Religion and Race agency charts new future

By Heather Hahn*

The new, streamlined board of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race announced Monday, Oct. 29, that it is embracing a mission that goes beyond monitoring the denomination’s handling of racial matters.

Erin Hawkins, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.

The agency “is in the business of building bridges of hope by equipping the Church at all levels to reach more people, more young people and more diverse people,” the board said in a statement to the denomination.

Among other actions, the board has empowered its  top executive, Erin Hawkins,  and president, Bishop Minerva Carcaño, to begin conversations with leaders of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women about aligning the work of the two agencies in preparation for General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, in 2016.

This conversation follows the vote at the 2012 General Conference for a restructuring plan that would have combined the churchwide commissions into a United Methodist Committee of Inclusiveness. On the last day of General Conference, the Judicial Council — the denomination’s to court — struck down the restructuring plan as unconstitutional. The lawmaking assembly scrambled to pass legislation submitted by agencies, including the Commission on Religion and Race, to reduce the size of their boards.

As conversations begin between the commissions, the Commission on Religion and Race will be looking at ways to help equip annual (regional) conferences, seminaries and local churches to become more diverse and more vital.

“The actions taken at this board meeting are small but significant steps to ensure that the ministry of (the commission) effectively supports the church in becoming a relevant and credible witness to the power of Christ in a diverse world,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Read the full release:

General Commission on Religion and Race Board Members Announce New Direction for Agency

Washington, D.C.  October 29, 2012 — A streamlined Board of Directors of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) has announced a commitment to change by embracing a new model of ministry centered around three priorities: supporting culturally diverse, relevant and vital congregations; developing culturally competent leadership and ministries  and promoting  institutional equity, while upholding the agency’s historic promise of racial justice in the Church.

In a statement to the denomination, directors of GCORR affirm that “the agency is in the business of building bridges of hope by equipping the Church at all levels to reach more people, more young people, and more diverse people. Changing demographics in the U.S. and the increasingly global nature of the church requires a reinvention of GCORR’s ministry. The Board of Directors is committed to changing GCORR’s work over the next four years in style, focus and direction, in order to ensure the relevance of the denomination in a changing cultural landscape.”

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, President of the Board characterizes the change GCORR will undergo in this way, “GCORR has historically worked to promote the full participation of people of color in the life of the church through the task of monitoring.  Now partnerships with annual conferences , seminaries and other connectional groups will be the focal point of our efforts to equip the church to welcome and empower the diversity in our midst.”

Twenty-one Directors met in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 25 to 27 to begin laying out the vision and strategy for the agency.  In a presentation to the board Dr. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., challenged GCORR to become an indispensible denominational resource by engaging in ministry that directly contributes to the mission of the church. “The United Methodist Church in the United States has a future only to the extent that it can find ways to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people. All three of these categories are directly related to the purpose of GCORR because people of color are central to all three. The United Methodist Church will either successfully achieve all three goals or will achieve none. They are inextricably linked. If we reach more people, they are likely to be younger and more diverse. If we reach younger people, they are likely to be more diverse since the younger population is vastly more diverse than the nation’s older population.”

The new board is smaller in size, reduced from 43 persons.  Elected officers include Bishop Minerva Carcaño (President), episcopal leader of the Los Angeles, California area, Rev. Joseph Harris (Vice President), Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Communications, Oklahoma Annual conference, Rev. Justin White (Secretary) Associate Pastor at Wells United Methodist Church, Mississippi Conference  and Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone (Treasurer) District Superintendent in the Northern Illinois Conference.

Other actions at the board meeting included:

  • Reducing the number of board committees from seven to five.
  • Approving a reduced budget of $2,312,854.
  • A planning session that will culminate in the spring with a detailed direction for the quadrennium.
  • Empowering the General Secretary and President of the Board to initiate, on behalf of GCORR, a conversation with the leadership of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) about aligning the work of the two agencies in preparation for General Conference 2016.

General Secretary, Erin Hawkins feels very hopeful about the changes made by the Board.  “The actions taken at this board meeting are small but significant steps to ensure that the ministry of GCORR effectively supports the church in becoming a relevant and credible witness to the power of Christ in a diverse world.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.



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  1. Barbara Galusha Karst

    My hope is that the smaller board will not cut the “guts” our of GCORR and I pray that the work will continue as it is much needed. I’m tired of people telling me race is not an issue any more when we all know it is.
    Barbara Galusha Karst

  2. Gary

    What is this “we all know it is” generalization Barbara? Many people may think it is an issue and many of us don’t think it is an issue. I wonder if anyone can say “we all know it is” (an issue). Perhaps you see race as an issue and that is fine if that is what you want to think. I think the UMC has been very good about trying to promote diversity in the pews and in leadership. From a strictly numerical point of view there are a disproportionate number of black Americans on the Council of Bishops (40%) as compared to the number of blacks in the pews in the UM churches in the US (2%). That doesn’t sound racist – all of them are qualified for bishop I’m sure. We have a sister church that participates in some of our services (and vice versa) and that church is well over 95% black in the pew. I don’t hear them clamoring for diversity or some white folk in their congregation calling for a commission on diversity. This is all so silly.

    1. Creed Pogue

      What is really counterproductive is that we spend over $2 million of apportionment dollars to tell everyone how racist The UMC is and then we expect to increase the number of people of color who attend UMC churches. Regarding the thrust of the article, I thought that GCRR and GCSRW have been working together at General Conferences for a long time.

  3. Talbot Davis

    The most diverse congregations in our connection achieve their diversity by the energy and open-ness they generate at the local level and not by a program or mandate from the GCRR.

  4. Dr. Tommie Morton-Young

    The current election cycle for the President of the United Sttes confirms how deeply rooted ‘racism’ is in the nature of our society. Reinventing the Commission should not exclude the indepth explorations that MUST confront resistance to ‘difference (cultural and social) without comprimising the gospel and true Christian principles.’ Confronting does not mean ‘adoption,’ necessarily, but better understanding the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ without condescending attitudes and judgements.

  5. Talbot Davis

    I’m confused by your first sentence regarding the election cycle and racism. The candidate of color won. Easily. If anything, the current election cycle should again make us celebrate the strides we have taken. And many of those who voted against the President did so for reasons that have nothing to do with race and everything to do with tax policy and foreign policy.

    But this detracts from the core conversation the article raises: does diversity at the denominational level matter if it is not pursued at the congregational level. As a grateful part of a multi-ethnic and multi-generational United Methodist congregation, I think not.

  6. Dr. Tommie Morton-Young

    I wonder how many people connect the ‘gun fury’ discussions and diatribes ongoing in America today to ‘race?.’ Additionlly, I wonder how many people of fatih may be caught in the web of conflict about the 2nd mendment and rights appertaining?. It would appear that there are under and overtones of ‘race’ in the fury, and it would appear that religious convictions and truths could play a role in difussing some of the anger and apprehension that weigh on the nation’s thoughts.

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