United Methodist Church’s Black Caucus Approves New Plan to Tackle Mass Incarceration, Violence, Voter Rights, and Immigration Reform

At right, the Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, chair of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, addresses the caucus about plans for its future. From left, sitting, are the Rev. Danita R. Anderson, the group's secretary, and Deborah Bell, vice chair. (Photo by Bill Fulton, WAFB Photo)
At right, the Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, chair of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, addresses the caucus about plans for its future. From left, sitting, are the Rev. Danita R. Anderson, the group’s secretary, and Deborah Bell, vice chair. (Photo by Bill Fulton, WAFB Photo)

Expect to hear more in the next three years from The United Methodist Church’s black caucus on issues that affect the denomination and wider U.S. society.

Black Methodists for Church Renewal at its 47th annual meeting March 28-29 approved a new strategic plan for 2014-17 with a renewed emphasis on advocacy.

“We need to pay closer attention to issues where we need to be advocates within the church and within our communities,” the Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, BMCR chair, told the 250 participants in the St. Louis meeting. Bridgeforth is a district superintendent in the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.

“We have slipped up in that we have focused our advocacy — when we have decided to do it — on what is happening within the church. And in the midst of that we have become irrelevant beyond the church… When we do advocacy work outside of the four walls then it gives meaning to what’s happening within the four walls,” he said to a chorus of “Amens.”

The caucus counts among its target constituency the roughly 450,000 U.S. United Methodists of African descent, including recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. The group’s advocacy in the past helped establish the Black College Fund to support historically black United Methodist-related schools; contributed to urban mission development and helped found Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Possible issues to tackle
The group did not specifically identify new issues to tackle. However, members in conversations and workshops repeatedly raised certain common concerns they believed the caucus could help address from a Christian perspective.

These concerns included:

  • Mass incarceration: According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, based at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world and is neck-and-neck with China in the number of its people behind bars. In 2013, about 2.24 million people in the United States — meaning 716 per 100,000 people —were in a penal institution.
  • Violence: A number of members spoke with alarm about gun violence within the black community. They cited the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two unarmed black teens killed in separate incidents.
  • Voter rights: Eight states since the start of 2013 have passed “restrictive voting” legislation, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University of School of Law. Laws include stricter photo identification, elimination of election-day registration, and a reduction of the number of days for early voting.
  • Immigration reform: Group members, some of whom are immigrants themselves, also expressed an interest in supporting comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

“If the sum total of our advocacy work is about ensuring that our little church stays on our little corner no matter what the bishop or superintendent says about it, we have failed,” Bridgeforth said.

He added that churches need be interested in addressing the needs of the communities where they are located, “or they need to be somewhere else.”

He also cautioned group members not to ask denominational leaders to solve problems they aren’t willing to help address themselves.

As part of the group’s advocacy work, the strategic plan calls for the creation of BMCR advocacy councils in each of the five U.S. jurisdictions “to identify and respond to advocacy needs.” The group also plans to develop policy papers to provide education on the issues members are tackling.

Bridgeforth noted that United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race helped provide funding for the group to develop its strategic plan. For that reason, he said, the commission will serve as a monitoring agency “to make sure we accomplish what we say we will accomplish.”

“If we do not perform according to the measurable goals we have submitted, we do not receive the funding,” he said.

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SOURCE: United Methodist News
Heather Hahn

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