Conversations on race first step to making change in the Iowa Annual Conference

Conversations on race first step to making change in the Iowa Annual Conference

June 15, 2020

Almost 190 people listened live on Facebook as Bishop Laurie hosted a Conversation on Race with members of our Iowa United Methodist Conference family. This conversation is the first in a series of events intended to help all of us to see, listen and learn from our black brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rev. LaTonya Calderon, Rev. Abraham Funchess, Grace Kiboko, Rev. Dr. Michel Lundula, and Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson shared their personal experiences with being black in America and the Iowa Annual Conference.

Listen to the June 15, 2020 "A Conversation on Race" Podcast​.

“John Wesley said, ‘the world is my parish,’ but for black folks, we’re not wanted everywhere,” said Rev. LaTonya Calderon.
Her thoughts were echoed by other panelists, and Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson described some of the things that have been said to her in previous parishes.
“I have had congregants say, ‘You’re our pastor? The bishop must be mad at us’ and ‘You’re our pastor? It’s because we don’t pay our apportionments,’” Thompson said. “If I had to choose one word to describe what it’s like, I would say exhausting.”
This opportunity for listening comes after the recent killings of Ahmaud ArberyGeorge Floyd and Breonna Taylor and stirred protests against police brutality across the country and world. 
“I’m so profoundly aware that what is happening now is nothing new…it’s so evident for us right now, because it’s a reflection of what has happened in the past,” Calderon said. “It’s exhausting for me that white people continue to ignore, deny, hide or simply refuse to change or be part of the change.”
“Borrowing a phrase from the Des Moines Black Lives Matter leader, ‘While I like the word listen, I much prefer the word action,’” added Thompson.
Rev. Abraham Funchess is hopeful that through the current conversation in our nation, the creation of multiracial coalitions can begin to make change.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to come together across a lot of barriers to attack racism and other systemic ills that hurt this country and I believe that’s what Christ would want us to do,” he said. “You may be upset about the police terrorism but also let’s talk about poverty, education and other things hurting not only blacks but other ethnicities and indigenous people.”
Grace Kiboko added that these conversations are not always going to be comfortable, but we need to face that in order to move forward as a country and conference.
“You hear the phrase ‘Iowa Nice,’’ she said. “We’re nice to everyone, but we avoid uncomfortable conversations and difficult topics like racism. There’s going to be times when you are uncomfortable, that you’re going to want to retreat, but don’t back away from that feeling.
Complacency is what got us this far. It’s why the protests have been going on for nineteen days. Real change happens when you look inside your heart and ask, ‘What are the things I’m doing to make real change in my community?’”

Rev. Dr. Michel Lundula knows in his heart that the church is the best way to create that change.
“I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of many conversations that lead us into better conversations in our congregations,” he said. “The church must be a voice, and it is our responsibility to take this lesson for people to hear.”
The panelists were also asked what the conference could do to better to support them moving forward. Many ideas were discussed, including:

  • Mandatory cross-cultural training for each church, regardless of who its pastor will be.
  • Mandatory implicit bias training for each clergy person and conference employee.
  • Holding a conference to address minority communities in the Iowa Conference.
  • Encouraging multiethnic conversations all the time, not just when there is a problem.
  • Making the work of the General Commission on Religion and Race and the Iowa Commission on Religion and Race more visable.
  • Inviting black voices to be heard all the time, not only when the conversation is about race.
  • Creating an intentionality for all congregations in the Iowa Conference to receive persons of color.

“Make this not just a moment in time,” said Kiboko. “Make this not like Ferguson in 2014 and let it fade away. We have an opportunity to make real change.”
Upcoming information about continued conversations will be made available soon. One conversation will feature three young women speaking about intersectionality in the Iowa Annual Conference.
“My prayer is that United Methodists in Iowa will dedicate ourselves to deep listening and honest engagement in difficult issues,” said Bishop Laurie. “I lift up my gratitude to our panelists for participating in our first Conversation on Race.”