Reconciling the Past, Confronting Racism

United Methodist conferences across the nation placed racial equality at the top of their list of important issues during their annual summertime gatherings this year.

At the North Alabama conference, one of 63 main districts that make up the United Methodist Church, attendants shared a time of reflection, confession and forgiveness. Hundreds stood outside the McCoy United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama for a service to purge the sins of prejudice and discrimination against African Americans.

"I'm a pastor and as a pastor and as a Christian, we're in the business of naming our sins and asking God for forgiveness, so it seemed to me like something we needed to do," said North Alabama Bishop William Willimon,” according to the United Methodist News Service.

The “Service of Confession and Recommitment to Disciple-Making,” marked a huge step forward for the historically white church that died 12 years ago because of its segregated policies.

McCoy was built in a formerly white neighborhood, but could not gather enough members to support it when the neighborhood turned mostly black. At the service, the attendants decided to reconcile as a forgiven people and promised to re-open the sanctuary and furthermore start three new multi-ethnic churches.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Annual Conference honored 13 retired pastors who stood against segregation 42 years ago by signing a “Born of Conviction statement.”

"You reached a point where you simply had to stand up, so to speak, and speak your piece," said the Rev. Inman Moore, Pasadena, Calif., one of 28 pastors who signed the statement. At that time, 20 of those pastors were driven out of the state by threats on their lives.

"We all had intimidating phone calls and letters. Some of the ministers were locked out of their churches," said Moore, according to UMNS. "Several of them were without a source of income or a place to live immediately."

But Moore still served the church, though at a different conference. Moore believes the fight against racism still goes on. "The beat goes on, and I don't think it ever ends," he said.

In Missouri, attendants honored African Americans who stayed in the denomination despite pervasive racism and discrimination.