Response: May 2016 Issue

Racial Justice Mandates for General Conference

A racial justice lens can help us hold our church accountable for racial justice as we follow the lead of those most impacted by racial injustice.

Racial Justice Mandates for General Conference
Cynthia Kent, chairperson of the Native American Intl. Caucus, helps lead worship at the Pre-General Conference Briefing in Portland, Ore.

As United Methodists from around the world convene at General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon, there must be a significant focus on how the decisions of the delegates will impact the Church's racial justice work. Each issue taken up for discussion and voting at General Conference will have racial justice implications. Grappling with these racial justice realities is a clear mandate for those making decisions about the future of the Church.

The racial justice mandate for General Conference comes directly from the Charter for Racial Justice in an Interdependent Global Community. The Charter for Racial Justice remains The United Methodist Church's formidable statement of commitment to realizing a racially just church, community and world. And its charge is as demanding as ever. Because we believe, as the charter states, that "racism robs all human beings of their wholeness and is used as a justification for social, economic and political exploitation," we will, as the Church, "work for the development and implementation of national and international policies to protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all people."

While the charter's call is clear, an ongoing challenge remains how to fully implement it. In a world where the United States has twice elected an African American president but where more African Americans are living in poverty than ever before, more people have been deported than under any other presidential administration, 2.3 million people are in jail and prison and wars rage around the globe, the complexities of systemic racism can make living out the charter a vexing task.

How must those at General Conference contend with the rigorous call of the charter?

Mandate 1: Use a racial justice lens

One aim for those attending and in leadership at General Conference will be to use a racial justice lens to identify and examine the implications that race has on issues coming before the assembled body. Using a racial justice lens helps us highlight potentially unseen racial realities. We must expose racism in order to end it. As Race Forward asserts in its guide on the subject, using a racial justice lens includes "challenging racism and advocating for equitable alternatives. It reveals problems of racial injustice and points toward equitable solutions. It is not enough to be reactive; a racial justice frame needs to be proactive." If you are a delegate, attendee or know someone who is going to General Conference, use or ask them to use the following questions to engage in the proceedings with a racial justice lens firmly in place:

How is race or racism being named or ignored in this decision or discussion?

What power do I have or can I build with others to ensure that race is considered in this discussion?

Is racism being addressed on a symptomatic level (in one instance of racism) or at a systemic level (dealing with how racism is perpetuated through institutions and across society)?

How is this discussion or decision making race explicit but not exclusive, such as addressing race's intersection with other key factors such as class, gender, dis/ability, age, geography, sexuality, etc?

Mandate 2: Hold the church to account on racial justice issues

We are the Church, and we must hold ourselves to account. One of the main tasks for delegates and people participating at General Conference will be to act on a host of resolutions. Advocating for the passage of resolutions that promote equity is a key way to keep the Church accountable. United Methodist Women will present 20 resolutions to General Conference, some new and some for revision and readoption. While all of United Methodist Women's resolutions have racial justice components, the following directly address how the Church can act to continue undoing the systemic nature of racism in local, national and global ways: Resolution 1025: Environmental Racism, 3371: A Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global, 3422: Resisting Hate, Fear, and Scapegoating: Transforming the Context of Hate in the U.S., and the new resolution Stop Criminalizing Communities of Color in the United States. All United Methodist Women legislation to General Conference can be found at

Be an ardent advocate for the passage and/or readoption of these and other justice-driven resolutions and changes. Read these resolutions fully and discuss their content with others and encourage others to read them as well. Having a fuller understanding of the resolutions that reflect our Church's racial justice values will help us develop policies that move us closer to a more racially just institution.

Mandate 3: Follow the lead of those mostly deeply impacted by racial injustice

Our work for racial justice must be focused on being accountable to those most deeply impacted by racial injustice. This means white people and institutions, like the church, that remain in large part white-led must learn to exercise accountability to people of color. Melanie Morrison, in her article "Beyond Good Intentions: Cultivating an Antiracist White Identity" in the February 2016 issue of response affirms that "as we seek to make privilege visible and interrupt racism, it is essential that we are accountable to people of color. Otherwise we may do more harm than good. If we charge ahead, eager to impose our solutions and interventions, we replicate old, oppressive patterns of white mission to, not with."

At General Conference it is crucial that any work being done to undo systemic racism follow the lead of people of color who are engaged in the fight for racial justice. Research and talk with representatives of The United Methodist Church's ethnic and language ministry plans, which include: Asian American Language Ministry, Korean Ministry Plan, National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, Native American Comprehensive Plan, Pacific Islander National Plan and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century. Also seek leadership and direction from Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Committee on Native American Ministries and the General Commission on Religion and Race.

While these mandates are in no way exhaustive of the work to be a racial justice advocate at General Conference 2016, they provide guideposts for you to genuinely begin to be accountable to and share power with people of color in the Church and world.

Janis Rosheuvel is United Methodist Women executive for racial justice.

Posted or updated: 5/3/2016 11:00:00 PM