The United Methodist Church Seeks Forgiveness
In 2005, the annual conferences of The United Methodist Church focused on confession and healing in the area of racism in the church. The North Alabama Conference held a service of confession at McCoy United Methodist Church (UMC) in Birmingham, Ala. McCoy UMC closed its doors in 1993.
The church was in a once white neighborhood that had become predominantly African-American. The mostly white church lost its members and had to close. This would be the site where members from across the conference would come to confess the sins of racism and seek a road to reconciliation together. United Methodists from across Alabama confessed their sins, then Bishop William Willimon listed them: “Our sin of leaving the city. Our sin of not being able to overcome racial prejudice. Our sin of not risking.” After the people of the conference asked for forgiveness, an African-American leader stood up. She pronounced, “As forgiven to reconciled people, we will therefore …” and she read a list of things the conference promised to do, including starting six new churches, three of which would be multiethnic.
During the same week, Mississippi United Methodist Annual Conference honored 13 white pastors. Forty-two years prior to this service of confession, in the height of segregation, the pastors wrote the statement “Born of Conviction.” They knew this statement would be controversial, and it cost some of them their pulpits. They also knew that they could not in good conscience preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and at the same time participate in the oppression of an entire race. The McCoy service of confession and the Mississippi time of remembrance were chances to reflect on where the church had come and to look toward a future of reconciliation.
In Missouri, the 2005 the annual conference celebrated the African-Americans who stayed in the denomination amid vast racism. The conference affirmed the struggle of African-American persons working from the inside to overcome racism in the denomination. While their peers were leaving in droves, some stayed and fought the battle.
In his book No Future Without Forgiveness, Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “It isn’t easy, as we all know, to ask for forgiveness, and it’s also not easy to forgive, but we are people who know that when someone cannot be forgiven there is no future. If a husband and wife quarrel and they don’t one of them say ‘I am sorry’ and the other say ‘I forgive,’ the relationship is in jeopardy.” 6
The only way forward is to tell the truth and seek forgiveness.
3. Scahill, Allison. “Annual Conferences Confess to Racism.” United Methodist News Service. 15
July 2005. www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.887859/k.532D/Annual_conferences_confess_to_
4. Scahill, Allison. “Born of Conviction.” The Mississippi Methodist Advocate. 2 January 1963. www. mississippi-umc.org/console/files/oFiles_Library_XZXLCZ/Born_of_Conviction_4QQJSQYW. pdf.