Submitted by the Rev. Aaron M. Gray
Pastor, Redlands United Methodist Church, Grand Junction, Colorado
The spirit was wonderful at Annual Conference! I commend Bishop Karen, staff, and the countless other persons who worked so hard to provide information and a vision of what a united Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Conference could become. So, here we are with the Mountain Sky Conference. At this moment I have a concern about the five petitions written by thoughtful colleagues to be recommended to the newly formed Mountain Sky Conference Roundtable. There is the feeling that these petitions say a great deal about the focus of our new conference and who we are.
I can remember the discussion around human sexuality in 1985 when I was blessed to receive my first appointment. It has been discussed at various times with lesser or greater intensity, depending on other items on the agenda for that year. As it is now discussed more intensely, I feel that we need to be careful in our steps to become a new conference, that this same theme and the discussion that it brings—no matter how serious—does not become our only focus.
At this moment we must make the claim that we are not here for ourselves—which is not easy. It is a great paradox that a serious issue can become comfortable to discuss, especially when we appear to be in the majority. However, I feel that we should move on and take a great risk in trying to address the issue of racism. There would not be a given majority in our new conference, even with its vast size. So, with greater discernment, as we are first honest with ourselves and then with others, this could mark a new day in our walk with each other.
Let me begin by sharing that I feel, as a black male in our majority white church, racism is real. We hear about racist acts that we may feel are meant for another time in our history and yet, recently, two black men were denied the use of the restroom at a Starbucks. And, an intelligent black woman was publicly called an ape. I would encourage the conference to be considerate of the fact that there are people in our midst who live with racism every day.
We are a global Church, so our immigration policies, with children being separated from their parents—no matter the quality of the detention centers—is wrong. We should declare publicly in every way possible, that the lives of those children will never be the same. It is not grandstanding to say that we are putting a whole generation at risk. Also, we cannot be afraid to state the truth—that this would not be happening if these children and their families were white.
We've heard about this being supported by scripture—and interestingly enough—the same scripture is one that was used to support slavery, the killing of Jews, and other acts of cruelty to humans considered to be of a lesser race. No matter our theological perspective, I believe there is agreement on the Great Commandment. And it’s true that we must have vital churches. But when we go out into our various communities, let’s not be offended if someone asks us, “where have you been?"
Truly, it is time to learn of the needs around us. More of our white communities are becoming colorful in their own way. We must be sensitive to the fact that there has been a rise in hate crimes over the past two years. There is so much to think about in this area, and so much to do. But we are a people of great hope in Jesus Christ—and we must proclaim that you can’t live without hope!
Jesus Christ is all about new beginnings. Perhaps with this spirit, we can have a greater understanding of all that is before us. I would urge the Roundtable to be sensitive, and to look at the table and see what people and, consequently, what views are missing. If we surround ourselves with only those who share our views, where is the challenge and growth to come from? Please take into consideration that the merger was not easy for everyone, but their pain can have a chance to process and heal if they know they are part of something new.
There is value in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!"