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Religion and race

Religion and race

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Religion and race

Nov. 21, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0401}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

The General Commission on Religion and Race met in Miami on Oct. 3-9, 2005. Ms. Judith Pierre-Okerson and I are members from Florida. The Rev. Deborah McLeod, superintendent of the South East District of the Florida Conference, also participated in our field trip in Miami.

The meeting was held in Miami because this great city of ethnic diversity and international importance was the appropriate site to focus on the issue of the Church's ministry to immigrants. One day was devoted to a field trip to learn about the needs of migrant workers in Homestead and the concerns of the Haitian community in Little Haiti. The rapid development of the region south of Miami and the destruction of crops this year by Hurricane Katrina are creating severe financial hardship for migrant workers. The policy of the U.S. government of refusing to offer asylum to Haitians despite the danger they face in their own country needs reform. The Church has a responsibility to address these issues of poverty and injustice by its direct services and public witness.

Part of the meeting was devoted to making grants to local churches, community organizations and racial/ethnic caucuses from the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund. These grants help groups across the nation to enable ethnic people, especially young people, to fulfill their aspirations and to overcome their conditions of poverty and social marginalization. This year the commission decided to reduce funding to the racial/ethnic caucuses beginning in 2007 to provide more grants to local churches and community organizations. The caucuses will be given counsel on how to obtain funds from other sources.

The commission addresses a broad range of concerns in the Church regarding the inclusion and empowerment of ethnic peoples in the life and mission of The United Methodist Church. Evangelical outreach to and affirmation of ethnic peoples are critical to the future of the Church in our increasingly diverse population. They are also essential to the apostolic mission of the Church, which is commissioned by our living Lord to make disciples of all "nations."

Our Church has a long way to go toward becoming one Church of diverse people. The lay membership of our Church in the United States in 2003 was as follows: 77,875 Asians, 427,541 African Americans and Blacks, 60,728 Hispanic and Latinos, 28,710 Native Americans, 12,410 Pacific Islanders and 7,206,346 Whites.

With a membership that is predominately White, we who are of European descent need to be aware of our attitudes of White privilege, which subtly or overtly cause us to ignore or denigrate other peoples. Confronting the many forms of racism and ethnocentricity in the Church is necessary to fulfill the promise of a Church that is made up of all "nations." The Commission seeks to help the whole Church deal with our blindness in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

One young adult member of the Commission who is a campus minister told of an ecumenical gathering of campus ministers who shared their impressions of what is unique about each denomination's identity. What impressed the others about United Methodists was how diverse and colorful our groups are! Would that this were typical of all of our congregations and ministries! Yet this vignette is a hopeful sign of our future.

I enjoy being a member of the General Commission on Religion and Race because of the fellowship of diverse people, the opportunity to learn about the pain and hope of ethnic peoples in our Church and society, and the mission of the Commission to enable our Church to fulfill its promise to become a Church of all "nations." Your prayers for the Commission and your support for its essential tasks are needed.


This article relates to Religion and Race.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.