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Q&A: Commission on Religion and Race

Interview with Erin M. Hawkins, top executive
 

Note: This interview was part of a 2012 series conducted by United Methodist News Service offering information to help readers better understand how the church works. UMNS asked the top executives of each agency to answer five questions about their agency's role in the church.

What is your agency’s primary mission? How do you accomplish this in the most effective manner?

Erin M. Hawkins

The United Methodist Church Constitution “recognizes that the sin of racism has been destructive to its unity throughout its history” and commits “to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places.” (Article V, Book of Discipline 2004, ¶5)

Name at least one exciting thing in which your agency has been involved. How does it relate to the Four Areas of Focus?

With currently 22 Disciplinary mandates, the primary mission of the Commission on Religion and Race is to challenge, lead and equip the people of The United Methodist Church to be and to become the intentionally diverse body of Christ affirmed in Scripture and reflected in the global community. The commission mobilizes individuals to live out the Wesleyan ideals of personal and social holiness. Religion and Race leads the church in systemic transformation, partners with the connectional structures of The United Methodist Church by monitoring for racial equity, equips churches and church leadership in areas of cultural competency and cross-racial/cross-cultural ministry and serves as a fair-process advocate in matters of racial discrimination.

In May 2011, the Commission on Religion and Race brought together more than 250 seminarians; pastors and their families; local church leaders (lay leaders, staff-parish relations committees and church councils), and annual conference leaders (bishops, boards of ordained ministry and cabinets) representing 47 annual conferences, seven schools of theology and four general agencies for a conference on cross-racial/cross-cultural ministry. Directly affecting the Four Areas of Focus emphasis on reaching new people in new places and leadership development, equipping churches and leadership for cross-cultural/cross-racial ministry is critical to a thriving church. The commission continues to resource, train and support culturally competent leaders to bring transformational vision for our global church, at every level of the church.

How does the average United Methodist pastor or member benefit from your agency’s work? Social advocacy? Curriculum? Scholarships? Please give a concrete example, ideally quoting a testimonial from someone outside of your agency.

The Commission on Religion and Race works with pastors, annual conference leaders, seminaries and general agencies of the church. The direct benefit is that the church is more open, more welcoming, more just and better equipped for ministry in and with a global church. One clear benefit of the commission’s ministry is found in the impact of the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund, or CORR Action Fund, that since its inception has granted more than $20 million of support to more than 500 projects in local churches and communities and throughout the United Methodist connection.

In 2011, Religion and Race awarded more than $300,000 to 13 recipients for innovative programs promoting cultural competency and racial equity within the denomination. Seven conferences, five United Methodist seminaries and a jurisdictional organization received grants for projects ranging from developing intentional multicultural community, immersion programs, creating cultural competency training for clergy and lay leadership, and for one seminary, the complete redesign of the school's theological program.

The Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, dean of Drew University Theological School, one of 13 United Methodist schools of theology, described the seminary plans to use a $75,000 grant as seed money to revamp the school's curriculum. "We want to provide the students we are preparing today with the competency to be multicultural religious leaders tomorrow,” he said. According to Kuan, Drew is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse theological schools in the United States, with 48 percent of its full-time faculty being people of color. Kuan said revamping the school's 20-year-old curriculum was a priority for faculty and staff, and the grant positioned them to move forward in concrete ways, including the creation of a new set of goals for a multicultural Master of Divinity curriculum.

This type of partnership represents a new opportunity for Religion and Race to work with and support vital congregations throughout the denomination. The development of this latest commission Action Fund cycle of grants is a direct result of listening to what annual conferences and the denomination need from the commission and providing tools that address their needs.

Learn more: Website of General Commission on Religion and Race.