(Nashville, Tenn.) – The nation and world are captivated by events in Ferguson, MO. People are hurting and while some are acting in anger, others are reaching out with love and working to bring mercy and justice to that community and around the world. The people of the United Methodist Church are stepping forward to learn, to love, to speak the truth and to care for all affected by recent events.
“Martin Luther King once said that ‘a riot is the language of the unheard,’ and I believe we must take time to listen and learn and find ways to respond with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” said the Rev. Brian K. Milford, the Chief Content Officer of Abingdon Press & newly elected to the historic position of Book Editor of The United Methodist Church.
“The Church body is not accustomed to speaking as openly about conflicted matters of race and violence in this nation. Clergy can feel frustrated because they’re not sure what or how much they can say, or how bold their witness can be. But I have seen lots of instances through church and secular media of the engagement of people who are on the streets protesting legitimately, nonviolently, and that are there as a part of their Christian witness and because they are members of the community. Churches have opened their doors and become places for people to vent and organize legitimate protests,” noted Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Palmer and Milford engaged in a thoughtful discussion about the crisis in Ferguson during a special podcast hosted by the MinistryMatters.com website that is now available for listening and sharing.
Palmer shared that “like everyone I’ve had a mixture of complex feelings. I’ve had feelings of deep pain and anxiety that any human life would be lost and particularly to any form of gun violence authorized or unauthorized. I’m in the business of life and resurrection so it saddens me when anyone dies from gun violence. I know what it is as a young black man to be followed with suspicion; even when you haven’t done anything. I know the anxiety as the parent of an African American male to teach what not to do if pulled over, and sharing how there is a greater burden placed on some demographics in relationship to how they are viewed by some law enforcement, by some people coming from other racial and cultural backgrounds.”
“I think Gregory C. Ellison II, an Abingdon Press author and the Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Emory University, drives home the message of the plight of black men in America in his book Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men when he writes that ‘some living souls endure the woe of being passed over with no account. Like phantoms, they ache to be seen and heard. But, persistent lack of acknowledgement takes a toll on their psyches. With shadow-cast faces, they teeter from explosive rage to implosive depression,’” states Milford. Palmer added that “Ellison’s words are prophetic and timely and they speak of something out of a long arc of history and to the contemporary experience of people that are marginalized. Whether that marginalization be in relationship to race, culture, ethnicity, language, gender, etc. It is a dehumanizing thing to have one’s voice muted and be relegated to the realm of invisibility.”
Palmer continued that “as the Body of Christ we are called to be people of new life, new creations, resurrection, and people who point a way out of death-dealing behaviors. It takes work and preparation and genuine relationship. It takes a commitment to preaching and teaching from Scripture in a very in-depth way. Church in the 20th century in many ways, particularly in the western world, became more about our comfort and not about being made to feel uncomfortable. But feeling bad can be the start of some stirrings to move us to new life.
“People want to engage the conversation around race and culture, but are afraid to take the risk for fear of being called racist or insensitive. Pastors, preachers and laypeople devoted to the witness of Scripture in the contemporary context have got to be willing to be bold and not disconnect from relationships in the Christian community that don’t allow everybody to grow in a deeper relationship with God and with neighbor.
“I would hope that we would seize this opportunity in the United Methodist Church, in Protestant Catholic churches, in Jewish congregations, in other living faith communities to forge forward on work started prior to the Ferguson event to start circles of conversation around challenging issues, to build genuine relationships in whatever ways suit the culture of those communities.”
This sense of community engagement was also shared by Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church and author of several Abingdon Press books, who stated that “United Methodist voices, including that of the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (an active United Methodist himself), have sought to de-escalate rather than to intensify, to work toward peace and justice rather than to avoid, blame, or ignore. We continue to hold in our prayers all those who have most personally and painfully been affected by the violence, and we continue to look for opportunities to serve and to bring a ministry of healing to a community that has been deeply hurt.” The bishop also encouraged congregations to correspond directly with Rev. Johnson at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson to see how best to assist the community.