Tag Archives: Social Justice

Interview ~ Roberta Mosier-Peterson: Women Called to Lead

Note from the Editor: Recently, Wesleyan Accent interviewed Rev. Dr. Roberta Mosier-Peterson, an ordained Elder in the Free Methodist Church (USA) who is currently Senior Pastor of Oakdale Free Methodist Church in Jackson, Kentucky, and contributor to www.juniaproject.com. She completed her D.Min. dissertation at Northeastern Seminary in 2016 on the topic of women in ministry. A documentary, “Lived Experience,” based on the dissertation and featuring the accounts of women in ministry debuted in April 2018.

Wesleyan Accent: This spring, a documentary about women in ministry debuted, based on your dissertation at Northeastern Seminary. What inspired your dissertation?

Roberta Mosier-Peterson: I have always enjoyed listening to life stories. As I was considering topics for research, several people mentioned that most of the themes that interested me came from my own story or the stories of women who serve in ministry. It seems as though I have been informally collecting a lot of these stories even before I researched them. The stories of women in ministry inspire me.

 WA: In the past, you’ve noted that, “Our church says beautiful things about being fully affirming of women in all levels of leadership,” but that “women are sometimes treated as less qualified and desirable for church appointments.” Why do you think that is?

RMP: There are a few reasons that women are viewed as less qualified and less desirable for church appointments. One is that a lot of congregations lack exposure to women serving in church leadership. Perception is powerful. It is often said that women do most of the work in church, but that the lead pastor is male. If this is how you picture the church, you automatically assume that this is the way church should be.

Another powerful dynamic is that women often hear and internalize mixed messages about what others expect of them. There are church cultures that define ministry leadership as bold, risk-taking and independent. Women have been told that these are not lady-like. Women who are gifted and graced with this sort of courageous leadership are criticized. As one pastor says, “I can speak – but don’t say it with too much authority.” There is a grievous double-bind that exists.

WA: For your dissertation, you collected life stories from women clergy in the Free Methodist Church. What surprised you about what you found? Were women forthcoming or reluctant to share their experiences?

RMP: All of the women clergy who offered their stories were told that their identities would be protected. They were excited to share their stories and felt free to do so with incredible candor because of the anonymity. The surprise came in sorting through data and sending out requests for participants.

Specifically, I received several enthusiastic responses from women serving in the Midwest. As it turns out, many of these women were in the same age bracket as well. It is often thought that Southern and Midwestern mindsets are set against women in leadership; however, it was not the case with the potential participants that expressed interest in my study. This discovery was helpful because it supports the truth that barriers exist everywhere. The challenges take different forms, but even in areas of the country that seem to be more likely to empower women, there is plenty of work to be done.

 WA: You have stated that, “women ‘don’t see sexism as being the big, bad evil unless you get them together and they share their stories’ and find ‘this subtle, unconscious bias that women cannot or should not do certain things.’ What are some examples of bias or sexism shared by the women in your dissertation and documentary?

RMP: The women in the study shared stories about feeling isolated when they were the only woman in districts, conferences, and boards.  In such situations, women are burdened with representing their whole gender. There were situations where those in authority felt threatened by women when they were thriving in their area of giftedness. There were times when the women were offered less compensation than others in comparable roles. A few women expressed how diminished they felt when they were not considered a “good fit” for senior leadership roles and were not given any specific reason or feedback. Almost all of the women spoke about the impact of the “mass exodus” when they were appointed in positions of senior leadership. Instead of blaming the inequity that remains in the church, these women often blamed themselves and were blamed by others.

WA: After gaining financial support from the Board of Bishops as well as conferences and individuals, your dissertation has been made into the documentary “Lived Experience,” which debuted at the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy Conference in Colorado. What do you hope to achieve with this documentary? What do you hope women and men both will take away from seeing it? Has it impacted you in ways you didn’t expect?

RMP: It is my hope that the church can be a place of healing and empowerment for women. It is God’s intention that the church be about the Gospel, which is God saving, healing and restoring the world. I’m praying that from the film, the church will start imagining how we can be more faithful to this essential calling. I’m hoping that women will resonate with the stories told, find the courage to share their stories, and be faithful to what God is calling them to do. I’m hoping that men will see tangible ways to champion the called and gifted women around them; I’m praying that they will commit to empowering these women even when it means self-sacrifice.

The making of the film impacted me in so many ways that it difficult to condense.  I may need to write a book! There were some moments when I thought I would lose my nerve, but God gave me confidence that I was called to do it. I was called to do it because I love Jesus and I love the church.


Watch “Lived Experience” below. Because of potential repercussions to the women clergy who honestly shared their experiences, actors were chosen to represent them in order to protect their anonymity. All quotes and statements were given by women clergy active in ministry in the Free Methodist Church (USA).

Jennifer Moxley ~ What to Do With #metoo

The pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault that last fall’s #metoo movement uncovered has left the Church wrestling with how to minister to those women and men who carry stories and bear wounds in our pews. I hear the Church asking questions like: What is our role in the wake of #metoo?

How can we preach light when they have kept so much pain in the dark?

What of the God who sets captives free when so many have been used as pawns in a game of power?

How can we teach love when that word has been used to manipulate or control?

How can we help them see the image of God in others and themselves when they have been conditioned to believe that their bodies are made for someone else’s pleasure?

How can we offer good news—hope— to those still in the darkness of the tomb?

While the pain that #metoo has uncovered will take years to heal, there are a few things we, as the Church, can do to bring healing and hope to those hurting.

First, we can listen.

For every story told, there are scores of others kept secret. This means our pews are full of people carrying the burden of untold assault. As the Church, we can invite these stories into the open and expose them to the light (Ephesians 5:13), stealing their power. Once revealed, they no longer have the power to shape the person’s life narrative. They can become events that happened to them, and not part of their identity, not who they are, releasing them from the captivity of shame and guilt.

Second, we can believe the stories.

Once we have created a safe space for stories to be shared—one in which there is no judgment or discrimination—if someone trusts us enough to hear their story of deepest hurt, we should believe them. The Church’s role is not to “find out what happened,” but to receive their account of experience as their truth. Rather than deem their testimony an idle tale (Luke 24:11), we are called to affirm their feelings, however messy or complicated, and trust that they are sharing honestly.*

Third, we can repent.

One of the impacts of the #metoo movement has been an awareness that sexual assault and harassment is not limited to Hollywood or boardrooms and newsrooms but reaches into every corner of our country and social strata, even the Church. At its core, #metoo names an abuse of power—the party with the most power in the relationship using their influence to control or take advantage of the other. As the Church, it would be foolish to believe we have not participated or contributed in some way. We can confess the ways we have corporately and personally upheld this power dynamic, repent and seek to turn it upside down (Luke 1:46-55).

Fourth, we can do better.

There is a cultural shift taking place in our country as a result of the #metoo movement, one that recognizes the value and dignity of everyone. As Christians who believe each person is formed in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), we should be leaders of this movement. We should be working for a time when it will be no longer socially acceptable to objectify or exploit any of God’s creation. We should be calling out oppressive systems that silence victims. We should be reminding a world desperately hurting that there a God who loves them, a Creator who calls them good (Genesis 1:31). We should share the good news that the same God who knows our deepest pain and shares our hurt came to redeem our suffering and restore all of creation. After all, this is the God who, in Jesus Christ, says, #metoo.


*As pastors, we are bound to pastoral confidentiality, although at times, mandatory reporting is necessary. For more information about mandatory reporting, visit: http://www.moumethodist.org/mandatoryreporting.

Ideas for Churches That Want to Change Culture in 2018

  • Maintain and update the local church Safe Sanctuaries® policy. Train the church community on the policy.
  • Require all leaders, even non-clergy leaders, to take boundary training.
  • Post domestic violence and sexual violence hotline numbers in church restrooms.
  • Teach the warning signs of domestic abuse and abuse of children to volunteers and paid employees who work with children (e.g., nursery, Parents Day Out, Sunday School, preschool, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops).
  • Intentionally use the words sexual and domestic violence in various liturgies through the year—for example, in a prayer of confession.
  • Take a special offering for a local domestic violence shelter.
  • Hang posters in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
  • Plan education classes for the community on these issues during April and October.
  • Utilize local experts to educate the congregation, particularly parents and guardians, on topics like the grooming behaviors of predators, consent, and boundaries.
  • Teach a study on biblical texts of terror (e.g., Tamar, the unnamed concubine, and the daughter of Jephthah).
  • Strive to place women in visible leadership positions. Consider reflecting the gender breakdown of your own congregation in your leadership structure. If women represent 60 percent of the congregation, 60 percent of the church’s leaders could be women.
  • Have the leaders create a no-tolerance statement: If abuse occurs within the fellowship of the church, commit to prosecuting no matter who the offender might be.

#metoo additional resources:

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Eradication of Sexual Harassment in The United Methodist Church & Society

United Methodist Sexual Ethics

General Commission on the Status & Role of Women

Missouri Annual Conference Boundary Resources

Online Boundaries Training from Lewis Center

Free Online Mandatory Reporting Training


Reprinted from https://www.moumethodist.org/ 

Rev. Jennifer Moxley is a member of World Methodist Evangelism’s Order of the Flame.

Wesleyan Accent ~ In Their Words: When Pastors Face Prejudice

Note from the Editor: This reprinted post reflects a few of the many experiences encountered by some of our Wesleyan Methodist clergy in North America. Today as we appreciate the legacy of Dr. King’s work, we also commit ourselves to continue to pursue justice. It is a gift to honor their voices today.

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 you 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 that 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 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 of 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 a 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.”

Wesleyan Accent ~ How Your Local Church Can Engage Immigrants: An Interview with Rev. Zach Szmara

Recently Wesleyan Accent Editor Elizabeth Glass Turner chatted with Rev. Zach Szmara, the founder of one of the first immigration legal clinics within a church building, about sanctuary, immigration law, and cross-cultural ministry at home. Rev. Szmara is the Lead Pastor of The Bridge in Logansport, Indiana, a congregation within The Wesleyan Church. He is the National Director of Immigrant Connection – a growing network of over 14 church-based legal sites  – and has provided immigration legal services experience to over 150 church leaders from a variety of denominations.

Wesleyan Accent: What are some of the most common questions you encounter from clergymembers who are uncertain about whether or how – or whether – to integrate immigration-related ministries in their congregation?

Zach Szmara: People wonder if it’s legal or not to serve immigrants.  The reality is that we’re providing immigration legal services – which means we’re using the immigration law as it is currently written to help people navigate through the process if there is a pathway for them.  Many times there is a pathway, but it is complex and confusing.  So in the same way many people utilize a professional tax preparer because tax law is complicated and they want to make sure they pay whatever taxes they are legally supposed to (not more, not less), we do the same thing for immigrants – we help them navigate a complicated legal pathway.

Furthermore, I remind people that some of the church’s best moments have been when we’ve advocated for, learned from, and stood with marginalized people who were caught up within unjust systems – so while it’s not illegal to serve immigrants, even if it were I believe we should still do it (think of the church and the Underground Railroad).

If starting a full legal office doesn’t make sense within the church’s context, some great first steps are to preach on immigrants and immigration, to lead a small group study (we have materials we recommend), or to start a citizenship class.

WA: You’re not a lawyer. How can you have a legal clinic?

ZS: The short answer is that the Department of Justice opened a pathway in the 1980’s so that through a nonprofit an individual can receive training (education) and shadowing (experience) in immigration law. Then she or he can apply to the Department of Justice, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the legal site receives recognition while the individual receives accreditation to practice immigration legal services.

The training (education) part can be done two ways.  Most choose to attend a 40-hour training event, so it literally takes one week onsite.  Then the individual can do several other webinars on their own.  The second way is an online course which usually takes place over a few months.  I recommend the 40-hour training personally.  The shadowing (experience) part can be done by volunteering a number of hours at an existing site over several months or doing one of our Immigrant Connection Shadowing Experiences – which gain is one full week (40 hours) of intensive experiential learning.

So if someone does 40-hour training and 40-hour shadowing, they can be ready to go within weeks, and then it usually takes about a month to put together the application packet and they can apply for recognition and accreditation.  It usually takes about three months for all three governmental offices to review the application and approve it.

We’ve had local churches decide to launch a site and go through the process in as quick as five to six months from start to approval.

So we cannot do everything an attorney can do, but within the area of immigration law, we can legally provide legal services. I’m not a full-fledged attorney – I cannot do family law or criminal defense or any other area of law – just immigration.

WA: What are two or three facts that pastors should know about sanctuary, immigration law, and local engagement?

ZS: Many times pastors don’t realize that it’s illegal to practice law without a license, so they aren’t able to help immigrants with any paperwork or forms unless they take courses and get accredited by the Department of Justice.  It’s best for them to find and partner with a recognized site – you can find them here (https://www.immigrationadvocates.org/nonprofit/legaldirectory/ or download the Immigo app).

When it comes to sanctuary, there is no form to fill out to become a sanctuary site. ICE has said that they will refrain from engaging in enforcement operations at schools, medical and health care facilities, places of worship, and during public demonstrations such as marches and rallies.  In other words, all local churches are safe places and sanctuaries for immigrants.

The sanctuary movement is different and historically focused on garnering media and community attention for an individual or family who would be deported if a church didn’t step in to try to get the story of the individual or family heard, helping the community to rally behind them in the hopes an immigration judge may grant discretionary relief.

Finally, I remind all pastors that they don’t know what they don’t know; many people have ideas about immigrants and immigration that are unfounded. It’s important to realize that many of the key phrases utilized (“wait in line like my family did” or “illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes and steal our jobs”) are inaccurate.  The “line” is radically different than when many peoples’ families immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Even if there is a “line” (and many times there isn’t) the wait is over 10-20 years long.

WA: What’s the cost of starting an immigration law clinic in a church?

ZS: It depends on the network, denomination, and organization that the church partners with.  The Wesleyan Church is unique in that we launch Immigrant Connection sites for $5,000-$7,000 – but we are definitely at the lowest end of the spectrum.  We focus on churches doing this as a ministry and start by staffing sites with focused volunteers.  If a site needs to pay overhead costs and staff salaries – the starting cost raises substantially.

WA: What’s an example of some of the impact you’ve had?

ZS: There is no short example: our legal sites have impacted over 80 different countries. We reunite families, we help students have the ability to attend college, we help immigrants who were victims of crime find redemption of the very worst thing that occurred to them and receive a legal pathway forward, we help refugees become legal permanent residents, we help legal permanent residents become citizens, we help international pastors receive R visas to pastor churches and plant churches in the U.S., we have front-row seats to watch God transform lives and bring hope and a future into areas that are filled with animosity, confusion, and hopelessness.

WA: Many churches have separate worship services based on language. Why don’t you? Isn’t that awkward? How does it work logistically? What’s the benefit?

ZS: I’m glad in heaven there will only be one worship service even though it will be made up of people from different cultures, ethnicities, and languages.  While it may work to break up ethnicities, cultures, and languages in certain contexts, I feel my community has diversity in our schools, hospitals, banks, gyms, shopping centers – why not in church too?

When we segregate services based on languages, we break up immigrant and refugee families in which one generation leans into one language but the next generation leans into another language.  We also separate the majority population from learning from the minority population – and there is so much that white, English-speaking Christians need to learn from the immigrant, non-English speaking population.

It is awkward and it is hard and it is complicated and it is uncomfortable – but our goal is that it’s just as uncomfortable for a white English speaker as it is for a Spanish-speaking Latino. For too long we’ve had the wrong goal when it comes to multi-ethnic churches: what we’ve created is “multi-colored” white churches. In other words, these churches are very mono-cultural; it’s easy to attend as a white person because everything is still your worship style, your cultural way of doing things. You’re not uncomfortable in the least and you feel good because people of other ethnicities have assimilated to your way of doing things, so you can pat yourself on the back because there are different colors present in your worship.

But the goal for us is not assimilation but to be truly multi-cultural, which means everyone will be uncomfortable and confused at different times, everyone will have to give up a part of their preferences to be a part of our church.

The benefit for me is that I believe I’m called to build for Jesus’ kingdom – that I’m called to create signposts that point to Jesus, to his hope and his future – and I believe his kingdom coming means diversity. There will be multiple languages and cultural differences and multiple ethnicities in heaven (at least there were in John’s revelation of eternity) and so I don’t want to create some monocultural unity or sameness. I want to create a rich, diverse togetherness that is unity, but is not uniformity.

Shaun Marshall ~ Why We Still Need Movements

It’s important to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., undoubtedly one of the most influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King’s voice gave inspiration and direction to many people seeking ways to respond to painful incidents of discrimination and injustice, igniting a movement that forever changed our society.

When situations of injustice occur in our nation and world, it causes an offense to those whose communities and lives are most impacted, and to anyone who truly values righteousness and justice. Such an offense will often cause people to respond in speech and action, such as the #Blacklivesmatter and #BlackOutFriday movements.

A complaint often registered, however, is that there is little sustained momentum that follows these movements, and they become seen by some as “knee-jerk reactions” that don’t bring real change. Those who make this argument will also say that we don’t need another civil rights movement, and that sit-ins, protests, marches, and speeches are all outdated, irrelevant, and unnecessary practices in our day. They commonly believe either that we have made too much progress for that, or that such movements create division and “take us backward, not forward.”  For this reason, many people reject the notion that we need a #Blacklivesmatter movement, or any kind of movement.

There are a couple of things I would point out to challenge this idea:

1. Movements Change our Hearts. The argument “what is all of this protesting going to do anyway?” is made by people who take little or no action (it’s easy to be a sideline critic). This habit of disengaging and criticizing exposes a serious problem in our world: there is a serious global epidemic killing our young people of color, but it is not Ebola, or HIV/AIDS…it is apathy. The more we choose to find reasons to justify being removed from the realities happening around us, the more they will continue to happen. And these movements, if they do nothing else, provide an antidote for the incredible apathy of a people desensitized to violence and injustice. We must recognize that when someone is killed, whether by a criminal with no justification or by someone in power with questionable justification, and we focus more on affirming the convictions that allow us to remain comfortable with our disengagement, something is wrong with our hearts; we must examine that.

Movements force us to ask ourselves tough questions: if all lives really matter, why doesn’t it bother me when I see so many lives taken with no accountability? What does that say about how I really feel about the people who are most impacted by this? Am I a part of the problem? Am I guilty by inaction?

2. Movements Change our World. When there is a clear focus and a simplified strategy that can rally the passion and fire of people who are ready to engage an issue, movements can powerfully change reality. For example, several Covenant leaders joined me in organizing one of the many expressions of the #BlackoutBlackFriday movement. Because of many carefully coordinated efforts and expressions under this banner, and despite three years of progressive increases in Black Friday sales and analyst predictions that Black Friday 2014 would be the best shopping day yet, Black Friday sales fell more than 11% below expectations. That represents a seven billion dollar change.

We believe that this movement was effective in sending a message to the nation that we are ready to leverage our economic power in the direction of change and not comfort and complacency. Whether you agreed with this or not, or felt that it was the best solution or not, the reality is that it made a difference. And sometimes, we disengage from challenging injustice because we have been conditioned to believe that our efforts will not matter; we don’t believe that we can make any real difference. Movements prove otherwise; they bring people, passion and power together across divides to remind us that if we unify and organize, we can actually change things.

3. Movement Is What the Lord Requires. It is amazing to me how quickly we forget that the scriptures are very clear concerning this. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Notice the words “do,” “love,” and “walk”…these are all action verbs. We understand then that on a very basic level, God requires action from us, and these actions are all about movement. For believers to sit on the sidelines and complain, criticize, evaluate, or even be cheerleaders is not an option. God requires us, his people, to be the movement, humbly and faithfully carrying his mercy, his justice, and his transforming presence in our world.

I am grateful to be part of a movement of believers who have committed themselves to doing what the Lord requires. The Evangelical Covenant Church, my denomination, has a department whose focus is to challenge, equip and invite people into doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God as we move to respond to the pain, hurt and corruption we see in the world because of sin.

Long before the terribly sad circumstances of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others, our movement decided that #Blacklivesmatter, and committed its time, energy and dollars to making sure that it was doing what the Lord requires in the lives of women and people of color. And today, the leadership of our denomination is intentionally seeking ways to foster dialogue and meaningful, faithful responses to the troubles we are facing. I look forward to engaging this conversation with my Covenant brothers and sisters as we discern the best ways to keep moving forward in mercy and justice.

Maxie Dunnam ~ What Does the Lord Require of You?

It is printed on the wall of the Library of Congress, a scripture verse many learned in Sunday school. Some describe it as the definition of real religion. “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Those words are as valid today as they were 2,800 ago years ago when Micah wrote them.

Micah was a young contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos in the Eighth Century B.C. There was a particular kinship between Micah and Amos when we think about justice. Both were products of the countryside. Being from rural Mississippi, I like to remind people of that. Amos’s penetrating word, “Let justice run down like waters and righteousness as an ever flowing stream,” (Amos 5:24) is a parallel proclamation to Micah’s, “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you God.”

Most of us are wondering these days, when? When will “justice run down like waters, and righteousness as an overflowing stream?”

514px-Wattsriots-policearrest-locIn April of l964, I moved from Gulfport, Mississippi to San Clemente, California, in large part because of the civil rights issue and the church’s unwillingness to be practically and prophetically involved.  Mississippi was burning in all sorts of ways. Sixteen months after arriving in California, August, 1965, the Watts riots broke out. California was burning.

Fifty years later, Baltimore is burning.

After all these years of civil rights legislation, war on poverty, war on drugs, and the coming of age of at least two generations, fire breaks out in Baltimore. It is not surprising that the response we see is either cynicism (that’s just the way it is), or a feeling of helpless hopelessness (there’s nothing I/we can do). Have we made any progress? is a normal question to ask.

I urge us to say no to cynicism and get beyond hopelessness; at least to move to a point of thinking seriously. To head us in that direction, consider the fact that at the heart of the problem in Micah’s day was that Israel had grown tired of God and chosen to go her own way. Judges took bribes to render unfair judgments; priests were immoral; prophets would prophesy anything you wanted in exchange for a few shekels. Micah and the other prophets were scathing in their denunciation of people being seduced into turning away from God, worshipping and serving other gods. Those ancient Israelites were attracted to gods of sex, power and material things. Have the temptations changed?  Are we moderns not obsessed with self, forever making gods in our own image? What is good for us? What provides us the most pleasure and security?

What is least challenging to our status quo?

We are where we are, in large part, because we have not heeded Micah’s proclamation of God’s call: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God

Justice: making sure that all persons are treated fairly and have the opportunity to share in God’s good gifts. Micah said, do justice That means it is not enough to wish for justice or to complain because justice is lacking. God’s people must work for justice, for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and powerless who are exploited by others. Even the church, in black and white community, must examine itself in relation to this. Black preachers can speak with more integrity and influence in the black community about accountability and the breakdown of family structures than the white preacher. The white preacher can’t ignore his prophetic responsibility in dealing with the evil of racism because he/she is tired of two or three black preachers who make a career of moving into every “hot spot” to speak their word of condemnation.

Love mercy. When we talk about justice, we need to remember that God’s justice is always flavored with mercy. Justice without mercy is not God’s kind of justice, and mercy without justice is not God’s kind of mercy.

The Hebrew word for mercy is hesed, which is difficult to translate with a single English word. Most often rendered mercy, sometimes it is simply rendered kindness, and often a combination of two words, loving kindness.

Mercy, along with justice, is an action word, a matter of the will. It is not natural, because we are basically selfish persons. Mercy requires decision. It may be costly, often requiring giving up something for ourselves and doing something for the sake of others.

More often than not, our problem is not in not knowing what to do, but in doing it. I believe that’s the reason the prophet added, “walk humbly with God.” It is our willingness to walk daily with God that energizes us, enabling us to do justice and love mercy.

Mercy (hesed) was a special word to the Hebrews because it is one of the principal attributes used to describe God in the Old Testament. More often than not, justice and mercy were connected in the preaching of the prophets. In a word similar to Micah’s, the prophet Zechariah says, “Thus says he Lord of hosts: ‘Execute justice, show mercy and compassion. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.’” (7:8-9) So the three directions for “real religion” cannot be separated. Walking humbly with God – living all of life in relation to God – will result in doing justice and loving mercy.

With my background journey, with Mississippi, California, and now Baltimore burning, living in the city where Martin Luther King was killed, I’m convinced the fundamental problem is education and the breakdown of the family. Those two things are intimately connected. I believe that public education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. The zip code of where a child lives should not determine whether that child has an opportunity for a quality education. Whether a child can read when finishing the third grades marks what is going to happen to him/her the rest of life (including whether they will end up in prison). Whether a young woman finishes high school and goes to college often marks whether she will have children out of wedlock. The level of education for most incarcerated persons is less than high school.

I know that issues are more complex than these assertions, but I’m weary of excusing ourselves because the issue is so complex. Education is clearly a justice/mercy issue. That’s the reason why our church in Memphis has made a missional commitment to doing justice in relation to education.

Our congregation (Christ United Methodist Church) has been involved in education almost from the beginning of her life in 1955. As soon as buildings were available, the church started a school, kindergarten through sixth grade. I’m sure the motives were not altogether “justice for all.” Some folks were probably acting selfishly, making sure the children of the congregation had the opportunity for a “quality” education.

I served as Senior Minister of Christ Church from 1982 to 1994. Christ Methodist Day School had become one of many outstanding private schools in the city. During those years, I sought to lead the school in reaching out to the underserved of our city. We provided scholarships and tried to manage some common transportation.  But nothing really worked in any significant way.

To be faithful as a congregation, to really do justice and love mercy, the congregation acted boldly in 2010 and opened Cornerstone Prep, a private, explicitly Christian school, with very focused attention to providing education for the underserved children of our city, locating it in the hood.  We sent prospective teachers and administrators to cities across America where effective urban education was taking place, studied these schools, and developed our own “style” in response. From the beginning, with 33 kindergarten students, this little school has had positive record-breaking outcomes.

There was no question of need. In 2011, 950 of Tennessee’s 1750 public schools failed to make adequate yearly progress. In the concentrated educational reform efforts of our state, 85 of the worst “failing” schools were targeted for intervention by the state. Through the Department of Education, our governor established a non-geographical district of these “failing” schools, designated it The Achievement School District, and named a superintendent of that district, charging him to “reclaim” those schools for effective education. Sixty-nine of the 85 failing schools are in Memphis, a glaring sign of the condition of public education in our city.

Lester School is the primary elementary school serving the Binghamton neighborhood, where our congregation has been serving in different ways for 20 years. We located Cornerstone Prep there as another expression of our commitment. Lester is among the 69 failing schools in Memphis; in fact, it was the lowest performing school in the state.

One year after The Achievement School District was established, and three years after Cornerstone Prep was founded, we had the opportunity to do justice and love mercy in the Binghamton Community in a more expansive way. We were invited to take responsibility for the first three grades of Lester School.

To do so, Cornerstone Prep would have to “give up” being an explicitly Christian private school and become a charter school. This change in status would allow Cornerstone Prep to serve the larger public good in a manner currently not possible, enabling Cornerstone Prep to serve 325 students, rather than the 66 we served the previous year. After that year, we were given the entire school, kindergarten through 6th grade.

The big question was: would we be willing to surrender being an explicitly Christian school? We remembered that Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). As those seeking to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God,” we decided that Cornerstone Prep had to die in the sense of being a private Christian school, in order to serve a desperate community. In the core sense, we did not forsake our “Christian mission” of “doing justice and loving mercy,” of serving “the least of these.” We decided to pursue the mission in a different way.  Some of what we had been able to do in Christian witness and teaching in the classroom, we now do “after school.” But more, we do it not in curriculum, but in the way we teach and how we express care and affirmation of the students. We do it through countless volunteers who mentor and read with students. We do it in an Art Garden for the students and the community, located across the street from the entrance to the school.

Cornerstone has had amazing results in proving that where a child lives does not determine learning potential. The educational measurements have exceeded national norms in every area, so our little school has gotten state and national attention. The establishment of this school was one expression of our church doing justice. It is our statement that if our church is going to provide quality education for our suburban constituency through Christ Methodist Day School, justice requires that we seek the same for the children in Binghamton and the whole city.

I dream of the day when God’s dream, expressed by Micah’s contemporary, Amos, will be realized in our city: justice and righteousness will be running throughout our city “like a mighty stream.” For now, it isn’t. But the flow has begun and is gaining velocity. Cornerstone will be responsible for all the grades of Lester School in the school year 2015-16, and will also assume responsibility for another of the failing schools in The Achievement School District. From a small but bold dream that began with 33 kindergarten children, after six years, we will be serving 1,400 students.

A bold teacher-training program, Memphis Teacher Residents, is increasing the pool of outstanding teachers. With the 2015 graduating class, 267 will have received their Masters Degree in Urban Teaching through this innovative program, having made the commitment to teach in our public schools for at least three years. Seventy-nine outstanding college graduates from across the nation are committed to be a part of the next cohort of this program. Our goal is to have at least 1,000 persons trained in this program that has been judged by national organizations to be exceptionally effective, teaching in our Memphis public schools.

Hundreds of volunteers are giving generous hours weekly to tutor and mentor. The stream is rising and flowing more strongly. One day, cities across the nation are going to say, “they did it in Memphis; we can do it here.” And in the city where he died, we will prove Dr. King right: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Bread Line at the End of Your Rope

Have you ever really, really, really been at the end of your rope?

I don’t mean that you’ve had a long day or that an exam was difficult or that you sprained your ankle while running. I mean the Chevy-Chase-losing-it-in-National-Lampoon’s-Christmas-Vacation kind of meltdown in which you discover that you are at the end of yourself.

Oh, dear friends, so many people in North America have been at the end of their ropes in the past decade (and not just auto workers in the rust belt, as this excellent essay points out). Foreclosures turned one teen into a landlord and spawned many a story of food pantry donors-turned-recipients, middle-class subdivision neighbors sneaking for assistance and afraid that each other would find out, or this shining example, “This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps.”

May I observe something? It’s not “us-and-them.” If the past ten years has taught us anything, it is that it should be just “us,” as so many have discovered. It’s not that “we” have and “they” don’t, so we donate to “them.” We are all in this together.

But a painful lesson it’s been, as I know personally, still flinching at the memory of nearly five Christmases ago when I waddled nine months pregnant into the unemployment office, where I waited an hour and a half to be seen until finally lumbering over to the desk and hissing at a very young employee that I was having contractions and would hate for my water to break on her as-yet dry carpet (alright, I admit I suspected they were Braxton-Hicks contractions, but this was my first child and they could have been the real thing!). Five minutes later and my paperwork had been processed (“it’s a Christmas miracle!”).

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, we need food pantries and nonprofit organizations, churches and kind social workers, homeless shelters and business donations, we need Good Samaritan funds and people who order a coffee in the drive-thru for the guy with the sign at the intersection. The Church is really good at putting programming in place.

Only when you’re at the end of your rope, it’s not always programming that you need. In fact, programming can be a tool to distance ourselves from uncomfortable need.

One time while I was in seminary (and these were the days when thrift shops were cool) a friend said, “hey! There’s a church that runs something basically like a free “Goodwill” store, do you want to go?” Knowing the church, I thought the chances were good that donations would be good quality, so I said sure. At the last minute the others had to back out, so I went alone.

What an eye-opener.

I’d grown up in church, I had a parent, a grandparent and two uncles in ministry. I had answered knocks on the front door from people asking for assistance. During a severe mid-winter power outage we’d had a 94-year-old woman stay with us for several days. Not only had I been brought up to help others, others sometimes liked to try to help out the pastor’s family, like the time when I was 12 and a sweet old lady handed me a bag of clothes she’d picked up for me.

At a garage sale.

It was a bag of underwear.

How could I be shocked by anything?

Yet I was.

This church with the free “Goodwill store” set-up had organized a well-oiled machine of charitable giving. It was efficient, clear, and completely inhuman.  There was hot coffee and plenty of selection; the only thing missing was dignity.

I had arrived early, and when I found the registration table (starting to sound less like a “Goodwill” store), I had to present photo identification, because, the shining white teeth informed me, I was only allowed to come every few months so that the system wouldn’t be taken advantage of, and so that people wouldn’t come and get clothes only to turn around and sell them for profit (because the last thing we want is recipients selling hand-me-down’s?).

I tried, and managed, to imagine reasons for these regulations that seemed excessive but hopefully well-intentioned. But then, dear reader, then, someone assumed I was a volunteer.

Because I was the only Caucasian in the line.

All around me were well-mannered families waiting patiently for their turns, seemingly at ease while I wondered if smoke was beginning to pour from my pale Celtic ears.

“Us” and “them”…

Consider the miracles Jesus performed in which the disciples were forced to receive something. These disciples were sent out, performing miracles themselves sometimes, but when they returned – ah, they needed to have to receive (read Mark 6:6b-13 and 30-44). Before the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost, the disciples quickly slid into thinking of themselves as “us,” and of the crowds as “them” – and Jesus always, always pushed them to have to become “them” in his presence. The disciples had gone out healing others but still needed to eat the loaves and fish that Jesus multiplied.

When you’re at the end of your rope, yes, programming may be helpful, but when you’re at the end of your rope, you mostly need very, very kind love – the kind of love that makes you stand taller, that makes you laugh or hope when the world seems drained of humor or goodness. Mother Teresa did not gain notoriety for being an efficiency expert, but for her embracing, laughing love that fought against despair or suicidal thoughts or pink slips or rejection or shame.

At Vineyard Community Church in Wickliffe, another Cleveland suburb, Brent Paulson, the pastor, said he had to post an employee in the driveway the day the church’s food bank was open to coax people inside, they were so ashamed to ask for help,” reports a 2011 New York Times piece on suburban poverty.

We all want to exercise our best for God, but have “best practices” spawned pride – or shame – in their wake?

So whether you plan to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day or play Santa for kids in foster care or sing carols in a nursing home ward, remember this.

Every time you take Communion, you stand in line at God’s food pantry. We all stand in line for the bread that is the Body.


Maxie Dunnam ~ Memphis Teacher Residency: A Bold Mission

I believe urban public education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. A person’s zip code should not determine the quality of a child’s educational opportunity. In our urban areas, especially, educational injustice exists along economic and racial lines.

This problem has reached epidemic proportions. Too many children are condemned to substandard educational opportunities based solely on where they live. Justice demands more.

On May 29, I spoke at a welcome dinner for 64 young men and women who have come to Memphis for one of the boldest, most creative responses to this crisis in education and justice. They have come from all over the nation to participate in Memphis Teacher Residency. They will spend a year in “on the front line” education and training, earning a Master’s Degree in Urban Teaching. Upon receiving their degrees, these young men and women will commit to teach in the Memphis public schools for at least three years. Here’s a testimonial video on the residency program:

[vimeo id=”66179350″]

The program is receiving attention and accolades from everywhere. I don’t know anything quite like it in our country. I urge you, check out the website, share the information with young people you know, and challenge them to join us in Memphis to help solve the greatest social justice and civil rights issue in America today. Wouldn’t it be just like God to use Memphis as a proving witness that education for all is possible?


Maxie Dunnam ~ Public Confession and Repentance

March 22 was a day of huge importance for my city of Memphis. Like many significant events, I’m afraid it went unnoticed by most. Two churches, Second and Independent Presbyterian, held a public service of confession and repentance.

Few of us would not recognize our need for individual repentance. None of us are without the mark of Adam; what we would do, we do not, and what we would not do, we do. We need repentance and forgiveness.

But this was public, corporate repentance.

Fifty years earlier to the day two young men – Joe Purdy and Jim Bullock – had visited Second Presbyterian together as part of a church visit campaign, called kneel-ins. Before the young men could reach the entrance, a church representative asked Joe, “Are you African?” When he said, “No, I’m American,” he and his white friend were refused entrance. They returned the following Sunday (and the six Sundays after that) with a growing number of friends of both races who stood outside the church in silent protest of the church’s refusal to welcome them. Though few knew it at the time, the men responsible for repelling the visitors were enforcing an explicit policy of segregation adopted by the church’s session in 1957.

In The Last Segregated Hour, Stephen Haynes, a Religious Studies professor at Rhodes College, does a great job of telling the story, including how it is remembered and the ongoing implications.

Independent Presbyterian Church was founded because Second Presbyterian reversed its position denying the Kneel-in Protesters’ presence in the church, and allowed them entrance. Numerous people opposed that decision, left, and founded a separate church (Independent Presbyterian), which had in its constitution the commitment to preserve racial segregation in the church.

Fifty years later, the pastors and leaders of both congregations felt a need to make a corporate response.

Thank God for pastors and lay leaders who recognized that history is important, and when unrecognized and unconfessed, sin poisons the body. We don’t keep secrets, our secrets keep us.

Jim Bullock, one of the students turned away from Second Presbyterian Church fifty years ago, and one of the speakers at the 50th anniversary commemoration service, has written about the event on March 22 for the Presbyterian News Service:

March 22, 2014 is a day I shall not soon forget. When I woke up my stomach was already churning. The rainy weather seemed to bode ill. I made my customary stop at Starbuck’s where I had my customary grande chai latte. But I could not get my stomach to settle down. Hope and fear were churning away in my gut and the words of a colleague – “you know, this thing could go really badly” – echoed in my ears. I arrived half-an-hour early at the location where the day’s events were to take place (typically, I’m at least five minutes late everywhere I go). I walked inside the church and looked around until I found the room where I was to meet several other men for a time of prayer. The prayer time had been my idea, and I was glad I had suggested it. Inside the room were representatives of three local churches – Idlewild, Second and Independent – which have little in common beyond the name “Presbyterian.” In fact, the churches represent different denominations that define themselves largely in opposition to one another. But there we were, praying for reconciliation – among us, and among the people who would come to Second Presbyterian Church that morning to commemorate the traumatic events that had split the church fifty years earlier.

As the prayer time went on, I found myself crying tears of joy. A day we had hoped for, imagined, and dreamed of was finally here. The Spirit seemed to be honoring our vision of a service of truth-telling and reconciliation at the site of one of the South’s most notorious acts of racial exclusion.

Interestingly, the public confession of particular, individual sins has ballooned in the past three or four decades in the plethora of “confessional” self-help groups that have emerged (for alcoholics, over-eaters, drug abusers, sex addicts). Yet, our ability to acknowledge the existence of large-scale, all-permeating corporate sin has dramatically decreased. We have our time of corporate confession in our worship services, but that has become so perfunctory that its purpose and power is blurred. Maybe corporate confession is dulled in meaning because in our preaching and teaching we have dramatized glaring private sins readily recognized and named, while the “hidden” sins of attitude and omission get no attention.

Scripture is full of God’s call for corporate confession and repentance…the recognition of the sins of the nation, the sins of “the whole people of God.” So what happened in that service on March 22 was not only good and redemptive for the soul of those two congregations, it was good for the whole church…perhaps a model for all.

I may be making too much of it, but I think it is also significant that this public service of confession and repentance for racism took place two weeks before our remodeled and expanded Civil Rights Museum is to be reopened in Memphis (April 4). We are dull indeed if we can visit the museum without feeling we are a “people of unclean lips and we live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) We need to repent, not only privately, but corporately.