Hello, My name is Lanette Plambeck and I am your Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence here in the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church.
And I am Lisa Steel Director of Ministerial Service & Journal Editor.
In a few moments, you will hear reflections from members of the Iowa Conference Antiracism Team regarding our charge given at our formation last summer, which has guided our work this past year. Much of this work has been held within our group as we grew together, learned together, and began assessments by meeting with key leaders to get a sense of where we are as a conference in our policies, practices, and procedures - whether formal or informal. This work - our work - has been grounded in the L3 model of Loving, Learning & Leading.
We were guided by a three-fold process to explore, assess, and recommend how we as an annual conference can:
Build compassionate relationships that facilitate honest and courageous conversations about our racial identities and experiences.
Equip our clergy, laity and congregations to do antiracism and equity work within their own communities. and,
Deepen our understanding of our own (individual and corporate) complicity and cultivate spaces and opportunities for learning, confession and action.
In part, we hold an end goal of being the church modeling kindom on earth as it is in heaven through acts of compassion, justice and education seeking equity, inclusion, diversity & belonging.
Belonging is a critical piece here - When I reflect on this past year in our nation - we have seen some of the very best out of humanity - and also some of the very worst - especially, for me, hearing the stories in our own conference regarding the rise of hate crimes against our kin of Asian descent, the fear our Black and brown families are living in especially concerned about the safety and security of their children, and stories from our immigrant clergy and families who are being told in overt and covert ways that they just don’t belong here. That is in part why we, the church, need to do our own work.
As the antiracism teams shares today, I pray that the Spirit of God may open our hearts and minds as people of faith to understand the need for this ongoing ministry.
Rev. Nate Nims
On the conference Antiracism leadership team, a common question that we are asked is what does it mean to be antiracist. As a United Methodist pastor, I think of being antiracist a bit like the difference between being almost and altogether Christian. An almost Christian lives a life with the cultural marks of Christianity, but an altogether Christian, by the grace of God, strides towards perfection in love, a perfection in love that fulfills the greatest commandment of Christ where we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Wesley writes in that sermon, “whosoever has this faith which ‘purifies the heart,’ by the power of God who dwelleth therein, from pride, anger, desire, ‘from all unrighteousness,’ ‘from all filthiness of flesh and spirit’; which fills it with love stronger than death both to God and to all [hu]mankind.”
If the love of God is stronger than death it is certainly stronger than the systemic evils of racism. As long as our neighbors, and as long as we are harmed, hurt, and killed by racism, we cannot claim to be loving of our neighbors.
It is not enough to think to ourselves that since we aren’t racist, racism will go away. Racism is bigger than individual acts of bigotry, it’s a system, a system that assesses the value of homes depending on the color of the skin featured in family pictures, a system that calls Larry in for an interview but doesn’t look at Lecrey’s application. As the representative from the Board of Ordained Ministry on the conference AntiRacism leadership team, and as someone that sits in the preaching and worship interviews, for me the systems of racism are found in wondering why I might think another pastor is too energetic, too loud, or has an accent that is too difficult to understand.
I do not want to believe that I am actively trying to be racist, yet in my experience with the antiracism team, I have learned to recognize racist tendencies within me, and to fulfill my baptismal vow of resisting evil, injustice, and oppression wherever they present themselves, I have to be antiracist, meaning I can’t give myself an excuse, I can’t simply offer a quick apology or say that’s not what I meant, I have to wade through my own discomfort and white fragility so that I can find my way to solidarity.
To be antiracist is to be altogether Christian, it’s to follow Christ from the greatest commandment to the great commission, and as this work continues, I’d invite you to join us in this ongoing work.
Rev. Abraham Funchess
Being a part of the antiracism team in the Iowa Annual Conference is both a privilege and a great responsibility. It allows me to engage the prophetic imagination as we work to recenter questions of faith, freedom, and liberation in the church. While it's true that I'm engaged in two vocational callings, these callings emanate from the same voice and Traci Blackmon says it best “one is called to be both priest and prophet." The prophet has to have the courage to speak truth to power and the priest has to always care for those who are being harmed emotionally and physically.
The year 2020 has proven to be an agonizing inflection point in our national story. African Americans especially have been devastated by a series of pandemics within pandemics. Our public health system, our economic futures and the relationship among law, order and our sacred bodies all are on the line at the very same time, so part of the enactment of the prophetic imagination, for me is to examine the rule of racism or race craft as it plays in the creation of really oppressive policies. Policies designed to curtail supplemental education about black people and blackness in our public schools. Policies that seek to delimit the implementation of diversity inclusion trainings in our schools and universities and policies that seek to snatch our collective voices away in the suppression of the vote, one of our most precious Democratic rights.
The church as I understand it cannot be complicit in this miscarriage of justice during a time that should be marked by newness and the creation of alternative communities that give and sustain life and hope.
You know in November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday but he basically took the sting out of the real King when in so many words he made it seem that what Dr. King died for has now been already accomplished. No, Dr. King fought for the rise of black people and others to be full participants in a democracy that have yet to be built and we as a church have to do this work together. That’s why I am glad to be a part of this team.
The Antiracism Committee has been a tremendous help for me in my advocacy work especially through UMW. UMW has two major priorities for this year. One is climate justice and the second is the criminalization of communities of color and mass incarceration. The most significant aspect of racism for me is understanding that most issues intersect with racism. For example, a black woman must face racism and sexism. This affects women economically, socially, and with health issues. People of color also are more affected by climate injustice and maternal death rates for mothers and babies. The committee has opened my eyes to the intersections that people of color face every day.
I have also learned about white fragility which is an attitude of I could never be racist or how dare you tell me that I am racist. We may not mean to be racist, but racism is so inherent in our society, it is extremely difficult to not be affected or be a part of racism.
We meet once a month for five hours. In that time we discuss an assigned book or video. I have read and watched a lot of materials on racism, but more importantly I get to be part of a conversation with a very diverse group of people. This group has helped me see and understand racism through their eyes and to feel their frustration or anger.
I have been involved through UMW doing presentations, recommending materials for reading and viewing, and training social action coordinators throughout Iowa. It is an extremely important job that I have been given within UMW and the committee has led me through that challenge.
Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson & Nitza Dovenspike
Nitza, you are our Conference Secretary and you’re also a lay member of the Indianola First United Methodist Church. Let me ask you a question. What are your hopes for our conference when it comes to antiracism work?
My hope is that in a few months, years, we can look back and we can say how tangible and how beneficial it was for oppressed members of our communities. How the church really helped overcome racism structures. It has been on my mind recently, I heard from the Methodist Church in Mexico, a Bishop was sharing on how they very intentionally as a country, as a church, decided to implement Ministers with migrants. Throughout the whole route, the migrants follow in their journey to go across Mexico in search of better opportunities, they established different ministries too.
Two things that stuck with me, about the particular story. One is the intentionality, the intentionality in very tangible in very concrete goal that they set up as a church to establish these ministries. Not all of them were successful but they were definitely places where they were providing services to migrants in their journey that has a lot of danger and a lot of hunger that they go through in their journey across Mexico. The other thing that really stuck with me is the relationship. This Bishop talked about how when talking to families, he really likes to understand their pain. He had some different ideas, some questions of why do they decide to do what they do but by talking to these families and hearing their stories he got to understand their lives and their struggles and the decisions that they make. He really got away from the preconceived notions that he had by getting together and having conversations with these partners, these families, these young adults, these youngsters that are trying to go across Mexico seeking better opportunities. So I'm hoping we can get to a place where we can talk about those stories that really were life changing, not only for the people that were oppressed by racism but we altogether grow spiritually in the serving of our brothers and sisters. That’s what I’m hoping for.
I’m really curious Jackie, one of the things I have heard you mention and that I honestly do not know a lot about is tell me a bit about the historical black churches in Iowa.
Well, I'm going to speak to you a little bit about the Black United Methodist Churches, used to be the Black Methodist Churches, in Iowa. At one time the conference was segregated and there were three Black congregations in Iowa. One was Burns United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Jubilee United Methodist Church in Waterloo and Hope United Methodist Church in Ft. Madison. My first appointment was to Ft. Madison, Santa Fe, and Ft. Madison, Santa Fe had, well, they would like to say they merged with Hope United Methodist Church which was the black congregation in Fort Madison but the black congregants will tell you they were submerged into Santa Fe United Methodist Church. Their building had crumbled, the population of the church had dwindled, and their finances along with it. Their churches were limited. Santa Fe, which is now merged with First is now Fort Madison United Methodist Church, but it really is a history of those three congregations, one of which was a historically black church.
Burns United Methodist Church, where I serve now, is the oldest African American congregation of any west of the Mississippi, of any denomination, we are the oldest. We were founded in 1866 and again this is a congregation that has lost its original building, the number of folks has dwindled and they have persevered through it all to celebrate over 150 years as a congregation. The congregation is multicultural now and yet it is still a large majority African American as well as welcoming African immigrants. I am concerned that Burns, as well as Jubilee, if there’s no attention paid to it by the conference, that we will lose the history of these congregations and we will lose an opportunity to be a witness to the Black community here in Iowa. I am here to speak that it’s not just clergy, it’s not just folks, it’s a community and we want to be relevant as a conference to those communities.
I really was not aware of the history. I was aware of Burns but I was not aware of the history of Ft. Madison Church that has really changed over the time so I appreciate you sharing that information.
Padma Templeton & Jerry Spencer
So Padma you were telling me that you were born in India, you lived in Canada for several years, and now you serve as a local licensed pastor here in Iowa. What has your ministry been like for you here while you serve in a rural community?
It hasn't been as challenging in the ways that I expected it to be. I've lived mostly in Urban societies so I thought it would be more challenging to live in a rural society, but those challenges haven't been as great as probably the challenges that I face growing up in Canada and that having a different culture and different political climate than there is in America. After living here for many years I've come to realize that I have a great deal of privilege. Even though I am a person of color I have a different type of privilege, and it's given me time to reflect on anti-Blackness and how it is so prevalent within this country but also within cultures around the world and I believe that we are making a start in changing people's ideas and concepts about race, and we're working hard to change the culture within our own conference to deal with antiracism and more specifically anti-Blackness.
Jerry, in a time when we are seeing movements such as Black Lives Matter, blue lives matter and all lives matter I think the unique role that you are in as a bi-vocational pastor who is also a law enforcement officer. How do we as United Methodists fully respond to the work of antiracism?
That's kind of a tough question. It's natural for us to have a hard time understanding that we might be in a spot where we can need some change.
I know as a police officer and watching the current situation, what's going on there are some things that I personally need to address and I think that sometimes it's difficult for us to face those facts. It kind of reminds me of Jesus when he's met with the rich ruler I think it's in Luke 18, and he has this moment with this rich ruler who asked him about eternal life and Jesus says, well follow the commandments and the rich ruler said, well I already am and Jesus says well then go sell off all your possessions and give it to the poor and the rich ruler had a hard time accepting that. I think what Jesús is trying to point out is there are things that within that ritual is life that needs to be changed. He has to walk away from the old ways, so to speak, and I think myself included, there are moments where someone's going to bring something toward our attention kind of like a bitter pill that we have to take and swallow, and we have to understand that it's not that we're not good people. We are good people. Sometimes there are things we need to do to improve ourselves and improve the things that we do so like the rich ruler. Sometimes we have to walk away from old ideals or old ways that we are accustomed to that we do and that we don't realize aren't necessarily healthy and good for us.
For myself again as a law enforcement officer, I know that there are things that I may not see myself in what I do and I feel that I'm a good person but if somebody comes up to me and says you know, when you do this, that's kind of hurtful, and I need to be able to sit back and go okay that is something I need to change and I need to accept that it's kind of like taking a bitter pill. Unfortunately, the bitter pill is truth, and it's a pill that we have to swallow, and sometimes it is bitter and as Christians and as United Methodists maybe there are things that we need to work towards to progress and to achieve the goals which Christ has sent us out to do. Again, sometimes it's a bitter pill to swallow but I think that when we see that and work forward into racism, we can accomplish a lot more than what we are doing now.
Question for Rita Carver
Rita, you are actively involved in legislative advocacy as well as Methodist Federation for Social Action and other groups. As a member of the Antiracism Team, in what ways do you see your ministry as an advocate intersecting with MFSA in helping to guide our Conference in our engagement of civic responsibility and social change?
I wear glasses to enable me to see things clearly. Without them, I only see a general view of what’s around me—without the details. Those of you who wear glasses know what I’m talking about. When I wear my glasses, I see things that I missed without them. This past year of pandemic and the horrific murder of George Floyd, in particular, has been one of challenge and call to me for a recommitment to work for racial justice—to put on my “racial justice lenses” and look at the world of details I’ve been missing. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to watch and listen and learn and do within any group or setting I’m part of. And the Antiracism Team has been a help for me.
As a longtime member of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I’ve joined its efforts in working for a world of faith-based social justice. MFSA leaders helped create the 1908 Social Creed and have worked since then for justice in policies such as labor rights, economic inequities, housing, education, healthcare, climate, peace issues, and gender inequalities within the church and in the communities and world we are all part of as God’s beloved children. All of these include racial inequities, and in recent years MFSA has committed to dismantling racism within our own organization as well as in the church and our society in general. Racial justice lenses continue to be needed.
The work of the Conference Advocacy Team at the Iowa Legislature involves using the United Methodist Social Principles, Book of Resolutions, and Iowa Conference Resolutions to look at proposed policies and laws involving many of the same concerns as MFSA. The challenge is to look through racial justice lenses to see disparities, who is allowed at the decision-making tables, and how communities or groups are affected, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized—often persons of color. One policy bill that we had high hopes for this session would have addressed racial profiling in Iowa. UMC Resolution #3377 specifically supports calls for enacting and funding legislation of this kind, but Iowa’s legislative majority refused to even introduce it this session. Other education, criminal justice, poverty, and housing legislation has been introduced (and some passed or on its way) that will likely affect Iowa’s families and communities of color in negative ways despite advocacy efforts. Racial justice lenses are always needed in looking at legislation.
Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is credited with this saying: “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible—even if you’re choking on it—until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.” The sun—God’s light—has shined a light, over and over. So I invite you to get out your own “racial justice lenses” and join me in the work we are all called to do as followers of Jesus, who said, “love God and love neighbor.”
Lanette Plambeck's closing remarksThe mission and ministry of the Iowa Annual Conference Antiracism Team has only just begun. We have deep work to do in our own systems our own practices and how we live in love inside and outside the walls of the church. We are really hoping to expand our team a bit and extend to more rural and town & country representation so if you have an interest in serving on this team I would invite you to reach out to any of our team members and also pray for our work as we begin to be alongside the leadership of our Board of Ordained Ministry, our connection ministries and our appointive cabinet seeking to live, learn and lead together to become fully antiracist as an annual conference. I want to remind you that antiracism work is kingdom on earth work. May God bless us and guide us in all that we do. Amen.