“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu

Dear leaders of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church:

It is Advent on the calendar, but we look up from our holiday candles and all we see is a Good Friday world consumed by hate and violence, much of it in the name of our Christian religion. Though we are encouraged by what is contained within our Book of Resolutions, we long to hear a prophetic call to action from you, our leaders, regarding the current anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Last week we witnessed a new and frightening low in our nation’s ever more virulent prejudice against Muslims. On Monday, Donald Trump, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for the highest office in the land, called for a blanket exclusion of Muslims from entering the United States. That followed his earlier suggestion to close down Muslim houses of worship. Across the nation, many who call themselves Christian have voiced a menacing and violent intolerance of Muslims; Jerry Falwell’s call for Christians to carry guns so “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in” is but one instance.

On the same day that Donald Trump called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” news outlets reported the story of a sixth grade Muslim girl who was attacked by classmates on the playground and called “ISIS” as they tried to rip off her hijab. On Friday, a California mosque was firebombed during worship. Threats, harassment, vandalism, and violence against Muslim Americans are increasing at an alarming rate and are a daily reality for our Muslim siblings.

Yet the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has not said a word to condemn them.

Numerous denominations, church bodies, and leaders have spoken out – from the National Council of Churches and the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ to the Southern Baptists. But to date the most prominent United Methodist voices in opposition to this religious oppression are… Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney.

Like these individuals, members within your own Council have spoken out at this grave hour in our nation’s history. It is a travesty that the Council has not followed suit, and it begs the question of the very viability of this authoritative and priestly body of our beloved church.

When it comes to reinforcing The UMC’s prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQI people, our bishops have been quick to cite the Book of Discipline and solemnly intone the imperative of following it to the letter (for example, here and here). That same Discipline also asserts “the right of all religions and their adherents to freedom from legal, economic, and social discrimination” (¶ 162B). General Conference resolutions, which queer people and their allies are so often reminded are binding upon the church, have called for UMC “members and its leaders: [t]o oppose demagoguery, manipulation, and image making that seeks to label Arabs and Muslims in a negative way; [t]o counter stereotypical and bigoted statements made against Muslims and Islam, Arabs and Arabic culture… [t]o publicly denounce through statements from the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Church and Society current practices that discriminate against this community [emphasis added].”

Where are those statements from the Council of Bishops now when we need them most? We long to hear a word of prophetic exhortation from you, calling us to stand with our Muslim siblings!

Our sacred duty to welcome the stranger, defend the vulnerable, and stand with the oppressed are at the very core of our Christian faith. Yet demagogues daily denounce immigrants, Muslims, and refugees without a word of protest from the Council. When those denunciations come in the name of our own religion, the imperative to speak up is even greater. Ted Cruz’s bigotry against Muslim refugees comes wrapped in the lie that “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” The grieving families of Robert Dear’s victims shot at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood would beg to differ. As would the Emanuel AME Church community in Charleston. (Not to mention 100+ years of terrorized Black communities in the South who saw thousands tortured, maimed, burned alive, dragged, and hanged by the Christian, churchgoing members of the KKK.)

But here, too, our Council of Bishops have been silent. Indeed, it pains us to say, but the Council has abdicated its role of a body of Christian leaders again and again. Where are the words of protest against the police killings of our Black children? Where is the outrage against the lethal epidemic of violence against transgender women of color? Where is the call to welcome Syrian refugees? Where is the defense of Latino and other immigrants? Where is the outcry against human rights abuses of Palestinians?

We implore the Council of Bishops belatedly to speak out and stand with those whom Jesus stands with.

— Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey and Dr. Dorothee E. Benz

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Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD, is associate dean for community life and lifelong learning and a clinical assistant professor at Boston University School of Theology.

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Dorothee E. Benz, PhD, is the national representative of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) and a delegate to the 2016 General Conference.


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