Methodists inspect 'fruit' of church's repentance for racism
12/3/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
Photos and audio clips are available.
By Linda Green*
Violet Fisher and Melvin Talbert share a moment with the Rev. William
McClain at a consultation to help the United Methodist Church identify
next steps in repenting for racism. Talbert is the interim top executive
of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and
Interreligious Concerns, which sponsored the event. A UMNS photo by
Linda Green. Photo number 03503 Accompanies UMNS story #580, 12/4/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Moore Colgan (left), Marcus Matthews, Lisa Lewis-Balboa and John Reilly
react to discussion at a consultation aimed at helping the United
Methodist Church repent for racism. A UMNS photo by Linda Green. Photo
number 03-510, Accompanies UMNS story #580, 12/4/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
BALTIMORE (UMNS) - Three years have passed since
the United Methodist Church apologized for the sin of racism and sought
to reconcile with African-American Methodist denominations that formed
during the 18th and 19th centuries.
During that repentance
service at the 2000 General Conference, United Methodists were warned
that the fruits of their repentance would be under scrutiny by the
"The ritual act of repentance alone
would not lead to the development of a new attitude or a new social
consciousness," said Bishop Clarence Carr, with the African Methodist
Episcopal Zion Church, at the end of the repentance service.
ritual tree of repentance is barren without fruit worthy of
repentance," he said. "Repentance leads to redemption, and redemption
demands restitution, reparation, liberation - a new sense of freedom -
both for the victim and the victimizer."
Calling the act a
defining moment for the church of John Wesley, Carr said that he and
other members of African-American Methodist denominations would not
judge the United Methodists but would be "fruit inspectors." The
denominations were formed largely because of racism in the United
Methodist Church's predecessors.
Since then, most of the 64
United Methodist annual conferences in the United States have held
repentance services. Local congregations have engaged in partnerships
with members of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist
Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches. Members of
those denominations also hold membership on the governing bodies of
United Methodist boards and agencies.
But what else has been
done? Members of the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union,
which consists of representatives from all four denominations, and the
United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious
Concerns are looking for the fruits of repentance.
of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion,
Christian Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist churches came
together in Baltimore before Thanksgiving in search of the fruit and to
see how they would journey together in Christ in the future. Native
American United Methodists also participated.
Methodist Church has made strides in its repentance, but it needs
assistance in identifying the missing pieces, said Anne Marshall, a
staff executive with the denomination's Commission on Christian Unity
and Interreligious Concerns.
The consultation focused on
identifying next steps for the United Methodist Church to take beyond
the act of repentance to reconciliation.
Several ideas for next
steps included moving beyond the "safe" observances, focusing on people
25-45 years old, acknowledging the intersections of race, and tearing
down walls that separate various races. The group also discussed
encouraging the startup of cooperative congregations under the
After all of the churchwide and caucus
reports on racism and the ritual acts, "where are the fruits of
repentance?" asked the Rev. William McClain, professor of preaching and
worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. In the keynote
address, McClain wondered aloud whether any fruit exists or "do we still
produce wild grapes?"
"If a tree is purporting to be an apple
tree, the way to tell if it is so is to taste the fruit, examine the
fruit," said Staccato Powell, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion
representative from West Chester, Pa. "So if the United Methodist Church
is genuinely repentant for its actions of the past, then we want to
know that by their current deeds and practices."
how the United Methodist Church could reach beyond its institutional
walls if it continues to exclude those who never left its ranks - a
reference to the racism that still exists in the denomination. He also
questioned whether the act of repentance was an attempt to "bring people
of color back in to reverse the cycle of the downward spiral in terms
of membership, or is this an attempt to control and dominate as the past
The United Methodist Church should "walk the walk and not simply talk the talk," Powell said.
also called for a pragmatic process or strategic plan with measurable
action steps to help the churches in their journey together.
the image of a rear-view mirror, McClain said it is important to
reflect on history, looking at how mistakes have prohibited
reconciliation and prevented the denomination from becoming "the church
in the world."
It is time to get serious about living out the
faith, he said. "We need to be serious in not simply talking about
multiracial churches or multicultural events and people holding office
and serving the church, but in fact doing it." The barriers to reuniting
the pan-Methodist denominations must be removed, he said.
suggested that reconciliation is possible if the United Methodist
Church "confesses and ... straightens out what we messed up."
sharing and trusting will move the four denominations toward becoming
the Methodist family again, she said. She indicated that she was not
talking about merger or organically becoming one, but in developing
concrete relationships within communities.
The Rev. Lisa Lewis
Balboa, pastor of Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
in Elkton, Ky., focused on relationship building. Accompanied by the
Rev. John Reilly, pastor of Peachtree Memorial United Methodist Church,
Elkton, Ky., she discussed how, through participating in a study called
Learning and Repentance: Steps Toward Wholeness, their congregations
overcame differences and established relationships.
"It was a
scary and wonderful experience," Balboa said. "We did not know what to
expect. In the end, we had a bond and a relationship."
churches' journey together will not end, Marshall said. "Once you
develop a relationship, there is not an end to it. You will always be on
this road together. The destination is one where we listen to each
other with respect and work together with integrity and come together in
a relationship that has trust." # # # *Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.