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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2008 Archives > January-February 2008 > Agency celebrates 40 years of promoting inclusiveness

In this 1970 photo, the General Commission on Religion and Race merger committee waits to see the Mississippi Conference bishop. From left: the Rev. Woodie White, general secretary; the Rev. Duncan Hunter; the Rev. Joseph Lowery, merger committee chairman; Thelma Barnes; Rhett Jackson; and the Rev. Clayton Hammond, associate general secretary. Photo courtesy of Rhett Jackson.
Agency celebrates 40 years
of promoting inclusiveness

By Deborah White

Inclusiveness Counts" became a top priority for members of the Northern Illinois Conference in 2007 as they elected delegates to General Conference and the North Central Jurisdictional Conference.

Posters and buttons from the "Inclusiveness Counts" campaign of the General Commission on Religion and Race emphasized the importance of diversity. After each round of balloting, monitoring reports kept members informed.

Of the 24 delegates elected, half are male and half are female; 14 are racial/ethnic minority (five Asian, five black, three Hispanic, one Native American); three are young adults, and one clergy member is a deacon.

"I was very proud of the result of our monitoring reports," said the Rev. John Alan Boryk, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill., and chair of the Northern Illinois Conference Commission on Religion and Race.

This is just one example of the impact the General Commission on Religion and Race has had in its 40 years of service. It began in 1968 as part of the union that established The United Methodist Church and abolished the former Methodist Church's segregation of most black members into a separate Central Jurisdiction with separate annual conferences.

The agency's initial main task was monitoring efforts to merge white and black conferences. Now its staff advocates for racial and ethnic justice and monitors progress and challenges in racial/ethnic participation in annual conferences, general agencies and United Methodist seminaries. In 2007, the agency sent "Inclusiveness Counts" materials to 40 annual conferences.

During General Conference 2008 the agency will host a major exhibit called "Journey to Inclusiveness" highlighting 40 years of United Methodist efforts to develop an inclusive denomination.

This photo, taken in 2004 in College Park, Ga., at the first reunion of the former Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church, shows (from left): Rhett Jackson, Bishop Woodie White, Thelma Barnes (front), the Rev. Joseph Lowery (back) and the Rev. Clayton Hammond. UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose.
A new strategic plan will move the agency beyond monitoring to promoting a broader awareness of and response to racism. "After 40 years of faithful service, it is time for us to begin doing a new thing in new ways," said Erin Hawkins, who became general secretary in 2007.

The plan includes goals to:

- Educate and mobilize people to challenge racism throughout the church and the world.

- Engage leaders to work as partners to eradicate racism.

- Develop and support inclusive, multicultural leadership.

- Advocate for human dignity, compassion and hospitality for all racial/ethnic groups.

"It is our dream to be a nonracist denomination," said commission member Ilda Vasquez of Weslaco, Texas.

"I remember what the church used to look like. It looks a lot better today than it did 40 years ago," said retired Bishop Woodie White, the agency's first general secretary, who now teaches at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

"But if any of you are waiting for racism to disappear, you're in for a disappointment," White said in a 2006 speech to members of the North Central Jurisdiction Commission on Religion and Race.

"There will always be people trying to define others as inferior. We may not always have a Commission on Religion and Race, but we will always need one."

For more information and resources for promoting inclusiveness, see or call (202) 547-2271.

--Kathy Gilbert, United Methodist News Service news writer, and John Coleman, communications specialist for the General Commission on Religion and Race, contributed to this story.



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