This article appeared originally on the GCORR website. It has been edited by UM Insight to reflect the General Conference May 2 to adopt Plan UMC.
The process for restructuring our denomination has largely been constructed by a small group of leaders, dominated by white males from the United States. It raises critical concerns around patterns of neo-colonialism, systemic racism and the overwhelming and abusive use of White privilege. To allow the condensed use of immense power is to dismiss the voices that made it clear in the General Administration Legislative Committee that these plans are deplorably deficient in addressing the needs of the emerging church locally and globally.
One aspect of Plan UMC that causes great concern is its evisceration of the agencies that work toward full engagement of people of color and women as vital parts of the worldwide church at all levels. These agencies are stripped of their General Secretaries, their funding, their authority to monitor and equip the Church at all levels, including the ability to assist local churches in creating vital congregations in changing communities. The only agency focused on equipping the worldwide church to engage diverse communities is weakened at a time when culturally competent leadership is essential to church growth and relevancy. The compromised plan eliminates the work of GCORR with Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural appointments, cultural competency with Cabinets, and our work with the Council of Bishops.
Since the General Commission on Religion and Race does not remain an independent agency with full authority, staffing, and budget, there will be no real source for the Central Conferences to turn to in order to raise issues of full involvement at all levels of the church. There will no longer be any clear source to partner and equip around issues of racism, ethno centrism or tribalism. This is a global concern, not only a U.S. concern.
The action taken to remove guaranteed appointments adds yet another layer to the impact of the destruction of these agencies. The residual resistance of many local churches to fully receive women and persons of color as their pastor will make those clergy leaders the most vulnerable. Now that GCORR ceases to be an independent agency there is little authority to confront the racism and sexism that will emerge.
Additional points of deep concern:
- Central Conference delegates have expressed continued concerns about the U.S.-centered approach of General Conference and many of our general agencies. The new compromised plan does nothing concretely to change that pattern. The marginalization of the work of GCORR for justice will make it less likely that systemic patterns will be named or changed.
- The new compromised plan does not continue the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund, which has been a vital source of supporting innovative ministries of racial-ethnic local churches and advocacy for racial justice issues.
Why we believe it important for the General Commission on Religion and Race to be maintained as an independent agency of the denomination:
- As an independent commission GCORR monitored the behaviors of all other general agencies and practices of our denomination to insure that all persons will have access to leadership and decision-making in the denomination. To be made into a committee strips it of any real authority to make certain that racial-ethnic leadership in the U.S. and Central Conference leadership globally will have equal involvement in the denomination.
- GCORR has had a crucial role in equipping leadership to be able to work effectively in cross-cultural contexts. At a time when the United Methodist Church is growing significantly in Africa and Asia it is essential that U.S. leaders be equipped and monitored to be in true partnership with Central Conference leadership.
- At this General Conference we have received monitoring reports indicating a significant lack of understanding by many U.S. delegates on how to hear and respond to the insights and needs of Central Conference delegates.
- The voices of justice and accountability in the Church get lost. GCORR has helped the Church BE the Church and hold the Church accountable when we fail to live into God’s true diversity
- Young adults live in a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic world and expect the church to embody that vision and reality. The GCORR General Secretary is the only young adult, lay woman of color currently in key leadership at this level of the church. To reduce GCORR to a committee has eliminated the presence and power of such a voice in shaping the future.
In our view, to recommend major changes on the backs of women and people of color is to reintroduce the wrongs of history, such as the creation of the Central Jurisdiction, a racially segregated jurisdiction that was established in 1939, as a condition of compromise among three Methodist branches. We fear we will now relive past sins in God’s name.
Erin Hawkins is the General Secretary for General Commission on Religion and Race