Asking the hard questions about race

May 19, 2022 | by Jim Patterson

Asking the hard questions about race


The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo poses a difficult question to white United Methodists who say they want an end to racism.

Do you want racial justice enough to voluntarily relinquish some of your power? Even those who say “yes” to this tend to make such changes in ways that don’t really shift things, said Arroyo, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race since Aug. 31.

“The church has all these committees,” Arroyo said. “They look around to see who's missing, which is a great question that we should be asking.”

But the tendency is to add a chair to the existing table for minority representation, rather than have one of the current committee members step down.

“As long we keep adding a chair, the power dynamics still don't change,” said Arroyo, the first Latinx person to lead a United Methodist general agency. “When people are willing to step up and relinquish that seat and get someone else, then you start to shift that power and allow new ways of being. To me, that's a challenge for the church, and that's the challenge of diversity and inclusion.”

Arroyo knows firsthand about being an “other.” A native of Puerto Rico, he arrived in the U.S. as a boy. His family attended Knickerbocker United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he first felt a calling to ministry.

“My parents were Presbyterian, but we couldn't find a Spanish-speaking Presbyterian church in Brooklyn,” he said. “My aunt … found a Spanish-speaking church in Brooklyn, and Knickerbocker was a place that nurtured me. It was there that the community embraced my family, and they really cared for discipleship that provided a deep mission of who God is in that time.”

By the age of 10, Arroyo was “playing church” in the living room of the family apartment, leading 16-20 other children in worship.

“By the age of 12, I preached my first sermon at Church for All Nations in Manhattan,” he said. “And then I started to preach in my local church and preach for the district.”

Arroyo was a pre-med student and studied psychology in college. He earned advanced degrees in clinical mental health, management and divinity.  

Before committing to ministry, Arroyo was a researcher at The City College of New York, studying language and psychology. He’s researched violence and child abuse, drug addiction in young adults and taught English as a second language.

“Gio is bilingual, probably trilingual,” said the Rev. Stephen Handy, pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. “That helps him navigate through subcultures.”

Handy got to know Arroyo in his role as a Religion and Race board member.

“He has an appreciation for difference — difference of language, difference of customs and practices and patterns. He finds a way to align himself and integrate the value of other people's culture and perspectives in his work.”

After starting his career as a pastor in 2001 in Connecticut, Arroyo was called into service after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, counseling bereaved relatives of victims at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He left the New York Conference on loan to the Baltimore-Washington Conference in 2004 to serve as pastor of two Hispanic congregations and hold other leadership posts. 

In 2010, Arroyo was hired as the team leader for program ministries at Religion and Race, responsible for programming and resources.

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Patterson is a UM News reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.