— July 24, 2020 —

A Letter to United Methodists in Portland and the Oregon-Idaho Conference:

Don’t get distracted from the work of anti-racism

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?  I do.

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?  I do.

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?  I do.

“Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith”
United Methodist Baptismal Covenant

A well-intentioned ‘wall of moms’ standing between protesters and law enforcement.

A white woman dubbed ‘naked Athena’ shedding her clothes to protest police violence.

A president desperate to change the narrative deploying federal agents in a provocative fashion.

Do not be distracted.

Black Lives Matter.

Credit: @WallOfMoms2020 via Twitter

Just a week after the death of civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis, we find our public discourse distracted once again. Our attention span is short, news cycles are often even shorter. Some claim there is an intentional effort to draw our focus away from the simple, painful, sinful truth that Black lives are still valued less than white lives in this country.

In contrast, Congressman Lewis’ legacy is emblematic of the Black community’s enduring commitment to Christian virtues. Arrested more than 40 times, physically attacked and seriously injured, Lewis remained committed to the principles of nonviolent organizing. He remained steadfast and focused in his pursuit of civil rights and he embodied forgiveness even toward those who had treated him with cruelty. His example gives us hope – not an idyllic hope, but one grounded in grace and resiliency.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame. . . . Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.                           — Hebrews 12: 1-2a,12-13

Throughout its history in America, Methodism has had a complicated relationship with Black and other communities of color. In response to this ‘moment,’ The United Methodist Church has made commitments to ‘dismantle racism,’ but true repentance and conversion takes longer than a news cycle.

If we seek lasting change, we have hard work to do to understand and deconstruct white privilege, which allows institutional racism to shape our nation and our ministries. Contributing to a future where Black Lives Matter is not a simple protest but a prolonged struggle, requiring us to be steadfast and focused, like Rep. Lewis, and not easily distracted.

This is why we lament and affirm the following:

We affirm as members of The United Methodist Church in the Oregon-Idaho Conference and faith leaders in Portland the prophetic witness of so many Black civic leaders and organizers seeking justice and equity throughout our country’s history in non-violent ways; even in the face of white acts of hostility and violence. We honor the life and legacy of Black leaders like Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and C.T. Vivian, who modeled and championed non-violent protests as a means of raising consciousness and creating a movement for justice for Black lives. 

We affirm the long legacy of non-violent protests in Portland advocating for justice, equity and full inclusion of Black people in the life of this vibrant community.

We affirm that United Methodists in Portland, who are predominantly white, are awakening to the plight of Black people in America, Portland and our Church, while acknowledging we have more work to do to understand our own white privilege and participation in institutional and systemic racism.

For these reasons, and more …

We condemn the recent violence by some protesters and police in Portland as antithetical to the call to end violence against Black people and ensure full economic, political and social power for the Black community.

We condemn the involvement of federal law enforcement in Portland as an unwelcome intrusion into the local community with aggressive tactics that have incited further violence and distracted attention away from the loud and clear message that Black Lives Matter.

We invite others to join us in prayerfully discerning the necessary steps we must take to make our actions speak as prophetically as our words.

Do not be distracted. Don’t lose focus. Black Lives Matter.

Signed by the following faith leaders and writers of this statement:

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church, Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Laurie Day, Director of Connectional Ministries and Assistant to the Bishop, Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Rev. Timothy Overton-Harris, Columbia District Superintendent, Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Dr. Daymond Glenn, Pastor, The Cultural Soul Project, Portland, OR

Rev. Ric Shewell, Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, Pastor, Great Spirit United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Cynthia MacLeod, Columbia District Lay Leader, Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Kristen Caldwell, Communications Manager, Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church, Portland, OR

Endorsed by the following Conference leaders of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church:

Jan Nelson, Oregon-Idaho Conference Lay Leader

Rev. Karen Hernandez, Sage District Superintendent

Rev. John Tucker, Crater Lake District Superintendent

Rev. Wendy Woodworth, Cascadia District Superintendent

Rev. Dan Wilson-Fey, Oregon-Idaho Conference Treasurer/Chief Benefits Officer

© Copyright 2019, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. All Rights Reserved.