The solution to ending racism is building relationships that model the love of Jesus.
That was the takeaway from the inaugural one-day conference of Igniting Men, a new ministry of Florida Conference United Methodist Men (UMM). The Igniting Men conference is part of the strategy of breaking the UMM mold.
|The Feb. 10 one-day Igniting Men conference held at Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville focused on "Making a Difference in Race Relations." Two additional gatherings are planned for 2018 in the Port Charlotte and Orlando areas.|
“The goal of Igniting Men is to give men the opportunity to get things they aren’t getting in church, to connect them to ministries that will help them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ,” said John Delaney, president of the Florida Conference United Methodist Men.
Delaney said God had put on his heart the urgency of addressing the need for racial unity.
The Feb. 10 session at Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville focused on “Making a Difference in Race Relations.”
Delaney moderated a discussion on the topic at a roundtable with five members: Jack Levine, founding director of Voice of God Ministry in Orlando; Chris Pillay, president of Meridian Technologies in Jacksonville; Bobby Belton, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grant project coordinator for the City of Orlando; Lamont Hogans Sr., pastor of New Life Community United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, and David Dusek, executive director of Rough Cut Men Ministries in Sarasota.
“Racism is real,” Pillay said. “There are people who have been hurt deeply. We can’t overlook it. A lot of people do see race. We can’t be held back. We have to get to know each other,” he suggested. “Let Church shine its light into the world. Church can start to heal our society. We need to be leaders as men and purposeful in what we go out and do.”
Pillay, who was born in the Caribbean to Indian parents, said he is often the brownest person in the room at church events.
“I know this for a fact: Racism is a human condition,” Pillay said. “It is not white or black or brown. There has always been racism. There will always be. The issue is ‘how do we react and deal with it?’”
Delaney asked the panel how they think the Church could be used as a tool to fight racism.
“We’re not living into the role that God has called us to. If we are going to heal race relations, we have to be healers,” Hogans said. “That needs to happen in the Church where we are living by example.”
Hogans said that in his work as a respiratory therapy education coordinator at University of Florida Health, he interacts with people from all over the world. “We think other cultures don’t go through the same stuff we do, but you’d be surprised,” Hogans said. “It’s all about relationships—individual and corporate. When you get to know each other, our racist views are dispelled.”
Belton said he thinks it’s important for people who are wounded by offensive conversation to talk about it. Growing up in a small South Carolina town, he encountered racism in both whites and blacks.
“Get it off your chest,” Belton said. “We all have been offended for years, all of us blacks, Hispanics, whites, for so many different things. If we sit at the table of brotherhood, we can be healed.”
Levine, a Jewish convert, said it’s important to put aside assumptions about people.
“I have to know you and know who you are to understand why you behave a certain way, why you think a certain way,” Levine said. “I might not agree, but I understand, have compassion and empathy. If we can motivate the 10 percent, it will have great impact.”
Differences need to be acknowledged, he added, especially different styles of worship. The Church needs to be welcoming to anyone who comes through the door, he said.
Dusek suggested churches need to find opportunities to interact so that relationships can be built. He believes that men’s ministries could come together for cookouts, to play golf or work on service projects.
“The church is the epicenter of reconciliation,” Dusek said. “We have to step outside our country club. Let’s hang out together. It will set an example for the generation coming up behind us.”
Delaney said he is working on plans for two more conferences this year, one in June in the Port Charlotte area and a summer session in Orlando. One of the topics that will be addressed is violence against women.
The fall retreat in Leesburg, which has been rebranded “an expedition,” will be on the theme “Manhood as a Team Sport.”
--Lilla Ross is a freelance journalist based in Jacksonville.
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