By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—Annual Conference now has new marching orders when it comes to its responsibilities for eradicating racism.
After close to an hour of questions, debate, amendments and amendments to amendments at Annual Conference June 8, the body ultimately passed a resolution asking every district and local congregation within the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church to have a strategy and program that educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism and develop interculturally competent leaders.
“Our rationale is we are not complete with the work of eradicating racism and need to be more diligent in doing so,” said Dr. Marvin Caldwell, chair of the conference’s Committee on Resolutions and Appeals, which recommended concurrence on the resolution.
The Responsibilities for Eradication of Racism Resolution also asks the conference to offer a yearly educational program on working toward becoming an inclusive church, plus encourage clergy and lay leadership to participate in such programs. It asks that predominately white and predominately black UMCs in each district be intentional in planning services, activities or missions together, plus asks that churches report their strategies for eradicating racism to their charge conference.
The amended version
It took much finagling with the terminology to get the resolution right before passage.
Jane Robelot, member of Advent UMC in the Greenville District, moved that the resolution include a line encouraging “predominately white Methodist churches and predominately black Methodist churches within each district to be intentional in planning services or activities or missions together from time to time during each calendar year.”
The motion was approved.
Lifting up the lessons she learned from the Revs. Eben Taylor and Gene Bedenbaugh in her youth, she said unity comes through worship and relationship.
“We will only really overcome racial prejudice when we know each other face-to-face and sit and praise the Lord together and minister in our communities together,” Robelot said.
The body also approved—with some debate—a motion by Congregational Specialist the Rev. Jim Arant to delete the final paragraph of the resolution, which would have required churches to include a review of their strategies for eradicating racism in their annual report; Arant said that requirement is redundant because churches must report that information in charge conferences.
And the body also approved a motion by the Rev. Drew Martin, pastor of Lebanon UMC, Eastover, to delete a sentence requiring not only all clergy but specifically newly ordained clergy to participate in intercultural competency programs such as a racial reconciliation pilgrimage. He said the term “newly ordained” is too vague and also implies that it is not as important for those who are longtime clergy to attend. He also said that sort of requirement should come from the Board of Ordained Ministry, not a resolution.
Out of order: disbanding groups
Other amendments did not pass but stirred much debate, such as a move to disband all groups that divide people into racial and/or ethnic groups. Several spoke for and against this,
The Rev. Shawn Weeks, pastor of the Bennettsville Circuit, said she is against the amendment because there are always going to be groups of different cultures and ethnicities that need to meet because of the plight of that people, but it does not need to mean those groups cannot be unified.
“Until the playing field is level you’re always going to have groups that need to deal with individual issues,” she said. “You can still love and respect one another as people of God.”
Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Kathy James said much the same, lifting up as an example the need for groups like deacons to meet separately.
“I believe whenever there are disproportional numbers of groups, just like fewer deacons in the conference than elders, that it’s helpful to have time together to support and encourage one another,” she said.
Orangeburg District Superintendent the Rev. Fred Yebuah spoke for the amendment, noting that separatism is an appearance of suspicion, which breeds distrust.
“If the Kingdom of God is to be unified, we need to sit at the table together and ask hard questions and come up with solutions together,” Yebuah said. “If our brothers and sisters are bleeding, we must all bleed together.”
However, the Rev. Charles Johnson raised the point that an annual conference might not be able to disband meetings of these groups when there are official entities within the UMC that allow these various groups.
Bishop Holston ultimately ruled the amendment out of order because of this truth, and there was no vote.
Debate over white supremacy, Civil War
Renee Gallien, lay member of First UMC, Clover, proposed two amendments that prompted much debate but were ultimately rejected. In the “whereas” section, she took issue with the term “war fought to remove slavery” and “white supremacy community,” noting the former was historically incorrect and the latter is a racist term that gives a negative connotation to the entire resolution.
Regarding the white supremacy community, many said even though it might be considered negative, it is a reality.
“There is white supremacy in some pockets of South Carolina,” said the Rev. Benjamin Burt of Epworth UMC, Charleston, noting the body should not delete that term.
The Rev. Terry Fleming, pastor of New Beginnings UMC in the Spartanburg District, recounted how at a previous church appointment, he learned some of his parishioners met African Americans at the door and told them they were not welcome.
“To pretend white supremacy doesn’t exist is foolishness.”
Others felt the term was antiquated.
Edward Kennedy, member of Pinopolis UMC, pointed out that it’s no longer 1964 and the term is no longer needed.
Sylvia Zeigler, member of the Elloree Charge, said she feels very strongly that the term needs to be deleted.
“It makes it sound like every white person in South Carolina is a white supremacist,” Zeigler said. “This statement tars and feathers every white person in the state.”
The amendment failed.
Regarding the “war fought to preserve slavery” language, Gallien and others noted the Civil War was not just about slavery but also the preservation of states rights, Northern aggression and the oppression of the South.
But Dr. Phillip Stone, conference archivist, spoke against the deletion.
“No American historian right now would argue the South seceded over any issue but slavery,” Stone said.
The Rev. John Adams III, of St. Mark UMC, Columbia, also spoke against it, noting it is time to acknowledge hard facts.
“Alexander Stephens (Confederate vice president) said in his own words the war was about slavery,” Adams said. “Despite the fact that we find this a painful time in our history, it’s time to face our history.”
The motion failed.
Holston then called the full, amended resolution to a vote; it passed.
“Now, my friends, I don’t know about you, but I think I deserve a 15-minute break,” Holston said to laughter and applause.
By Jessica Brodie