IS BMCR RELEVANT TODAY?
My experiences with Black Methodists for Church Renewal began in the early 70s in Chicago, Illinois. From 1983-1986 I served as the Executive Director of Chicago BMCR where we provided many services, trainings, and opportunities assisting our constituency to become equipped for service and advocates for the Black people in The United Methodist Church. I served as the vice president of National BMCR, 1986-1989 when Dr. John Corry was president. In 2003 I retired after 17 years with the General Board of Discipleship.
These opportunities and experiences provide me with a perspective which I share in response to the question “Is BMCR still relevant today?” Here is why I say unequivocally, “Yes!” This list is not necessarily in order of importance, but in the order I thought of them.
1. Values matter. Values are core beliefs which form and shape an individual or organization’s culture and behavior. Values precede mission and vision. BMCR crafted its values as:
· The legacy of BMCR: its history, its people, accomplishments, programs, events, etc.
· Our Wesleyan heritage of vital piety and social holiness;
· Our commitment to develop spiritual and prophetic leaders;
· Our relationships within The United Methodist connection; and
· Our commitment to inclusiveness and justice.
2. Race matters. There is something wrong in a country when an African American graduates magna cum laude from Harvard University, becomes a distinguished professor of Law, becomes President of The United States and is treated in such a shameful, disrespectful, racist manner as has become almost the daily norm.
Examples: Trayvon Martin. Incidents at Barney’s.
3. Racism Rising. Among all the isms: age, class, gender, sex; racism is at an all-time high for hate groups; the internet has enabled and emboldened such groups. Recent public statements by political and media personalities indicate lack of knowledge, concern and/or compassion for minorities.
Renewed voter suppression.
4. History and Identity matters. A new generation of African Americans and others need to know who we are and where we have come from. First, we are not “Johnny come lately” to The united Methodist Church. We have been here from the very beginning.
Our fore parents stayed in this church through segregation, disrespect, and ‘theological gerrymandering” (Central Jurisdiction). We have given this Church many gifts and that knowledge needs to be passed on. There are an increasing number of African Americans in majority and/or multicultural congregations. We still need to make known our rich history.
5. Divide and conquer is still an effective tactic.
Closure of African American Churches; Affordable Health Care
6. Change is inevitable; growth is optional. As sure as life happens, times and seasons will change; we can choose to learn and to grow from experience or die a slow death.
In the midst of this information age, a lot of stuff emerges but knowledge is the new currency.
7. Choir practice matters. It is often said that those who participate in BMCR are “preaching to the choir.” Everybody knows that there are some choir members who sing off key. That’s why we need choir practice.
8. Collaboration matters. We did not make some of the gains in the Church by ourselves. We needed the cooperation of other ethnic groups and some of the majority to help us to accomplish justice. This will be more so as representation is diluted at the various levels of the church. We must consistently build and nurture coalitions seeking justice.
9. Advocacy matters. In the early part of our history, we saw ourselves as the “agitating conscience” of the Church. We must not be complacent or lulled into a false sense of comfort in the Church. As recent as the 2012 General Conference, strong efforts were made to dismantle the two monitoring agencies of the Church. This effort is not going away.
10. Tea Party, Oreos, and Self Determination. The tea party politics and its systemic lack of respect and disregard for ethnic persons is alive and well in our Church and society. Unfortunately, the Oreo complex is also in existence; that’s where we allow the majority group to decide who will be our representative in groups, leadership, and/or General Conference delegation.
In spite of the progress that has been made, self-determination has always been and always should be a valid goal.
Black Methodists for Church Renewal is an official caucus of The United Methodist Church, advocating for justice and growing spiritual leaders. Sometimes the efforts have been as a race; sometimes the efforts have been a determined stride; and sometimes we have limped along, but all the time we have been pressing forward to the calling that has been ours to do.
By Marilyn Magee Talbert, Consultant (Excerpts from this document were used in a presentation to the Southeastern Jurisdiction BMCR, November 1, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee.)