UMNS photo by Maile Bradfield

Bishop’s letter to M. L. King Jr. is not a progress report

Each year, retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a “birthday letter” to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to share his perspective on the state of race relations primarily in America. White, now bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, became the first head of the UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race when the denomination was born from merger in 1968. He helped many segregated black and white annual conferences overcome conflict and confusion to unite.

“Our nation’s racial climate has gotten worse rather than better,” White tells Dr. King in his 2016 epistle. “A political rhetoric of divisive and hate-filled speech pollutes the atmosphere.” While he celebrates the 150th anniversary on Dec. 6 of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment outlawing slavery, he nonetheless laments “growing xenophobia, nativism and even religious intolerance” that hinder our progress in the “struggle against racism and its negative impact on American life and legacy.

“Sadly,” the bishop explains, “too many of our political and would-be political leaders are exploiting fears, prejudices and insecurities in the face of increased worldwide terrorism.” But he insists on the need to “keep the faith despite the evidence,” adding, “while I am not optimistic, I am always hopeful.” Learn more…

Also, try to attend some event this Jan. 15-17 weekend that celebrates Dr. King’s birthday, whether it’s a rally or a commemorative banquet, worship service, cultural event or prayer breakfast, or even volunteering at a community project for the annual Day of Service.

Or come to First UMC of Germantown in Philadelphia for its racial dialogue on Saturday night, Jan. 16, at 7 PM. The Rev. F. Willis Johnson, a United Methodist pastor who helped forge peace in the face of tense racial protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, will speak and lead the discussion. Johnson helped ease civil unrest after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white policeman. He will also preach at First UMC’s Sunday morning service.

UMNS photo of MLK statue by Maile Bradfield.