urges the love of neighbor as oneself, Shamana said agape love requires holding people responsible and accountable for their racism and sexism and to expect real justice, resolution and healing for those who have been harmed.

“Agape affirms dignity and builds respect for others,” she said. “It values all of us, and it sees the earth crammed with heaven.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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