C-Mail (in order received)

Aug. 11
It would be interesting to poll some of Holston's delegates and see if they agree with the article in this week’s The Call [“Delegates say racism affected SEJ elections,” Aug. 13 edition]. Perhaps I was too busy with delegation and episcopal committee obligations to notice, but I surely did not think race was a big issue.  In fact, I didn't think of it as an issue at all. I thought it was a kind of liberal versus moderate/conservative issue and an "experience" issue. I based that on what I heard others saying, not just a feeling I had.

Whatever the "issue" we need to pray diligently for all our bishops and especially our newly elected bishops, for they truly do have an unbelievable task ahead of them. May God give them all they need to lead effectively.

Jean Henderson
Wesley Memorial UMC
Cleveland District

Aug. 12
As regards the article,  “Delegates say racism affected SEJ elections,” I would offer some personal observations and thoughts. Admittedly I was not present at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference but did watch the proceedings via the internet and read the Daily Christian Advocate. It was readily apparent to me that once the conference had elected Bishop Swanson on the 4th ballot early on in the election process, the conference felt like they had “done their duty” in electing their token African-American bishop for the Southeast and now then they could move on to electing white persons for the other episcopal positions. You need only follow the results of the successive balloting to recognize there was an obvious attempt afoot to keep both a well-qualified African-American female and a Native-American male candidate from being elected. But before we start pointing fingers at the jurisdiction, we need only look at our own conference, local church and self to see how far we have to go to get beyond race and gender bias.

We United Methodists in the Southeast (the largest membership jurisdiction in the U.S.) have, in my opinion, grown comfortable with substituting overt racism and sexism with a more subtle and politically correct tokenism. We have accepted the notion and made ourselves feel good that if we place a limited number of African Americans and female persons in appointed positions, we cannot then be accused of being racist or sexist. We have become accepting of the notion that appearance and perception are more important than reality, and that once we have done the politically correct thing we have washed our hands of the responsibility to be prophetic in our witness against closed itinerancy.

It is one thing to elect one non-white bishop in the jurisdiction or appoint one non-white district superintendent and falsely pride ourselves on our openness and diversity; it is quite another to have an open itinerancy in appointment-making where the race and gender of the appointed pastor is not even a consideration, but only their gifts and graces, qualifications, abilities and experience. It is one thing to elect a non-white bishop in the Southeast,; it is another to have a conference other than Holston, Western North Carolina, Tennessee or Memphis have him to be their episcopal leader. It is one thing to elect one non-white person for our clergy or lay delegations in Holston; it is quite another to elect them as leaders of the delegation or elect more than one. It is one thing to appoint a non-white person to an administrative position,; it is quite another for that or another non-white person to serve any of our larger or medium-sized white congregations as pastor and for them to be accepted as such by the people there.

As a white male field representative with the very racially and ethnically diverse General Board of Global Ministries and working with conferences and local churches all over the US, I became acutely aware that the “Bible Belters”of my home region give lip service to openness and diversity, but their practices suggest quite the opposite. May God help us to recognize our sinfulness in this regard, repent and move on to genuine reconciliation and affirmation instead of pretending we have already arrived.

Rev. George Odle
Stewardship consultant
Johnson City District

Aug. 12
How interesting that the week I am reading "Blood Done Sign My Name" by Timothy Tyson – the son of and grandson of a Methodist minister, about a racial killing in 1970, by the father of one of Mr. Tyson's playmates, in a small town in North Carolina where Mr. Tyson's father was a local minister, and the social history leading up to the event and the social mentality of the time – that racism is still being discussed.
Marty Brown
St. Elmo UMC
Chattanooga District

Aug. 14
It seems that every time we are disappointed we blame some "ism." Will we ever realize we are not perfect and nothing we do is perfect? If it was not so, Christ would not have had to die. Let's stop spending our time on our gripes and disappointments and spend more time improving our lot in life.
Rev. Clyde Ricker
Retired pastor
Johnson City District

Aug. 14
I am responding to the invitation to express opinion regarding possible racism in the SEJ elections. It is unfortunate that some, who were disappointed that an African-American woman nominee was not elected, have now complained using the so-called "race card."  Anyone who knows anything about the elections knows that at every election there are good nominees who are not elected. Some of these go on to be elected in later quadrenniums – Richard Looney and Mary Virginia Taylor from our own conference are examples. Will Willimon, who was a nominee eight years ago and not elected then, but was elected this year, is another example.

The African-American woman who was not elected was considered not to yet have adequate pastoral and leadership experience to fit her for the extremely difficult episcopal office. In conversation with delegates from across the jurisdiction, we heard that opinion expressed.

Our new bishop, James Swanson, elected on the fourth ballot, was not chosen as a "token," but because he was viewed to be the kind of leader we need for the church today. I believe that from many good possibilities, we chose six excellent persons who will give us creative, courageous and compassionate leadership as bishops.

One more thing. I have been privileged to serve on the SEJ Committee on Episcopacy for the last two quadrenniums. Sitting on the committee this year were eight persons, men and women, black and white, who have been episcopal nominees but not elected. I think all of them could have been good bishops. And there are many more out there who don't turn up as nominees, but are blessed with high qualifications. Isn't it great to know we have such great committed leadership for Christ and his Church in the SEJ?

Rev. J.N. Howard
Signal Mountain UMC
Chattanooga District

Aug. 16
I was not pleased that you would put the article on the front page of The Call about racism impacting the elections of bishops. I am appalled that you would even print the article. Was it a slow news day? I do not think you would find one delegate out of the 32 from Holston who would believe this article. However, printing the article makes it look like some or all of us from Holston may be racist. I can assure you that I am not, did not vote that way. I worked hard to get James Swanson elected and worked hard with our delegation to see if he could be assigned to Holston.

If such an article as this is all you have to print, then maybe we should not have printed a paper that week. Not a happy camper this morning.

Rev. Jack Edwards
First Broad Street UMC
Kingsport District

Aug. 16
Black and White
When one would play upon the keys of white, there is a tune;

Of if they choose the black, again a song will fill the room;

But deeper still are melodies and greater rapture known

When black and white are called upon to harmonize the tone.

When one is cast upon the scene of this terrestrial home,

Again is met both Black and White to share or dwell alone.

When one would scorn the other’s role, then each will know discord;

But with esteem the dismal strife unfolds in love’s rewards.

Rev. George W. Armbrister
Zion UMC
Knoxville District

Aug. 16
I read with interest Michael Wacht's article regarding alleged racism at the 2004 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference.

It is striking that the only delegates quoted were those alleging blatant racism or as Rev. Roger Hopson suggested: unconscious racism. No one who disagreed with this viewpoint was interviewed or at least not quoted. This is unbalanced reporting and unfair to others who no doubt felt they had legitimate reasons for the votes they cast.

Rev. Geraldine McClellan said that she saw the quota mentality in the report of the nominations committee that apparently followed the Book of Discipline guidelines for racial-ethnic representation. What can one expect when the Book of Discipline establishes a quota? More interesting perhaps is who lobbied for establishment of the quota? It should come as no surprise that quotas satisfy neither majority nor minority.

I would hope we could select the very best from among those qualified to be bishops, without regard to race, gender or ethnicity. We desperately need the best leadership we can find. One observer, Kathy FitzJefferies, said she believed the strongest candidates were racial-ethnic candidates. Others seemed to feel that Bishops should be selected on racial-ethic bases rather than selecting the best-qualified candidates. It is simply short sighted to assemble a pool of qualified candidates and then allocate a portion of them to openings based on race , gender or ethnicity. It may be that our best leadership comes from racial-ethnic candidates, but I believe we err in setting diversity as a leading criteria for selection. It's also a disservice to our minority bishops to suggest they're selected based on race or ethnicity rather than being best qualified for the job.

The other alleged racial behaviors cited are unacceptable. Unfortunately, we read nothing from those accused of such behaviors. One has to wonder why. The only resolution to the matter is constructive dialogue, little of which appeared in this article.

Our denomination is at a crossroads. If we cannot focus on making disciples and free ourselves from endless debate over peripheral issues such as diversity, our recent decline will continue.

Hal Jones
Mountain View UMC
Kingsport District

Aug. 20
For the first time since our new format in The Call – which has been primarily good news with a positive up beat – has my conscience been offended by the publication. In the Aug. 13 issue the tone was different. The lead article was an embarrassment to me to know that our new incoming Bishop James Swanson would read the biased claim by Michael Wacht, that delegates say racism was prevalent in the election of Bishop Swanson as a "token" African-American bishop of the Southeast. Surely Bishop Swanson’s gifts, graces, abilities and experiences qualify him for the holy office and race was not the deciding factor in his election. Members of Holston Conference should accept him without hesitation or mental reservation as a well-qualified, worthy, spirit-filled episcopal leader

Rev. Terril D. Littrell
Centenary UMC
Morristown District

Aug 30
Thank you for the courage and honesty to run this controversial story [“Delegates say racism affected SEJ elections, Aug 13].  I was not aware of any racism involved in our voting. As a member of the delegation from this “Bible-belter region,” my votes were cast for those whom I believe would offer leadership and based on my loyalty to our own candidate. I regret that others saw racism, but I do not believe that the majority of delegations were operating out of any sense of racism or sexism. I truly believe that this was a prayerful process which sought the good of the church.

Rev. Dennie Humphreys
Holston Conference delegate
Senior pastor, Brainerd UMC
Chattanooga District


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