A Call to Action Now

June 5, 2020 | | COVID-19, GNJ News, Bishop's Relay Column

In response to the killing of George Floyd and the demonstrations that have ensued, Bishop Schol sent out two letters on May 28 and June 1 (see below) to express his strong condemnation of racism, offer messages of hope through prayer, applaud those who have courageously protested and to call others to action right now. He attended the Asbury Park Justice For George Floyd rally in Asbury Park, NJ, on June 1 when he spoke by megaphone to the thousands of peaceful demonstrators who also attended.

When my brother died at the age of 40, I will never forget my mother’s words, “it’s not supposed to happen this way, parents are to outlive their children.” Every parent who has lost a child understands what this means.

I believe the mothers of Mr. George Floyd and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery are saying, “it just shouldn’t happen this way.” I agree, it just shouldn’t happen this way. Not only did Mr. Floyd and Mr. Arbery die too young, but racism led to the deaths. I believe God, like a mother of us all is saying, “it just shouldn’t happen this way. You were created to be one people, one family and racism is a sin against creation and a rejection of me and my creation.”

In GNJ we have and continue to be an inclusive church, respecting and honoring differences. We have multi-ethnic multi-racial congregations, more than 100 clergy are serving in cross racial appointments, and we are actively seeking justice in a segregated NJ public school system. In our work to be inclusive, we honor God the creator and creation. But it is not enough. When African Americans are being killed for the color of their skin, when Asians are being blamed for the Coronavirus, when Hispanics are told you do not belong here, the church must not point to its progress as though we have done our part. Prejudice and racism continue when we do not speak out about the injustices and treatment of people because of the color of their skin.

Each of us has a moral obligation to be angered and denounce prejudice, racism and privilege when we encounter it. I call all United Methodists to pray, work for and model acceptance, inclusion and equality in our church, in our homes, in our jobs, in our communities and in our schools. I also call all United Methodists to pray for the Floyd and Arbery families during their grief.

May the peace and justice of Christ Jesus abide in and be exemplified through each of us.

While growing up, we ate a lot of potatoes. Generally, they were either mashed or boiled. My mom tended to a lot of things while boiling the potatoes, homework with four children and preparing other parts of the meal. It wouldn’t be long before foaming water would lift the lid and spill out onto the stove. Unattended matters will boil over.

Boiling over is what we are experiencing across the United States. Unattended issues simmer underneath until one incident brings things to a boiling point. The death of George Floyd is not an isolated incident but part of a pattern of deaths of African Americans that have not been fully addressed. The boiling over is part of a system of racism that has not been resolved.

We will not see change until we all work together to understand, change and live differently. It is not enough for you or me to live our lives differently. Each of us, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called to be a catalyst for a larger change.

I am grateful for those who are gathering peacefully to rally for a call to action. Action and change are what is needed. I applaud the group of African Americans who surrounded a white police officer to keep him safe from others’ rage. I applaud the white police officers who laid down batons and marched at the front of the lines with the protesters. I applaud the police officers who knelt in prayer and prayed for forgiveness and change. In all of these acts I have seen the risen Christ. I call all of us to find ways to be the risen Christ in the midst of hatred, violence and racism.

I call each of us to find ways to demonstrate our conviction that God has created us as one people and that racism requires us to work toward long-term change. Each of us needs to speak up and out when people, especially those in leadership, even elected leadership, use their privilege to further divide and even in some cases further incite violence. Hatred and separation of the races is not of God.

The people of GNJ have been working on the issues of racism for a long time. We need to do more. I am calling together a group of leaders from across GNJ to identify what we as disciples of Jesus Christ will do in and through our congregations to help change who we are as a church and how we will engage in our communities for justice and righteousness in a church and a nation divided by race. This type of change will not be easy and will require a long-term commitment. I will report to you in two weeks on our progress and then continue to report out our work.

I ask for your prayers for the families who have lost loved ones, for our police who are called on to protect and preserve life, for our elected officials to lead to bring justice for all and for our church so that we will lead toward change and healing.