"Doing White"

Bishop Woodie White when he was the General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race, described his vision for the United Methodist Church as “A Vegetable Soup” with each vegetable contributing to the essence and flavor of the soup. 

I suggest that since 1972 we have seen the “white potatoes” in the UMC “vegetable soup”, exerting more privilege and influence in the soup than that of the other “vegetables”. 

Why 1972? That was when our Traditionalist brothers and sisters introduced discriminatory language and legislation against those engaged in “The practice of homosexuality.” And our Progressive brothers and sisters (I am one of them) began our efforts to undo that language and legislation. 

Although we are a United Methodist Church that was birthed soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, we since 1972, rather than becoming a Racial Justice denomination have “weaponized” the Bible to harm, hurt, and disenfranchise same gender loving persons who have been leaders and members among us forever and ever. 

I paraphrase words of Reinhold Niebuhr when I say, in United Methodism; “Much of the evil is not done by evil people but by good United Methodist Traditionalists who do not realize their attacks on same gender loving persons are not good.”  Their assaults upon same gender loving persons, diminishes the integrity of Scripture, violates the inclusive mission and ministry of Jesus, and distorts the actions of Creator God, and as a result, the mission and ministry of the UMC is compromised. 

The silence of White Christian Evangelicals in response to racism in the USA and the world, and the noise of White United Methodist Traditionalists about homosexuality, and not racism in Church and Society, has prompted a colleague to say this; “White Christian Evangelicals are enabling the divisions in the USA, and White United Methodist Traditionalists are dividing and destroying the UMC.”

Yet, as Sister Sledge said in their song, “We Are Family”. Those of us who because of race, gender, or both, have known/know discrimination because of who we are. We know what is to be “outsiders” in the UMC Family. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (The often quoted words of Martin Luther King). How could any of us who have known or know about Methodist legislation that excluded some persons, continue to support excluding legislation? Family does not do that to Family!

The Ebony Bishops in their Statement on Racism speak of “White Privilege.” I seek to encourage my UMC family members who cannot accept their white privilege, by acknowledging my male privilege. I cannot avoid “being male”, but in response to my privilege, I seek not to engage in “doing male”; doing those harmful things that males sometimes do. 

My UMC Traditionalists Colleagues are neither all white or all male. But, what they have being doing since 1972 is “doing white”; doing those harmful things that whites sometimes do. Some White persons since the beginning of Methodism have exerted their privilege and supremacy to force blacks to leave and form the AME and AMEZion denominations, establish the Methodist Episcopal Church South in response to debates about slavery, create the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction, and in the UMC resist the appointments of persons of color; Pastors, District Superintendents and assignments of Bishops.

White privilege if not restrained can unconsciously assume that “White is alright. Brown can stand around and Black step back.” (First learned 70 years ago as I grew up in North Carolina, Texas, and South Carolina with my preacher father and my mother). It assume privilege means power and power means control. 

The Ebony Bishop and their Statement have enabled many of us today to say out loud what we have been seeking to say since 1972; “White Traditionalists in 1972 realized they could no longer use the Bible to justify the segregation of blacks in the “new” UMC. Thus same gender loving persons and their “practice of homosexuality” provided them the opportunity to continue to discriminate; not because of race but because of sexual orientation.”

White privilege in all of its many manifestations is alive and well in the USA.  May the 2019/2020 General Conferences begin to stifle its presence in the UMC. 

Gilbert H. Caldwell
A retired clergy member of the Mountain Sky Conference
Asbury Park, New Jersey/USA