‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
From, The Hill We Climb, by youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman
February is Black History month in the United States, and it is an excellent opportunity for committed Christians to explore the many amazing contributions black leaders, writers, and visionaries make to our society and world. It is also appropriate to examine race relations and the personal, institutional, and cultural racism and prejudice black people face in our country and around the planet. It is equally important to understand how politics, governance, systems, processes, and structures impact and perpetuate racial inequity and injustice. How can we do this without it being dismissed as “political?” The reality is that we cannot, and this is okay.
Before any of us in our church are liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, Republican or Democrat or Green or Libertarian or Populist, we are Christian. We are a people of a faith, of a book, of a baptism. We are the body of Christ. And the body of Christ is multicolored, multihued, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic, multilanguage, and multi-wondrous. There is no threat or challenge for faithful Christians to celebrate Black History month and to confront the historic and current realities of racial injustice. Our basic context as the church of Jesus Christ is to preach, to teach, and to heal. The prerequisites for us are to study, to learn, to listen, and to prepare.
Our United Methodist Council of Bishops set a goal of Dismantling Racism in our church and world. Racial injustice touches every aspect of our modern world. Some of it is intentional, and this is tragic, but much that contributes to racism is unintentional, unconscious, and unrealized. But we all know that ignorance is no excuse, which is why using Black History month as an opportunity for exploration, learning, and response is so important and valuable. In our own Wisconsin Conference, I worked with an excellent team of people to create a Lenten Bible Study, Together in Christ, to offer a resource to look at radical inclusion and racial justice. Click here to download. I am praying that every church will find a way to use this resource, either during Lent or in months to come.
I would also like to make some book recommendations for individual or group study for Black History Month. I believe that these four excellent books will help us all understand our nation’s “black history,” the challenges black people (and other racial and ethnic minorities) face, and ways we can work together to improve justice for all people, and equity for those most harmed throughout time. They are challenging resources, often painful resources, but incredibly valuable and helpful reading and study for the whole people of God.
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby (Zondervan Publishing, 2019)
- Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation by Jennifer Harvey (Eerdmans, 2014)
- How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, 2019)
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone (Orbis, 2011)
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).