On Aug. 4, two South Carolina United Methodist pastors—the Revs. Angela Marshall and Hillary Taylor—initiated a book study over Zoom to discuss a Christian response to racism in the United States.
“Both of us felt extremely frustrated with the conversations we saw happening on our social media accounts,” said Marshall, pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church, Lugoff. “There are so many wonderful anti-racism resources available, but they are not making their way down to the local church setting. So we decided to make them accessible for our parishioners.”
The book Marshall and Taylor chose for the study was “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” by James Cone.
“We chose this book because James Cone does not sugarcoat,” Marshall said. “He names the historical traumas of Black Americans, especially when it comes to the horrors of lynching. He also points to the ways they resisted this terror with the powers of imaginative faith.”
Each session is recorded and posted to Bethany-Zoar UMC’s YouTube account, “Bethany Zoar,” for public viewing.
“I was interested in a study about racism where I could hear from people with perspectives other than mine, especially my Black brothers and sisters,” said Paula Stover, a member of Trinity UMC, Sumter. “Reading the book, hearing from guest speakers who are authorities on these subjects, listening to personal experiences … all of this was particularly helpful.”
“I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, so I was familiar with segregation and had heard stories about lynchings,” said the Rev. Becky Forrest, pastor of Wesley Chapel UMC, Lydia, in the Hartsville District. “But this book study made the struggle of my African-American brothers and sisters come to life. My heart was broken as I read the pages and descriptions of the hatred my white siblings have expressed over the last 400-plus years. The church has been silent for centuries, and I pray for the strength to no longer remain silent to the systematic racism that exists in our country.”
The study took place once a week for seven weeks. It was open to both laity and clergy, and even included the participation of a district superintendent.
Each week, the group began with a centering question in an effort to provide opportunities where vulnerability was encouraged to help participants get to know one another better.
Guided by the chapters in Cone’s book, the Zoom book study’s topics included “The Connection Between the Cross and the Lynching Tree,” “The Confederate Flag, States Rights, and Slavery,” “The Black Lives Matter Movement and Why It Matters Today,” “Intersectionality,” and “White Churches and Anti-Racism Work.”
It featured several guest speakers, including Dr. Millicent Brown, the main plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case, which appeared before the Supreme Court between 1952-1954.
Participants weren’t just asked to show up for sessions. At the end of the study, Marshall and Taylor asked the group to come up with their own call to action for how they would address racism.
“We know some people will have different goals based on where they are in their journeys with discussing racism, which is why we are asking the group to have two sets of goals: one we will do as a group, and one we will do individually based on our contexts,” Taylor said. “It would be disappointing to have this book study and leave this virtual space without committing to change something around us.”
The Zoom study was “an absolute essential,” said the Rev. Sheera Yates, pastor of Franklin UMC, Denmark.
“As a result of participation, I’ve become more comfortable, confident and tactful in addressing social injustices and issues of inequality made manifest in systemic racism, poverty, discrimination and disproportions in education, healthcare, housing and the workforce,” Yates said.
Yates believes the study unified the group in wanting to be healers instead of conflict creators. As a result, it has helped people abide by John Wesley’s General Rules to do no harm, do good and encourage authentic love for God and others.
According to Division I, Para. 5., Article V of the Constitution in the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline, the United Methodist Church views anti-racism work as a core component of its denominational identity. In September, the General Commission on Religion and Race published a “30 Days of Anti-Racism” calendar, viewable at https://www.gcorr.org/30-days-of-anti-racism/.
The United Methodist Women also have a Charter for Racial Justice, which was adopted in 1980 (viewable at https://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/racialjusticecharter).
For more information about this ministry and future book studies, email firstname.lastname@example.org.