Conference Commission on Religion and Race: What’s up for 2024
September 11, 2023 / By Dr. Scott Johnson, Rev. Harold Wheat, and Georgia Whitney
As our area continues to heal from the loss and trauma of the racist attack in Buffalo last May, a new example of racist hatred taken to the most violent extremes has just happened in Jacksonville, Florida. A White supremacist gunman killed Angela Michelle Carr, Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., and Jerrald Gallion for no reason other than his hatred of Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). The surface elements of this attack are hard enough to bear.
Similar to the Tops shooting in Buffalo, deeper questions about the role of racism in this killing emerge. Issues of purposeful residential segregation, the intersection of race and poverty in America, the economics and impact of discount stores that focus on communities of Color, and a national climate that silences meaningful exploration of such topics. The complexities of these issues demonstrate the ongoing urgent need for United Methodists of Upper New York to purposefully strive to “set the oppressed free,” as Jesus did.
Conference Commission on Religion and Race's (CCORR) Imagine No Racism ministry was launched in 2018 because antiracism work is a central part of discipleship—it’s about who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. The work is not rooted in any political agenda. We are Jesus’s people in the world today. For the past few years, CCORR supported this work by striving to equip our siblings across Upper New York to dismantle racism in the church and our communities. Now, we feel the Spirit calling us to focus in new directions, broadening our work. Here’s what this looks like for our team in 2024:
More Churches Engaged in Antiracism Ministries
First, many churches are working to change beliefs, practices, and systems that perpetuate racial inequities. In 2024, CCORR is committed to increasing the percentage of local churches engaged in antiracism ministries. Some churches and pastors may concentrate on equipping themselves by continuing their learning through Bible, movie, and book studies. We hope they’ll consider bringing the Imagine No Racism curriculum to their churches as well. Others may be ready to engage in an issue in their communities. CCORR will provide coaches for teams in this phase of work to assist with discernment and strategies.
Ministry Action Teams
Congregations and siblings who may want to engage in more direct action, addressing specific racial inequities in their communities can do this work through ministry action teams. This brings us to CCORR’s second goal for 2024, which is to produce a more just world by facilitating the creation of ministry action teams to empower policy or community change. These teams may involve people from a single church or geographical area of the conference. Depending on the policy goal, a team may be comprised of people from across all Upper New York. The key uniting element is a call and passion for bringing about a specific tangible outcome, such as revising a police use of force policy, opening a grocery store, or starting a tutoring ministry to address educational disparities. We propose creating teams in three areas:
- Criminal justice reform, which might include work to address qualified immunity, bail reform, and the clean slate bill.
- Food apartheid. This might involve a ministry that focuses on creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change to eliminate food deserts.
- Educational concerns, such as disciplinary injustice, curriculum, educational outcomes, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
If you have a passion for working in one of these areas, CCORR wants to help you accomplish your goal. Maybe you’ve already talked to some people in your congregation who want to work with you. Perhaps you have some elements of a strategy but aren’t quite sure how to proceed. You might be ready to begin work but need more partners to accomplish tasks. No matter the case, we can help. We can provide coaching for teams who are ready to start, and/or we can connect you with other people in the conference who share your passion.
Those who have completed INR sessions in recent months, or have communicated with us about wanting to be part of a ministry action team, will receive email invitations to join these teams. If you don’t receive an email and would like to participate in one of these initiatives, please contact Scott Johnson or Georgia Whitney, CCORR’s co-conveners.
There’s a lot more to say about these teams and the ways they might function in our conference. We’ll continue to communicate with you about them in the weeks ahead.
Enhanced Imagine No Racism (INR) Curriculum
Our third goal for 2024 is to further enrich the conversation in our conference to equip siblings for antiracism work. We’ve heard from folks who are ready to take a deeper dive into some of the topics explored in INR. We’ll begin work on a more specialized curriculum that explores a topic such as divesting ourselves of privilege or overcoming our implicit biases.
Finally, we’ll continue the work we began last year to develop a multigenerational approach to antiracist work. CORR seeks to partner with younger siblings to ensure that this work better includes their perspectives and experiences.
Our Work Is More Important than Ever!
When the Imagine No Racism ministry was launched in 2018, we were all asked to consider signing an individual covenant that read, “Before God and with my family in Christ, I vow, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to oppose and to eliminate the influence of racism from systems, institutions, relationships, and my own life.” Today, that vow is even more important than it was five years ago. The work we do belongs not just to CCORR, but to all of us. The CCORR team rejoices in the opportunity to partner with you and take up your authority to interrupt racism wherever you become aware of it in your circles of influence.
We ask that you join us in prayer that racism will cease to impede the movement of God’s love in Upper New York. Together with the Holy Spirit, we can build the world we imagine.