International gathering focuses on racism and evangelism
More than 100 people gathered in front of their computer screens for an August 28 international gathering of United Methodist Men. The first hours of the six-hour Zoom session focused on ways to eliminate racism; Following a one-hour lunch break the last hours focused on evangelism.
Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, said he hoped the session would be both a learning and equipping session. He wanted participants to respond by saying, “Now that I know this, this is what I need to do to have an on-growing relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Bishop James Swanson, president of the commission, said when he was young, he viewed Jesus’ teaching about the wide and narrow gates (Matthew 7:13-14) as being restrictive –– a way to stop him from having fun. He said he now understands that the narrow gate leads to happiness. “Life is a journey with Jesus. You get up every morning and you are excited about life itself. You know you are not alone. When you look down, you’ll see footprints; God has prepared the way.”
Are we at war, Daddy?
Dr. Ron Bell Jr., pastor of Camphor Memorial UMC in St. Paul, Minn., told the gathering his church was on a list of places likely to be terrorized following the killing of George Floyd in nearby Minneapolis. He said the entire community, black and white, showed up to board up the church in time for a 6 p.m. curfew
Bell is the father to two boys ages six and nine. “Daddy, are we at war?” asked David, his six-year-old son.
“I felt like we were one day away from another incident,” said Bell.
Bell helped form “21-days of Peace,” a twin-cities effort to mitigate trauma and end street violence.
Reason for violence
One of the main reasons we are seeing an increase in violence is because we dehumanize one another, said Bell. We use words such as “gang-bangers,” “hoodlums” or “illegal aliens.” These terms permit us to view others as less than human.
Bell encouraged the 113 participants in the gathering to address racialized trauma with “empathic concern.”
Bell said there are three kinds of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern.
- Cognitive empathy is the desire to provide a quick solution to the problem. Often this takes the form of money. Sometimes it takes the form of building a ramp or offering some other form of assistance.
- Emotional empathy is when we respond by saying, “I’ve been there too.” It is when we identify our response to a former problem with the person coping with a difficult issue.
- Empathic concern is when we walk along side of the person. That takes a lot of time, but that’s where healing and transformation occurs. It’s when we move beyond dehumanizing language.
Tom Albin, former dean of the Upper Room Chapel and now executive director of United Christian Ashram International, spoke to the assembly about several stages in spiritual maturity beginning with: going from milk to meat (Hebrews 5:13-14 and I Corinthians 13:11) to becoming an elder (I Peter 5:1-8).
“God is a missionary God,” said Albin. He encouraged each participant in the Zoom meeting to pray for five individuals who need to come to Jesus. When one of that group responds, replace him or her with a new person. “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart,” he concluded.
Following on-line group discussions about where participants are in their spiritual growth process, Bishop Gary Mueller, vice president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, concluded the session. “Because we know whose we are, we know who we are, how we are to act and why it matters!”
Dr. Rick Vance, director of the Center for Men’s Ministries, served as host for the on-line meeting.