ARISE: My Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation
In our present cultural setting, we Americans are a crisis-driven people.
Our attention is focused on the sensation of the moment. The issue of the day calls out – screams really – for us to react. Media seeks to hear a word, phrase, or soundbite that encapsulates the essence of the moment and begs for an instant solution. What is “high profile” in the moment becomes “old news” in the next. Before we can consider the current hot topic, another has assumed the front page of our news stream.
This lack of sustained, persistent attention to faithful assertiveness endangers our ability to be the constant unrelenting presence of God’s love in our world.
Our current situation with racial justice is a blatant illustration of this country’s deteriorating condition as it relates to digging deep and struggling together for an outcome that is more than cosmetic. Eighteen months ago, I began to question how more than this reactionary approach might be developed to resource young people and their leaders in our denomination (UMC). I questioned how the young people of our church could be challenged to become more than admirers of Jesus, instead, following his lead to love people where they are while challenging them to move to a new place of sustained love and sustainable action.
That meant a journey for myself.
Here’s where I started:
- I initiated conversations with a variety of people – mostly people of color I could count on to let me say what I was thinking and hear their honest responses.
- I had to do more listening than talking.
- I put trust in some young people of color to help me learn through experience – a poetry slam at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC gave me a front-row seat to the daily experience, frustration, anger, and hopes of young people of color in our country.
- I read a number of articles and several books (if you’re white, America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis is challenging and helpful).
- I had to yield to God’s spirit working in me through all of the people and resources that I encountered. This sounds tidy and perhaps a little religiously pompus, but it was challenging as I faced my own white privilege and positional power.
The next step was to understand how all of this translated into the discipleship work of Young People’s Ministries. Our goal became to identify and/or create sustainable resourcing that would enable young people and their leaders to create a more equitable existence for all people to live in the love we profess as followers of Jesus. We are seeking to identify tools for young people to be shaped as disciples so they can reshape their country and world. The church is uniquely positioned and responsible to shed the light of Christ’s love, illuminating the path to a future where each individual and all groups of people are recognized for who they are – beloved children of God.
The journey continued:
- We researched available resources for young people and their leaders to deal with the topic of racism.
- We identified a group of young black leaders and white allies from across the United States – people with deep experience in the area of racism who held relational power in their regions were identified and invited to be a part of a racism gathering along with the U.S. program staff of Young People’s Ministries and the chief executive of Discipleship Ministries (my supervisor) .
- An outside facilitator was engaged to lead us through a process of sharing our own stories, identifying available resources, and working on an action plan for needed resourcing of young people and the church on the topics of racism, racial reconciliation, and racial justice.
- Because the event was scheduled to take place in the Dallas area, a group of community leaders and young people who were present at the Dallas protest where five police officers were shot joined us for our first session.
- Video of participants answering a series of question was shot and is being edited into a series of video resources. (Two are now available.)
- Participants established several avenues for continuing to be involved in resourcing this issue for the church and world.
Work continues after the event:
- An online mind-map was created as a visual representation of all the thoughts from the event. All of the participants were invited to be a part of shaping it. (We used an online tool called “coggle” which is free and meets our needs.)
- Created this press release including interviews with voices of participants to help people know what happened at the gathering.
- Used the video interviews from the gathering to produce videos (two currently completed) with two more in the pipeline. Each will be released as they are edited. Here’s the first one.
- I joined the local SURJ (Showing Up for Social Justice) organization and have, with my supervisor’s permission, invited other employees of Discipleship Ministries to join with me.
- I have met with my supervisor to propose “next steps.” His involvement is a key to the sustainability of this effort.
- The resources generated through our research and the gathering have been entered into a database that is available now HERE.
- Preliminary discussions are taking place about how some entities of our denomination could come together to offer opportunities for several young people to work on this topic in an ongoing way.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement believed that we are called to be on a journey to perfection in Christ’s love. For me, that means a life-long journey of growing into the writer of 1 John’s “perfect love that casts out fear.” In my context of ministry, that journey to perfection must include using my racial and social privilege to create a more loving place in our world for all people.
This will not happen without intentional and sustained effort.
I invite you to join me on the journey.
Michael Ratliff leads YPM for United Methodist Church staff working with all levels of church leadership and the Division on Ministries with Young People members to facilitate all aspects of our work globally.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.