SGPUMC web Aug 26, 2017
George R Martzen
Racism is Sin
The resurgence of hate speech and racist motivated groups in our society are reminders that we have work to do as a nation, as a church and as a human race. The alarming clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the likelihood of more to come, demonstrate, sadly, that racism against African Americans was not washed away by the blood of the Civil War 160 years ago. And while we have moved away from the old exclusionary laws against Japanese and Chinese, along with racist attitudes against toward Latinos and others, we are still a nation that harbors white supremacist groups. We have a long ways to go before the fulfillment of the dream in which children can grow up in “a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin.”
And Methodism, one of North America’s largest Christian movements, is right in the middle of the racist fermentation. Methodists haven’t always agreed with each other on how to name racism. But we are on good footing if we recall how our founder, John Wesley, viewed the racism of slavery. A priest in the Church of England, he personally witnessed some of the worst of slavery during his years as a missionary in Georgia in the 1730s. He opposed slavery, not just the violence of the slave trade, but in principle: “Long and serious reflections upon the nature and consequences of slavery have convinced me, that it is a violation both of justice and religion” (John Wesley, Thoughts upon Slavery, 1774). Slavery was obviously harmful for the enslaved person, but it also destroyed the character and society of the slave master as well. Wesley was part of the growing English abolitionist movement, which would include William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament. Wesley corresponded with him in him until 1791, encouraging him to oppose the “execrable villany” of slavery, in the hope that “even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away” (John Wesley’s Letters – February 24,1791).
England did ban the slave trade in 1807, but in America it continued to flourish with the demand for slaves. Methodist opposition to African slavery was not clear-cut. In 1784 the founding meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, stated that slavery was “contrary to the Golden Law of God.” Unfortunately, many church leaders kept slaves anyway, especially in southern states where farming depended on cheap labor. In 1844 southern Methodist conferences split from the denomination over the issue of slavery, a schism that was not mended until 1939.
Since then, our views have been more clear-cut. The United Methodist Social Principals call racism a sin in both its personal and institutional manifestation, being “antithetical to the gospel, opposing… Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life” (The United Methodist Social Principles: Social Community).
But even naming racism for what it is only begins to get rid of it. We must also find the way forward. One way to move forward is by taking seriously our weekly worship gatherings, to confess our sins and our complicity with racism, and to take seriously what it means to be the body of Christ. When the church sees itself as the body of Christ there is the possibility of unity in diversity. No one is more or less valuable because of skin color, ethnicity or gender. The ethos that we seek to embody in our gatherings and wherever we go is the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. In that there is no room for racism.