Do you remember your baptism? If you grew up United Methodist, it is likely you were baptized at too young an age to remember. But when we are confirmed as youth or join a congregation as adults, we are asked to reaffirm our baptism. This includes the following questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?1
There are strong actions detailed in those vows. We commit to renounce, reject and resist evil, injustice and oppression.
Choosing to become part of God’s family through baptism, means we turn away from the forces which stand in opposition to God’s family. In order to live into the freedom and power of God’s kingdom, we must stand against the forces impeding freedom and loving power. To enact the Kingdom of God, we have to resist the facets other kingdoms seek to impose on God’s just Kingdom.
Racism is one of those facets.
The Rev. Will Willimon, a theologian and retired United Methodist Bishop, once noted that race is a myth, but racism is real.
Evidence suggests, for example, that non-whites are more likely to be killed by police officers2, are less likely to receive job offers and promotions3 and receive harsher sentences when found guilty of a crime.4 That’s the injustice of racism.
Words like “white”, “Black”, “Hispanic”, and “Asian” are not political terms. They are not derogatory or intentionally divisive. They are descriptive. They provide identifiers for part of our human experience. But such identifiers should not be hindrances to well-being.
Racism is a spiritual issue
For those of us who vow to resist injustice, racism is a spiritual issue because it impedes the realization of God’s kingdom, keeps people apart, and mars God’s family. Racism provide false identities of us and them. In fact, racism pits us against one another as us versus them. Such an alignment fails to reconcile with the vision of God’s family supplied by Isaiah 25 where all peoples gather for a feast and “the shroud that is cast over all peoples” is destroyed (verses 7-8).
Our baptisms orient us towards that great gathering of people, but our spiritual journey is incomplete until the shroud of division is lifted. Our spiritual task is to confront that which keeps this vision at bay. Our call is not simply to be non-racist, but to renounce and resist: to be anti-racist.
Anti-racism is how we enact the Kingdom of God.
A step in resisting racism is recognizing our own biases. This short test from Project Implicit identifies some of our personal biases. By facing the biases within, we gain a greater awareness of the biases beyond—in others and systemic. Studies even show that the more egalitarian one considers oneself, the more likely implicit bias exists.5 This is crucially important, for we cannot get better while we are in denial.
Secondly, we need to embrace a realization that we don’t all experience the world the same way. This is what people reference when they speak to “their truth.” Some of us, for example, hear the word “Nike” and think of a shoe company, but others think of a Greek goddess. Both interpretations of the word are correct. And one definition of Nike does not exclude the other. The same is true for many of our human experiences. In short, we’ll go a long way in being humbly empathetic to different human experiences.
Thirdly, we can move towards lifting the shroud of human separation by calling out behaviors that keep the shroud of racism in place. Renounce and resist the words and attitudes that inspire fear and distrust. Use the platforms available to you—whatever they are: social media, a conversation, or a picket sign.
How else may we live into our baptismal vows regarding racism and separation? Check out these resources. Join the movement and add your voice. We don’t get to the Kingdom without you.
1United Methodist Book of Worship, Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2014. Page 88.
2DeGue S, Fowler KA, Calkins C. Deaths due to use of lethal force by law enforcement: Findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 17 U.S. states, 2009-2012. Am J Prev Med. 2016;51(5 Suppl 3):S173-S187. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.08.027
3Pager D, Western B. Identifying discrimination at work: The use of field experiments. J Soc Issues. 2012;68(2):221-237. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01746.x
4United States Sentencing Commission. Demographic differences in sentencing. Updated November 14, 2017.
5West K, Eaton AA. Prejudiced and unaware of it: Evidence for the Dunning-Kruger model in the domains of racism and sexism. Personality and Individual Differences. 2019;146:111-119. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.047
*Ryan Dunn is the Minister of Online Engagement for the Rethink Church team at United Methodist Communications. Contact him at rdunn(at)umcom.org.
This story was posted July 15, 2020.