Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A Time to Keep and a Time to Cast Away

The often quoted verses about time, in chapter three of the Book of Ecclesiastes, come to mind as I prepare to retire and leave this beloved Philadelphia Area.  Throughout the past 13 years I have experienced many of the times that are listed in this litany of life’s passages, among them: planting and plucking up, killing and healing, breaking down and building up, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, speaking and remaining silent. 

At this moment, as my living room runneth over with cardboard cartons full of books and personal belongings, the words “a time to keep and a time to cast away” seem timely. There have been many trips to the dumpster and Goodwill, as I sort and discard things I no longer need. 

I carefully pack tangible things I want to keep and bring to our new home in Virginia. However, there are non-tangibles—some to keep and some to cast away—that are more important now. I share them with you now.

Things I need to cast away include my disappointments and lack of wisdom at times, moments when people have been hurt because of my decisions. The need to protect the system was not always in sync with my heart. Nor was the interpersonal “grist” of disagreements, misunderstandings and compromises for the sake of peace.  To those who have been wounded, I offer my sincere apologies.  

The Johnson Family, from left: Gabriel, Peggy, Peter, Michael

I give these things to God, who “works all things together for good” in the midst of human frailty.  As the hymn “This is a Day of New Beginnings” (UMH, #383) reminds me, 

Then let us, with the Spirit's daring,

step from the past, and leave behind

our disappointment, guilt and grieving,

seeking new paths, and sure to find. 

Casting away is a life-giving part of moving on. The things that I will keep are vastly more in number, and they will remain with me for the rest of my life:

  • The memories of vital ministries, large and small.
  • The faithful, sacrificial clergy and lay people, men and women, young and mature, gifted and diverse.
  • The many, hard-won victories in the struggle for justice and inclusivity.
  • The rich legacy of history and that “cloud of witnesses” who have been cheering us on from above.
  • Christmas Eve candlelight services at Barratt’s Chapel every year.
  • The outstanding music in our churches: choirs, pipe organs, pianos, praise bands, soloists, brass ensembles, drums, strings, harps, flutes, hand-bells.
  • The amazing geographical diversity of this area: big cities, farmlands, orchards, mountains, suburbs, ocean resorts, and even an island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The rich cultural diversity of African American, European American, Latino/Latinx, Korean, Asian-Indian, Native American, Haitian, Pennsylvania Dutch, coal miners, watermen, and the Deaf (who are a culture unto themselves).
  • The many who received their “call to ministry” at our ordination services, and the young people who found Christ for the first time at our camps, youth rallies and other events.
  • The wonderful camping ministries that have modeled Christian community for people who may never come to our churches
  • The life-changing mission trips to: South Africa with Mission of Peace; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; India; Haiti; Spirit Lake, North Dakota; and Red Bird Mission in Kentucky.
  • The ever-faithful appointive and extended cabinet members, conference staff and administrative assistants who have worked and laughed and cried with me.
  • The gift of deep conversations with ecumenical and interfaith partners in leadership. 
  • The multi-talented extension ministry pastors serving here and in places all over the globe. 
  • The dynamic colleges, universities and seminaries with their rich cultural and theological diversity.
  • The church anniversaries, homecomings, building dedications, charterings and potluck dinners, especially with that strawberry Jello, cream cheese, pretzel salad!
  • The generous and overwhelming expressions of love and farewells sent my way in recent months.
  • My wonderful spouse, Michael, who served a total of 18 churches (part-time) in both conferences (appointed and interim) wherever there was a need. He wrote numerous liturgies and prayers for every occasion, taught many workshops and Mission U courses and helped others as a certified spiritual director. 

These are some of the many things I will keep. And as I remember them, I will give thanks to God for the profound blessings you have shared with me.  

As I was packing boxes in the attic the other day I found a box labeled “Election.” In it were various memoirs of the day I became a bishop, July 17, 2008. Among the various letters of congratulation, pictures and programs was a little scrap of yellowed notebook paper with a scripture passage on it. I remember writing these words on my first day in the Philadelphia Episcopal Area on September 1, 2008.  These words from Zechariah 7:9-10 were like a mandate from God for what I needed to do here:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another, do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.”  

I will keep these words in my heart and in my future life; and I leave them with you to follow as well.  Never cast these words away, but keep them close always. And if you do these things, you will truly be the church that God intends and desires. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Celebrating a Silver Anniversary

The Order of Deacons (1996-2021) 

At the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Order of Deacons was voted into existence.  The church has long had a consecrated class of servant leaders known as Diaconal Ministers, Deaconesses, and Home Missioners. But they are not an ordained class of clergy ministers. 

With the creation of the Order of Deacon, the doors were flung wide for more outreach and mission, especially with people living in the margins of society. Ordained Deacons can be in ministry anywhere and everywhere. Their mandate is to “connect the church to the world.” Thus, they are called to ministries of “Word, Service, Compassion and Justice.”  (Book of Discipline, para. 329)

As ordained leaders, Deacons serve in conferences under the supervision of Bishops and cabinets, who officially set their appointments. They undergo the same rigorous examination process as Elders.  And they must be elected to this office by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of the annual conference. They also have higher education requirements to complete as part of their preparation.

2021 marks the 25th anniversary

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacons. In the 12th year of their existence (2008), I was elected to the episcopacy. I have had the privilege of walking alongside the amazing Deacons of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and the Peninsula Delaware Conference.  

I stand in awe at the breadth of their ministries. They are: 

  • chaplains in hospitals, hospice, mental health and senior centers; 

  • teachers, professors and seminary directors; 

  • local church pastors, church musicians, Christian educators and missionaries;  

  • doctors, surgeons, hospital and disability services executives; 

  • directors of camps, retreat centers, food banks and volunteer mission trips; 

  • therapists and counselors; 

  • leaders in HIV/AIDS agencies, disaster recovery, immigration advocacy;

  • church development consultants; and

  • many more fields of leadership and service.

Deacons in ministries outside the local church also have secondary appointments in local United Methodist congregations. There they interpret the needs of the world to the congregation, as they call disciples to serve God’s people from the pews to the pavement, from the sanctuary to the streets. 

Deacons also assist the bishop as needed.  Many have accompanied me as I travel to churches on Sundays for preaching engagements.  They read Scripture, tell the story of the Order of Deacons, and give the “sending forth” at the end of the service.  

Wherever service is needed

They have assisted me and other elders during Holy Communion, Baptisms, and Ordination and Commissioning services.  Their ordination gives them the privilege of conducting marriage ceremonies and officiating at funerals and celebrations of life.  Wherever service is needed they offer the “basin and towel” of humble, self-giving ministry, out of love for Christ.

Even after 25 years of service, the Order of Deacon is still not understood in the minds of many. Generations of folks remember young preachers who were first ordained as Deacons, and after a probationary period became “full-member Elders.” 

The Order of Deacons created in 1996 is no longer a transitional step to becoming an Elder.  It confers full-membership clergy status, equal and distinct from the Elder track. Deacons have a claim on ministerial compensation, annual conference voting rights and ministry supervision, the same as Elders. The Order of Deacon is a gift to the church and its potential has yet to be fully utilized for the ministry of Christ.

I say to the Deacons of the Philadelphia Area: Happy Silver Anniversary!!  The Deacons that have gone before you paved the way for you to take ministry out into the remote places of the world where Christ’s love and compassion is desperately needed the most.

Silver is a precious metal that reflects radiance, strength and beauty.  Deacons embody all of these attributes; and I celebrate the light and blessings that they bring to The United Methodist Church always but especially during this milestone year.   

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Lessons we can learn

The painful history of Native American boarding schools

The dark atrocities of the Native American boarding schools are coming to light in recent years. Last week in the news, we learned of a mass grave with over 200 First Nations children. It was discovered at the site one such school in Canada. There have been similar revelations of abuse in boarding schools in this country for many years as well.  

What were these boarding schools?  They were part of a widespread scheme to intentionally assimilate tribal peoples into European culture.  Indigenous parents were forced to give up their children to these educational institutions by white people whose goal was, in the words of one administrator, to “kill the Indian, save the man.”  

Their hair was cut. The use of their native languages was forbidden. Their names were changed. Euro-American-style clothing was required. And they were trained mostly to become skilled in domestic and laborer-type work. They were to become useful to the dominant culture, which had conquered their homelands and subjugated their peoples.  

This was cultural genocide, plain and simple, and yet these schools flourished with an air of respectability for over a century in our country and in Canada. There are still people living today who were forced into these schools and who remember the horrors of the assimilation they endured and the often cruel tactics of the teachers.  

Many children did not endure

But many did not endure in this long, sad history, dating back to the mid-1800s. Many of the children died from abuse, disease, despair and inhumane conditions in these schools 

Bigotry and ignorance were at the heart of it all.  As a white person growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s I was taught the old ditty, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” We were taught how he discovered America, and how lucky for the inhabitants of this continent who learned Christianity from us and were able to joyfully assimilate into a superior Euro-American culture. 

The TV western movies I watched back then depicted Native peoples as uneducated, primitive and in need of subduing, so that the “kindly” white settlers, discovering America in their covered wagons, would be safe.  These boarding schools seemed necessary, almost humanitarian, so that Native Americans could be “like us”—that is, good, right, Christian and “normal.”  

The truth was so not any of that! Ethnocentrism and bigotry were at the heart of the assimilation schools and exemplified some of the most sinful behaviors of humanity.  Worse yet was the misguided use of religion in all of this.  

Many schools founded by Christian institutions

Many of these schools were founded by Christian institutions, including the Methodist church.  True religion should be at its heart a vehicle for God’s Spirit to infuse people with an attitude of respect, love and kindness toward to all people. But many times religion is used instead to oppress, rob and destroy those who are different or refuse to conform to our notion of “rightness.” This is not God’s idea. It is a devious construct of human sin.

In the New Testament’s Book of Acts, we read that some Jewish Christians were insisting that the new Gentile converts had to become Jewish and follow the Law of Moses in order to be Christian.  Huge controversies arose over whether or not the Greeks needed to be circumcised and made to follow other Jewish laws in order to be deemed truly Christian.  Assimilation was the goal. 

The Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, provided a landmark moment when that controversy was laid to rest, at least for a time. However, that spirit of “You have to be like me to be truly saved, accepted, and part of the ‘in’ crowd,” has plagued humanity and the church in particular for millenniums.  

Lessons from the Boarding School

What are some lessons from our boarding school experience?

  1. Cultural genocide is sin and not of God. It never has been and it never will be. What happened in our country and elsewhere to Native Americans was sinful and wrong. The hurt, the trauma is real. It lives on in the hearts and even in the DNA of our sisters and brothers of Native American descent. It also festers in the hearts of the perpetrators. 

    One cannot abuse another member of the human family without paying a price in one’s own soul on some level.  Denial, making excuses and the falsehood of biblical proof-texting do not heal an abuser’s pain.

  2. This stain on our history must be acknowledged, repented of, and mourned.  A Native American woman shared with me that as she was explaining about the recently discovered graves, someone told her to “get over it.” This is often our dismissive answer to remembrances of past atrocities. Hiding it, forgetting it, acting like it never happened are not pathways for healing and restoration. They never have  been.
    Healing comes when people speak truth and show proper respect, and when all engage in the mourning of lives lost and evil exposed. When one is injured, we all are injured, and we share a common grief within our common humanity.

  3. The use of religion to justify oppression of people or individuals must stop.  Each one of us must take responsibility for our own racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and ableism as it arises in our hearts. Ask yourself if your attitudes and behaviors reflect the inclusive love of Christ for all, or do you judge another culture or people as “less than” because they differ from you? Using biblical proof-texting and religious traditions to justify evil is a cleverly disguised sin that is likely one of the greatest sins that anyone can commit.

  4. Engage in reparations. They come in many forms. Those who have been injured by discrimination and oppression are due tangible, restorative responses from their abusers. If one is truly repentant, there must be the “fruit of repentance” that makes right the wrongs, that repairs the breach, and that creates justice.  This can be: giving monetary support for Native American ministries and communities; attending classes and reading books about Native American history and culture (and then using that knowledge for good works); advocating for equity in the “Indian Country” across this nation; and speaking out when discriminatory attitudes and actions arise.  

It has been said, “A long journey begins with the first step.”  Every one of us can take a step in the direction of justice and love for all people, every day of our lives.  When we do we are honoring those who have suffered from oppression and abuse, including the many who have suffered at the hands of our nation’s boarding schools.


  •, “Native American History and culture: Boarding Schools”
  • https://www.the, “Canada Struggles with ‘cultural genocide’ pastor after hundreds of children’s bodies found, June 2, 2021 Willy Lowry
  •  “Can Trauma be Passed on to Next Generation through DNA?”  August 31, 2015

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Freedom Isn’t Free

Photo 69266331 © Paul Brady |

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently issued some long-awaited, almost unbelievable news: those who have been fully vaccinated can resume life normally without masks.

Of course, those who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear them. I have been asked to give updated recommendations for safety protocols for worship services and other gatherings in the wake of this new news. But this announcement from the CDC has made things easier and harder at the same time. This new freedom is spurring mixed reactions and new things to consider.

It reminds me of a song I heard years ago. Many of my friends in high school joined a singing group known as “Up with People.” They toured the country performing a number of positive songs about the future and the importance of world peace. One of their signature songs was, “Freedom Isn’t Free.” (Written by Paul and Ralph Colwell). I still remember the chorus:

“Freedom isn’t free. Freedom isn’t free. You’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice, for your liberty.”

This was the era of the Viet Nam War, after our many of fathers, brothers and other relatives had fought in World War II and the Korean War. The yearning for peace was on our hearts back then, just as it is now.

Remember those who sacrificed for freedom

Indeed, as we approach Memorial Day, May 31, we know that freedom for any nation is maintained at the cost of countless lives given by service men and women in armed conflict. There is a price and a sacrifice that we honor with grateful hearts. Other kinds of freedom also have a cost. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Freedom from sin, gained through Christ Jesus, requires a commitment to stand firm in the face of temptation.  

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul admonishes them, “But take care that this freedom of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9). In this case he refers to Christians who are eating meat sacrificed to idols, which is perfectly alright in Paul’s eyes. But he is quick to remind the early church that some Christians are offended by this.

The caution is that we should not create problems for those who are more sensitive to this practice by freely and carelessly eating in front of them. The greater goal is not to hurt anyone.

Prioritize love, respect to preserve unity 

The price is to curb one’s expression of freedom out of respect for others. We do this out of love for Christ, in order to preserve the unity of the body.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, it is not yet over. When it comes to wearing protective masks, there are people who prefer to wear them in church to feel safer—vaccinated or not. If that is the case, would it not be best to observe more caution, so that they feel more comfortable? Each church needs to work out its own plans, but love and respect for everyone should always be your ultimate aim.

One more thing: even with these new guidelines from the CDC for those who have been vaccinated, the world is not free from this deadly disease. It is still ravaging many countries on this globe even as I write these words. Is it not true that until all are free, none of us is truly free?

We are one family of humanity, and what affects one affects us all. That is certainly true when it comes to the reach of international travel. And if we believe we are all God’s family, then it is most especially true.

In that spirit, let us freely sacrifice for others in order to hasten the day of full freedom from COVID. Let us give generously of our means to support the efforts of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Still engaged in an ongoing, global response to COVID-19, they have sent $110,000 to our mission partners in India to provide relief for those who have lost income due to the pandemic. They have also provided funds for the purchase of medical equipment, ventilators, hospital beds and hygiene.

UMCOR’s COVID -19 response includes ongoing support of essential health services throughout the UMC health providers network and support of communities affected by the grave burdens of this disease.

You can help provide freedom by donating to the UMCOR COVID-19 Response Fund (Advance #3022612). Send your donations to our Conference office or mail them to Global Ministries/UMCOR, 458 Ponce De Leon Avenue, NEJ, Atlanta, GA 30308. Or give online at

Freedom isn’t free. Protect it and help all to find freedom by sharing with them your respect and loving sacrifice. The greatest freedom of all is in Christ Jesus, our paramount model of loving, caring sacrifice. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pentecost: Come, Holy Spirit!

When I arrived on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, in the fall of 1977 to begin my Master of Divinity degree, one of the first things I was asked was, “Have you heard about the revival of 1970?” I had not.

The word “revival” was not something I had been familiar with growing up in a middle-class Methodist Church (not yet “United” Methodist), in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. I had a vague idea that it was some weeklong event in which a church invited a preacher to come and “revive” a complacent congregation. But I had never attended one.

It wasn’t long before I was duly instructed about the famous “Asbury Revival.” On February 3, 1970, in the Hughes Auditorium at Asbury College (the undergraduate school across the street from the seminary), a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit broke out during a regular morning chapel service. Non-stop prayer and an outpouring of spiritual gifts took control for 185 hours.

Classes were canceled and students and faculty devoted themselves to prayer and fasting. From that fervent prayer revival came amazing testimonies of commitments to Christ, confessions of sin, miracles of healing, broken marriages restored, and calls into ministry and the mission field.

Newspapers and TV stations across the country flocked to the tiny town of Wilmore to cover this phenomenon. Prayer requests poured in by telegram and telephone. Local church attendees, seminary students and curious neighbors packed the Hughes Auditorium to experience this supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. It was described by one observer as “a weight of glory covering the campus.”

The will to seek God with all our hearts

Surely, we long for that today, and from time to time we experience these kinds of extraordinary signs of God’s Spirit on the move. There could be more of it if we just had the will to seek God with all of our hearts.

When we pray “Come, Holy Spirit,” as we do every year during our annual observance of Pentecost, do we know what we are asking? As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for.”

Praying for the movement of the Spirit involves commitment on our part and a willingness to radically shake up our “business as usual” forms of worship and practices of holiness. It isn’t about God coming down and fixing things for us. It is about humbly submitting to being changed and turned around. And yes, it is about sacrificing some of our comfortable ways of keeping God in a safe little box on the shelf of our hearts.

First and foremost, it requires an enormous amount of committed prayer and attention to the disciplines of our faith.

What happens when God shows up

When God shows up, as was seen at Asbury College and on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, this is what we will experience:

1) Confession – When confronted with the presence of God in the temple the prophet Isaiah declared, “I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) On the Day of Pentecost, after Peter preached to thousands, the listeners were “cut to the heart and cried out, ‘What shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)

A sudden, keen awareness of God’s presence always unleashes an acknowledgement of sin and a desire to repent (which means to turn around 180 degrees and go the right way). Are we willing to come clean with God and confess the sin in our life? Sin is a sure-fire way to prevent the flow of God’s power. Confession and repentance heal the soul and open the floodgates of revival. 

2) Financial reckoning – The manager of the Asbury Seminary bookstore testified to how many debts were paid off and stolen books were returned during the revival of 1970. Another sure sign of God’s Spirit working in our life is how we manage our temporal affairs.

Members of the early church were moved by the Spirit to share all of their earthly possessions in common; so no one had any need. (Acts 2:45) Can we take an honest look at our checkbooks or bank account statements and share our means in ways that can help others to simply live? The Spirit provides in abundance as the grip of greed and consumerism is released from those of us who have the world’s possessions.

3) Justice - Micah 6:8 declares that we are to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” Justice is first because it is God’s priority that all are regarded as equal, beloved and uniquely gifted for the good of the whole. God doesn’t prefer some groups of people over others. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit always gives us the power to overcome and dismantle barriers of race, gender, class, ability, age and sexual orientation.

On the Day of Pentecost diverse languages were spoken, sons and daughters prophesied, young and old had visions and dreams and God’s Spirit was poured out on all the people. (Acts 2:17)

How is that manifestation of the Spirit working in your church, in your life? How can we break down barriers of division that we have created to keep ourselves safe and comfortable with those who look and think like us? The Spirit calls us to be the “salt and light” the world needs—the flavor and flame within to create equity, inclusion and justice for all people.

4) Faith sharing – After the Asbury revival there were over 2,000 witnessing teams sent out across the country and around the world. They comprised students at the college who had experienced the revival. They gave testimony to God’s power, and that testimony caused even more revival in many other places. More than 130 Christian colleges and seminaries saw a dramatic increase in enrollments during that revival era of the 1970, a time of turbulent social change in our society.

One does not have to go to seminary or engage in professional ministry to share one’s faith. Tell your story of what the Lord has done for you. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God uses our hands and feet and our words to spread the Good News of salvation and everlasting life. If not you, who will do it?

As we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” this year on Pentecost Sunday, remember what that means for you personally. You are asking God to:
  • convict you of sin and repair the wrongs in your life;
  • to truly give God control over your money;
  • to work for justice in this world, (starting with any exclusivities in your church and personal life); and
  • to go out and tell—in your words and deeds—the “old, old story of Jesus and his love.”

  • “God in Our Midst” by Howard A. Hanke,, March 10, 2020
  • “Beautiful Feet”, June 22, 2018
  • One Divine Moment: The Account of the Asbury Revival of 1970, edited by Robert E. Coleman and David J. Gyertson
  • Read another, 50th anniversary account of the Asbury Revival and its lasting impact, published in 2020 by Church of God Ministries.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Freeing ourselves from the prisons in our hearts

The most curious thing that belonged to my father was a cotton handkerchief that he mounted on a frame and hung on the wall in his little antique shop. On the handkerchief was a hand-painted picture of a beautiful Japanese woman, surrounded by a pink cherry blossom tree and some Japanese writing. 

At the bottom was the signature of the artist and the letters, “POW” for Prisoner of War.  My dad served in the Air Force in World War II and was stationed in Guam. He was part of the bomber crew that conducted raids against the Japanese Imperial Army. 

This handkerchief was original art from the hand of a “POW” who was incarcerated at the Air Force base in Guam at the time. This entrepreneur would make deals with American soldiers in order to secure cigarettes and other creature comforts. 

Anyone who would give him a clean handkerchief and a pack of cigarettes or a candy bar, would receive his handkerchief back with a lovely Japanese picture.  My father was one of the customers, and this curious treasure came back home with him after the war.

I used to stare at this picture in awe.  Japanese people were so foreign to me. I had never encountered anyone of Asian descent in my whole life growing up.  I heard about World War II and was glad that the Americans had defeated the Japanese; but I had no idea what had happened just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. 

Japanese incarceration in WW II concentration camps

President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced Executive Order 9066 that created a forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps of more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, 62 percent of whom were American citizens.  These camps were located mostly in remote areas of Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, Wyoming, Colorado and California.

Personal property was seized, assets were frozen or stolen, and there was no recourse or defense for these Japanese Americans.  They were deemed guilty by the fact that they were at least 1/16th Japanese.  They were prisoners of war in their own country. 

At the camps, they were subjected to harsh conditions, forced labor and denial of basic human rights. Their crime was being who they were; and racism, fear and executive Presidential privilege painted the canvas.

After World War II these camps were all closed. The Supreme Court ruled that the practice of incarcerating citizens was unconstitutional, President Gerald Ford, officially repealed the President Roosevelt’s executive order in 1976. The United States Congress issued a formal apology in 1988 and passed the “Civil Liberties Act,” which awarded $20,000 to over 80,0000 Japanese Americans as reparations for these atrocities.

Fast-forward to now. There is a new kind of prison emerging in the rising tide of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans, which has increased since the onset of the coronavirus. Claims by high profile voices that this pandemic was caused by the Chinese people has ignited much violence and suffering for people of not only Chinese but Asian heritage in general. 

Hate crimes against Asian Americans increase

The incidences of abuse and hate crimes has risen by 150 percent this year alone; acts of prejudice that aren’t crimes have also soared with 2,800 cases being reported since March. Asian women are 2.5 times more likely to be targeted than men, adding sexism to the racism.   

This environment creates a culture of fear and a “prison” of anxiety and worry for our Asian-heritage brothers and sisters.  I know of one Asian American woman whose family has encouraged her to purchase pepper spray as protection.

We as God’s people should be speaking out about this, naming it when we see it, and living in respectful, peaceful ways among people of all races, cultures and diverse conditions.  The truth is, when we harbor racist attitudes and practice discrimination, we too are in a prison of isolation, fear and anger that is just as constrictive and deadly to our souls.

Jesus engaged personally with Samaritan, Syrophoenician, Greek and persons of other outcast groups who many despised. He—like his apostles Peter and Paul—calls us today to close down our prisons of fear and open wide our hearts through love, acceptance and a vision of God’s marvelous, diverse creation. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus, we can do this. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:14a “For he himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”

I encourage you to engage and seek conversations with people of Asian descent and hear their stories, learn about their families and cultures, and find new freedom of heart, as we tear down the prison walls of separation. Also, become an outspoken advocate against the national tide of hate and rejection of Asian-heritage people.

May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.  What a great time to do all this and more!


Monday, April 19, 2021

Mass murder every day

I am certain that all of us are grieved by the uptick of mass shootings that are happening all over the country at the moment.  This is of course not a new thing.  We have seen this pattern of clusters of mass shootings in the past in this country.

According to the Gun Violence Archive there have been 2,218 mass shootings since 2013 (in which at least four people are being shot at the same time and location), (

Almost every day in the cities of Philadelphia and Wilmington there have been homicides and injuries in large numbers. I ponder why that does not get more national news coverage.  We should never take a single violent act for granted; and as Christians we have some responsibility to address this pandemic.

Automatic weapons make it so easy to gun down multiple people in seconds.  Contrast that with the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. During a meeting of the Senate in Rome.  It took the senators, led by Marcus Brutus, quite a long time to kill him.  They stabbed him 23 times. If they had an automatic weapon, this would have been quick work. 

Humans have found many efficient ways of killing each other throughout history, and I am sure God just shakes God’s head at us with dismay and grief.  I ponder the need for the proliferation of such weapons in our country.

Jesus addressed murder in the “Sermon on the Mount.” In just a few short words, he gets down to the heart of the matter.  Violence and murder are products of human anger.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  (Matthew 5:21-22)

If this is the case, all of us are guilty of murder when we harbor anger and speak evil against a brother or sister.  Mass murders of the heart are happening every day, and it includes us good church people. 

What do we do with this?  Surely, we are not as guilty as the gunmen that stormed the Fed-Ex office, the massage parlor or the grocery store. Or are we? 

Jesus also calls us to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  It seems we can be “going on to perfection” a lot more when it comes to handling our anger.

Christians, let us study Jesus’ methods of anger management, take them to heart and practice them in the world. It is quite alright to get angry about things.  Jesus cleansed the temple (John 2: 13-16) when it was being desecrated. But no one was killed, the wrong was made right, and truth was embodied.  Here are some other lessons from Jesus:

  1. Jesus engaged people in an anger-provoking situation. When he was slapped on the face during his mock trial, he turned to the perpetrator and said, “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Talking through a situation can often defuse escalating violence and call people to accountability in a peaceful way. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath; but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When you are in a difficult conversation keep calm and speak the truth.
  2. Jesus points out a wrong but does not take it personally. When asked if he believed in paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus named the question’s intent: “Why put me to the test?” (Mark 12:15). He was clear about the hypocrisy and the mean-spirited attempt to trap him; but he answered their question with integrity. He did not let this get “under his skin.” I think that is what Paul means when he writes, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26). If we are wise, we need to have “Teflon” (stick-resistant) hearts and let the anger-provoking thing slide off of our hearts and psyche.
  3. Jesus forgave the unworthy, the not-sorry, and gave them the benefit of the doubt. When being nailed to a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness offered to those who anger us, hurt us, insult us and are not in any way sorry about it, is divine. Not only that, it is the key to peace in your heart that stems that internal rage. When you forgive, it doesn’t mean the person that hurt you is right. It just means that you are leaving it to God to handle. Paul reminded the Romans, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) When you forgive, you can be free of the internal rage.

Let us vow to stop committing “mass murder” in our hearts. Live in peace with all people (the easy to love and the not-so-easy to love). Teach non-violence and practice civility.

As we prepare for sessions of Annual Conference, may we engage each other with gentleness and respect. Using Bible verses in the “chat” as weapons to vent anger does not accomplish the work of God.

Justice causes are an important part of our holiness as Methodists, but rage and hurtful rhetoric are not. The cause of justice, so well exemplified in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is always accomplished best through non-violence, love and grace. God’s Spirit can give us the strength to handle our anger and avert much violence and murder.