by Kelly C. Martini, Women's Division Staff
As members of United Methodist Women read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch TV, they are doing so with an eye and ear to news of hate crimes. They are clipping articles they find and recording information from broadcast reports as part of a nationwide campaign to document and educate people about the prevalence of such crimes.
Even though major media have ceased to cover church burnings, African-American churches continue to burn. So United Methodist Women members are working to piece together reports carried in local media to develop a comprehensive picture of hate crime. Their efforts can provide support to victims and communities, and can help eradicate attitudes that contribute to hate and violence.
In addition to this tracking project, United Methodist Women is advocating for state and federal hate-crime legislation. Recognizing racism is a global issue, the Womenís Division is preparing to participate in next summerís World Conference on Racism.
Responding to hate crimes and participating in international dialogue on race are in keeping with United Methodist Womenís racial justice work begun early last century. That work has often meant standing up to powerful forces.
For example, the adrenaline of churchwomen must have been surging in the 1930s as Dorothy Tilly of Atlanta, Ga., and other Methodist women stood in front of angry lynching mobs to convince them to stop. When rumors of a planned lynching started and others fled, these women activated a network of those who believed in the sanctity of all humanity. They would descend upon the troubled area to block the lynching.
Such experience marked the beginning of African-American and European-American women working to build relationships as they sought racial justice based on biblical mandates. High points in the ongoing work for racial justice have included:
In 1948, the Womenís Division hired Pauli Murray, a young law student, to research state segregation laws and write a pamphlet on them to guide the desegregation of mission institutions. The pamphlet turned into a 746-page book, Statesí Laws on Race and Color, and was a foundation for the Supreme Court decision of Brown versus Board of Education.
Though the Charter for Racial Justice Policies was not adopted by The General Conference of The United Methodist Church until 1980, the Womenís Division first adopted the charter in 1952 and updated it in 1962 and 1978.
The Womenís Council of the Evangelical United Brethren Church voted in 1955: "We know that Christian women can, by their attitudes and acts, exert tremendous influence toward the lessening of racial tensions. Therefore, we urge all members of the Womenís Society of World Service to work for right relationships in all areas of life through their local churches and in their community living. We urge the citizens of the United States of America to do all in their power to aid in the desegregation of public schools as decreed by the Supreme Court."