Webinar Speaks Out on Racism Within the Church

January 28, 2021 | by JB Brayfindley

Webinar Speaks Out on Racism Within the Church

“There is no one who is not victimized by racism,” states Ms. Erin Hawkins-Smith, Executive Director for Connectional Ministries with the California Pacific Annual Conference. “The perpetuators are victimized by it as are the people who are on the receiving end.”
 
Hawkins-Smith was one of four panelists speaking at the webinar entitled, “Raise Up Your Voice Against Racism: A Discussion on Racism from an African American Perspective,” on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. More than 85 participants from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference to California -Nevada Annual Conference attended the webinar, the third in a series of six sessions presented by the Asian American Language Ministry Plan (AALM), the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM) and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
 
Other panelist included California-Nevada Lay Leader Micheal Pope, Rev. Quentisha Davis Wiles of Pittsburg UMC in Pittsburg, California and Rev. Dr. Michael Bowie, National Executive Director for Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.
 
Rev. John Oda, Program Manager of AALM and elder from the California-Nevada Annual Conference, presented the “Statement Against Racism” video originally published in June 2020. The powerful video features twelve Asian  American Young Adults from twelve different Asian American United Methodist Caucuses. Oda quoted author Ijeoma Oluo in defining the topic for discussion: “Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race when those views are reinforced by systems of power.”
 
Rev. Neal Christie, social justice consultant and the former Assistant General Secretary at Church and Society served as the moderator and explained, “Asian Americans can be silent when racialized public policies are enacted, or racist behaviors practiced. Asian Americans are themselves frequent, silent targets of racist violence and scapegoating, heightened during the covid-19 pandemic. Can we center the voices of Asian Americans as anti-racist allies? What happens when we do? That is what this series is about.”
 
“The church has systemically carried the hatred of racism with it and continues to do it to this day … We have to talk about the ways we continue to promote--sustain institutions that harm the human family,” states Hawkins-Smith. “and that is why I think cross -cultural conversations like the one we are having today [is important]--where we talk with Asian brothers and sisters, there are white brothers and sisters [here] and I see that there are members of the Latinx community here. We all have to be in this conversation together because we are all part of the system. We are all victimized by it. And one of the things it does is pits against one another. It makes us believe the lie that we are separate from one another. And we are not.”
 
Panelists told a few of the many stories of their own experiences of racism. Dr. Bowie reports being interrogated by police with lights flashing for 30 minutes in his church parking lot on Sunday morning as his parishioners passed -- making him late for church. Pope shared an incident where her daughter was suspended for “looking intimidating” and later, the principal apologized stating that he did not know his actions were racist. Hawkins-Smith, a life-long United Methodist, states her first encounter with racism was in the church setting when her friend explained that she thought that since Hawkins-Smith was black she didn’t sing the same songs as other Methodists.
 
“We are all in this thing together… but we can no longer be like that Asian police officer who watched George Floyd fight for life for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” states Dr. Bowie.  “Dr. King said it best, “At the end of a day, we will not remember the  words or the actions of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” I think as United Methodists who love the Wesleyan heritage… we need to remember the baptismal vows—there were no color in baptismal vows—it says we are called to resist evil , injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves . It  didn’t  say white people, or black people or Asian—we all have responsibility. I think until we all speak up, we will continue to have these stories.”
 
“… not just Black folk but what do we think about others when we see them? What is our expectation?” asks Rev. Davis Wiles who shared several stories of being treated differently because of her skin color at school and while shopping. “Who do we hope they won’t be when we encounter them?”
 
“Until we know who we are and what we carry inside, we cannot be the change we want to see,” states Pope who has participated in the Implicit Project at Harvard University for the last three years. She encourages individuals to annually take the online Implicit Bias test. “Find out who you are and what you have carried through your soul all your life that you may think that you are not but maybe you are then grow from there.”
 
The purpose of this webinar series is to educate audiences about racism through an Asian American lens and to talk about the importance of Asian Americans to speak out against racism and stand in solidarity with Brown and Black brothers and sisters. The webinars were launched  by AALM as part of a wider effort to combat racism in institutions and the world. Another part of this effort was a Statement Against Racism written by members of the AALM Anti-Racism Task Force in the summer of 2020 in response to a series of killings of unarmed black people and in particular, after the murder of George Floyd.
 
“…the committee felt like we could not sit back,” states Oda.
 
The next webinar is slated for February 23 with a focus on self-care “for those who have felt the string of racism and for those who battle racism on a daily basis,” according to Oda.  
Also scheduled is an “In-Between Conversations” zoom meeting on February 9, 2021. The conversations are lightly facilitated and informal conversations for people to discuss the challenges of racism and how it affects their lives.
 
“These In-Between Conversations have been powerful and moving,” states Oda. “I think they have been healing for the people who have attended, even if they don’t say much.
 
For more information on the webinar series and the conversations, contact Rev. John Oda at Joda@umcmission.org.
 
Past webinars included: October 27, 2020 with panelists from the Pacific School of Religion including professors Dr. Joyce del Rosario and Rev. Karen Yokota Love; and,
January 5,2021 with panelists Rev. Michael Yoshii, retired pastor of the California-Nevada UMC; Ann Jacob, pastor of Edmond UMC in Edmunds, Washington; and Mr. Deborah E. Bass, a member of Crossroads UMC in Compton, California. View the second webinar HERE using passcode 9^G11cju. View Rev. Yoshii written remarks HERE.
 
 


JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.
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