The Threat of BLACKNESS four black flumc Pastors speak out

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail


by Rev. Dr. Sharon G. Austin, Director of Connectional & Justice Ministries

The voices of black people and (other people of color) are historically and too often unsolicited, silenced, or discounted because of the discomfort felt by others who hear or read them. The death of Ahmaud Arbery, near Brunswick, GA, a young black man who was stalked and shot by a white father (former law enforcement)-son duo in February 2020, received little attention until a video became available and viewed by the public.

We invited four black clergymen who are Elders in Full Connection to share their personal reflections on this senseless and fatal shooting of Mr. Arbery. Following his death in February, Breonna Taylor, a young, African-American woman emergency medical technician, was fatally shot in March by Louisville, KY Metro Police Department. The officers stormed her apartment while serving a "no-knock" warrant under suspicion of drugs in her home.

Finally, during the writing of the Arbery story, which began last week, we learned of Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the police on Monday. She falsely alleged that an African-American man by the name of Christian Cooper (no relation) was "threatening her life," during their dispute in Central Park when her unleashed dog interrupted his bird-watching. On the same day, we witnessed the arrest and death of George Floyd, on the streets of Minneapolis, MN, by the 'knee' of a local white police offer. While covering the story of last night's demonstration and mayhem in Minneapolis, we watched in disbelief as a young, black Latino CNN reporter, Omar Jimenez, and his crew were arrested this morning during live television and despite displaying his journalism credentials. As of this posting, that officer has been taken into custody and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. None of the victims previously mentioned were armed.

I am grateful to Conference Communicator Brittany Jackson for the haunting artistic design of the story. I express heartfelt appreciation to each of my clergy colleagues for their courage and honesty in sharing their reflections. They are a microcosm of the clergymen, laymen (and women) who could share similar stories of harrowing experiences while living in the world and serving the UMC while black.

God's Love is for All

by Rev. Dr. Kevin M. James, Sr., Palm Coast UMC Pastor

Marcus Arbery, Sr. and Wanda Cooper-Jones, the parents of Ahmaud Arbery, it is with grace and mercy I offer you my deepest sympathy as you remember the life and legacy of your son, Ahmaud Arbery.

I pray for you to feel the outpouring of abundant love that surrounds your family and community during this very difficult time. I am praying for your healing, comfort, strength, and peace of the Holy One during this painful journey.

As a Christian, husband, father, and grandfather, I unequivocally support the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops' statement of the tragic killing of the 25-year-old African-American man and passionate jogger.

After over 80 days of public outrage of the widely-shared video and the fourth assigned district attorney, the three assailants finally were arrested. It is disconcerting to watch that video and not feel anger, fear, frustration and sadness for the future of our African-American males.

Ahmaud was heading home in Satilla Shores, a community near Brunswick, Ga., on February 23, 2020, when this senseless shooting occurred. This tragedy, along with countless other shootings of young black men, has people of color wondering every day if their children will make it home safely.

On a personal note, in 2002, I had a dreadful encounter with Clearwater Police Department officers.

They were looking for four black males who recently committed a crime. The suspects were in an SUV, described by the police dispatcher as bronze, maroon/beige, gray, or silver, according to the police report.

I was driving my maroon Tahoe and just picked up my friend Stanley as he accompanied my wife and fourth-grade son to the Florida Classic football game in Orlando. Per our usual routine, we stopped to pray before our departure.

Shortly after we started our travels, we were stopped by two Clearwater police officers. A convoy of 14 additional officers arrived with guns drawn. Stanley and I were handcuffed and put face down on the ground while my son and wife were frisked and contained by officers with guns drawn.

Meanwhile, the officers searched the vehicle for a weapon used in the aforementioned crime. After the department corporal realized I was the St. Petersburg District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church, we were released without even an apology.

This painful and humiliating incident continues to haunt my family and me to this day. The horror I experienced in 2002 keeps me praying daily for my 30-year-old son, who currently works for the United States government, to return home safely.

Why is this?

In 2020, it is incomprehensible that racial profiling and false accusations solely based on a person's skin color or national origin still exist, regardless of their educational background, professional occupation, or social/socioeconomic status.

Nelson Mandela, in his infinite wisdom, said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love".

The United Methodist Church has called upon all people to perform faithful deeds of love and justice in both the church and community that will bring respect to all people.

As a pastor of cross-cultural/cross-racial congregations for more than 23 years, I have appreciated and witnessed how different ethnicities and social backgrounds have blended to listen and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be the Church "in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

The word of God embraces all people, regardless of race, creed or color. John the Revelator writes, "After these things I look, and behold, a great multitude which no one can number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues standing before the throne and before the land praising God."

Before the ink on the page even dried, another senseless killing (George Floyd) occurred in Minnesota. In closing, what are you doing to enhance racial reconciliation and healing today for ALL of God's children to get home safely?

Brave Leaders are Never Silent

by Rev. Gary A. Marcelin, Fulford UMC Pastor

C.R.E.A.M. (Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me) this song by Wu-Tang Clan released in 1993 is still relevant today. The catchiest hook in this song is "Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar, dollar bill y'all!"

This acronym, C.R.E.A.M "Cash, Rules, Everything, Around Me," is the embodiment of American society, and it has the utmost seat of privilege at the center of American Christianity. This ethos stresses the value of material possession, a symbol of power in our culture.

Cash, green, resource, bank, call it what you want -- it's all about the "haves" and the "have nots." The mighty dollar equates to power, and power, in this sense, is all about control. The toxic waste of this obsession manifests in many oppressive forms.

The wealth in our country has been amassed by force and oppression of the other. In the book, Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, the author writes, "We don't want to hear that at its root, the economic growth depends to a large extent on slavery."

Slavery is one of the largest building blocks of American society, which was held up by Christianity.

In the name of Christianity, we have colonized, plundered, and accumulated most of the Church's wealth on the backs of those deemed less than.

From the inception of slavery, those at the bottom of this global economic power structure have always been black people. The black race around the world is seen as less than. This position has allowed the other to dehumanize and demonize black people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed this glaring reality at the forefront of our society.

Black communities are being affected at a much larger rate than our other fellow men.

The Guardian reported that in Chicago, black people make up 30% of the population, but 60% of COVID-19 deaths are in the black community. Dr. Sabrina Strings, a professor of sociology at the University of California, was asked why black people are disproportionately affected.

Her answer: "Slavery."

She goes on to say, "The era of slavery was when white Americans determined that black Americans needed only the bare necessities, not enough to keep them optimally safe and healthy. It set in motion black people's diminished access to healthy foods, safe working conditions, medical treatment, and a host of other social inequities that negatively impact health."

When black people, particularly men, perform even routine things such as legally owning a gun, relaxing at home, walking home with Skittles, walking from a corner store, or going to church, they can be seen as a threat to the system of white supremacy.

There are non-explicit societal norms in this system that put the lives of black men in danger, such as the right to exercise and go for a jog. Just recently, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed while he was jogging.

Arbery and countless other black men have fallen victim to living life while black.

The action of American society still counts black men as three-fifths of a man. Our system allowed a black man to be terrorized, hunted down, and killed as if he was an animal while his killers shared the graphic video for entertainment.

How long will we tolerate the insidious killing of black males?

White supremacy has infiltrated all aspects of our world. To some extent, we all have benefited from this system. This sickness is disguised in our institutions and our churches.

The experiences of black males murdered and terrorized by violence for generations between emancipation and the struggle for civil rights, as well as the inaction of the Church, lay the foundation for the discrimination and injustice we face today.

The Church of the future must be a place of healing as was intended by Christ. If it is to function as a living organism in the lives of people, it must appeal to the undiscovered part of humanity, to the vast hidden and latent forces within us. The Church must change its "come to Jesus" theology and move toward, "let Christ be formed in you."

When such heinous crimes against humanity occur, we write beautiful prayers to read one time on Sunday. We may feel compelled to run a few miles and post a hashtag on social media in the name of solidarity. It's easy for us to refuse to face these dark spots of life because it's difficult to address such issues.

We are comfortable and satisfied with less than the best and follow the line of least resistance. Most of us seek and find protection in the institution; we are reluctant to stand against the oppressive powers within it.

As leaders in the United Methodist Church, many reasons would warn us not to speak up.

What might this mean for our guaranteed appointments which are connected to our salaries and benefits? Some of us may be saying, "The givers in my church would oppose my stance."

I hear you saying, "I would come out and stand with you, I believe in your fight, but I have all of these relationships that take precedence over you."

I hear you loud and clear. The system tells us if we do our part, we will always be cared for. We are forever trying to dodge problems that are difficult, trying to run away or let time force us to forget about the countless deaths of black men, and the cycle repeats.

Instead of letting our light shine, we hide it under a basket.

Brene Brown calls us to lean into the tough conversations. "Brave leaders are never silent around hard things. Our job is to excavate the unsaid. That requires courage and vulnerability."

White supremacy is an ideology, not a people group.

White people just benefit from it the most, and because of that, it is on you to be conscious of your prejudices.

I am calling you to identify them and realize how you benefit from it. We are at a turning point in our society; generations can be changed forever by the decisions taken today.

When I scream, "Black Lives Matter!" it's not enough. I need my white clergy friends to stand with me. The very fact that you can choose to abstain from the conversation points to your dominance, power and privilege in an oppressive system.

My life and countless more black lives deserve to live a life free of being killed because of the color of our skin. The lives of Amaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Stephon Clark, Jordan Edwards, Alton Sterling, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice, Charleston 9, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Corey Jones, John Crawford, Terence Crutcher, Keith Scott, Clifford Glover, Claude Reese, Randy Evans, Yvonne Smallwood, Amadou Diallo, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and countless others killed for just living.

In the words of Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

A Voice for the Voiceless

by Rev. Dr. David Allen, Jr., Assistant Dean, School of Religion, Bethune-Cookman University & Stewart Memorial UMC Pastor

"Speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor." -- Proverbs 31:8-10 (CEB)

When I was asked to share my perspective about Ahmaud Arbery, I contemplated the life of Tertullian, a devout Christian thinker, author and lawyer from Carthage.

He wrote, "Plures efficimur, quitiens metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis Christianorum," which has been translated as "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

If the Church affirms that belief, then can we also affirm that Ahmaud Arbery's blood is the seed of a needed conversation in the United Methodist Church today?

Such silence and inaction amidst unconscionable acts of sinful violence contradict the church's reason for being.

As Abel's blood cried out from the earth and ascended to God in Genesis 4:10, I believe Arbery's blood cries out from a hot and dusty Brunswick, Ga. street, demanding a conversation that needs to occur in the UM church NOW.

I must ask, where are the conscious UM voices speaking out against this atrocity of an abomination on our watch? Would John Wesley be appalled by silence, the complicity of racism, and the preponderance of violence and hate crimes, that are so visibly present and active today?

As I watched the panoramic paradox of this plague play out against another unarmed innocent African-American male, my heart sank in sorrow, and my eyes filled with tears. This plague breeds racism, violence and hate crimes that often result in the loss of life.

As a former athlete who works out, jogs and plays basketball with my two sons every week in both white and diverse neighborhood parks, I can only imagine what was going through the heart and mind of Ahmaud Arbery, who, while innocently jogging, had to fight with force to save his life.

In contrast, a father (Gregory McMichael) and a son (Travis McMichael) fought even harder to take his life.

The McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder more than two months after Arbery was killed.

It took another two weeks before William "Roddie" Bryan, the man who filmed the shooting, met the same fate and was taken into custody. He also was charged with felony murder, along with a criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Many of my fellow brothers and sisters like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, William Chapman, Jeremy McDole, Jamar Clark, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Sam Dubose, Trayvon Martin, Atatiana Jefferson, and recently, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have been included in the unjust narrative that is told far too often in America.

I write this article with them in mind to express a call for needed change and for action to end racism, violence, and hate crimes that must be addressed in the U.S. and the UM church.

Living as an African-American in the U.S. involves the inevitability of existential tension of dual realities.

Paradoxically, in one reality, I am a proud African-American male, son, husband, father, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend. I am also a Christian ordained elder and pastor in the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

However, the other reality offers a more complex set of factors that I find challenging to live with because I am more likely to be unlawfully shot and killed because I've been kissed by the sun.

I am denied equitable health care, racially profiled in my community, and followed like a thief in grocery stores and shopping malls. I am perceived by many as three-fifths of a human being.

Yes, I reside in the nation that prides itself as "the land of the free, and home of the brave," but freedom in the U.S. has never been free for people of African descent. Ahmaud Arbery was forced to pay with his life a debt of injustice owed against people of color.

Friends, things must change, and I appeal for you to confront racism, violence and hate crimes. Let's recall the sacrifice of our heavenly father's son, and serve as a loving neighbor and fight for justice and reform to save lives.

Speak out. End the silence, which only supports consent.

Remember, Proverbs 31:8-10 encourages us to "Speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor."

Speak up, speak out, and let's end the silence, so God's justice can reign.

Trusting an Unjust System

by Rev. David Williams, Chaplain, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office

Many of us were taught at an early age to trust the justice system.

We were taught that the scales of justice represent the balance of the individual against the needs of society and a fair balance between interests of one individual and those of another. The personification of justice balancing the scales dates to the Egyptian Goddess of Justice, Maat, who stood for truth and fairness.

The sword that she carries symbolizes Lady Justice, the authority to make decisions.

In the 16th century, Lady Justice has often been shown wearing a blindfold which represents impartiality, the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power or other status.

Trust the justice system.

In Cobb County, Ga. a police lieutenant was caught on a dashcam making a remark to a white woman during a traffic stop.

The woman who was afraid asked the officer if she could use her phone because she has seen too many videos of cops, the officer stops her right there and says to her, she will be fine because she’s not black.

“Remember we only shoot black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?”


Trust the system that is about justice. Trust those that are to protect and serve.

Sounds like “White Privilege.”

Most of us are familiar with the Ahmaud Arbery case in Glynn County, Ga.

Arbery, a 25-year-old African-American, was pursued and confronted by two white males in a pickup truck. The two white males, one armed with a .357 Magnum and the other armed with a shotgun, fatally shot Arbery on February 23.

On February 24, the Waycross Judicial Circuit district attorney said the killing of Arbery was justifiable homicide.

Trust the justice system.

But after a video of the shooting went viral, resulting in outrage from around the country, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation got involved. Both individuals were arrested and charged with murder.

Trust the justice system.

Well in my opinion, the people elected to operate and enforce the laws of the justice system have failed to protect the citizens that they are sworn to protect.

We who are faith believers must no longer just hold our hands and pray behind the four walls of the building. No longer should faith believers only be concerned about the island they're on. No longer do we need to talk or have conversation.

It’s time to do the right thing.

It’s not about politics, wealth or race. It’s about doing the right thing.

It’s time to be our brothers’ keeper and put prayer in action. It’s time we hold those in the justice system accountable, for All Lives Matter.