Response: February 2017 Issue

Responsively Yours: Called to Act

Responsively Yours: Called to Act

Harriett Olson

Since the 1950s, United Methodist Women has affirmed a version of the Charter for Racial Justice. The charter was adopted by The United Methodist Church in 1980. We have engaged in this work since our founding because of who we are, who God is and what God expects of us. In 2017, we need to call on this long commitment to counter new expressions of an old enmity.

When the charter was written, white supremacy, Jim Crow and lynching of African Americans was a scourge affecting communities throughout the nation. Over the past 60 years the work of justice advocates, persons of goodwill, lawmakers and law enforcement changed these norms of expression and helped end some of the most heinous actions. However, persons with eyes to see and ears to hear know that the attitudes and prejudices that underlaid the violent expression of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have remained.

In this century something has changed as the United States squandered international goodwill by launching ill-conceived and nebulous wars on terror and doubled down on a domestic “war on drugs,” criminalizing diverse populations in urban areas while treating drug abuse in suburbs and wealthy enclaves as a health crisis. Economic changes have led to the loss of unionized jobs in manufacturing and production, and white nationalism has rebuilt a network of connections outside the public view.

Practices and policies in our systems of government have played on a fear of the “other” that does not recognize our common humanity. Surveillance of mosques, stop-and-frisk policing aimed at persons of color and detention of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have criminalized persons of color. These policies may not have the same “shock the conscience” factor as lynching, but the effect is undeniably to build fear and distance among people based on their race and religion.

We need look no further than the hate crimes reported in the past few months to see the rise in expression of the vilest attitudes. A white woman is caught on video telling a Hispanic woman at a big box store to “go back to where you came from.” Children in school are taunted by white classmates who say their parents will be deported. Jewish buildings and graves are marked by swastikas, and rarely are police officers disciplined, dismissed or prosecuted for exerting undue force or discharging their weapons on African Americans and Native Americans.

As the charter reminds us: “racism robs all human beings of their wholeness.” The majority culture in the United States is daily revealing this lack of wholeness. It is critical that we renounce the fear of the “other” that allows weapons manufacturers, private prison operators and politicians to manipulate us for their own gain. We must reaffirm that “all women and men are made in God’s image and all persons are equally valuable in the sight of God” and “our struggle for justice must be based on new attitudes, new understandings, and new relationships.”

Some ways to proceed can be found in the charter and in the resources around it, including racial justice teams in your conferences and districts. We are also instructed by “Speaking Out for Compassion: Transforming the Context of Hate in the United States” (#3422, Book of Resolutions, 2016), which calls us to interrupt hateful and demeaning speech and action, to listen to one another and to encourage law enforcement to track and prosecute hate crimes.

As United Methodist Women, as Christians, we are called to act at such a time as this (Esther 4:14).

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 2/7/2017 12:00:00 AM