Election Day Prompts Online 'Conversation on Race'

November 04, 2008

California-Nevada pastor provides commentary for GCORR series

By John Coleman*
Nov. 3, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)
 
A series of commentaries exploring race and racism in the church and U.S. society is featured on the new website of the United Methodist Church's racial justice advocacy agency.
 
Titled "A Conversation on Race,”"the series includes 16 commentaries to date. One or two have been highlighted each day on the home page of the General Commission on Religion and Race website.
 
As Election Day approached, featuring the first African-American major-party nominee, the commission asked some 50 United Methodist lay and clergy leaders of all races to share their observations and opinions from a faith perspective. More than a dozen—including the Rev. Michael Yoshii, pastor of Buena Vista UMC in Alameda, California—responded.
 
“The church has always had a place and a voice in the public discourse around racial justice, and there is no time more significant than now to hear what people of faith are thinking,” said Jeneane Jones, the commission’s associate executive for public media (and formerly director of communications for the California-Nevada Annual Conference).
 
The series is a way to hear from the faith community on the eve of an historic election, according to Jones and Erin Hawkins, chief executive of the commission. “We want to know how much of this political race is all about race and how much of it is about something more, something deeper,” Jones said.
 
The commission is asking for reader responses to commentaries already posted but also seeks new writings after Election Day, especially those that offer diverse, faith-based perspectives. The commission plans to feature the series on its website through the end of 2008 and possibly into mid-January, when the church will observe Human Relations Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the inauguration of the new U.S. president.
 
“The General Commission on Religion and Race has been watching this political drama unfold with great interest, and at least we are heartened by the fact that the discussion of race and racism in America has at times been pushed to center stage,” reads the series introduction.
 
“Our desire is not to offer a useless repetition of what has already been said, but to search for new insights and inspiration with a faith perspective, shared by old and new voices for a new time.”
 
Contributors include people in ministry at all levels of the denomination—in local churches, seminaries, annual conferences, racial/ethnic caucuses, and general agencies.
 
“People of faith must view race as we view sin, as an ever-changing challenge, complete with victories and failures,” writes retired Bishop Woodie White, the commission’s first chief executive, who served from 1968 to 1984 and is now bishop-in-residence at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.
 
“We have not crossed over that ever-widening chasm that separates people based on differences in their color and culture,” writes Monalisa S. Tuitahi, an immigration attorney who heads the Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists.
 
“There is great fear that keeps us living in the status quo without enough meaningful attempts to connect, understand and accept each other in our different-ness.”
 
“In my discussions during campaign calls with voters … I have discovered that ‘I’d rather not say’ is often the code phrase for ‘I can’t vote for a black man,’” observes Kathy FitzJefferies, chairwoman of commissions on Religion and Race in the Western North Carolina Conference and Southeastern Jurisdiction.
 
“We need to be faithful to our historic positions against racism and injustice,” writes the Rev. David Maldonado, former chairman of the United Methodist Hispanic/Latino caucus, MARCHA.
 
“But to do so requires serious reflection on how racism is alive within our own church.”
 
*Coleman is director of communications for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.