Postcards from the Road: Separate but Equal is Not Equal in God's Eyes

February 23, 2016
(Dawn Wiggins Hare, GCSRW General Secretary) - Do you remember the first movie that you ever saw in the theaters? I do. Mary Poppins. It was playing at the Ritz Theatre in Brewton, Alabama, and my mama took my sister and me to our very first movie, complete with popcorn, candy and cokes in paper cups.  My memories of that evening are of far more than umbrellas and dancing penguins because I learned something far more important that night- our local movie theatre had two entrances.
"Black balcony"- that is what the sign read. It wasn't the only sign of its kind in town. There were separate bathrooms at gas stations. Separate water fountains at the courthouse. There were completely separate schools. Separate churches. There was a separate entrance at the hospital...yes, even a separate entrance at the hospital.
As we celebrate Black History Month in February, we need to pause to remember and acknowledge those folks, no matter what their race, who had the courage to see and to speak about inequality, and worked to bring about change. We should also celebrate those who continue to have the courage to speak up.  In the words of Bonhoeffer, "Not to speak is to speak."
Last week, I learned of author Harper Lee's passing while at the Pre-General Conference Meeting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I can only use one word to describe Nelle Harper Lee, courageous. Imagine the strength of character, the undaunted courage, the ethical heart that a young thirty-something woman from southern Alabama would have to have to write a book about racial injustice before the Civil Rights Act had even passed. Time then was different. People were different.  It took clarity of vision to see injustice in what was otherwise accepted as the norm.
The Lee family was (and continues to be) the backbone of The United Methodist Church in Monroeville, Alabama. The stained glass windows of the chapel are in memory of Alice and Nelle's parents. A gift to the church that they loved, a church that helped frame their moral compasses. Over the years we have had several members of our church choose ministry and do very good work, but Nelle Lee is a shining example of the capacity of a lay person to see injustice, speak up, tell the story and transform the world.  We as United Methodists define our mission as making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Those were not just words to Nelle Harper Lee.  That was her legacy. 
During this quadrennium, we at GCSRW have held listening sessions across the Church.  One of the most troubling messages we heard was how black clergywomen continue to feel separated and unsupported by the Church. As difficult as ministry and leadership positions are for women to attain, being seen and treated as equals can seem impossible in areas where men easily integrate into society and yet women are treated as second class. It can be too easy to enjoy acceptance and forget about those left behind who are not fully included.
There are no longer separate entrances, separate schools or separate bathrooms. But if you look closely, you will see the reminders. Two sets of water fountains can still be seen and we still have separate churches. It is time for that to end if are to be the body of Christ.
What would the Church, our Church, truly look like if we saw men and women, ALL men and women, as equal in the eyes of God, in appointments, in positions of leadership? The time for separate entrances and separate churches must end if we truly practice what we preach. During this appointment and nominating season, look at your local church, your district, your annual conference and speak up. After all, "not to speak is to speak."