By Garlinda Burton
In a conversation about possible restructure with a white, male U.S. delegate, I raised a concern about the fact that the agencies concerned with advocacy for inclusion of women and people of color (GCSRW and GCORR) were the only ones being recommended for merger and dimunition.
When I suggested the injustice of this issue, and the fact that the women’s advocacy agency budget is less than $1 million a year (only 1 percent of the World Service Fund that supports all agencies), my brother in Christ pointed at me and said passionately, “Y’all (plural for “you” in the U.S. South) need to put your interests aside and do what is best for the church!”
I was stunned for just a second, but I rallied. I replied, “I’m not a y’all; I’m a we.”
My response took him by surprise, so I explained, “You just referred to me as ‘y’all,’ like I’m outside the church. I’m reminding you that we—I drew a circle in the air to include him and me—“we all need to do what’s best for the church.”
In that exchange, I was reminded that, though I am a fifth-generation United Methodist, African-American women and leader in my congregation and denomination, I’m still viewed by the majority of my church—particularly in the Unites States—as “the other.” In the eyes of a United Methodist layman who shares my faith, I was reduced to a “y’all.”
The clear implication was (and is) that sisters and brothers from Central Conferences, U.S. people of color, members of the GLBTIQQ community, and women who assert equity and justice too vehemently are assumed to be self-serving and meddling outsiders.
But the God who created us, the Christ who redeems us, and the Spirit who guides us–this Holy Trinity—declares in one voice that all shall become one. Not that we all agree, not that we are all the same, and not that we all don’t have great gifts AND significant foibles.
Until and unless we embrace justice, equity and full participation of all, and until those in the majority or dominant culture, class, race-ethnicity, gender, economic status and language realize that “we” includes all people, Christians will continue to be viewed with suspicion, derision and mistrust. Unless our walk about inclusiveness begins to match our pious talk, the United Methodist Church will dissolve into an irrelevant, dead sect, as founder John Wesley warned us against.
So far, the General Conference has:
a) added another layer of bureaucracy to our general agency structure, which includes little attention to ensuring a place, particularly for young people and women of color;
b) eliminated guaranteed appointments for elders without instituting protections against gender/racial/age and other discrimination in the appointment process; and
c) collapsed the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the General Commission on Religion and Race into a single entity with no executive and less power to challenge and address bias.
People from beyond the United States, women, young people, and U.S. people of color were poorly represented among the major architects of proposals to restructure church agencies and chart the course for disciple-making and mission in the name of our God. White U.S. men, who are a minority in the world, are still clearly in charge.
Y’all, we need to speak up, lest our church become an exclusive, closed country club.