AME
Bishop Anne Byfield, front right, President of the Council of Bishops, speaks during the opening worship service at the African Methodist Episcopal Church conference on July 6, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

AME Church Bishops Address COVID-19, Critical Race Theory As Major Meeting Opens

By Adelle Banks

The bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church opened their denomination’s major meeting — a year after it was delayed due to the coronavirus — with a call for greater worldwide access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing.

“Joining our ecumenical and interfaith partners, we call on the United States government to expedite equity in global vaccinations,” they said in a Tuesday (July 6) statement released during a news conference at the start of their General Conference.

They cited “the desperate need of COVID testing and vaccine resources” in regions outside the United States such as Africa, India and the Caribbean.

The denomination’s five day-meeting in Orlando, Florida, is expected to include recorded messages from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and attendees will consider proposed legislation.

One proposal suggests repealing the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage, but John Thomas III, editor of the denomination’s official publication, The Christian Recorder, said that “it probably won’t make it to the floor.” Usually about a tenth of the proposals for the meeting get adopted and become part of the church’s doctrinal book, noted an AME pastor who has served on the Revisions Committee at several General Conference meetings.

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In their statement, the leaders of the historic Black denomination — which dates to 1787 — also addressed critical race theory, an academic theory about systemic racism, in a global context.

“We acknowledge the current controversy around Critical Race Theory and acknowledge that healing can only begin when the traumas of the past are recognized,” the bishops said.

“In African Methodism, our strategy will be informed by the notion that racism is the root evil and that ending racism is one of our highest priorities. We need partners in the fight against race inspired ills that continue to cry out against inequities beyond the borders of the USA. We must signal to public officials that the actions taken are more important than the proclamations made.”

CRT has sparked debate within other religious organizations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as in Congress and in school districts across the country.

The AME bishops also highlighted a congregation and a deaconess affiliated with their denomination who have worked to draw national attention to events in Black history related to slavery and its aftermath.

They saluted Opal Lee of Fort Worth, Texas, who made symbolic marches to seek a holiday marking June 19, 1865, when enslaved Black people in her state learned they were free — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

“In 2021, the world learned anew of AME power, commitment, and tenacity as Juneteenth became a federal holiday,” the bishops said.

Weeks before Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, an AME church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, dedicated a prayer wall during commemoration ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of the massacre in that city when a white mob killed an estimated 300 Black people.

The bishops expressed their support for a reparations bill for the massacre and apology to the three remaining survivors and the descendants of those who were killed.

“Joining with Vernon Chapel AME, the only landmark that survived the massacre, our commitment is to make it the law of the land,” they said. “Reparations is a solution.”

The bishops also expressed their support for other legislation related to voting rights, quoting the namesake of the proposed John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“Especially in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision essentially gutting the remaining protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” they said, “The AME Church must take a public position, and get into ‘good trouble,’ thus helping to ensure that there is authentic voter integrity and protection of every person’s right to vote.”

Adelle Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.

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30 thoughts on “AME Church Bishops Address COVID-19, Critical Race Theory As Major Meeting Opens”

  1. “In African Methodism, our strategy will be informed by the notion that racism is the root evil”

    There you have it, the basic premise of Critical Race Theory. It’s not Adam’s sin against a holy God that led to our fallen world. Instead, it’s racism that is America’s original sin, and salvation can only be achieved through activism, not Jesus Christ.

    1. Let’s unpack what you have written here and see if we can find some middle ground.

      Adam’s sin leads to a fallen world. Racism is America’s original sin. Can you see we are talking about two different issues here.

      Certainly, at the Cosmic level Adam’s sin was involved in the pollution of of the created order.

      Part of the polluted created order was America’s original sin of racism. If the speaker was suggesting that the Salvation of the world was to be found in correcting America’s racism then you would have a point. It would be difficult to deduce that though from this article.

      The basic premise of Critical Race Theory is that all kinds of active and passive elements have made up and continue to make up the endemic racism that has existed and continues to exist in America. Putting the spotlight on Christian hypocrisy through the ages in regards to race should not really be that threatening….unless you are afraid that you will be caught out.

      Bob

      1. I guess I disagree that these are two different issues. As an orthodox pastor, I hold that the gospel message is the underlying solution to every issue in our fallen world. The gospel isn’t a solution to only SOME issues (with activism being the solution to others). The gospel is the solution to all. If we only focus on social change (which it seems apparent is the focus of the AME), without pairing it with reconciling someone to Christ, then it’s futile. It’s making a more comfortable world for those going straight to hell. Now, this in no way diminishes the Christian responsibility of working to improve society and working for justice, but as Thaddeus Williams points out in his phenomenal book “Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth” (endorsed by John Perkins), we can’t confuse the gospel with the outflows of the gospel.

        Pointing a spotlight on Christian racial hypocrisy through the ages, or highlighting areas that racism still exists in society is a needed and necessary occurrence. But the problem with CRT is that its basic premise rejects any gospel component at all in favor of finding salvation through activism. To illustrate why I don’t see these as two separate issues, you can look to best-selling author Ibram Kendi, who summarizes CRT well when he says that we “must fundamentally reject savior theology” I.e. that we are sinners who deserve separation from God, but in his grace Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to him, and that we should preach this message to the nations, to make disciples of Christ. Instead, he says that “the job of the Christian is to revolutionize society. That the job of the Christian is to liberate society from the powers on earth that are oppressing humanity.”

        1. Marin Heiskell

          Question for Gus – Doesn’t evangelism lead to revolution? In other words, if we (as Christians) share the gospel with sinners, and they become believers who are so empowered and emboldened by the gospel to love others as Christ calls us to, won’t you see a revolution? Won’t you see people set free from oppression – individually and collectively – through the love of Christ and power of the gospel? And shouldn’t believers be so transformed by the gospel that they MUST act when they see oppression and injustice?
          I don’t see how these are separate approaches.
          This is one reason why I think Black and White churches need to talk this out. I believe both want the same result (a saved world, revolutionized by the gospel), but they think that their approaches clash (White churches think it’s only about evangelism and see social justice as some sort of evil; Black churches think that you can’t talk about evangelizing if you don’t address injustice and meet physical needs) when in fact they complement one another.

      2. Bob, you are misusing the term “original sin.” There is no “America’s original sin” or any other nation’s original sin.

        Germany didn’t have an original sin. Japan didn’t have an original sin. The Soviet Union didn’t have an original sin. Cambodia didn’t have an original sin problem. I could go on and on…

        Human beings are each and individually born with original sin, and will stand before God to be judged as individuals.

        That is one of the huge errors of CRT and non-biblical social justice – there are no individuals, just groups and systems. Utterly unbiblical.

        1. Thank you – was going to write something similar about “original sin” but you have phrased it well.

    2. Gus, how much do you know about CRT? If your answer is you have not studied the issue what causes you to be against it?

      1. Hi Tom – I’m actually very well versed in CRT, and have been studying it for two years now, long before it’s recent entry into the more mainstream (and politicized) spotlight. Unfortunately, it has become a boogeyman on both sides. The ultra conservatives slap that label on anything that has to do with race, instead of the very specific ideologies behind it, sometimes just to avoid talking about the subject. The progressives deny it’s relevance entirely, falsely claiming it’s merely an academic discipline, or that it’s solely confined to legal studies. If you read the primary sources (sociologists, activists, and historians), you get a clear sense of the ideology and worldview it has become.

        I’m against CRT because its a worldview that rejects the gospel (see my Kendi quote above), and is divisive both inside and outside of the church. I’m not someone who thinks we should avoid talking about race, or that racism doesn’t exist, but I think CRT is the wrong approach. Check out the Center For Biblical Unity for a great example of an approach to dealing with racism that is biblically rooted.

        1. Dr. Peter J Oehler

          Gus
          “and is divisive both inside and outside of the church.” That is precisely correct and that is the fundamental purpose of CRT as it is a Marxist doctrine. Basic Marxist philosophy was NOT taking hold in America due to the size and strength of the burgeoning middle class. They couldn’t set the lower class working people against the land owners or industrialist, and so they had to create other “struggles” to divide the country.

    3. According to the scriptures this statement is bull: “racism is the root evil.” Much closer to the truth is that pride is the root evil that all others, including racism, proceed easily and naturally out of. We live in a day and age where people love redefining sin to what other people are doing and not them. There are a lot of sins out there to go around Racism is certainly one of them. But the notion that everyone of a certain color is a racist is a red hearing. We all likely have some ancestors who were racists and some who were not. We are not automatically innocent because some were not nor are we guilty because some of them were.

      “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.” – 31 Jer. 31:29

  2. Mr. Hitching, I’m sure you will agree that slavery existed in many parts of the globe for more than 2,000 years before the first African slaves stepped foot in North America. And if we continue this line of reasoning a bit further, victorious African chieftains reportedly sold into slavery Africans who they had defeated in battle. For these reasons, it is hard to understand how racism could be America’s original sin.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      Yes, all sin is rooted in pride – believing that we know better than God and/or want to be “masters of our own fate.” Racism is tied to pride.

      However, I understand the context of calling racism America’s “original” sin, because the founding documents – from which the concept, principles, and nation of America originated – had racism (and sexism and classism) embedded in them (e.g., “all men were created equal” referred to white male land-owners). There are constitutional amendments to address some of these initial flaws (e.g., the 13th and 14th Amendments are examples that apply in this case, and would not have been needed if we got our views on race – class and gender – right the first time).

      Racism (and slavery) existed before America – even dating back to Biblical times – and continue to exist beyond its borders. It pains me that statements like “racism happened elsewhere” and “slavery happened in Africa” are positioned to justify and absolve America from participating and perpetuating these sins through our founding documents, past laws/policies, and past and present attitudes. Likewise, anti-semitism dates back to Biblical times, but I’ve never heard it positioned as a way to justify Germany’s role in the Holocaust. Why not? I believe it is because on some level many hold the belief that “on some level, Black people have deserved everything that has happened to them.” I’ll just leave that right there. (BTW, tribal slavery and race-based slavery are VERY different – definitely not an apples-to-apples comparison, but that’s a whole other thread).

      CRT is a theory. It’s even in the title. You don’t have to agree with it to study it. Throughout my educational career, I had to study PLENTY of faiths, theories, and belief systems I don’t believe in. It’s part of EDUCATION. To only study what we like or agree with will leave us VERY ignorant. You can tell by the way we are yelling “CRT!” anytime the topic of race or racism comes up. Every time simething is mislabeled as part of CRT, I say it further proves why we need to study it – to dispel ignorance and know how to properly counter (or support) it. Need more proof on why we should study even those theories we disagree with? I have been able to have VERY productive evangelistic converstions with non-Christian friends because I was educated on what beliefs they hold; it helped me know how to counter them with scripture. To slap some lazy, uninformed label or accusation on them would’ve proven me to be little more than a “sheltered, uninformed Christian who lives in a bubble.” Education is important.

      In the meantime – I think this dialogue is important so that the body of Christ can be more integrated. I hate that we reflect the world by being as segregated as the world. I’ve said on here before, as a Black woman who currently attends a predominantly White church, it has been eye opening to see the hatred for social justice – with labels like “woke” (improperly used) slapped on any community activism – when the Black church lives and breathes it since the era of MLK, where reaching out and supporting the disadvantaged and oppressed is considered part of being a disciple (walking the talk). I’d like to see us find some common ground here.

      1. “All men are created equal….” The “men” is the use of the generic word for “mankind” or I guess we need to update that to “all people” for our day. It wasn’t just for “white land owners” because that phrase is exactly what has been referenced by abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and the fight by Martin Luther King, Jr. for equal opportunity for all. As MLK wrote, where an individual wouldn’t be judged by the color of his/her skin but by their character. Many of the “founding fathers” understood and wrote truth, yet had a hard time living up to it. Yes, voting was restricted to land owners, but that important phrase is what helped to bring about abolition as well as equal opportunity and voting rights, etc.

        1. Marin Heiskell

          Yes, I know that “men” is often a generic word for “mankind”; I have no issue with that (especially as someone who prefers the poetic language of the KJV). But when our founding fathers followed that up with laws that denied women, Black people, or poor people the right to vote – and held debates over how a Black person should count as only “three-fifths” of a man, it’s understandable to question what was meant when they wrote “men.”
          You can make it sound cute with phrases like they “had a hard time living up to it.” The Bible still calls it SIN. And it was a sin that shaped the origins of this nation. We paid a HUGE price for it.

  3. So let’s try and work this a little more.

    1. Obviously Original Sin is a term that has been made up to describe the state that we often use for “all have fallen in Adam” So we need to be careful in how we switch uses.

    2. If America did have an “original” sin, that is let’s say, “America was founded originally on principles that were against scripture.”

    a. The Land that America claims was stolen from the indigenous people.
    b. America’s economic growth was funded by stealing People from Africa and making them slaves for economic reasons.
    c. The American government broke every treaty made with the indigenous peoples and in turn caused the genocide of a a whole race of people.

    Now I would suggest that these American Sins were Original in as much as they were built into the fabric of its founding as a Nation.

    3. To the person who wrote that there have been slaves all over the world for the last 2000 years and that this somehow excuses America’s actions from being considered racism……If it does not excuse America’s actions then it certainly does add to the idea that it was Sin built into the inception of the Nation.

    4. It is hard as an Englishman looking on to see how on earth Christians in America can still hold on to the belief that America is in some way special in the eyes of God.

    You stole the Real Estate from the Native Americans and funded your agricultural development in the South by Slavery. Why is it so hard for you to see that God is far away from blessing this at the national level.

    Bob

    1. The Pilgrims who came over from Europe were seeking to exercise their religion freely which I think is a scriptural principle. I don’t recall in any of my history that they were seeking to create a nation. So not sure exactly where we start drawing the line where America was “founded.”

      1. Marin Heiskell

        @Don – be careful; you’re starting to bring up points mentioned in 1619 (in regards to when our nation was founded).
        And when the pilgrims came over here and saw the land was already occupied – I think we can agree they didn’t apply scriptural principles on how to handle it.

    2. Marin Heiskell and Bob Hitching, the very long existence of slavery does not excuse racist actions or racism. Please don’t misunderstand my words. Historically speaking, it is very shaky to damn America for the sins of earlier people, because doing so overlooks the result of a very bloody Civil War (that caused slaves to be freed). Condemning America for earlier sins also overlooks the vast fruits of the Civil Rights Movement, namely, extensive legislation (and legal codes) that protect African-Americans and other minorities, and the billions of dollars spent to promote Affirmative Action and other actions to uplift and encourage minority citizens.

  4. As a Black man and Pastor, I want to know why the AME Church would even have a discussion on reneging on their ban on gay marriage when they obviously know that the institution of marriage and the family is God’s creation and institution?? I’m getting really sick of weak Churches and Denominations caving to the culture and acting to directly defy Almighty God on these and other issues that the Bible is unmistakably clear about! What don’t the AME Church don’t understand about the words of Jesus in Matthews 19:4-6 ?:

    And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    Let’s unpack it:

    1. God made “THEM” Male and Female.

    2. A man must leave his father and mother, (reminding us that every human being has a mother and father) and be joined to his wife.

    3. The “TWO” shall become “ONE FLESH”, clearly stating that only the male-female connection can comprise of a one-flesh union, and that is possible because both the male and the female union make up 1/2 each and together they make one whole, thus we have the “one-flesh” spiritual connection as well as the sexual union.

    4. And perhaps most importantly, Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder, clearly stating that in terms of marriage, God has ordained the union of a man and a woman….only!

    I’m really tired of weak Preachers and Church People caving to the whims of a wicked society, and that they would even entertain the idea of overturning the ban on the perversion of gay marriage. I’d like to ask in light of Matthew 19:4-6, HOW IN THE WORLD COULD WE DEFY GOD AND EVEN ENTERTAIN SUCH AN EVIL?

  5. I think the important point here is to stay on topic and that is the question of Race in America both historically and in the contemporary epoch..

    Imagine if hoards of vile, crude and evil men came into America today and kidnapped tens of thousands of white men, women and children.

    Then shipped them off to some alien country where only a minority would survive the journey.

    Then imagine young white women, your daughters and sisters, being raped by the captors in ways that defy imagination.

    Then these ones and their men and children would be sold off as property and have no rights whatsoever.

    They would be put to work in slave labour to build the economy of those who had enslaved them.

    Then listen to Baptist preachers speak out in support of these white slaves being stolen and owned and be given Bible verses about some ancient curse which means the pigment of ones skin determines before God their lack of value.

    Then 200 years later the captors would talk incessantly about the values of those past days as if it were a time to be emulated and considered godly and virtuous…….

    …then if those descendants of those white slaves complained about their treatment they would be told that they must not dwell on the past…..that now they have equality….but don’t marry my child because God does not want the nations to mix.

    A beautiful collective of African humanity was stolen from their lands.

    Their blood was polluted by the rapists

    All dignity was stripped from the men

    The precious sensitive modesty of their young women was defiled.

    When I look at the AME folk, I will not agree with their interpretation of the book of Romans but when it comes to hearing them speak of racial prejudice or endemic institutional racism I can only be silent and listen to their hearts and wonder how in God’s name the blindness of white evangelicals can somehow still trot out these worn out racist excuses for why the truth is not the truth and what we all want is to return to those days when America was great.

    1. Marin Heiskell

      I love this @Bob. What you have described is a demonstration of EMPATHY, which requires the humility to get past the “what about ME?!?” narrative to a “what if this happened to me?”
      A little empathy goes a LONG way.

      1. Bless you Marin. I am grieved beyond words by the way that Christianity has become focused on “Sola Belief” rather than a balance of belief and practice. One of the great tributes to African American Christianity is that it has chosen not take the route of the “founding white men fathers” by casting off oppression by violence.

        The great chasm that exists between Black and White America IS the fruit of the historic White Male oppression of the Slaves that is without doubt one of the great historic stains upon the Evangelical Church.

        My first reaction was how must Adelle Banks who wrote this article feel as people line up to give the usual paroxysm of “Well, yes but……”

        1. Marin Heiskell

          @Bob
          Thank you for your thoughtful reply.
          When people say “well, yes, but..”, I respond with, “The word ‘but’ negates everything said before it. Perhaps you mean ‘yes, AND’?” It often gets people to think about what they are saying.
          I also want to say that I believe empathy is important on both sides. As a Black woman, I am trying hard to understand what White people are hearing when topics of racism come up. To me, it is easy to see how those who have gone before me in my family and community have impacted where I am (e.g., fighting to desegregate schools, marching for the right to vote, emphasizing the importance of education, etc). And that includes both positive impacts (being able to go to any college I want, having the right to vote, etc) and negative impacts (lack of generational wealth, etc). I don’t see it as a slight on my hard work or any statement about who I am as a person.
          As believers, we talk about legacy – what we are teaching and leaving for the next generation. We seem to understand that what we do today impacts the generations coming behind us – so why do we have a tough time understanding that the generations BEFORE us impacted us? Scripture even points to the importance of obeying God so that the blessings are experienced “on our childrens’ children.” That means the opposite is also true – the consequences can be experienced for generations.
          So what’s the disconnect? What are White people hearing that I’m not getting? Racism – and its physical manifestations (slavery, segregation, redlining, etc) – are sins that those before us committed (and even taught), and its consequences are being experienced for generations. This “cause and effect” is a reflection of what we read in scripture.

    2. Elaine Mercer

      Actually, I think the topic is the opening of the AME meeting and what was talked about at the meeting. Mr. Hitching’s topic is Race in America. Pastor Cooper’s topic is marriage. I think the comment section is big enough to have more than one conversation.

  6. A lot of bull here disregarding the basic fact that sin is not just in them, but it is in us–as in all of us. It is in white, black, Asian you name it. And everyone has ancestors who were racist. And the sins of the founding fathers, and those are many, are not my sins that I will be judged for. We are called as citizens to a better kingdom than the ones of this world. I am a citizen of New Jerusalem first. I have temporary citizenship as a U.S. citizen but soon and very soon that country will not exist in its present form. It is passing away and like all others will cease to exist. There is no U.S. or any other country on this planet in the New Jerusalem where I have permanent citizenship.

    1. Mr. Ralph,

      I certainly understand your post. The problem is that just with every past ancestral sin those in the present age live in a privileged position purchased by oppression and prejudice of those in the past.

      The immense problem is that the infrastructure of Racism remains from generation to generation unless it is dismantled.

      In the case of Racism in America the infrastructure has taken a long time to take down. In 1935, when Huey Long was killed, he was running against FDR in the 1936 election. Long was universally the preferred candidate of the Evangelical South despite his being a rabid racist. It is estimated that the KKK had nearly 5 million sympathisers in that year. So nearly 100 years after the Civil War racism was not only a problem it was normative.

      In the 1960’s it was white Evangelicals who were the most resistant group to oppose the Civil Rights movement.

      It was only the secular federal government that forced white Evangelicals from the past into the future.

      How that was effected by those white evangelicals whose citizenship is in the New Jerusalem it is hard to say but probably a word from Martin Luther would help, “If I knew Jesus was coming tomorrow I would plant an apple tree today”.

      We resist racism because it is the right thing to do.

  7. Larry Statten

    God’s Word is the only authority on this matter.

    How many of us have read the book of Leviticus?

    “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.”
    Leviticus 19 v 33

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