United Methodist Women Members Name New Racial-Justice Challenges
For Immediate Release
Contact: Dana E. Jones, 212-870-3755
United Methodist Women members are taking a fresh look at the United Methodist Church's Charter for Racial Justice and the church's racial-justice work and commitments through today's multiracial/ethnic lenses. They began that effort during a recent consultation in Gore, Okla.
The charter, adopted by the denomination's General Conference in 1980 and again in 2000, will be up for reauthorization at the 2008 General Conference session.
"This consultation begins a process of looking at how the charter stands the test of time," said Lois Dauway, top executive for Christian social responsibility for the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the policy-making body of United Methodist Women. "The division approved the current charter 25 years ago. Realities and dynamics of race in this country and globally have changed since then. The diversity of People of Color in the United States has expanded. We want people to see whether the charter addresses their concerns. We want to make sure the charter embraces the breadth of People of Color and Whites who live in this country. Our commitment is to ensure there is a substantive foundational document for racial justice in the church."
The division first approved a racial-justice charter in 1952 in the throes of violently enforced segregation of African Americans - a time before many of those attending the racial-justice consultation were born, said elmira Nazombe, Women's Division co-executive for racial justice.
The consultation included small-group discussions among women of the same racial/ethnic group and among women of various races. Those discussions revealed ongoing discrimination, even within racial groups, based on the lightness or darkness of a person's skin - a legacy of slavery. The discussions also showed that while many of the racial injustices addressed by the original charter have ended, new racial-justice challenges continue to emerge.
Women's Division Director E. Judith Siaba of Chicago, Ill., explained one such challenge:
"What we've been doing in the church is having people of various cultural backgrounds elected to offices, but that doesn't necessarily mean those people are respected and listened to or that their ideas are heard and valued. That came across in the small-group discussions."
Josephine Deere, a Women's Division director from Coweta, Okla., said holding the consultation in Gore, Okla., a stop along the historic Trail of Tears - the forced march of Native Americans from the East Coast to the Plains - opened the eyes of many participants to the Native-American community.
"People became aware that Native Americans are in their areas and that there are different tribes and languages - that each one is unique," said Ms. Deere, who is a member of the Muscogee Creek Tribe. "Native-American women at the consultation came from at least 10 tribes. We still suffer a lot of racism and prejudice in the areas where we live. Women at the consultation didn't know that.
"When people think about the church and Native Americans, they think of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, but this conference's experience is very different from what Native-American Peoples in other parts of the church deal with. There are Native-American women in other parts of the country and church who we need to reach out to."
Ms. Deere said the consultation uncovered a broad range of racial-justice issues.
"We always look at black and white issues," she said. "We have racial issues among our tribes. Hispanics have racial issues among themselves, and the same is true for Asians. Even among Blacks, there are differences. My thought is that this thinking should go into the charter."
Women's Division Director Joan Johnson of Dayton, Ohio, said discussion among those in the non-Hispanic white small group revealed legislation alone cannot ensure the power-sharing necessary for racial justice to exist.
"We came to the conclusion that a good deal of racial justice cannot be voted, cannot be legislated; it comes with a change in people's hearts," she said. "Nominating committees' unwritten rules can stand in the way of inclusion. You can elect people without turning over power. You can elect someone to a job then not let her do it."
Though working for racial justice may be more complicated today than when the charter was first written, Women's Division President Kyung Za Yim said the consultation showed United Methodist Women is ready to face the new challenges.
"Participants were open and honest, and I was thankful for that," she said. "We're making progress. Somehow, we are making progress, and we will continue to make progress, I'm sure."
The Women's Division is the policy-making arm of United Methodist Women, an organization of approximately 1 million members whose purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. Members raise about $18 million a year for programs and projects with women, children and youth in the United States and around the world.