GCORR TO CHURCH: MEMBERSHIP DECLINE CONNECTED TO RACISM’S IMPACT

ARLINGTON, VA. — The growth of the United Methodist Church and a failure in addressing racism in the denomination are connected. So say members of the General Commission on Religion and Race, meeting at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel here in Arlington, Virginia, March 10-12, 2010. As the denomination released the latest statistics showing a continuing membership decline, board members of the General Commission on Religion and Race were discussing how racism continues to permeate the denomination, and is counterproductive to growing the church.

“The decline of the church can be set side by side against the demographics of the church,” said board member Coral Garner. A church that is 91 percent white in a country where non-whites are rapidly becoming the majority cannot expect to be productive. The church has not found a way to be more inclusive.”

According to the latest data from the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration, church membership dropped 1.01 percent to 7,774,420 in 2008. Average worship attendance was down 1.83 percent. Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau confirms that the U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse with Hispanics and Asians continuing to be the two fastest growing racial ethnic groups. Next month’s 10-year census-taking is expected to see those numbers increase.

Board members at GCORR, meeting in joint session with the General Board of Church and Society, heard stories shared by board members and bishops alike, which revealed with clarity why the missions of eliminating racism, and of seeking justice within the United Methodist Church are needed as fervently in 2010 and the future as ever before.

“I experience a great deal of growing racism around social issues, immigration being one of them, said Bishop Minerva Carcaño, vice president of GCORR, and chair of the United Methodist Taskforce on Immigration. “I’m amazed at the racist tone of some United Methodists. I’ve been called a stupid Mexican when I discuss the need for humane immigration reform. It’s not just out in the society. It’s happening right here in the church.”

Board members are aware of conversations around the denomination to eliminate certain agencies as a result of the economic downturn. Whether GCORR remains in its current configuration is unclear, but what is certain, from board members, is the need to continue the ministry of anti-racism. Taking her text from Luke and Jesus’ call to Simon to push further into the deep in order to increase his catch, Bishop Lee challenged the two agencies, who share a common ministry of social justice, to push further into the deep if they are to be transformative. “Pushing out into the deep means breaking up with white supremacy in the church and in the society, and ending practices that do not challenge the power dynamics in the church and in the society.”

The United Methodist denomination’s four areas of ministry focus for the quadrennium are all areas where the imprint of racism can be seen. The four areas of focus are: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world, creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones, engaging in ministry with the poor, and stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally. Whether it is understanding why new churches are more likely to be built in suburban white areas than neighborhoods with changing demographics, or the likelihood that those who remain marginalized economically and socially are disproportionately people of color, the church cannot address its ministry without addressing how racism impacts the systems that prevent the ministry from being truly successful.

Bishop Lee called on GCORR to be bold in “sharing the stories of our pain and progress speaking the truth about our experiences in the church as people of color, in the United Methodist Church.” She encouraged the group that building relationships by sharing each other’s stories is key to transformative work.

A banner greeted board members at the registration table in the hotel lobby. The hands of two different racial ethnic persons, clutched together, and the words “GCORR- it’s about relationships, not racism.” Some have raised a concern GCORR is moving away from an historic emphasis on monitoring with the notion of stressing relationships. But throughout the three-day meeting, board members were reminded that it would be through relationships, building new ones and strengthening existing ones – by which the goal of racial inclusiveness would begin to be achieved.

In her presentation to board members, GCORR General Secretary Erin Hawkins underscored that while monitoring and advocacy would continue to be the hallmark of the agency, that work would be done will begin to reflect change. “with the hiring of new staff will come improved methods in training our annual conference chairs and committees so that they can look more critically at their work and employ more contemporary methods in advocating for change.”
GCORR’s Board of Directors comprises 44 members. Members come from across the United Methodist Church’s global connection, representing all five U.S. jurisdictions and international central conferences including East Africa and the Philippines. Most directors are elected by their jurisdictions, but some are selected by GCORR to achieve balance and by the Council of Bishops to provide an episcopal presence.

Board members are clergy and laity, male and female, young and older adults. Members represent all six major U.S. racial/ethnic groups: Asian American, black, Hispanic/Latino/Latina, Native American, Pacific Islander and white.


 

GCORR is the agency of The United Methodist Church committed to helping the denomination live CORR{ageously}! by equipping, educating, evaluating and advocating for racial ethnic inclusiveness and diversity at all levels of the church.

General Commission on Religion and Race – The United Methodist Church
100 Maryland Ave NE – Suite 400. Washington, DC 20002. P: 202.547.2271. F: 202.547.0358
E.Mail: info@gcorr.org ; website: www.gcorr.org