On January 6, hundreds of North Alabama United Methodists gathered at ClearBranch UMC in Trussville for an event featuring Dr. Tony Campolo, Dr. C.T. Vivian and Bishop William H. Willimon with the purpose of discussing living with a spirituality of racial reconciliation.
“You can not be a Christian and be a racist.” Tony Campolo said. “If you
Reject a segment of the population you reject the Christ in them.”
Dr. Campolo, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University and author of 33 books, discussed how working toward reconciliation a spiritual renew is part of the Methodist heritage. He also argued against the notion that the Church should avoid politics. He said that part of true racial reconciliation comes in the form of economic justice. Then he shared how in the past there have been political issues that effect economic justice and the Church has been silent on those. So he encouraged listeners to educate themselves and speak up for issues of justice.
Dr. C. T. Vivian, a living legend of the Civil Rights movement, echoed the sentiment that racism and Christianity are not compatible. He explained the Christianity is about love, “you must love others with your very nervous system.”
Before a question and answer session with the speakers Bishop Willimon addressed those gathered. He shared a painting that now hangs in the Episcopal Office in the United Methodist Center. It was painted by Jarrett Rutland, son of Rev. John Rutland. It shows images of Birmingham both it’s past, present and future. The key element of the painting is river that represents baptism. It is the dividing point that separates the racist and the reconciled.
Following questions from the audience, all those gathered shared in a Service of Holy Communion and remembered the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.
Saturday’s event is a climax to the work the North Alabama Conference’s Religion and Race Team has been doing over the last six months in an effort to move beyond the racism and racial tension of the past toward a commitment of reconciliation and radical hospitality.
In the fall of 2006, a copy of Tony Campolo's book, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation, was given to all North Alabama congregations requesting them. During the past few months, congregations read the book and reflected on its message. Saturday's event was a time for discussion and an opportunity for congregations think of reaching its community for Christ in the spirit or reconciliation and radical hospitality.