Veterans Day 2020 came with cloudy skies and a nation struggling with the highest yet number of COVID-19 cases. Walking across the campus of Indiana University, young women and men in the ROTC were raising the U.S. and Indiana flags. I was struck by the ways our proud nation is enmeshed in a sad drama around the recent presidential election.
We wait to unite in common purpose to address the corona virus pandemic. We wait to regain a sense of shared national identity after a period of tragic division and authoritarian misadventures. We offer a sad spectacle across the globe. Others, rightly, view us with pity. The U.S., beacon of democracy over the centuries, is humbled and divided. When our electoral process is treated like a realty television show (in reruns) and persons who have sworn an oath to uphold the constitution spout unproven charges of voter fraud, we struggle with a pandemic greater than that of the corona virus. It is a pandemic of mistrust and deceit. I watch as “Old Glory” is raised and ponder where we, as a people, are headed.
After pausing and praying, I walked on wondering what little bit each one of us might do. I composed letters in my mind to my congressional representatives from Indiana. All Republican. None of them with sufficient courage as yet to honor our democracy by acknowledging the obvious — Joseph Biden has been elected as the 46th President of the United States.
A column by Thomas Friedman kept playing across my mind. https://nyti.ms/2GSAdtc. It is entitled “Only Truth Can Save Our Democracy.” Let me quote Friedman here: “We need to restore the stigma to lying and liars before it is too late. We need to hunt for truth, fight for truth and mercilessly discredit the forces of disinformation. It is the freedom battle of our generation.“
He is right. We are passing through perilous times when truth itself has been devalued. Deceits and scapegoating of those who disagree or are at the margins of our society threatens the common life within history’s greatest democracy.
Upon return home, I wrote letters to each of my representatives. Below is a copy of my letter to Senator Michael Braun. I encourage you to write — letters of challenge and letters of gratitude. I encourage you to pray — write and pray — do it today.
Senator Michael Braun November 11, 2020 374 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Braun,
I write to you on this Veterans Day, 2020, to express my disappointment with your dismissive and dangerous response to the election of Joseph Biden as the next President of the United States. Sir, the people of our state and nation deserve better than such poltroonery from you in these stress-filled times. As I presume you know, there are issues of national security at risk, not to mention the potential for the undermining basic democratic processes. We are too great a nation, and you, too intelligent a senator, not to perceive the dangers of encouraging and enabling a president who continues to behave like a tinpot dictator.
We are better than this. You are better than this. At least I thought so until I heard your comment that the nation’s popular vote “was basically a tie if you take out California.” Since reading this statement by you, on this Veteran’s Day, I have thought you might want to propose a new Braun-approved version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Let’s see:
I pledge allegiance to the flagof the United States of America,And to the Republic(ans) for which it stands,One nation, under God, indivisible (except for California),with Liberty and Justice for all(except those Trumpists wish to exclude).
We deserve better and I think you know it. Why is it, in these days, that the core Republican strategy seems to always seek to exclude and/or scapegoat others? Perhaps we could say that the number of U.S. Senators in congress is basically tied if you take out Indiana. My family and friends in California think of you as a senator (some even speak of you as a person of intellect and decency); perhaps you might consider thinking of them as fully enfranchised U.S. citizens.
A Call for Antiracist Commitments by Indiana United Methodists
Date: August 17, 2020
At the August 15th session of the Indiana Annual Conference the following motion was referred for consideration: “In preparing the 2021 budget for the Indiana Annual Conference, the Conference Finance and Administration Commission will set aside 10% of future program ministry budget(s) for antiracism work.”
Rationale: We have reached a kairos moment in the life our nation and church. Ours is a time of opportunity, transformation, and an occasion to clearly and directly address the enduring racism that besets our nation, state and church. In truth, racism is embedded in all of our systems: education, medicine, commerce, housing, law enforcement and, most tragically, even the church.
This motion to aside a tithe of conference program budget for antiracism efforts is an opportunity for United Methodists to lead in this critical work. It would demonstrate again our witness to racial justice through positive and constructive actions. We would thereby demonstrate our commitment to follow the Christ who welcomes all without reservation. Sadly, more than the vestiges of racism survive in our body. Racism continues to reshape our practices, our ministries and our structures. By wide majorities our members live and worship in racial enclaves. Membership reports, programming and attendance records since the beginning of the United Methodist Church in 1972 offer abundant evidence of our failure to extend our denomination’s welcome very far beyond that of being a church primarily focused on ministry with and for Whites. At the same time the racial and ethnic diversity of our state has greatly expanded while our percentages of persons from differing racial groups remains small.
This is an evangelistic and missional dilemma – and an opportunity. If Indiana’s youth see our church at all, there is scant evidence that Indiana United Methodism is modeled upon the beloved community of Jesus, where all are welcome. Antiracist commitments are seldom displayed, whether in camping, leadership initiatives, or church development programs. It is painful to ask the question, Where do we invest our dollars and our lives in specific and clear ways that confront the sin of racism in our society and in our own church? Persons of Color now make up more than sixteen percent of Indiana’s population, while our membership percentages of non-white persons is somewhere between three to five percent.
Tragically, it has taken the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Abery, Elijah McClain, Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, Christian Cooper, Treyvon Martin, Eric Garner, and dozens of others, to awaken our nation to the profound violence and daily bigotry against African Americans. These murders, and dozens of others, are the most dramatic examples of the ways an acceptance of racism contributes to a societal assault on human decency. Indiana United Methodists have been far too passive. This is not a time to claim neutrality or blame some other forces for our tribal and de facto segregated lives. It is not sufficient to simply claim to be “non-racist.” This is a moment of gospel opportunity. This is, potentially, our Kairos moment, when the United Methodist Church in Indiana, can be true to the best of our history, our Evangelical theology, and our better angels. This is our time to act in bold, antiracist ways.
Fifty years ago, James Baldwin wrote “I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long.” (New York Times, February 2, 1969)
Robert P. Smith’s book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” published only this summer, draws on Baldwin’s perception. Smith’s research is both a deeply disturbing and helpful resource for Christians who seek to take the next steps in confronting the sin of racism. While much of this research is based on Smith’s own Southern Baptist background, there are ample illustrations for United Methodists and other mainline folks. Clear evidence of our racist complicity and our deeply embedded racist-worlds-taken-for-granted behaviors is provided. Fortunately, there are also examples offered of the ways congregations and judicatories have moved from simply talking about racism to taking specific steps to act in constructive and restorative ways to repair what has been broken and reach out in life giving ways.
This motion, offered and referred on August 15, is a call for the Indiana United Methodist Church to give witness and take responsibility for the damage done to all parties, Blacks (along with other “minorities”) and damage to Whites as well, for too long. It will require more than preaching to change prejudiced attitudes or attending workshops on inclusion and diversity. It will require more than a few token examples of racially integrated vacation church schools or charity work with the poor.
Antiracism work will involve structural changes, new partnerships and a stepping away from the paternalism that has shaped many of our ministries. This is a time for seeing the remarkable gifts and resources brought by persons of color already within our churches and in the neighborhoods and communities surrounding them. It is an opportunity to establish a new template for the long-term health of our congregations and conference that is marked by including new persons and groups. Such renewal work will require decades of effort and resources. It will be, however, a key investment in a stronger and healthier future for the church.
In earlier conversations, I have been appropriately reminded that Bishop Trimble does not need our counsel, advice or wisdom in matters regarding racism so much as he needs us to put action behind our words of hoped for racial reconciliation. I do not claim to be an expert so much as a long-time observer and a follower of Jesus; I am one who is captured by the hope of the gospel. Do I think such a change in the budget is easy or likely? No, and probably not. Even so, I believe a tithe toward antiracism ministries is essential to matching what we say with what we do – and to sustain United Methodism’s witness in the future.
How might this be done? There are dozens of ways our pastors and lay leaders can, and I believe would, respond to this call. Many more ways than we can imagine. Attached is a page of “possibilities” that briefly offer ideas for positive antiracism work in Indiana. Prayers for you and with you as you contemplate how best to respond to this time that calls for our repentance and action.
Philip A. Amerson
Ten Examples of Potential INUMC Antiracist Activities
There are dozens of ways Indiana United Methodists can act in antiracist ways. These could begin to repair damage done over the decades by racial violence and brokenness. Such actions might be mixed and matched together through study, travel, outreach, witness, etc. A tithe from our conference program budget might:
1) Reestablish the work of a Commission on Religion and Race in the Annual Conference with funding for such work for the next decade.
2) Join with our United Methodist Hospitals and other health services in direct, hands-on and prayer-supported, engagement to address the high rates of infant mortality in Indiana. This is something that is particularly a problem in our minority communities.
3) Offer annual updates and workshops on the racial makeup of our congregations and populations in each county in a district. This would offer new insights for persons who mistakenly believe there is “no diversity in our community.” Several counties have seen significant increases in Hispanic and other non-white populations in the last decade; still many in our churches seem not to be aware.
4) Provide resources for at least two annual gatherings of persons of color in the conference, pastors and laity. Mostly they would get to know one another. Another goal could be to monitor conference actions; or another goal might be to design “learning journeys” with white clergy and laity where they could spend time in prayer, reflection, learning and planning for the future, together.
5) Review and update existing conference programs, in consultation with African American, Hispanic and Asian educators to offer more racially sensitive and appropriate approaches to strengthening our education, outreach and evangelism. Persons like the Rev. Vanessa Allen-Brown or Mr. De’Amon Harges and Ms. Seana Murphy of The Learning Tree in Indianapolis would offer valuable assistance.
6) Encourage every congregation in the conference to establish a partnership with another congregation or group of persons from a different racial or cultural background. This might include regular ways to fellowship and worship with Indiana AME, AMEZ and CME congregations. One can imagine how remarkable such gatherings these might be if guest lecturers shared insights regarding antiracism options.
7) Read, study and travel with others. For example, read the books by Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) and Robert P. Smith (White Too Long) and take a trip to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama Or, read Jim Madison’s book on the Klan in Indiana and visit one of the sites, perhaps with a video or face-to-face conversation with Professor Madison.
8) Join the Community Remembrance Project sponsored by the Equal Justice Initiative to offer witness at each of the seven known lynching sites in Indiana. These are recorded at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and a part of the Community Remembrance Project that seeks to set a Historical Marker at each site. There is also a gathering of the soil near each site to be placed on display along with the victim’s names at the museum. Wouldn’t it be “GOOD NEWS” to report that it was the UMC in Indiana that saw memorials placed and services of repentance held in each of location of a lynching.
9) Identify places where racism has damaged our witness (such as the troubled cross racial appointment at Old North Church in Evansville in 1985 or the closing of City Methodist Church in Gary) and/or locations where we once had a congregation of color that is now vacated. Hire persons to document these stories and/or share with the conference materials that are already available giving preference to researchers who are persons of color. Work with pastors in these settings to hold gatherings of repentance and reconciliation.
10) Ask the Indiana United Methodist Historical Society to research and publish a fuller account of the connections between Indiana Methodism and the Ku-Klux Klan, especially in the early 1920s. (In his 1994 United Methodism in Indiana, John J. Baughman wrote: “Particularly awkward was some local Methodist support for the infamous Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the 1920s. Even now this is a no-no subject within the denominational history.”) Knowing this history, painful as it may be, can lead to honest acts of repentance and restoration. It is likely that several of our congregations could benefit from an honest knowledge such a history.
We are “two old white guys.” United Methodist pastors with over 90 years of parish experience between us. In the attached podcast we think about racism and anti-racist work. We laugh, we confess our failures and we acknowledge the joy of ministry in places of diversity. Over the years we have spoken of the romance of work in a parish and its surrounding community. Here is a taste of what we have discovered.
If you find something here that parallels your journey — or even if there is something helpful, or something with which you disagree — make a comment, share your story.
We are off to San Diego in August. Interim lead pastor at San Diego First United Methodist Church, I am nervous and excited. Well-meaning friends upon hearing these plans say, “Oh, lucky you, it is such a beautiful city with great weather, you are really going to enjoy it. You will probably get out there and not miss us at all. You’ll not want to return.”
Well, at this age and stage in life, I know that although my friends mean well, they are both right, AND they are wrong. Yes, we plan to enjoy San Diego to the full, make new friends, discover great culinary and cultural experiences and share ministry with the good folks. As much as we are looking forward to this odyssey, we also know that there will be things we will miss. I have made a list the top ten things I suspect I will miss:
1. Indiana grown, Non-GMO sweet corn, fresh from the field, available at our GRAND farmer’s market each week. Yes, I know they have fresh sweet corn in California. I have lived there, twice, and loved it. However, nothing brings back my childhood like field fresh corn (along with watermelon). And, for Elaine, she will miss fresh from the garden Indiana heirloom tomatoes. Each one of these is “summer candy” and a rare delicacy on hot, humid Indiana days.
2. We will miss friends made and nurtured over the decades who are a lot wacky and all the more to be loved. Do they know how to party! There are dozens of them — we have stood by them in times of joy and sorrow — and they have stood by us. It is a dangerous thing to start listing Indiana friends — so, I won’t. It is sufficient to say that Elaine and I would be lost without their laughter, wisdom, patience with my mistakes and willingness to forgive. And they know too many secrets to allow them to think we wouldn’t return!
Each year we host our annual “Trifling Picnic.” About 75 to 100 friends normally show up. Yes, we will host the picnic again this year, just before we head to California. What is a “Trifling Picnic? Well, John Wesley counseled that pastors should not be triflingly employed. We offer an opportunity for folks, clergy and lay, Methodist or not to break this rule.
3. We will miss new friends like Maria Gonzelez, Bory Colin, Joshua and Isaiah. This was the dedication of their new home on June 30th. Monroe County Habitat for Humanity will build and dedicate its 200th home later this summer. We will miss that and I will miss the wonderful friends I have on the staff and board of this affiliate!
4. I will miss colleagues in Ministry. Pictured here are Revs. Metheny, Mather, Moman and Beck. We are friends who worked together at Broadway UMC,Indianapolis in the 1980s. What a team! What memories! These colleagues inspire, challenge and allow me to grumble much about the church, particularly our denomination. They know that I refer to the Indiana Annual Conference as the “Northern Dixie Conference” (with apologies to my southern friends). Yes, I will miss grumbling about the foolishness of the latest church development techniques while our congregations are hungry for relationships and respect for the gifts they bring.
5) We will miss the GREAT MUSIC! In Bloomington, much of it free or very reasonable in cost. There are literally hundreds of concerts each year at the Jacobs School of Music at I.U. We recently heard the Student Pops Symphony Orchestra. It was FIRST RATE. Over the holiday week there will be a free concert in the park by our friend and marvelous musician Carrie Newcomer. Then, next week it is violinist Joshua Bell who is in concert on campus. This fall will be the Lotus music festival we will miss. And if you are lucky, our friend ,the incomparable, Sylvia McNair will be featured in a fundraiser for a local charity. Wow… I will miss all of this — and I haven’t mentioned the live theater or the restaurants or performances at the auditorium all in walking distance from our condo!
6) We will miss cheering for the World Champion Chicago Cubs. (Hey, I know that was back in 2016 but we waited a century for this win and should be granted a few years to claim to be champions out of respect for the suffering of Cubs fans over the years.) The Cubbies are looking good in 2018. We will miss what should be an exciting pennant race at Wrigley Field. Elaine and our daughter Lydia Murray in picture — the Cubs won that day!
7) We will miss our fine pastors, Mary Beth Morgan and Jimmy Moore at St. Marks UMC in Bloomington. We will miss all of our friends in the congregation as well. What a great congregation and place filled with fond memories.
8) I will miss GREAT HUMAN BEINGS in so many categories: carpenters, plumbers, farmers, janitors, teachers, physicians, service folks, lawyers, barkeeps, administrators, and a few rogue preachers. I will especially miss our great civic and judicial leaders. Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker is among the BEST. We have many other such fine civic leaders — Mayor John Hamilton and his uncle, retired Congressman Lee Hamilton.
Indiana also has folks I consider to be less than worthy of admiration (no names please). However, I will miss working for the election of some good folks to replace them. We have persons running for election this fall more committed to creating the beloved community than practicing the fear laced demagoguery evident in our national body politic these days. Some of the demagogues are, sad for me to say, “fellow Hoosiers.” Hopefully we can offer them a free ticket home from Washington this fall. Yes, we are keeping our residence in Indiana as our votes are needed here.
9) I will miss places like New Harmony a wonderful retreat, place for long walks and great educational experiences. There are many such places in the state…. Indiana University in Bloomington is one I count as among the best.
AND # 10 on the list?
Okay, I confess, I am going to miss snow — not the slushy grey-February-type snow. I will miss the bright snowy days of fall and spring when our streets and fields are festooned with new garments of white. Such snow is often gone by afternoon or the next day and that is alright with me. In the meantime — I will enjoy the sunshine of San Diego!