A graph of the newly adopted structure of the general agencies of The United Methodist Church.
It's an old joke, but true nonetheless: Be careful what virtue you ask of God, because you will surely be placed in life situations where you will have to practice it! So it has been with me, and others of my acquaintance, this week at General Conference.
In my case, the spiritual challenge before me has been to refrain from cynicism, despair and "snark" about The United Methodist Church. I have seen too much of the ugly underbelly of the institution over the past quarter of a century, and staring too long at darkness can impede one's vision of light.
Moreover, during those 24 years, many people – I would venture to say as many as hundreds – of United Methodists who have been injured by the institution have turned to me to bare their wounds and share their stories. My empathy for their collective plight has left me with scars of my own, making for a very jaundiced view of the workings of the church.
So when I met with my spiritual director before General Conference, she asked me what concrete plan I had for achieving my spiritual goals. I mentioned constant prayer, including times apart with God, to strive to see all delegates as God's beloved daughters and sons. I now report, to my consternation, that my plan has been sorely tried by the actions of the General Conference.
In short, I am heartbroken at the loss of the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on Status and Role of Women in the new structure of the United Methodist general agencies. They have been replaced by a "Committee on Inclusiveness." To my mind, the denomination has achieved its streamlining on the backs of women and people of color, a discouraging symbol that the UMC values material success more than people.
I confess that the restructure hurts personally because it impacts me twice as a woman of mixed-race heritage. Our family descends in part from the Lumbee people, who intermarried with freed slaves around Fayetteville, NC. I discovered this heritage some years ago only after deep research into our family's geneaology, because the culture of segregation in the South caused my great-grandparents to hide their racial identities. Hence, I have the blood of both Native Americans and African Americans flowing through my veins. This knowledge has given me a new understanding and affiliation with people of color, along with new awareness of how my own family sacrificed its true nature to access the privilege of whiteness. In America, being white has meant life, pure and simple.
Now my church, which was a leader in past struggles for racial and gender justice, has devalued the current struggles of people of color and women in its desire for corporate success by eliminating the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on Status and Role of Women.
I am of the generation of women who broke down many walls with the help of Christ and the church. I was the first woman to be editor of the United Methodist Reporter in 167 years. Imagine that: It took one hundred and sixty-seven years for one of the denomination's most distinguished publications to place a woman in authority at the senior executive level. As a woman, I have known the terror of violent sexual assault in which my life was threatened. As a woman, I have earned roughly three-fourths the salary of my male colleagues. As a woman, I have had politicians take away my rights to make my own health care decisions. It's a small thing, but just this week I left a Tampa restaurant because, as a woman lunching alone, I sat for nearly 20 minutes without service.
So the struggle for justice for women and people of color is nowhere near over. And now my church has demoted these justice efforts to the status of a committee answerable to the very people it's supposed to be monitoring.
After the vote that dissolved GCORR and COSROW, I mentioned in an ill-advised tweet that just once, I'd like to see General Conference do violence to a mission or ministry headed by an old white man. I repent of that desire for violence and the pejorative profiling it contains. I also repent of my late-night email to some brothers that I felt ready to leave The United Methodist Church.
However, I will not disown the sense that my sisters and brothers of color, along with the sisterhood of women, have been abandoned by The United Methodist Church. Living with this knowledge in future will be difficult indeed, and will require me to make my spiritual plan for General Conference a permanent part of my daily discipline.
When we greeted each other in Tampa before the structure vote, my soul sister, Garlinda Burton, who is now the last general secretary of COSROW, prophesied, "We'll get there. God will drag us kicking and screaming, but we'll get there."
Even so, come Lord Jesus!