Bishop White: Letter to Martin 2015

Bishop White 2015

This year, I am honored to again film Bishop Woodie White reading his annual “Letter to Martin” (Martin  Luther King, Jr.) on the state of race relations and racial justice in America. Bishop White is a retired United Methodist Bishop, was an active leader in the Civil Rights movement, and continues to teach and work for racial and social justice. He is the Bishop in Residence at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga where he teaches, preaches, and works to equip future leaders of the church for the transformation of the world.

Bishop White is a graduate of Paine College in Augusta, Ga and Boston University School of Theology. From 1969-1984 he was General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race of The United Methodist Church. Elected a bishop in 1984, he served the Illinois Great Rivers Area prior to his service in Indiana. He was president of the General Board of Discipleship from 1988-1992 and president of the Council of Bishops in 1996-1997. Bishop White was elected to the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

You may link to or embed this video on social media or your church website and it may be downloaded (in vimeo) to use in worship, Sunday Schools, Small Groups, or discussion groups for the purpose of further engaging in the conversation on Race and the Church in America.


The images used here are from various sources including Candler School of Theology, Emory University Libraries, United Methodist Communications, Wikimedia Commons, Twitter, and from news articles. The sole intent is for Fair Use of these images in order to show historical context of both earlier and more recent events.

Many thanks to Bishop White for his writing, his prophetic voice, and his work to aid the church in being a part of racial justice and reconciliation in America and beyond. My personal thanks to Rev. Brian Tillman (Johns Creek UMC), Claire Asbury Lennox (Candler School of Theology), and Joey Butler (United Methodist Communications) for their collaboration, encouragement, and interest in this project.

Full text of the Bishop White’s Letter:

Dear Martin:

I begin this letter mindful of the events that took place in our nation 50 years ago, events that changed the United States.

As you and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference accelerated the challenge to the discriminatory practices prohibiting black people from registering and voting in several Southern states, a special campaign was launched in Alabama.

A march from Selma to Montgomery was planned. At the end, the demonstrators were to present the governor with a list of practices encountered by black citizens of the state. Hundreds gathered on Sunday, March 7, 1965.

State officials had determined the march would not occur and banned the planned demonstration.

As the marchers began to move across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were met by a sizable police presence on the bridge. Some of the police were on horses. When the peaceful marchers refused to disband, they were attacked by the police, beaten and trampled by horses. Mass hysteria erupted. Wounded and bloody, the nonviolent, peaceful protesters were turned back.

Millions witnessed the brutal attacks on television and in newspaper photos. So vicious were they that the day became known as Bloody Sunday. The nation was horrified to see peaceful citizens so brutalized as they sought to be granted the right to vote in their own country.

Only days later, Martin, you called for a second march. This time thousands responded. Celebrities, church leaders, pastors and ordinary citizens gathered — and the march was fully racially integrated. It ended on the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery, with leaders presenting their concerns, grievances and demands.

Five months later, in August, what is commonly called the Voting Rights Act was law. Congress passed the 1965 Civil Rights Act because of the bold leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson. For the first time, black citizens anywhere in America had the right to register and the right to vote protected against intimidation, unfair and discriminatory regulations, fear of reprisals or violence.

Imagine, Martin, it was only 50 years ago, that the most basic right of a democracy, the right to vote, was guaranteed to black American citizens! Only 50 years ago!

In a few months, thousands of us will again gather at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We will remember those who led the way, some even giving their lives, that we might today exercise the right to cast a ballot freely.

Sadly, we will do so in the face of new threats to that right, as many state legislatures enact laws to make it more difficult for citizens to exercise that right.

The struggle continues.

Martin, we are again reminded of the deep racial divide in America. The deaths of a number of unarmed black youth and men at the hands of police have drawn national attention. Those who died in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Cleveland; and Ferguson, Mo., were males in their teens. Two of the deaths — one in Ferguson and the other in Staten Island, N.Y. – went before a grand jury. Neither resulted in an indictment against the police involved. The failures to indict have resulted in thousands demonstrating in major cities across the nation. There is general outrage and anger in the black community and beyond.

Is America again to have two societies, one black (or non-white), and one white, separate and unequal? And composed, as many hold, of two justice systems, one for white citizens and one for non-white citizens?

Is there the belief that black life is not as valued in our nation as white life? Indeed, a new slogan has emerged: “Black Lives Matter.”

A national conversation on race is emerging. With it is coming the revelation that white and black citizens view race dramatically differently. Even in these two widely known incidents of unarmed black young men meeting death as the result of police action, a significant number of white citizens conclude the deaths were clearly the fault of the black men, while black citizens believe they were caused by an underlying racism that views white and black people differently. White life is valued more than black.

Perhaps, Martin, that is still what is at the heart of the great racial divide in America. Still, it appears, the matter of one’s worth as a human being is finally about the color of one’s skin — not the content of one’s character, morality, ability or competence. Indeed, there seems no correlation between scoring a winning touchdown or basket, or between one’s abilities, political positions or party and one’s determined ultimate worth as a human being. Could it be that in the minds and hearts of so many, skin color determines worth and value?

We continue to face a lot of work in this nation on the issue of race. At times, we appear to move backward and forward simultaneously. The truth is, Martin, the events of the last 50 years are evidence of how far we have come on our journey to become “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But, the last 50 days are evidence as well of how far we have yet to go!

But, I still believe, Martin.

We shall overcome!

Woodie

Prayers of the People 2014.08.03

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2014.08.03 Prayers of the People
written for The Gathering at Glenn UMC

“In order to see we must first admit we have been blind…”
-Rev Josh Amerson

God who leads us, loves us, and heals us,
we have come here today seeking you–
Open our eyes through music, fellowship, song, and scripture;
we pray that the Holy Spirit continues to teach us,
that we might know your healing touch,
See you at work in the world,
And be surprised and changed by encountering YOU.

We all come today with concerns:
with questions, with prayers, with longings;
we pray that your Holy Spirit would stir up in us
the courage to listen, to hear,
to challenge, and to be changed.
We pray today for people–
–people both near and far from us–
who need to experience your love and care:
for those who are fighting cancer,
sickness, and mental illness,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and be your healing hands.

for people who are in the midst of
injustice, war, and violence,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and be instruments of peace .

for survivors of every kind of abuse,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and be compassionate, listening souls and shoulders.

for people who are caught up in systems
of oppression and economic injustice,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and be agents of justice and change.

for people who are blinded and consumed
by consumption and materialism,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and live out of your abundant economy.

for people who lead our
nations and local communities,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
and be compassionately engaged, civil, civil servants.

and for those who appear to be near to you
and those who appear to be far off,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
And help us recognize and behold you among us.

May we, all your people, know your healing touch–
and, by the power of your Holy Spirit,
may you open our eyes that we might see,
And GO to be the servants of your kingdom
with, and to, the hurting, broken, and surprising world. Amen.

Jesus Revealed

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This Fall Semester at Emory Wesley, we’re starting a NEW SERIES: “Jesus Revealed” // Jesus was born to poor, humble, Jewish parents around 2000 years ago in the backwaters the Roman Empire. He was one of many traveling teacher/healers of the ancient near eastern world. He didn’t write down his teachings, never became wealthy or owned tons of property, and didn’t tour the world with speaking engagements. Today, some 2000 years later, billions of people believe he is the son of God and many others debate just who this Jesus really was. Despite many people’s professions to know Jesus personally, a surprising number of Christians know surprisingly little about Jesus’ teachings and life found in scripture.

SO, journey with us as we rediscover Jesus.
Wednesday Night Worship @645pm
http://emorywesley.org/worship

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Long Walk to Freedom: Jesus, Mandela, & Lent

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Long Walk to Freedom: Jesus, Mandela, & Lent
 For MONDAY NIGHT WORSHIP at Emory Wesley (Methodist Campus Ministry at Emory) during LENT (40 Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter), we’re going to be focusing on Jesus’s walk towards Jerusalem where he will face persecution, trial, death, and, eventually, the Resurrection at Easter. SO, the Emory Wesley Worship Planning Team has decided to partner Jesus’s journey with Nelson Mandela’s journey towards freedom for ALL South African people, chronicled in his book “Long Walk to Freedom.” If you’re an Emory student,  feel free to join in Monday Nights 8pm at Cannon Chapel at Emory University.

Here’s the first homily in the series from Monday Night Worship at Cannon Chapel on 03.17.2014:

“Wilderness” // Long Walk to Freedom: Jesus, Mandela, and Lent week 1 from Emory Wesley on Vimeo.

The Trinity: Life Together

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Last semester, the student leaders at Emory Wesley and I met and decided that we should cover some pretty exciting topics in Monday Night Worship this semester–“The Trinity,” “Race and the Church in America,” and during Lent: “The Long March to Redemption” (hooking off of Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” and other social justice influences partnered with Jesus’ walk to the cross in Lent).

For the first series on the Trinity, we’re going to be doing a 4 part series on The Trinity with staff and students Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.04.10 PMgiving homilies on the overall Trinity and the 3 persons of The Trinity. The students are excited about the series and are really engaging well with the topic, songs, and the way we’re addressing this theological behemoth. We’re not trying to answer all the questions, but really we’re trying to help students ask the RIGHT questions. We’re halfway through the series and things are going pretty well thus far.

Here’s the first night of the series where I preached about how the Trinity shows us how God is in relationship and we must also seek to be in relationship in a homily called “The Trinity: Life Together.”

01.13.14 Monday Night Worship // ” The Trinity: Life Together” from Emory Wesley on Vimeo.

BikeToWork (ecology/theology)

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I’ve always liked bike riding. From childhood to college & grad school I’ve biked occasionally for recreation, transportation, exercise, and fun. This year I’ve been able to take on a new adventure: biking to work 2 days of my 4 day work week. I’m riding a bike rented from an innovative program Bike Emorya unique partnership between Emory University & our local shop Bicycle South that encourages/equips students, faculty, and staff to learn bicycle care, make community connections, and ride safely.emory bike

I believe in bike commuting as a way to lessen my impact on the environment, improve traffic, and see the world in a more people-centric, community kind of way. Riding to work allows me to lessen the amount of greenhouse gases I’m contributing to the atmosphere, take one single-commuter car off the road, and to see different side streets, neighborhoods, people, and communities that I otherwise wouldn’t see.

We have amazing Sustainability Initiatives at Emory, which really help our community to engage in greener ways of living and enjoy the world around us. In my work as the United Methodist Campus Minister at Emory I have had so many good conversations with students about how we are called to take care of the environment as a matter of justice, stewardship, and a way to care for people. In my faith tradition we have 3 simple ‘rules’: “Do Good, Do No Harm, and Stay in the Love of God and Neighbor.” These seemingly simple rules are more complex once we take them beyond simple platitudes and ask how to live out these ideals–especially when we consider how we live, act, and use/consume resources.

Socrates got it right when he said that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” This is one of the greatest challenges for Americans: to think beyond our own needs and to consider the needs, situations, and hopes of others in our communities and in other communities in our nation and around the world. A step towards understanding the hopes and needs of others is to get to know people who are in different ages, stages, and economic places in your community. In the context of relationship we can learn much about the hopes, dreams, and ideals of others and, in turn, discover much about ourselves.

Riding a bike makes one physically and philosophically closer to world around us: there is no emory road blurredglass/metal cage to separate us, no radio to distract us, no anonymity of a car to shield us. Riding my bike to work gives me time to take in and ponder the people and scenes I’m seeing and hearing–not to mention the hills that I’m feeling in my legs. I’m thankful to be able to bike to work to better understand and appreciate the world around me. Being a bike commuter is a way to live out my ecological and theological beliefs to take care of the planet and to care for people.

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twitter bio shot 2012 3Rev. Joseph McBrayer works as Director of Emory Wesley Fellowship, the United Methodist Campus Ministry at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga, where he helps build community on campus to provide a place for students to think through their beliefs and put them into practice. He and his spouse live in the North Decatur area and have been a part of the Atlanta/Emory Community for the past 8 years. You may contact him at jmcbray@gmail.com or connect on twitter @jmcbray.

faithful mentors

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I’m writing this post today in response to a DAY OF BLOGGING for Exploration 2013, a United Methodist Event for people discerning a call to ordained ministry. They asked us to respond to the question: “Who influenced you in discerning your Call to Ministry?” So here it is:

For many in ministry or clergy roles we simply “walk alongside” and  “live life” with the people whom we guide and work with in ministry. This is what the many faithful mentors in my journey have done with/for me–they’ve simply been there as I have experienced (thus far) the full stretch of human life–good times and bad.

auburn samford hallMy specific call to ministry and working with college students came during my freshman year at Auburn University when I went on a Weekend Mission Trip with Auburn Wesley Foundation and Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) to Mobile, Alabama to work at St. Francis Street Mission. The trip was led by Lisa Pierce, the founder and director of ARM

On the trip we worked with a man named “Mr. Johnny” where we fixed his roof and shared some good times and even a few jokes about coffee, roofing, and life. On Sunday morning instead of GOING to Church we went and DID Church: we worked in the soup kitchen and sang songs with the men, women, and children, the poor and homeless, who were in the mission that day. It was an eye opening experience to DO Church instead of just attending church/worship on Sunday morning.Emory Wesley students at ARM on Spring Break 2013 I came back from that trip feeling called and knowing that I wanted to do those kinds of things, and help others to do those things as my vocation. Lisa’s facilitating that trip and encouraging me to go has helped shape the direction of my life for the better. We still stay in contact and it is a great joy to bring Emory Wesley college students on trips to do work with Lisa and ARM.

Over the course of my time at Auburn the Auburn Wesley Director, Rev. David Goolsby, guided and mentored me in ministry and helped shape me into a leader in the Auburn community. I had the opportunity to help lead music and liturgy in worship, experiment with different styles and types of worship, lead small groups, reflect theologically and dream about church models, plan and lead mission trips, and many more opportunities for transformation and service. David is still a mentor of mine, officiated our wedding, and is a thoughtful guide and ‘guru’ of campus ministry for many.

I am thankful and grateful to God for mentors like Lisa and David who helped me to hear God’s call in my life. I’ll end with a word from David in my own paraphrased Goolsby-ism: “May we seek to be faithful to God as God is faithful to us.” Amen.

For more info about Exploration 2013 click here: ExploreCalling.org!

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