Watch the entire June 27 webinar here.
Black pastors in the Great Plains Conference expressed a mix of sadness and anger, only heightened by events of the previous month, in a June 27 webinar regarding race relations in America.
“I’m mad abut the situation,” said the Rev. Harry Christian, pastor of Topeka Asbury Mount Olive UMC, comparing his anger to Jesus dealing with moneychangers in the temple.
“I’m very saddened by the hearts of people,” said Ronda Kingwood, pastor of Wichita Heart of Christ UMC. “I feel rage. I feel all these emotions that are unexplainable.”
Six pastors from throughout the conference talked about their own personal experiences with racism and their responses to national news of the summer, including unarmed Black men being killed by police.
The webinar, “Time to Listen – Voices of African American Clergy serving in the Great Plains Conference,” was organized by the Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina-Hutchinson District superintendent, and the Rev. Nicole Conard of the conference Congregational Excellence team. The Rev. Dr. Rose Booker-Jones, a retired district superintendent from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference who now lives near Wichita, was the facilitator of the two-hour session.
“I’m not doing so well, I have to be frank about it,” said the Rev. Darryl Burton, a pastor at Church of the Resurrection and co-founder of Miracle of Innocence, a nonprofit that helps those like him who were wrongly convicted of crimes. “I’d love to say it is well with my soul, but it is not.”
The Rev. Dr. Charlotte Abram, a retired clergy living in Omaha, compared racism to an onion – “You don’t get to the core, you just keep peeling back layers and layers and layers,” she said.
Abram said her white colleagues should be taking a stand against institutional or systemic racism.
“Just because you’re not out like the Ku Klux Klan or you’re not spewing out racist jargon doesn’t mean that you are not a part of a system that has given you, as a white brother or a white sister, certain privileges — automatic privileges,” she said.
Kingwood said that the attitude has been happening for generations.
“I think white supremacy is still taught, because they teach their kids, and their kids teach their kids,” Kingwood said. “It goes on and on and on.
“Racism will always be there, because it’s an enemy of who God is,” she added.
Christian said pastors have the right to make their congregations mad enough to take action for change.
“I think all of us ought to be moved to a point where we’re uncomfortable,” Christian said. “Uncomfortable with the way things are, uncomfortable with the changes we need to make. Because we will not change when we’re comfortable.”
Williamston echoed Christian’s call.
“I do not want to hear any platitudes when we’re starting to talk about race in these churches,” she said. “If you see something, say something. Stand up — it’s a crime the way Black people have been treated all these years.
Booker-Jones said pastors should preach about the importance of love, of being bold and taking risks while setting aside politics.
“You can’t get in the pulpit and preach your agenda. Your agenda should always be Jesus,” she said. “That is what we’re all about.”
Rev. Dr. Wayne Reynolds, pastor of Crete Grace UMC, said that racism is “very much alive.”
“This is a four-alarm fire right now. It’s 9.5 on the Richter scale. It’s Stage 4 right now. It’s bad, and it’s been bad for a long time. We’re past prayer. We’re past talking. We’re past listening,” he said. “But some folk don’t know that.”
Rev. Cynthia Smart, pastor of Kansas City Mason Memorial UMC, told of her first appointment, driving in central Kansas with her district superintendent and the daughter of another pastor on their way to a meeting.
Smart’s car was pulled over by police.
“He literally looked past me to look at my DS, and he asked her if she was OK. He looked in the back to see if the young lady was OK,” Smart recalled.
She was asked where she got the car, and was told her window tint was too dark, even though a passing vehicle had darker tint, and that her headlights weren’t on, even though they were.
“You’re not from here, and you need to leave,” she was told.
“After that encounter, my DS looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’
“I said this is common,” Smart said. “You experience it.”
Two other webinars are being planned for the summer, including one for international and immigrant clergy.
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.