Those living in the United States exist in a culture permeated with racial bias. We may not be able to avoid racism, but we don't have to accept it. If God's kingdom is to come, and God's will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, things need to change.
We United Methodists can be agents of that transformation by changing our beliefs, changing our actions, and working to change the world.**
Becoming an agent of transformation includes focusing within ourselves. We need to allow God to shape our inner thoughts and attitudes toward race.
Pray – Prayer "is foundational to everything we do as Christians," writes Katelin Hansen, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Training, at the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People. Ask God to change your heart and attitudes. Hansen offers a sample prayer:
Triune God, help us be ever faithful to your example: affirming of our unique identities, while remaining unified as one body in you. Help us seek out the voices that are missing, and empower the marginalized. Let our witness of repentance, justice, and reconciliation bring glory to You, O Lord.
Listen inclusively – It is important to hear from a variety of voices. Find authors and thinkers with racial and cultural backgrounds different from your own. In a video produced by the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) Hansen shares, "I turned to the digital world to continue my racial education, to serve as the professors of justice and theology that I never had."
Seek new relationships – There is no substitute for sharing consistent, ongoing, authentic relationships with people of color. Hansen and her husband became members of a multi-race and multi-class church. "We joined out of a belief that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds just deprives our own souls of God's majesty," she says in the GCORR video.
Understand that forming new, authentic relationships takes time.
Katelin Hansen teaches about these concepts in a free video called “Being an Ally With People of Color.” Image courtesy the General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church.
Next, live out your changing beliefs through changing your behavior.
Empower leaders – Use your resources to promote and equip leaders of color. Then, be willing to follow. Listen and act on opinions, activities, and points of view different from your own.
Show up – "At the guidance and invitation of leaders of color," Hansen writes, "show up when called upon." As we come together for conversations and demonstrations, we build a culture of justice in our community and model multi-cultural love and understanding.
Spend responsibly – Support racial equality through your shopping and donations. Shop at local markets owned by people of color. Donate to charities and ministries led by and supporting those of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Examine your media intake – Expand your social media follows and news sites to include voices and opinions different from your own. For big stories, be sure to consult multiple sources from a variety of points of view. Don't rely on just one.
Consider your entertainment choices also. Select movies, music, and television shows that promote equality. Listen to more voices and be aware of how they shape you.
Author and professor Robin DiAngelo reminds us in a Vital Conversations video from GCORR, that racism is "group prejudice backed up by institutional power." Therefore, to take a stand against racism we cannot simply change our own beliefs and behaviors. We must also work to change the world.
Advocate – Written and unwritten policies in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, schools, and nation disadvantage certain ethnicities. Learn from the people of color in your neighborhood about the ways they are disadvantaged and find ways to participate in changing those systems.
Sponsor – People of color sometimes struggle to access public services, opportunities, and more. Use your money, gifts, and sphere of influence to make a difference. Sponsor friends and coworkers who need assistance to attend a career seminar. Encourage and lead your congregation toward creating programs like a Freedom School. Invest in people and programs that work toward racial justice.
Take a risk – Meaningful change requires risk. We may put our reputations, money, and leadership opportunities on the line because shaping our society and institutions to reflect more fully the kingdom of God will not always be appreciated.
Changing our beliefs, behavior, and the society are long processes that may never be complete. Yet we continue to work for change in all three areas as God calls us.
"These steps aren't so much a progression as they are a cycle," Hansen concludes. "Advocacy without relationship is empty. Education without changed behavior is hollow. Sponsorship without humility and trust is misguided."
What steps will you take to participate in God's transformational work of moving our society toward racial equality?
This story was first published on Aug. 15, 2017, and edited on April 18, 2018.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email.
**Special thanks to Katelin Hansen for this framework from her blog By Their Strange Fruit. Used with her permission. Hansen is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Training, at the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People, a multiracial congregation in Columbus, Ohio.