Take Time To Talk, Prepare To Act

Take Time to Talk, Prepare to Act

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

We can be better.  We MUST be better.  And the only way this can happen is if we all work together to bring about revolutionary systemic change.  It is time.

The COVID-19 global pandemic occupied almost all of our time and attention, interrupted briefly by the Ahmaud Arbery tragedy and the killing of Breonna Taylor.  Then, the senseless and brutal murder of George Floyd knocked the 24-hour news cycle reporting of the pandemic almost completely off the screen, and our country erupted in protests for justice, for retribution, for restoration, and above all for change.  The mask was ripped away revealing the deeply seated, pervasive, and highly resistant racism at the core of our culture. 

For some, the issue of race is so huge and overwhelming that they don’t want to face it.  Many still deny that racism is much of an issue in the United States.  A few are actually proud of their racism and believe that there are qualitative differences between nations, races, and cultures.  Too many believe that racism is simply too difficult to address and that nothing much will ever change.  For Christians, at least, apathy and indifference are not options.  The people of God, baptized in Christ, filled by the Holy Spirit, are agents of God’s mercy, love, peace, justice, equity, compassion, and grace.  It is impossible for Christians to stand by and say, “this is not our issue.” Any time a child of God is abused, oppressed, unjustly treated, or violated; it is the responsibility of every Christian to get involved.

At the 2019 session of our Wisconsin Annual Conference, we overwhelmingly supported requests to address racism in our churches and communities.  One of the reasons that this is so important for us – and actually a request that we should actively enjoy engaging in – is that 40% of appointed clergy in the Wisconsin Conference represent racial and ethnic minority populations.  We have excellent Hmong, Korean, Hispanic, Latino, African, African American (and a variety of other ethnicities including but not limited to Italian, German, Indian, Filipino, Myanmarese…) pastoral leadership.  We have an abundance of cross-cultural appointments that celebrate the diversity of our Annual Conference.  But diversity can be a two-edged sword.  It is a joy to gather together as an Annual Conference and see the rich diversity of races, languages, nations, ethnicities, and heritages represented in the room.  We are truly a global faith community.

But if all diversity does is highlight our differences, then it fails to bring about change.  Having colorful threads in a bunch may look nice, but until and unless they are woven together in a tapestry, they have not achieved their full potential.  The non-political definitions of pluralism could shape our vision: while diversity focuses mainly on how we are different, pluralism focuses on how much better we are together than apart.  A true and healthy pluralism is synergistic – everyone contributes their unique history, culture, and gifts to the greater whole, which in every way is more than the sum of its parts.  Our diversity should not simply be an appearance, it should strengthen the very foundations upon which we do our ministry.  We are the beautiful tapestry of God, woven together through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So, how do we change?  I want to offer a few simple reflections to guide our Wisconsin Conference and to encourage the vital leadership of all of our clergy and laity:

1.       Make intentional time and space for conversation (electronically or safely in appropriate gatherings as we begin to move toward reentering our churches in the months to come) – talk to one another about what has been happening in our country concerning race.  However, I want to offer a caution.  We must move beyond talk about “racism.” Racism becomes a safe abstraction that allows us to share opinions that fail to lead us to action.  We need to be specific about what we want to talk about.  Outrage about George Floyd wasn’t just “racism”; it is about “anti-black violence.”  We focus on Black Lives Matter instead of a sweet, well-intentioned, but highly misinformed “All Lives Matter” because black people specifically have been singled out for unjust and unjustifiable violence.  When we talk about immigration from Mexico for Mexicans and Central Americans, this is not simply “racism”; this is “anti-brown xenophobia and oppression.”  In our conversations, we must name what is going on and not hide behind abstract labels.  Anti-Asian, Anti-African, Anti-Black, Anti-Brown attitudes and bigotry are indeed all forms of racism, but to fully understand systemic reform, you need to dig through the covering to get to the roots.  We should be talking in our churches, between our churches ecumenically, in our circuits and districts, with our communities about issues of racial justice.  The more we open space for conversation, where the intention is to share, listen, and better understand, the better we prepare the soil for fertile and fruitful growth.

2.       Read and study together – Of course, the Bible, but this pandemic and the time of racial unrest call us back to the Hebrew Testament and the many ways plague and ethnic clashes defined “normal” life.  Our Council of Bishops and the leadership of the Wisconsin Conference are reading the book We Want to Do More Than Survive, by Bettina Love.  Two other excellent resources are Ibram X. Kendi’s, How to Be an Antiracist, and Jennifer Harvey’s, Dear White Christians.  These are just a few excellent places to start to gain good information that provides a basis for productive, rich, and transformative conversations.

3.       Reach out to your community organizations that are actively engaged in multi-cultural, racial/ethnic, mercy and justice work – Our United Methodist Churches do not mirror the communities in which they exist in well over 80% of our current locations.  Wisconsin United Methodist Churches rarely represent the diversity present in the city, township, or suburb in which they are located.  If we only talk to ourselves, we limit the amount of change we can expect.  This is a priority time for community engagement. Our congregations need to actively seek to take their place at the table in the civic life of the community.  We will open our hearts, minds, and doors to a full panorama of race, language, heritage, culture, and life if we will simply engage in conversation with our larger communities.

If we will begin with just these three things, I believe we will see God work the miracle of transformation in our churches.  We will discover a wide range of new ministry possibilities that engage us in the work of racial justice and systemic change.  We will be moved from the abstract to the concrete.  We will become doers of the word in addition to being faithful hearers.  We will become the God-called, God-inspired, God-intended catalyst for change that fulfills our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  The time has come.  The time is now.  Let us be better, together.

Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Author

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Hee-Soo Jung

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).