The Gregory Holson speaks at a peaceful anti-racism rally at Philadelphia's City Hall in May.

Racial groups speak out against racist oppression, violence

By John W. Coleman

Three racial groups in the Eastern PA Conference have released anti-racism advocacy statements calling for an end to systemic oppression and violence against Black U.S. citizens, especially by police officers. The statements—by Philadelphia Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), the Latino Commission and the Whites Confronting Racism Clergy Cohort—follow an earlier one issued on May 13 by the conference’s Commission on Religion and Race, “Enough Is Enough! A Call to Address Racism and Racial Violence.”

Philadelphia BMCR members discussed in a Zoom video-conference meeting on Monday, June 15, “where we are and what we should be doing as Black Methodists when the dust settles.”

“BMCR Philadelphia stands in solidarity with the families of all of the unarmed black brothers and sisters who have been targeted unjustly and even killed at the hands of police,” wrote the Rev. Eric Carr, Coordinator, in his invitation to the meeting.

“Many of us have been out in the streets letting our voices be heard, protesting and joining in with various community prayers and marches against racism, injustice, and demanding change and reform with law enforcement agencies and their tactics and policies. Many have been partnering with various social justice advocates, ministries, and committees working towards change that is long overdue.”

The Latino Commission’s June 17 letter laments “the tragic and senseless murders” of the most recent victims of racial violence against Black citizens. Their letter names “our brothers George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, our sister Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks,” citing “the reality of racism that so often black and brown people face across this nation.”

The commission’s missive relates mostly Latino immigrant “families being separated, detained in overcrowded camps and left to die” to “the continued violent assault on black bodies by police.” It links white supremacy and white privilege to COVID 19 as viruses that have “plagued the nation and in particular black and brown communities.”

With “BLACK LIVES MATTER! ¡LAS VIDAS NEGRAS VALEN!” written in all caps, the letter further calls for both the commission and BMCR, “our siblings,” to “hold our Annual Conference accountable to take seriously the work of dismantling racism in all its forms and to continue to live up to our baptismal vows as United Methodists…”

BMCR’s national organization and MARCHA, the national Latino/Hispanic UMC caucus, have also issued statements against the ongoing prevalence of racism and the national epidemic of violence committed against Black people by law enforcement.

The Whites Confronting Racism Clergy Cohort (WCR) are graduates of an intensive series of workshops launched last year to help 16 White clergy in the conference “understand the dynamics of racism within our society and within themselves.” They engaged in transformational education, dialogue, mutual accountability and action that for many continues today in individual and group efforts.

The 16 members signed and released a June 4 statement that affirms the conference Commission on Religion and Race statement about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and numerous racial disparities underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We stand with our siblings engaged in dismantling racism in our conference and beyond,” the WCR group writes, “and express our outrage for ‘yet one more attack and murder, one more lynching in a disgustingly long history of white supremacist violence against people of color in our society.’”  They name other killings that have since followed Arbery’s murder and the CORR statement.

The group acknowledges the systemic privilege and “social and institutional power” afforded them by “the ‘white’ color of our skin …at the expense of people of color.”  

“We also recognize that as members of God’s beloved family we’re given responsibility for speaking up and out when racial injustice plagues our communities,” their statement continues. “Therefore, white people must be involved in confronting, resisting, and dismantling racism. When white people remain silent, we strengthen the white supremacist ideology that is woven into the fabric of our nation, our communities, and our churches. If we witness racism and say nothing – it is as if we are saying that we do not care, that racism is not a problem for us.

“Today, we say that we do care, and that racism is a problem for us. We cannot ignore the multitude of harm racism has done to people…”

Members of the group agree to:

  • “actively listen to and follow the leadership of people of color expressed in already established groups,” such as CORR, the Healing the Wounds of Racism Core Accountability Team, BMCR, the Committee on Native American Ministry (CONAM), the Latino Commission, and others.
  • address racism in our own lives: We will continue to learn, to recognize, and to repent of our own bias and our culpability in racist systems. We will take active steps to act against racism in the communities where we live, work, and lead as clergy.
  • to aid in the Eastern PA Conference’s ongoing efforts to acknowledge and confront racism within our own conference. We do so, recognizing that we are not alone, but join many others, in this commitment and work.

“We join together,” the statement ends, “with anyone who has a heart for the oppressed and a desire to live in a world where all of God’s children are equally valued, honored and respected.”

NOTE: The Eastern PA Conference Methodists Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and Reconciling United Methodists (RUM), two collaborating, progressive conference groups, issued an open letter June 18 to “Justice Seeking Friends” also supporting Philadelphia BMCR’s statement responding to the murder of George Floyd. The group is collecting solidarity signatures to the letter, hoping to address “with a sense of urgency…these inequalities and injustices that continue.”