Tag Archives: Racial Reconciliation

Julia Foote and the Geography of Witness

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? History buffs might enjoy its distinct Y-shaped bridge or explore its history as part of the Underground Railroad or recall it for its well-known river and locks. If a spiritual pilgrimage were traced across the tilts and rolls of Ohio’s farms, rivers, and valleys, Methodists might mark a gentle circle around Zanesville. It’s not unique for towns that sprang up across the Midwest to have Methodist fellowships woven through their roots; but those Methodist fellowships in the mid-1800s were not without profound flaws. In the autobiography of Julia Foote – happily available for download through First Fruits Press – readers are confronted with this reality. On joining the local Methodist Episcopal church (in the state of New York), her parents, both former slaves, were relegated to seating in one part of the balcony of the local church and could not partake of Holy Communion until the white church members, including the lower class ones, had gone first.

Julia A. J. Foote (Public domain)

Eventually, Julia Foote would become the first woman ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church, the second woman ordained an elder. Before that, she was an evangelist, traveling and preaching in a number of places, starting before the Civil War. At times, congregational conflict emerged when she visited a town, sometimes because Foote was Black, sometimes because she was a woman. But the testimony of her visit to Zanesville is different.

Before arriving in Zanesville in the early 1850’s, Foote had been in Cincinnati and Columbus, then visited a town called Chillicothe. Her time in Chillicothe was fruitful but not without controversy. (The following excerpts retain Foote’s own original language, a reflection of the time in which she lived.) She wrote,

In April, 1851, we visited Chillicothe, and had some glorious meetings there. Great crowds attended every night, and the altar was crowded with anxious inquirers. Some of the deacons of the white people’s Baptist church invited me to preach in their church, but I declined to do so, on account of the opposition of the pastor, who was very much set against women’s preaching. He said so much against it, and against the members who wished me to preach, that they called a church meeting, and I heard that they finally dismissed him. The white Methodists invited me to speak for them, but did not want the colored people to attend the meeting. I would not agree to any such arrangement, and, therefore, I did not speak for them. Prejudice had closed the door of their sanctuary against the colored people of the place, virtually saying: “The Gospel shall not be free to all.” Our benign Master and Saviour said: “Go, preach my Gospel to all.” (Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, First Fruits Press: 102-103)

Whether or not the good Baptists of Chillicothe today know that their forebears ousted a pastor who objected to a woman evangelist, the Methodists may be unaware that their forebears invited a Black woman to preach – but only if people of color were excluded from the meeting. And yet, in spite of these local controversies, Julia Foote wrote that in that town, “we had some glorious meetings,” and “the altar was crowded.” Like John Wesley, Foote sowed grace outside church buildings, even if she could not sow grace inside church buildings. Like the Apostle Paul, she proclaimed the Gospel to those who would welcome her.

But then, she went to Zanesville. And here, readers see a different move of the Holy Spirit. What was the difference? Foote wrote,

We visited Zanesville, Ohio, laboring for white and colored people. The white Methodists opened their house for the admission of colored people for the first time. Hundreds were turned away at each meeting, unable to get in; and, although the house was so crowded, perfect order prevailed. We also held meetings on the other side of the river. God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings. I was the recipient of many mercies, and passed through various exercises. In all of them I could trace the hand of God and claim divine assistance whenever I most needed it. Whatever I needed, by faith I had. Glory! glory!! While God lives, and Jesus sits on his right hand, nothing shall be impossible unto me, if I hold fast faith with a pure conscience. (A Brand Plucked, 103)

Foote labored for any and all for the sake of the Kingdom when she arrived in Zanesville. While there, for the first time, Methodist worship was integrated. So many people came, hundreds had to be turned away. Despite the crowds, there was no controversy or dispute. And – “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings.” There was no segregated worship; the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest.

This is powerful testimony reverberating down through the soil, through the generations, through the Kingdom. Sitting today in a different part of the state over 150 years later, I read the words of Julia Foote and see the rolling hills of Ohio differently. I’ve been in Cincinnati, and Columbus, and Chillicothe. I’ve read those names on road signs. I’ve seen church buildings in those places. Through her words, I hear the voice of a mother of American Methodism, particularly the holiness movement, calling across the rivers, the years. She was pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Her eyes too saw this rural landscape in the springtime; heading from Zanesville on to Detroit, she also likely saw Mennonite and Amish farmers along the road. She sowed grace into this landscape before my great-grandmother was born. Before the Wright brothers followed the birds skimming along air currents, Julia Foote learned how to glide on the wind of the Spirit: “whatever I needed, by faith I had.”

Today, in the yard outside my window, irises are blooming that I did not plant; someone else planted, another watered, and I enjoy the deep purple unfurling from the bud. Reading of Foote’s ministry, I am given a window onto the grace planted by faith, the results of which would have shaped the spiritual life of a community for decades. But it does not let me rest on what came before; her labor calls out across the rivers, the years, questioning: how are you tending to what others planted through the Spirit? She endured great hardship to proclaim the Word of God in this landscape. I would not rip out or mow over the irises carefully planted by another; how might I help to care for what she was bold enough to sow? Decades later – and yet not so very long at all – where is the Spirit brooding, full, like a thundercloud full with rain, ready to burst?

Sister Julia issued this challenge: Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the Lord or using the gifts you have for the good of others. How much easier to bear the reproach of men than to live at a distance from God. Be not kept in bondage by those who say, “We suffer not a woman to teach,” thus quoting Paul’s words, but not rightly applying them. What though we are called to pass through deep waters, so our anchor is cast within the veil, both sure and steadfast? (A Brand Plucked, 112)

The gifts you have, for the good of others.

It is the Holy Spirit who transforms history into testimony, the same Spirit who was “powerfully manifest” now bearing down, laboring again. In the original introduction to her work, Thomas K. Doty wrote, “Those of us who heard her preach, last year, at Lodi, where she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, know well where is the hiding of her power.” (A Brand Plucked, 7)

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? That Julia Foote preached there in the 1850s, sowing grace? That Methodists there rejected segregated worship, joining together, and the Holy Spirit was “powerfully manifest”?

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, today? What do you know of those who planted and watered while God gave the increase, long before you saw the buds?

Sisters and brothers, we do not walk into ministry alone today. Wherever you are, someone has gone ahead, sowing grace ahead of you. If the rivers could speak, they might gossip to you about the ones who went before; who crossed rivers when no plane had yet crossed the sky.

What do you know of Zanesville, Holy Spirit? Hearts there once were soft.

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, Zanesville? Once, the Spirit was powerfully manifest in your midst.

Holy Spirit, where are you brooding now? Give us the grace of readiness.

Preaching in Times of Upheaval

Note from the Editor: Recently I asked Founding Editor Dr. Maxie Dunnam to share about the call of preaching in times of deep upheaval. Following the brutal death of George Floyd, I watched as many Caucasian pastors preached about racial justice – some to congregations that had never before heard a biblical sermon on the subject. I watched too as clergy were startled by reactions against their preaching as otherwise sedate churchgoers sent angry emails, withheld giving, or withdrew membership. As I considered the pushback, Maxie came to mind as someone uniquely positioned to offer encouragement to continue to fight the good fight: early in pastoral ministry, in the violence of 1960s Mississippi, he and other white Methodist clergy wrote and signed a public letter against prejudice, racism, and segregation that led to many of them having to leave the state, receiving death threats, even being implicated in police investigations. Those experiences aren’t something about which Dr. Dunnam is quick to speak; he rightly keeps the focus on the injustices to be confronted. However, he responded graciously when I asked him to share two short essays to exhort and encourage white pastors preaching, reading, learning, and leading toward the good news of Gospel-soaked justice. Here is the first.Elizabeth Glass Turner, Managing Editor

What a time to preach!  We may say that with all sorts of emotion and meaning. What a wonderful (challenging, tough, impossible, painful, joyful) time to preach. Who we are, where we are, how long we have been where we are, our past experience and our present understanding and convictions all combine to play huge roles in determining what we say about our present situation in the midst of a raging pandemic and justice issues that may become even more raging than the virus.

It was tough enough, complex enough, challenging enough with the never-experienced-before coronavirus. The sovereignty of God – God’s character, God’s power expressed when love is his defining nature, God’s gift of freedom to us persons, the height of his creation – these core theological issues of our Christian faith all focus in this virus impacting our world.

How much more? How long, oh Lord! Enduring the pastoral demands and upheaval of that confounding epidemic, seeking to be faithful in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care, many pastors were already at the breaking point, when wham! Then comes the murder of George Floyd and a social justice struggle more vividly felt and publicly shared than anything like it since the launching and growth of the Civil Rights Movement.

What a time to preach!

I was a young preacher in those late fifties and sixties of the Civil Rights Movement, and my ministry was significantly shaped by the issues raging around that movement. In my reflection and prayers, since I first saw the man in Minnesota being murdered (a modern lynching) with a crowd looking on, and the dramatic, convincing public expression of our deadly disease of racism, I am painfully aware of my failures. I have stood for racial justice and have been righteously indignant at the blatant mistreatment of our Black brothers and sisters. I have worked for justice, particularly in housing and education, which I believe are systemic issues related to the more organic justice issue. But my primary failure has been in not recognizing in myself, in our churches, and in our nation, our sin of racism. I have worked at not being a racist, but in my ministry of preaching and teaching, I have not been consistently faithful in confronting the sin of racism.

That’s not what this essay is about, but I feel I need to make that confession before addressing the subject I have been asked to write about: how do we preach in times like these? More specifically, what pastoral word might I have for pastors who, for perhaps the first time are speaking up and beginning to see the cost?

First, I speak what may be a harsh word. If you have not been preaching on issues like civil rights and racial justice, don’t try to “redeem yourself” by being bold in speaking now. Having said that, I’m quick to say, probably none of us have been as faithful as we should have been in confronting this.

Preach now we must; but let’s be humble. Admit the issues are so complex that it is difficult to speak clearly. Even so: this is a critical issue for the church. Confess that you have failed in not dealing with this issue and you intend to do so now and in the future. “I don’t know as much as I need to know, therefore my sharing may be limited. But what I do know, and what I am compelled to proclaim, is that God’s love is not limited to the white race, and it certainly cannot be withheld from anyone. Justice is for all and should be expressed equally for all races. God’s creation of us humans, and calling the creation ‘good,’ is the basic foundation for us to call for justice for those to whom justice has been denied. The nature of creation alone is also enough to express public lament for violent treatment of any of God’s children.”

Knowing that your preaching is limited in possible impact, don’t see proclamation as your primary witness. Could you do some of these? One, start a three or four week Bible study, focusing on justice and God’s love for all people. Two, find a way to listen to Black people in your community. Three, establish a small leadership group to plan how your church will move into the future, giving attention to this challenge. Resources on this website, sites like Dr. Esau McCaulley‘s, his podcast, or this project, along with people you know, can provide guidance in finding resources to assist you in any of these pursuits.

I have found that when I am honest in expressing my own limitations and my own convictions, which are clearly based on Scripture, in humility and compassion, most people will listen respectfully. If I do not come off as trying to convince folks of my convictions, and if I refuse to be defensive and argumentative, people will listen more. No other profession than our ordination, gives one the setting and the opportunity to express conviction on issues like racial justice, abortion, assisted suicide, support of those in poverty, and equity in accessing education. It’s a treasure that preachers need to value and hold lightly in clay hands that we must keep with strength and integrity.

Edgar Bazan ~ Racism & Bias: We All Suffer

For 400 years, through slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement, and institutionalized racism, people of color (especially within the Black community) have been fighting and crying out for justice and equality. Justice is sought because they have been oppressed and abused for centuries; equality, because that is the underlying cause of their unjust treatment: they have been seen and treated as lesser humans because of the color of their skin.

I am a Mexican-American immigrant, and although my experience is not the same as Black Americans’ experiences, on some levels I can relate to the viciousness shown them. It is not uncommon to hear stories of people like me who have been told to, “go back to Mexico.” As upsetting as I find this, it makes me sad, for it reflects the failure of a society to nurture individuals that treat one another with respect and dignity.

As a pastor who serves a diverse and bilingual community, I will speak to these dynamics of prejudice that are persistently based on race, language, and economic and education levels. In all of this, the pervasive reality is that some people are inclined to judge others based on external factors. These judgments come with labels, and these labels add or subtract value to people.

For example, it is not unusual when I meet new people and introduce myself as a pastor, that they say: “so you are the associate pastor of the Hispanic church.” I am not offended by the Hispanic label, of course; however, the underlying problem is the assumption that because I am Hispanic, I must be the Hispanic associate pastor serving people like me. To put this in context, how often do we hear about white pastors, “so you are the white pastor for the white people”? Most likely never.

I invite you to explore the implications of this. Labels carry value (or lack thereof), and those at the top usually do not have the same labels – often they are the ones who assign them to others. Bias is not always a loud offense; sometimes it has the form of rather subtle but heavy weight to keep people “in their place” — often assigned by those in positions of influence.

These acts and attitudes have pained and oppressed many people of color over the years — centuries — and it breaks God’s heart, for it is sinful: a way in which we fall short of the glory of God.

So what does the Bible say about racism and bias?

In Genesis 1:26, we find the following statement that gives us a theological framework from which to address racism: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’” This scripture teaches us that God created every human being in God’s image. Every person measures the same amount of the glory of God in themselves. There is no distinction nor differences in the worth between one person or another. Whether one is white, black, brown, God loves all the same. In the Incarnation, God became flesh, embracing all colors, races, and ethnicities that make up the human race.

Racism, however, denies the image of God in humankind. It seeks to destroy God’s likeness in every person, both in those who invite and ignore racism, and in those who are the recipients of it, repudiating what God created and the way God created it. Therefore, the Bible teaches us that racism is incompatible with Christian teaching; it is sinful, for it denies the image of God in others and oppresses those who are the object of God’s self-giving love. Ultimately, it leads to the violation and denial of human rights, of justice, and of inherent human sacred worth.

Now, bias on the other hand, is a more subtle form that still leads to oppression. The apostle James makes a compelling case explaining bias and cautioning against it. In James 2:9, we read, “But if you show partiality [or bias], you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James was addressing an issue of showing special treatment to a particular person or persons based on their social standing. He illustrates this with a hypothetical scenario where two men come into a church gathering: one is rich and given the best seat in the house; the other is poor and asked to stand away or sit on the floor. The rich man is given privileges because of his wealth, but the poor man is despised because of his poverty. Such treatment, James says, is evil.

Although James addresses a particular issue of class discrimination, the principle helps us to address any and all other practices of bias, including those based on race. (It was not long ago that people of color could not sit on the front seats of a bus in America.) In many ways, this reality resembles a “caste system” in which hierarchical structures communicate to subjects, “you are not all equal,” and, “here is your label and place.” This has caused profound generational suffering and loss, including economic, cultural, and identity devastation for people of color and marginalized groups.

Many Americans would be appalled to think that such blatant partiality or bias that mirrors a “caste system” could exist in a country founded on the premise that, “all are created equal” and that, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is a right for all people — the American Dream. Nevertheless, even as this nation of ours may create more economic opportunities for people than any other place, we continue to have deeply embedded unfair policies and attitudes, like “redlining.” There are policies that are discriminatory, unfair, and inconsistently applied, when rule of law and distribution of community resource give preferential treatment to some people over others.

Most of these harmful practices reflect a subtle yet hostile and derogatory way in which some people are communicated to be more of a liability, or more valuable, than others. This stigmatization wears on people emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But if someone is spared these additional burdens, because of the sound of their name or the color of their skin, they don’t realize that they don’t have to prove themselves in the same way to get ahead in life, even if they’re born into poverty or other serious trauma, while others may have those struggles but also bear the additional burden of race-based bias and prejudice.

Have you ever observed how someone who is not white is often questioned about their capacity to accomplish a task? And if they do accomplish it, they are seen as an exception? The tragedy is that this is normalized and internalized by both sides: “we are more” and “we are less.” As a pastor, it breaks my heart when I hear young people begin to accept the labels and positions assigned to them, whether it is because of the color of their skin or their socio-economic status. It is heartbreaking to hear them settle for less than they dream, for less than they are capable of accomplishing as individuals, because their abilities, intelligence, or character are constantly questioned.  These mental and emotional chains are heavy. To treat people in such a way is a terrible sin that plagued the early church and has continued to plague the church and society at large in every generation.

The apostle Paul, in talking about prejudice and favoritism in the church, wrote that, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Paul makes a compelling case about undermining the giftedness and value of people in our communities. By doing so, he says, we harm each other.

By now, I hope there is little doubt that we are called to face the pain, abuse, and oppression of a segment of our community that has been affected by racism and bias — “if one suffers, we all suffer together.” Not only that: the work towards eradicating unjust practices of racism and bias must be a top priority for followers of Jesus, not at all because of political affiliation or preferences, but because of our compelling faith in Jesus Christ, which is what James wrote: “because of your faith, you should not play favoritism but treat everyone as fellow brother and sister.”

My prayer is that the principle of “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves” will guide us (Matthew 22:39). Just as we care about our own needs, feelings, and desires, we must show the same care for the needs, feelings, and desires of others. So how can we foster and nurture communities (at church, home, work, school) where anyone is welcomed, respected, and treated with dignity?

We don’t need to have all the answers; we simply need to start asking the right questions from a place of compassion.

Featured image is an interior photo from the Don Bosco church in Brasilia, capital of Brazil. Photo credit: Vladimir Soares on Unsplash.

Biblical Posture in Public Life: Witness & Injustice

Today we’re pleased to share this presentation from Dr. Esau McCaulley, who provides a careful survey of texts from the Old and New Testament as a basis for an approach to public life – in particular, believers’ approach to the practices and systems at work in our world that were shaped in the forge of injustice. As he concludes, he walks listeners through truths in the Beatitudes, locating our mourning and thirst for justice in the persistent hope of the Kingdom of God.

He says, “This intuition that something is not right is justified by close reading of the biblical text. First Timothy 2 and Romans 13 are not the entirety of the Christian political witness. Jesus’ words to Herod, Paul’s testimony, John the revelator’s vision for the future, Jesus own commands in the Beatitudes, call us to witness to a different world. The Christian who hopes and works for a better world finds an ally in the God of Israel.”

Dr. Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America where he serves as a canon theologian in his diocese. He completed his Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews, where he studied under the direction of N.T. Wright. He is a sought-after speak and author whose works have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Christianity Today among others. Read more from Dr. McCaulley by clicking here.

Further excerpts from his presentation:

On Grieving

To mourn involves being saddened by the state of the world. We can be so bombarded by pain that the natural instinct is to say, “I’ve done enough.” But mourning calls on all of us to recognize our own complicity in the suffering of others. Mourning is the intuition that things are not right, that more is possible. I think the Christian lives with a certain “joyful sorrow.” But I can always pray.

Hungering and thirsting for justice is nothing less than the continued longing for God to come and set things right. The resurrection has to inform our plausibility structure. We tend to think – white nationalism is a big problem. So is being dead. And God called a dead thing back to life.

On Peacemaking

Peacemaking cannot be separated from truth-telling. The church’s witness does not involve simply denouncing the excesses of both sides and making moral equivalencies. It involves calling injustice by its name. If the church is going to be on the side of peace in America, there has to be an honest account of what has happened to black and brown people in this country. This peacemaking must be corporate and it must be personal. When it is corporate, we’re testifying to the universal reign of Jesus. When it is interpersonal, we’re being witnesses to the work God has done in our heart.

“Have I now become your enemy from telling you the truth?” – Galatians 4:16

Peacemaking bears witness to the King and his Kingdom. The outcome of peacemaking is to introduce people to the kingdom of God. Therefore, the work of justice when understood as a direct testimony to God’s kingdom is evangelistic in its ultimate aims. It is part, not the whole of, God’s work in reconciling all things to himself.

Featured photo by Benjamin Thomas for Unsplash.

Kevin Murriel ~ Pressing through the Pain


Note: Today as we reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the state of our church and our nation today, we revisit these reflections from Dr. Kevin Murriel.

Follow the link below to hear Dr. Kevin Murriel, pastor of Cliftondale UMC, offer stirring thoughts and personal stories in the context of Bible study on recent events and being a Black pastor in America:

Pressing through the Pain

Featured illustration from “Elegie pour Martin Luther King” by Manessier, 1978.

Elizabeth Moyer ~ The Unity of the Faith: Gifts of Congregational Authenticity

If I agree that the gifts described in Ephesians 4:11 emphasize living outside of the church’s internal life, I must accept responsibility for my gifting. What does this text say?

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 New Revised Standard Version) 

If gifted as an apostle, I acknowledge that God sends me. If gifted as a prophet, I boldly and unapologetically proclaim the will of God. As an evangelist, I spread the good news, as a pastor I minister to and protect the congregation, and as a teacher I serve as an instructor of the Christian life.

With my acceptance of that responsibility, I must be sure that I carry out my work in such a way that I am equipping other followers of Christ for the work of the ministry, since we are responsible for building up the global church until all of us come to the unity of the faith. These gifts, whichever you may possess, open up the opportunity to move the body of Christ to a place of unity, emphasizing a continual, dynamic relatedness of diverse peoples – to work toward moving the whole congregation toward intercultural life. 

There are desires for the worship on Sunday to reflect the residents of countless communities, for our communities of faith to become more culturally diverse. Does the average faith community understand the implications of such a racial shift? Does the average faith community understand that this move is about becoming an agent of racial reconciliation and authentic diversity? Are whole congregations willing to pursue intercultural life? And how would this intercultural life be authentic and not just visible in the community?

For one thing, such a shift requires an ongoing commitment to diversity in worship and understanding that other people’s experience and response to the Holy Spirit in worship may be different. For another, congregations must be willing to discuss openly the pain of racism that persists in America. There must be acknowledgment of the ever-changing nature of the church, relationships and contexts; calls for real engagement and mutuality; and attention to narratives of large and small similarities and differences (Branson & Martinez, 2011). Ultimately, it takes action to bridge the divide, which will prayerfully propel us to authentic community. 

If intercultural life is to be authentic, then whether you are called as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher, each of us must perform responsibilities in such a way that the congregation understands these implications and benefits. As a congregation, people of faith must hear and validate the narratives of every individual’s ethnic heritage and those of the surrounding cultures in our community to understand better our identity and our responsibility in the world (Branson & Martinez, 2011).  

While leading the migration toward social reconciliation across cultural barriers, the focus is not solely on demographic data but encompasses discerning and moving toward unique ways of unity and diversity. Congregations should look at the gifts diversity brings. Cultural diversity within a community of faith can be found within the unique heritage of those who gather together. Many Anglo congregations have members, regular attenders, and casual seekers from Europe, Asia, South American, Africa, and the Caribbean; however, these influences play silently in the background to a Euro/Caucasian American experience. The challenge that we face and are working to overcome is to allow these influences to be a visible part of our experiences together. 

While there is no clear map toward goals of shared intercultural life, attitudes and convictions must continue to drive the congregation toward completing the work necessary to understand our unique gifts, celebrate our diversity and stay the course toward becoming a multiethnic church, allowing our various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to come together to form an authentic congregation (Branson & Martinez, 2011).  




Branson, M. L., & Martinez, J. F. (2011). Churches Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 

United States Census Bureau. (2014). American Fact Finder. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices 


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Testify: Many Voices, One Song

Note from the Editor: Wesleyan Accent is pleased to reprint this post which shares a rich chorus of voices who have answered questions posed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Participants considered the following questions: 

Growing up, who did you look up to? Who did you want to emulate?

12043004_10207648467592224_2677489989962293178_nGrowing up, I wanted to emulate my mother. She had such amazing style and strength. She grew up in the segregated South, the daughter of an interracial couple (a black mother and a white father). She was always involved in our community, speaking out on issues, and taking a stand.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais, Associate Pastor: St. Luke’s Community UMC, Dallas, Texas

Years ago my uncle, who was a history teacher at Evanston Township high school, had a picture of Dr. King on his wall. And there was a snippet of a quote. “The time is always ripe to do right”…For years that line always stayed in my soul, even when I didn’t really know what it meant. I looked up to my uncle. I would often help him organize all of his classroom papers. He would talk to me about black history. I was always fascinated with the “Eyes on the Prize” series. That’s where I really began to understand the struggle of Africa Americans in America.

– Rev. Marlan Branch, Pastor: River of Life AME Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


I looked up to my grandmother, because I thought she was the funniest, hardest working, craziest
person ever and all these people that would come to her house or we would run into somewhere genuinely loved her, so I wanted to be her.

-Makayla Burnham, Student Leader: The Wesley Foundation of Wichita Falls, Texas

Definitely my father. He taught me to be proud of who I am as a black man, to work hard, and get an education so that I would not be overlooked for promising opportunities. One of the most valuable lessons learned from my dad was that as a black man in America, I always needed to work twice as hard just to be somewhat equal to my white counterparts; and three times harder to get ahead. But his Christian example in our home and his savvy business sense is why I will always seek to emulate my dad.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel, Senior Pastor: Cliftondale UMC, College Park, Georgia

Growing up, I most wanted to emulate my mother. She showed incredible strength in difficult situations — most notable being a single mother to five girls. No matter what obstacle came her way, she had the strength to overcome it. She was a praying woman and before most people knew anything about a “War Room” my mother had dedicated one room in our house to prayer. I wanted to be like her, a woman of strength and prayer.

-Rev. Karen Bates, MDiv: Alabaster Box Ministry Services, Bowie, Maryland

What is your first memory of the name “Dr. King”?

Because I’m from a rural and conservative hometown in south central Pennsylvania, it was rare to learn about black men and women who were whitewashed from our textbooks outside of home or church. So my first lessons about the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women who led it like Martin Luther King, Clarence Mitchell, Thurgood Marshall, Daisy Bates, Rosa Parks, Joseph DeLaine and so many others were from my Grandmother and Mother. They demanded that I emulate these men and women and commit my life for justice as well. Because of their model I continue to work to establish and maintain a nonviolent culture on the streets of Rochester, New York where I serve.

– Rev. James C. Simmons, Senior Pastor: Baber AME Church, Rochester, New York

I don’t remember the year that I first learned about Dr. King, but I do remember the story that surrounded the introduction. I vividly recall the time my dad, a United Methodist pastor, told me about his first time being confronted with “Whites Only” drinking fountains and rest rooms while on a road trip during his years at Wesley Theological Seminary. The year was 1961 and my dad was returning to Washington, DC from spring break in Florida when he stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. Appalled at the condition of the restroom, my dad complained to the service attendant. “That restroom is a mess,” he reported. “It is?” replied the attendant. “Oh, you went in the wrong restroom. That is for ‘Colored People.’ You were supposed to go into the ‘Whites Only’ restroom.”
Raised as a farm boy in rural Pennsylvania, my dad had never been exposed to “Colored Only” restrooms or “Whites Only” water fountains. My dad’s traveling companion from seminary counseled my dad to just get back in the car and forget about the ugly experience. No such luck. In no uncertain terms, my dad made it clear to the attendant that the conditions of the restrooms were inexcusable and that the restrooms should be open to all men. My dad’s scolding may have only had a temporary effect on the attendant who grew up in a segregated culture, but that lesson was etched deeply into my soul.

– Steve Beard, Editor-in-Chief: Good News magazine

My first memory of the name Dr. King was from a movie that’s called, “Our friend, Martin” and I thought the man speaking gave great speeches – but I also thought at a young age, from that movie, that Dr.King really liked walking!

– Makayla Burnham

My earliest memory of Dr. King is when I was four years old attending preschool at Bethel AME. I was born the year after King was assassinated. Our church wanted to make sure we knew who King was and what he stood for. Back then, TV went “off” every night around 11pm and each station would play excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

My first memory of the name Dr. King was in church. Each year we had to recite a speech during Black History Month and our Sunday school teachers made sure we knew about the significant contributions of Dr. King and others to American history. Church taught us things about the Civil Rights Movement and its heroes that our school system never took the time to teach us.

– Dr. Kevin Murriel

If you could do one thing in the next year to impact national and international race relations, what would it be?

The one area of national race relations that I hope to impact this year is helping people 1782069_10153918979655227_1263907353_n-e1453009834806understand that Black Live Matters is not about race, but about justice. Until all lives are given the same value, there is an inequality that exists in this nation and it must be addressed. We have to understand that it is a continuation of the work of Dr. King and a reminder that all men are created equal. Until the scales of justice balance, there is work to do.

-Rev. Karen Bates

53332cb999737-e1453007420315-198x300If there was one area of national or international race relations I could directly impact this year, it would be the attitude of evangelical Christians towards immigrants and refugees. My feeling is that much of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments that came from many Christians this past year (especially in Facebook posts!) finds its origin in racism. While many of these Christians claim they just want to keep America safe, ironically the best thing they could do to make America safe is by showing love to our “enemies” (people different than us). I love this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” If Americans were to feed, clothe, and educate Muslims around the world, it would be a lot harder for IS to recruit them to harm Americans!

– Rev. Daniel Szombathy, Senior Pastor: Journey Church, Robinson, Illinois

One area of race relations that I probably could impact this year would be awareness of any individual’s culture, religion, or background, so there’s a level of accountability to respect another person’s history.

-Makayla Burnham

One area of race relations that I’d like to directly impact is the disparity in our educational system. Hispanic and African American students in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods often are not exposed to the same textbooks, learning opportunities, and academic information as their white counterparts. Just because children are on the free or reduced lunch program does not mean they should be treated with reduced learning opportunities. I’d like to see intentional investment in the academic excellence of all students regardless to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

“The time is always ripe to do right” – that quote is really where I wish I could get people to be10690057_839949949404074_8828975281184360831_n-259x300gin to work out, especially in race relations: there are so many on both sides who know the truth but for whatever reason choose to stay silent and not speak. I dream for the Beloved community, the community that King began to speak of right before his death. We will not heal as a people until we believe that we are all God’s creation, equal in potential and promise and presence.

– Rev. Marlan Branch

There are many areas of concern, but I truly want to help the Church better understand its role in racial reconciliation. The Church should be leading the effort towards greater race relations. It is the prophetic voice of the Christian collective that has the power to transform the world following the example of Christ. My personal mission and commitment is to keep this perspective in front of the people of God in hopes that our culture of racism and prejudice will change as the Church stands for what is righteous.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel

Tom Fuerst ~ One Thing White Evangelical Parents Can Do

For many white people, and clearly about 80% of white Evangelical Christians, the election of Donald Trump feels like a high moment in our nation’s history. I’ve heard Evangelical Christians refer to his election as everything from a Cyrus-like moment to a downright deified development. For many Evangelicals, this moment represents making America great again – a return to a pre-women’s liberation, pre-Affirmative Action, pre-Roe vs. Wade, pre-pluralistic, and fully Christianized America. Some Evangelicals lament Trump’s individual morality but laud his pro-life judiciary possibilities. For many, they just did not want Hillary as president.

But the fact is, what seems like victory for many white Evangelicals creates fear in the hearts of those who feel marginalized by Trump’s rhetoric. From promises to send immigrants back to Mexico, to his threats to profile Muslims and forbid them entry into the country, to his dehumanizing imitations of persons with disabilities, to his business track record of taking advantage of small companies, to his sexual assault allegations, and to his clearly perverted antics, many non-male, non-white, non-Evangelical persons feel threatened by his presidency. And not just ideologically threatened – they literally fear for their safety and the safety of their families.

Now, you may say that the fear is unjustified. You may disregard it as the product of liberals telling people they’re oppressed when they’re not. You may think it’s the over-emotional reaction of a thin-skinned generation. Or you may try to qualify or justify his statements and attitude.

I disagree with you. But my point here is bigger than whether we agree or disagree.

Just think about someone else’s experience for just a second: Can you imagine what it must have been like for a Latino family to send their child to school on Wednesday morning knowing the kinds of things they might hear on the school bus? Can you imagine the things Muslim kids had to hear in the halls? Can you imagine the fear many of these children had when they sat down at lunch surrounded by white faces? Can you imagine the fear the parents of gay or transgendered kids felt as they released their kids to school? Can you imagine the thoughts of young girls who know their country just elected a president who has a self-admitted history of using his power to be sexually aggressive toward women?

Now, listen, you don’t have to agree with someone ideologically, politically, or religiously in order to appreciate that their fear is real. No child should have to worry about what will be said to them when they go to school the day after an election.

Yet we also know that kids are cruel. Most of you can remember a moment of racism, classism, sexism, or religious discrimination from your childhood. You can remember, even if you didn’t participate, seeing someone else socially ostracized because of the color of their skin.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve heard (firsthand) and read (on social media) numerous stories from minority parents and teachers saying that their kids are being bullied at school by other children. Latino children are being told by white children that President Trump is going to send them back to Mexico. One African American child was worried because a white kid told him President Trump was going to take his house from his parents.

No kid should have to live with this.

So, instead of just lamenting the problem, here is my proposal. Here is something you can do as white, Evangelical parents to make your world a better, safer place. Here is a way you can love your neighbor as yourself: Tonight at the dinner table, have a very serious conversation with your children about these things. Tell the truth about Trump’s rhetoric, do not justify it, do not excuse it, do not minimize it. Tell the truth about it.

Then, tell them two things very clearly.

  • Tell them in no uncertain terms that bullying is not acceptable. They need to hear you tell them that snide remarks, off-hand comments about race and gender, or downright aggression are not acceptable practices.
  • Tell them in no uncertain terms that if they see something, they should say something. They should say something to a teacher or school administrator. Or if none of them are around, give them permission to confront the bully.

I know these two things are universally valuable no matter the president or children involved. Bullying is always wrong. Yet the nature of our President-Elect’s rhetoric over the last year (and longer) suggests that this time is at least unique in its intensity.

To that end, two nights ago, my wife and I did just this. We told our kids that Mr. Trump has said really mean things over the last year and that some of their friends at school might feel afraid. We told them other kids at school might even be mean to kids who have disabilities or have a different color skin. We told them we want them to be on the lookout for this.

Fortunately, our kids hadn’t seen anything happening at their school, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on. We don’t often see what we’re not taught to see. So by telling our children to be on the lookout for such behavior, we were helping attune them to the fears and experiences of others. We were teaching them they don’t have to just accept the injustices of the world as normal. We were teaching them the moral example of the leader of the free world should neither be emulated nor normalized.

Granted, you may think this is not a conversation you need to have with your children. Fine. I understand that. I tend to think my children are pretty good kids who would never bully someone over skin color. And I like to think if they saw something they’d say something.

But teaching our kids the habits of observing injustice and fear is not a passive act. We need to establish habits in our children of intentional observation. White Evangelical kids, who grow up in a segment of society powerful enough to almost single-handedly elect the President of the United States, can be blinded by that privilege. By establishing the habits of observing other people’s sufferings, of taking time to notice the pain and fear around them, we teach our children a genuinely Christian ethic. And in this, my hope is that they become adults who care about justice and equality for everyone. My hope in conversations like this is to sensitize my children to the lived experiences of others. My hope is that our children grow up able to hear, rather than disregard, the fears of others.

The fact is, Donald Trump is our new president. But even if you think his economic policies, foreign relations, social agendas, and Supreme Court appointments make it worth it, the fact is, his moral compass is not something we should want our children emulating. And in so far as we normalize – and do not discuss these things in our homes – we allow our children to think this behavior is acceptable.

You and I may agree or disagree with someone’s religion, politics, sexual ethics, or anything else. But what we cannot do is normalize any behavior that belittles someone for their difference. That is neither an act of love toward God nor neighbor.

So white parents, my call to you today is to talk to your kids at dinner tonight. Begin helping them observe the world around them. Empower them to act. They don’t have to be passive recipients of the way things are. You model this by taking the initiative in this conversation. You model this by refusing to participate in bullying behavior. You model this by silently standing by while you see others harassed at work or in public. It turns out, your children will follow your example more closely than the president’s.

Make it a good one.

Kevin Murriel ~ The Fallacy of a White Liberation Theology

Each Sunday before I enter worship, Ms. Ruth holds my hands and prays for me. Ms. Ruth, or “Mama Ruth” as I affectionately call her, is a senior member of our church who happens to be a white woman. She grew up in the Cliftondale community and has remained a faithful member throughout the over 50 year history of our church. Ms. Ruth not only attends worship but nearly every Bible study, mission and fellowship event that our church hosts.  In other words, she is all in.

But she also sticks out. She is easily noticed in a church full of black worshippers. Yet, she is a part of this beloved community of believers seeking to live out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

In recent weeks, I have had conversations with many of my white colleagues about white privilege. The ethos of these conversations hinges on the inarguable fact that because of a person’s skin color, they are afforded more equity in our culture.

To be honest, these conversations have not yielded much hope for better days to come.

There seems to be a shift in how many view the acknowledgment of their white privilege. For many, this acknowledgment is important and it appears liberating—to finally admit that “I am white, and I have privileges black people do not.” So strong is this ideology among many white church leaders, those in theological circles, and some in society, that it rings loudly of “White Liberation!” suggesting that acknowledging ones’ privilege has liberated the individual from the bondage of systems that work on their behalf.

This is a fallacy.

The thought hit me recently as I witnessed the insensible comments of Mr. Trump as he finally recanted his role in the “Birther” controversy regarding the citizenship of our already two-term black president. My thought, like many, was, “I suppose President Obama’s citizenship is now validated since a white man who could possibly become our next Commander-in-Chief has said so.”

This type of unintelligible and nescient language is what keeps our country in the pit of racial injustice and division. It also gives more breath to white privilege.

If I may go out on a ledge and state what most black people think each time we hear a white person say, “I am privileged and I feel guilty about it;” please do not insult the intelligence of black people by telling us what we already know, feel, internalize, live in, struggle with, fight against, tolerate, mourn over, protest about, march and die for. As if black people should give a philanthropic or ethical achievement award to every white person who feels liberated by the acknowledgment of their privilege.

And the timing of these comments makes them seem inauthentic. If it takes black blood to spill on the streets and unarmed black and brown people to die for white people to admit they are privileged, there is something seriously wrong with such a liberating theology.

Black people do not only struggle against racial profiling and injustice, we are unequal economically, professionally and institutionally—all of which relate directly to white privilege.

When a white man, who is a major party nominee for president states unashamedly that our black president (eight years later) was born in the United States without fear of reprimand or loss of support, he is operating in white privilege.

In the potent work of liberation theologian James Cone titled, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, he suggests that:

In the “lynching era,” between 1880 to 1940, white Christians lynched nearly five thousand black men and women in a manner with obvious echoes of the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. Yet these “Christians” did not see the irony or contradiction in their actions.

I argue that not much has changed today. I am concerned with the white Christian who can worship Jesus and not spend time with or get to the know the culture of Christians who are black.

I am concerned with the white Christian who in the same breath can acknowledge their privilege and condemn someone for peacefully protesting racial injustice wearing a football uniform while the national anthem plays.

I am concerned with the white Christian who wants to do something prophetic like telling other white people in their churches that they are privileged while at the same time only communing with white people.

I am concerned with the white Christian who has never been the minority for an extended period of time in any setting.

These are but the genesis of my concerns.

Yet I am truly concerned with the white Christian who thinks they are liberated by knowing they are white and privileged (which makes that privilege more dangerous).

The Lord revealed something unique the last time Ms. Ruth prayed for me. God asked me, “have you noticed that she never apologizes for being white or the horrendous history she is associated with because of her skin color? Have you noticed that she never acknowledges openly that she is privileged? Do you see how she hugs you and all the other black folks with whom she worships? Do you hear how she greets you with the words, ‘my pastor?’ Are you noticing how she sits and eats with you and wants to know more about your likes and dislikes?”

In that moment I received this revelation: She is not seeking liberation, she is modeling reconciliation through genuine love.

To my white brothers and sisters, focus less on explaining your privilege and start being in community with black people. Perhaps that is the best path towards the prophetic.


Wesleyan Accent ~ In Their Words: When Pastors Face Prejudice

A note about the following reflections from Black and Hispanic clergy:

These accounts have been given by denominational leaders, academics and clergy from across Wesleyan Methodist denominations.

As a white editor, I have been keenly conscious of the weight of holding these testimonies with care and respect. Content has been edited for length. As much as possible, editorial work has been extremely light in order to stay out of the way and allow the words and accounts to speak for themselves.

Ministry is not easy and white pastors have many stories of difficult parishioners or hard seasons. These accounts illustrate the unique individual histories of minority pastors – and the unique challenges they continue to face on top of regular ministry demands.

Elizabeth Glass Turner

Editor, A Wesleyan Accent



“It took me some time to share these reflections because in recalling these experiences, it was like pulling the Band-Aid off the wound. Some wounds never really heal because another one plops on top of it. They just become scar tissue that irritates us under the skin.” – a contributor


Have you ever been called a racial epithet? If so, what were the circumstances?

Rev. Dr. Joy Moore, UMC: I have often described my youth and young adulthood as living in a gap in history, a period of promise somewhere between my 5th and 12th birthdays as I experienced life under the protection of my parents. It would be the summer after my freshman year of high school when I would be confronted with my racial status. A friend and I had volunteered to work in a Catholic program for impoverished inner-city youth in Milwaukee.  One day, as we walked back to where we were staying, a few younger boys rode around us on their bikes shouting at us. My friend was visibly shaken by their taunts. I, with a newly attained teenage defiance, questioned the pre-teens as to whom they were referring. My friend stared with incredulity at my apparent unawareness that their characterization referenced us. But my simple question dispersed the bikers as quickly as their name-calling dispersed my innocence. It was the first time a white person had addressed me as “nigger”…

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais, UMC: I was called a nigger while pulling out of the parking lot of a grocery store. Another motorist almost cut me off as I drove down the lot and I honked my horn. The passenger rolled his window down and hurled the slur at me, laughed and topped it off by flipping his middle finger at me. I was stunned and frozen for a few minutes, but I recovered and composed myself quickly and drove on away. The car was full of white boys and I wasn’t sure what else they might do.

Rev. Edgar Bazan, UMC: What is said with a simple scowl sometimes is even more powerful than words. There have been a few times when I experienced rejection because I am Hispanic and have an accent when I speak. Even though I am very confident of myself, it hurts to feel rejected because of who I am. What am I supposed to do, bleach my skin? Is my worth devalued because I moved to live in a different geographical area? Of course not, we know this if we are decent people. I know people that have been deeply hurt not just by looks but by actual hate-filled and ignorant racial slurs. It hurts me: things like, “wet-back, go back to your country, speak English, you are not American,” and so on.


Have you ever been physically or verbally harassed because of your race or ethnicity? If so, what were the circumstances?

Rev. Marlan Branch, AME: While living in Glencoe, IL, my dad was actually on the news because he worked in Evanston and would have to drive home late every day to Glencoe. He would get pulled over by the police at least twice a week once he reached the white neighborhood.

One time my friend and I were walking to his gymnastics practice on the North Shore. He was one year older than me and was black too. Here we were, two black boys – me in 7th grade and he in 8th grade. The police stopped us, searched his bag and our persons because we “fit the description.” Apparently there had been some robberies in the area.

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais: I’ll speak from the point of being harassed in an academic setting and in a corporate setting. When I was an undergraduate, studying journalism, one of my professors said, “you dress so cute all the time. It’s like you’re white. You even wear your hair like a white girl. I don’t even wear nice clothes like that. And for the life of me I can’t figure out how you’re doing that because you’re not white. I’ve decided that I don’t like you.” Imagine my frustration, anger and disbelief that a professor, someone who is entrusted to present a fair and balanced environment in higher education, (instructing the class in balanced news coverage of all things) actually told me those words outright. She then used her white privilege to begin failing me in class. I ultimately passed the class but my work suffered because she intentionally always found fault with anything that I wrote.

During my career working as a communications director for a major national non-profit, I encountered harassment from a peer when I was promoted from a director position to a regional vice president position. The peer, who was in my same position (just in a different market) verbalized that the only reason that I was promoted is because I am black and that another team member, who had been at the company longer, should have been given that position. She said that I took that team member’s spot. Both team members were white. The working relationship became strained.

Rev. Dr. Joy Moore: Only by giving attention to history did I become aware that the announcement of the right to vote was not my achievement but a delayed right granted to United States citizens of my race. It would require a similar benefit of hindsight to learn that my father’s refusal to stop when we travelled was neither stinginess nor stubbornness in response to my naïve pleas for a bathroom. Rather, his concern was safeguarding his young family from humiliations levied as refusal of service. Because of this, I never heard the restaurant owner who told my parents if they came around to the back, he would make an exception to serve us since our family was fairer skinned. I didn’t yet comprehend the rest areas we frequented as we drove south were only for “colored.”

Later, when shopping alone back in Chicago, caught off-guard one afternoon, I stopped in a drug store to make an emergency purchase. Just as I picked up the package and turned toward the checkout counter, the Middle Eastern shop owner accosted me with an accusation of shoplifting.  Publicly, my person and purse was searched, displaying for all to see my wallet and the cash I was carrying while drawing attention to the lone item in my possession, a box of sanitary napkins. That afternoon I perceived the difference between humiliation and indignity, and the contrasting response each fuels in me. The former, shame; the latter, animosity.

The public elementary school education I received in segregated Chicago more than prepared me for private secondary education. So there would be no humiliation when I was again accused of wrongdoing during my freshman year of college. Upon reading my final paper for a sociology class, a male professor accused me of plagiarism, insisting, “no black student from Chicago could write like this.”

As the white sociology professor attempted to accuse my writing skills, the white English professor challenged the premise of my argument. Avoiding any stereotypes of African Americans, she enumerated the evidence of Asian mathematical acumen, the fiery tempers of redheads and simple-minded blondes. Knowing I had taken college-level English classes in high school, her dispute with my paper focused on its argument: nurture has more to do with development than nature.

Rev. Otis T. McMillan, AMEZ: I have been pulled over by two Moore county sheriffs, with their hands on their guns, with no explanation. They saw my sign on the back window and my clergy collar, they let me go.

Barbara and I were pulled over on NC 87 by a North Carolina Highway Patrolman, who said I was going a little fast. When I asked, “how fast was I traveling?” he said, “do you want the warning or do you want a ticket?”


For your personally, as an individual, what was the most painful experience you’ve had related to your race or ethnicity?

Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais: The first time that I really began to understand that my race and skin color was considered “less than” is when I was in the first grade. My family had moved to a neighborhood that was slowly becoming diverse as more Black families began to call the area home. A little girl in my class named Ruthie, who played hopscotch with me and my other friends, was a little blonde-haired girl who spoke softly and wore her hair in a choppy pixie-cut. We had become fast friends and always played together at recess. I didn’t know it at the time, but Ruthie’s mother was disgusted that her daughter had made friends with a black girl. On a particular day that the mom rode her bicycle to pick up Ruthie, she instructed Ruthie to tell me that she was taking Ruthie out of our school and moving her somewhere else. When Ruthie related the news to me, these were the words that this little six-year-old girl struggled and stammered to say, being very careful to try not to tell me the exact words: “My mom says that I can’t play with you anymore because you’re black and we can’t be friends. I won’t be coming back to this school either.”

That very afternoon, my mother and I had a long talk about that quick yet painful moment. She explained to me that some people are just filled with hatred and that there will be people like that who exist in the world. To this day, I still remember that because it ultimately began to shape my experiences as a little black girl growing up in a society where parents didn’t bite their tongues to express how they felt about the way God had made me. And that I needed to know being in this black skin was a reason not to be friends with me.

The other defining moment is when I was in junior high school. It was open house night and I was helping my math teacher set up her room. Her daughter, who was about eight years old, walked up to me, stood up in a chair and came face to face with me. She looked me right in the eyes and said “I don’t like you because you’re black and I don’t like black people.” I was stunned but not so naïve to think that my teacher’s daughter uttering those words could possibly have just happened. Once more, my mom and I had a conversation about this occurrence.

Rev. Marlan Branch: I have had the fortunate opportunity to live and grow up in many different places. I’ve lived in the Deep South, the west side of Chicago, Glencoe (IL) where I and one other black girl were the only black kids in our grade from 6th to 8th grade, and Evanston (IL) which is a conglomerate of every demographic of people.

While in middle school I had to take a music class. I didn’t realize it then, but every class period the teacher would send me to a room by myself to “practice” and she would never come and teach me the music like the rest of the class.

I was the only little black kid in the class.


For you as an individual, what is the most common misconception you encounter about your race and identity?

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais: The leading one is that we are all thieves and looking for an opportunity to steal something. I surmised that to be true on the day that I was stopped by a police officer. I was driving my brand-new SUV that I had saved up the down payment for and purchased. It was in my name. I was in downtown Dallas and had just pulled off from a “red to green light” when the patrol car came up behind me. The officer asked me whose car was this because it couldn’t possibly be mine. He told me that it was too expensive of a car for me to be driving. When I showed him my license, registration and papers, he was puzzled that the SUV actually belonged to me. I didn’t get a ticket, but I did get a reality check that once more being a black person driving a nice vehicle was “suspicious.”

Another misconception is that black women have the “black angry woman” syndrome. I was warned about this during one of my experiences in the ordination candidacy process in The United Methodist Church. I was told by a lay and a clergy person, “you’re very articulate for a black woman. You’d make a good associate pastor almost anywhere in this conference. Just make sure you don’t do like some of the other black clergy women we have and become known as the black angry woman.”

There is a misconception that black people don’t speak the King’s English, that we can’t make a complete sentence. When we shatter that perception, there is visible shock and surprise often accompanied by, “how did you learn to speak to eloquently?”


Do you estimate that the Church in general or local congregations specifically are more, less, or the same amount of welcoming than interactions in general society? Do you worship in a diverse congregation or one where you are a majority or a minority?

Rev. Edgar Bazan: In general, churches are places where one experiences hospitality and acceptance. As new guests or visitors we typically get a warm welcome. We are encouraged to join the church, which is great. But once we do and have spent time as insiders, we realize that to share power with someone that has a different heritage or race is not always as welcoming. I am troubled when I hear of a white church with a Hispanic ministry because typically they are “those people” or are the “Hispanic pastor congregation.”

Worshiping as a minority of non-white heritage means by default that we are not going to be in positions of power or influence unless we prove ourselves to be worthy. Yes, churches are typically healthier places than secular ones when it comes to race, but being welcoming is just a fraction of what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais: I am serving in what the United Methodist Church calls a “cross-racial appointment,” meaning that I am a non-white pastor serving at a predominantly white congregation. My experiences so far have been positive. Both congregations have been welcoming and have shown love and hospitality toward me. An elderly man shared with me that when he heard I was coming to the church he was a bit apprehensive. He was already getting adjusted to having a woman pastor and now they were sending another woman, a black one this time. He followed it by telling me that this was a first for him in 50 years of being a member and after getting to know me, he was glad that I was here. On another occasion a woman in her 70’s walked up to me after the worship celebration, grasped my hands and told me “I am proud to call you my pastor.” That was a shocking yet beautiful moment for me.

I preached a difficult message the Sunday following the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the five Dallas law enforcement officers. A member told me about her experience of being 10 years old in Birmingham when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in 1963 and four black girls lost their lives. She shared, “imagine in 2016 that the Holy Spirit would come in the form of a black woman pastor and preach to this congregation.” That too was a beautiful moment. I don’t know how this registers on the race barometer compared to society in general, but it is a refreshing start.

Rev. Dr. Joy Moore: The neighborhood congregation where I attended was affiliated with the predominately white National Council of Community Churches. Conferences and area collaborations afforded exposure to Christians who were of a variety of cultures other than my own. It seemed, from this limited experience, that the church was the best place to strive for and demonstrate unity across racial barriers.

But a decade into ministry, I was assigned a congregation where five women worked incessantly to remove me from ministry. Bold to place their fabrications and misrepresentations into writing, these women informed the bishop they would “not allow me a success.” Contrary to the affirmation of the majority of the 200-member congregation, these women drafted a letter in response to the cabinet’s inquiry whether my being the first woman of color to serve the congregation might have any bearing on their opinion. About 30 persons signed the letter – most who no longer attended the church or had even lived in the state during the entire span of my life. Their response: “How dare you call us racist!” A member of the cabinet informed me that had I not had a reputation born of a decade of service in that conference, my ministry indeed would have ended on the strength of their accusations.


What experience do you most wish someone different than yourself could experience for themselves in order to better understand the reality of your life?

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais: To walk into a store and have a white sales associate follow you around, point you in the direction of the clearance rack and ask you what are you looking to steal. To be the only black person having lunch with a group of white colleagues and having your order taken last and your food brought out last. To go on your third interview for a public relations position and be told “you are so impressive, you would do well in this role but you don’t look the part because these jobs are usually reserved for blonde-haired girls.” To step into an elevator and watch as a white woman clutches her purse because she believes you might be a pick-pocketer. To be told in a work setting that it’s highly unusual to be black and to be this smart.


How does it feel to be the only person of color in a predominantly Caucasian conference room, congregation, school, or meeting?

Rev. Edgar Bazan: A good friend mine that was an associate pastor many years in a predominantly white church shared with me one occasion: while in the church office a member of the church came in to visit and greeted everyone else except him. Without addressing him in any way, this individual said to the secretary, “when did we get a new custodian?” My good friend was Hispanic and this individual was white. I have had similar experiences in which I needed to do more in order to prove my position or credentials because I am Hispanic.


What gestures, actions or attitudes from others have you found to be most meaningful and healing?

Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais: I have colleagues in the North Texas Conference, Central Conference and Texas Conference who are intentional when it comes to creating environments of diversity. They are very much aware of the imbalance of black and brown representation in the pulpit and in leadership roles within the Conferences, inviting us to be participants in programs and to serve in other areas that have historically been unopen to us.

Beyond the church setting, I have white friends and colleagues whom I interact with regularly and catch up with over coffee. Some of these friends are the same ones who have responded right away in my seasons of joy and sorrow. Their presence, willingness to listen, their empathetic ear and rise to action are all helpful and meaningful.


Closing reflections:

“I wish I had known back then what I know now.”


“The victories of the Civil Rights Movement seemed to make possible a bridge across the gap such that persons might comprehend that human capacity for intelligence, morality, and character were not divinely meted out during creation to certain continents of the globe. The gap in history seems to be again widening. The brief period of promise somewhere between my 5th and 12th birthdays closed around history repeating itself as I experience what my parents tried to protect me from.

 I’m old enough that my first experience of racism is not nearly as defining as my current experiences. Then, I was taught to expect what I am experiencing. But I had role models who were respected, if only by our community. Today, with instant access to every random opinion or public accusation, the volume of the disrespect is as visual as the bodies hanging from trees when my parents were young. It will be more difficult to call forth a beloved community with 21st century claims for recovering the America of the 1950s, especially if black and brown bodies experience that recovery with 19th century violence.

The caution to “mind the gap” on London’s Underground is not to fall into it. It serves as a reminder of the gap’s presence and a summons to avoid it. Those who claim their identity by race, gender, nation, political party, economic or marital status are reminded to be aware of the gap created by these associations. Avoid excluding others as they exclude you. Instead, be mindful of the little things still sought to be achieved by each generation: human dignity, respect, and recognition that the world for which Christ died includes the descendants of persons not born in Europe. Those who claim to be followers of Jesus are summoned to practice the community someone dared ask God to create.”


“What is behind our words, what is deep in our hearts, that which makes us assume that just because an individual is of a certain race means that he or she can only aspire to limited options for personal development is in fact what is at the core of our race challenges. And this has to do with our lack of love for ourselves. If we could love ourselves with compassion and have self-awareness of our needs and suffering, we would be able to relate to others and treat them in the way we would like to be treated. But this is a rare sight. We are prevalently narcissistic in so many ways, that we don’t have a heart to go a mile in someone’s else’s shoes, let alone a second mile. Because I am the minority, I have learned to relate to those that are usually marginalized. So, when I am in meeting where I am minority, for example, I am more sensitive to welcome and include those that are not noticed by the predominant group. I have suffered exclusion, and I don’t want anyone to be relegated to such experiences.”