“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” Isaiah 1:17a (NIV)

These words of Prophet Isaiah landed with impact upon the members of Clunette United Methodist Church and Atwood Aldersgate United Methodist Church. There it was, right in the Bible—the necessity of understanding before action. 

Both predominantly white churches are in Kosciusko County and were initially wary of engaging the national conversation on racism that came to the fore in mid-2020. Some expressed to Local Pastor Mike Beezley that they felt overwhelmed by the news and didn’t know what to believe. 

When a county conversation was stirred on the topic of Critical Race Theory, Pastor Mike began to field more and more questions. He turned to Rev. Annettra Jones Stephens, Associate Director of Diversity, Missions, and Justice Ministries, who offered those words from the Prophet Isaiah to encourage the congregations in taking a stand against racism. 

“Those verses helped us be okay with learning, studying, praying before taking action,” reflected Pastor Mike. With this guidance in mind, the congregation dove into learning about racism in July 2021.

The congregations used a Bible study curriculum that was written in connection with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The authors of the curriculum are from Christian Churches Together (CCT), of which The United Methodist Church is a part. CCT is an ecumenical organization “witnessing together to the reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus,” compiled this curriculum in 2013 to support racial justice and reconciliation. 

The group was about thirty members from Clunette and Atwood Aldersgate, both congregations led by Pastor Mike. Their ages spanned the decades, including participants who remembered the Civil Rights Movement. As the group wrestled with the present realities of racism, the multi-generational perspectives enriched their reading of the Bible and King’s “Letter.

The congregations came to a few conclusions. One is that racism is alive and well, rather than fabrication. A second conclusion was, “We, the church, have some ownership in the problem that Martin Luther King raises. When we may want to say that the media is blowing the problem out of proportion, we then have this letter from the 1960s that says this change hasn’t happened because of the silence and inaction of the collective Church. We realized that there are things to repent for and ways we need to step up as the Church,” said Pastor Mike.

After the study, members voiced their commitments to action in their personal and communal lives. As they continued to “learn to do what is right,” they drew from Conference Anti-Racism resources. The group is currently looking for peaceful group demonstrations and shared opportunities to live into Isaiah’s call to “seek justice” and “defend the oppressed.”