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I'm Black. I'm Christian. I'm Methodist.
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Published November 2020

Ten personal narratives reveal the shared and distinct struggles of being Black in the Church

Ten personal narratives reveal the shared and distinct struggles of being Black in the Church, facing historic and modern racism.

It’s uncertain that Howard Thurman made the remark often attributed to him, “I have been writing this book all my life,” but there is little doubt that he was deeply immersed in reflection on the times that bear an uncanny resemblance to the present day, which give voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Our “life’s book” is filled with sentence upon sentence of marginalization, pages of apartheid, chapters of separate and unequal. Now this season reveals volumes of violence against Blacks in America.

Ten Black women and men explore life through the lens of compelling personal religious narratives. They are people and leaders whose lives are tangible demonstrations of the power of a divine purpose and evidence of what grace really means in face of hardship, disappointment, and determination. Each of the journeys intersect because of three central elements that are the focus of this book. We’re Black. We’re Christians. We’re Methodists. Each starts with the fact, “I'm Black,” but to resolve the conflict of being Christian and Methodist means confronting aspects of White theology, White supremacy, and White racism in order to ground an oppositional experience toward domination over four centuries in America.

“The confluence of the everyday indignities of being Black in America; the outrageous, egregious, legalized lynching of George Floyd; and the unforgivable disparities exposed once again by COVID–19 have conspired together to create a seminal moment in America and in The United Methodist Church—in which we must find the courage to say unambiguously ‘Black Lives Matter.’ To stumble or choke on those words is beneath the gospel,” says Bishop Gregory Palmer, who wrote the foreword to the collection.

Praise for I'm Black. I'm Christian. I'm Methodist.

“This book made me shout, dance, rage and hope—all at once! As a "cradle Methodist," I have deep love for my church and bless it for nurturing my walk with Christ and my passion for social justice. At the same time, I lament that my church is also the place where I have witnessed and been most wounded by virulent racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ageism. Yet, I stay and struggle for the soul of the church because I am a Black Christian woman fired by the love of God-in-Christ-Jesus. I stay because this is MY church and the church of my ancestors. Although I regularly question my decision to remain United Methodist, it is stories like these—from other exuberant love warriors—that remind me that I am called by God to stay, pray, fight, and flourish!”
—M. Garlinda Burton, deaconess and interim general secretary, General Commission of Religion and Race, Washington DC

“Racism continues to be the unacceptable scandal of American society and the American churches. In spite of some gains such as the diversity of supporters for “Black Lives Matter,” even the best intentioned among us remain largely ignorant of the actual life experience of those who are other than ourselves. This collection of testimonies, edited by Rudy Rasmus, helps remedy that by simply recounting personal stories of being Black, Christian, and Methodist in the United States. White Methodist Christians in particular need to read these stories and take them to heart so that racism and its divisiveness is countered by shared experience and recognition of common humanity across difference. More White Methodists need not only reject racism in our society and church but become active anti-racists willing to do the hard work to create the beloved community, dreamed about by Martin Luther King in the 1960s civil rights movement.
—Bruce C. Birch, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology
Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC

“This book is a powerful collection interweaving personal stories, denominational and intercultural practices, and Black lives bearing hopeful witness. Readers will have their consciousness raised, and they will think more deeply about the meaning of beloved community and the embodiment of the justice of God.”
—Harold J. Recinos, Professor of Church and Society, Perkins School of Theology/SMU, Dallas, Texas

“For hundreds of years, we have not listened. This book is our chance to hear the words of the Black leaders in our church. They will change us, remake us, and reform us. Get ready to be transformed by painful truth and deep love.
—Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, Lead Pastor, Catalina United Methodist Church, Tucson, Arizona

"I’m Black gives readers a clear picture of the diversity and value of Black culture in church and society. After reading the dynamic stories told by these faithful, transformative church leaders, Black lives will be cherished, and systemic change for the better will take place.”
—Joseph W. Daniels, Jr. , Lead Pastor, Emory United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C.

"Dr. Rudy Rasmus and others give an insightful look into what it means to be black, Christian and Methodist in America. Their perspectives on the status and plight of being black in America are both engaging and riveting. If you are looking for ways to better understand the nuances and many faces of African American Methodist evangelical life in America, this book is a must-read!"
—The Reverend J. Elvin Sadler, D.Min., General Secretary-Auditor, The A.M.E. Zion Church
Assistant Dean for Doctoral Studies, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio

"I endorse this powerful book of Essays conceived and edited by my friend Pastor Rudy Rasmus. It is a book for our current and future realities facing the Black Church a must read."
—Deborah Bass , Vice-Chairperson, National BMCR

About the Authors

Lillian C. Smith

Pastor Lillian has served as pastor at Cheverly United Methodist Church since July 1, 2016. Prior to that she served as the pastor at St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge, PA, where she was the first African-American pastor. She implemented conversations about race and ministry to neighbors of color. She also promoted the idea of enhancing the welcoming nature of the church by cultivating a culture of invitation. Her ministry included Christian Education courses and alternative worship encounters for college students. She has also served as Associate General Secretary, Division on Ministries with Young People with the General Board of Discipleship of the UMC; and as Director, Ministries with Women and Persons of Color with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, TN. Pastor Lillian received her Master in Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and her Doctor of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary. She is the author of Words to Live By: Wisdom Keys that Can Change Your Life. No stranger to Prince George’s County, she grew up in New Carrollton, College Park, and Glenn Dale.

Rev. Rudy Rasmus

Rudy Rasmus is an author, humanitarian, and coffee-man with a passion for outreach to the world’s most challenged communities. He co-pastors the St. John’s United Methodist Church in Downtown Houston with his wife Juanita. A church that began with 9 existing members in 1992, St. John’s has grown to thousands where every week people of every social and economic background share the same pew. Rudy founded the Bread of Life, Inc. (a not for profit corporation) with Juanita in December of 1992 and began serving 500 meals per day to the homeless in the sanctuary at St. John’s for twenty-five years. The Bread of Life has literally changed the landscape of Downtown Houston providing an array of services to families in peril and homeless individuals. The project distributes over 30 tons of fresh produce weekly to hungry families who have been financially challenged by the COVID-19 Pandemic. For many years Pastor Rudy has coordinated domestic and global anti-hunger initiatives in conjunction with Beyoncé’s concert tours and travels extensively developing and supporting programs around the world for people experiencing poverty and most recently teamed up with Tina and Beyoncé to help Houstonians in the wake of the pandemic through a generous donation from the BeyGood Foundation and the Start Small Foundation (an initiative of Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter.) Pastor Rudy has authored three prior books, contributed to five others and completed his Doctorate in 2019 with dissertation research focused on “The intersection of Black Millennial Culture with Religion.”

Vance P. Ross

The Reverend Dr. Vance P. Ross presently serves as Senior Pastor of the Historic Central United Methodist Church, Atlanta, GA., the “Church at the Heart of the City with the City at Heart.” Prior to his appointment to Central, Ross served as: Director of Annual Conference Relationships for Discipleship Ministries where he connected the agency with annual conference; 2011-2015, Senior Pastor, Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church, Nashville, TN an 1100 member urban congregation; 2004-2011, the first ever Deputy General Secretary for Discipleship Ministries, Nashville, TN; 1998-2004, Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Hyattsville, MD, the largest multicultural and international church, at the time, in the Northeast region of the United Methodist Church.

Justin Coleman

Justin Coleman is the Senior Pastor of University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A native of Houston, he is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. Rev. Coleman has also served as the Chief Ministry Officer for the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, TN, as Lead Pastor of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. His ministry at University UMC includes leading the church as it seeks to live into radical kinship by loving God, serving others, and building Christian community. Rev. Coleman is married to Dr. Chaka Coleman and they have three sons. Rev. Coleman is the author of Home for Christmas: Tales of Hope and Second Chances and is the Old Testament presenter on Disciple Fast Track: Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study.

F. Willis Johnson

A third-generation educator, Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson is a spiritual entrepreneur. An elder in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, Johnson is a respected scholar-practitioner, fellow and author of Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community.
Johnson holds fellowships at Bridge Alliance and Walker Leadership Institute-Eden Seminary. He is a former Vosburgh Visiting Professor of Ministry and Social Engagement at Drew University’s Theological School.
Currently, he is the leadership pastors Living Tree Church and adjunct faculty at Methodist Theological School of Ohio (MTSO).

Pamela R. Lightsey

Dr. Lightsey serves as Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and brings a special mix of life experience and professional proficiency to the position. Following service in the US Army and work as a civil servant, she received her academic and theological training at Columbus State University (BS), Gammon Seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Center (M.Div.) and Garrett-Evangelical Theological School (PhD). After ordination, she served first as a United Methodist congregational pastor and then as a theological school educator, scholar and administrator. Throughout her vocational life, she has been a leading social justice activist, working with local, national and international organizations focusing primarily on the causes of peacemaking, racial justice and LGBTQ rights. Pamela’s publications include the book, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology (Wipf and Stock), "He Is Black and We are Queer" in Albert Cleage Jr and the Black Madonna and Child (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), “Reconciliation” in Prophetic Evangelicals: Envisioning a Just and Peaceable Kingdom (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), and "If There Should Come a Word” in Black United Methodists Preach!(Abingdon Press).

Rodney Lorenzo Graves

Rodney L. Graves is an Inner-city Missionary pastoring McCabe Roberts Avenue, a bi-racial congregation in Beaumont, Texas. Born in Baltimore, Md., he graduated from Howard University with a dual major in Accounting/Economics. Rodney co-founded a Certified Public Accounting firm which was once the largest Black owned CPA firm in a five-state area (Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas). He left his thriving business to attend Wesley Theological Seminary majoring in Urban Ministry, becoming the Wesley Scholar, and upon graduation was awarded Church History Award. In a prior ministry appointment, Rodney led extensive community development resulting in a $5 million wastewater system, lavish affordable housing, irrigation at the neighborhood library, and an Enterprise Zone. In 2017, he graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary’s International Beeson program with an emphasis in Church Leadership and Preaching; his doctoral dissertation was Breaking Generational Poverty Through Collaborative Efforts currently being transformed into a book. Rodney and his wife Ava led congregational ministry which transformed the lives of at-risk youth and children. Rodney’s ministry praxis inculcates the prophetic witness of both the Old and New Testaments to affirm the sacred worth of all and empower the least, lost, last, and little.

Tori C. Butler

Rev. Dr. Tori Butler was born and raised by her mother Coretha “Coty” Corry in Baltimore, MD. Ms. Corry taught her that education is of great importance and would be the passport to her future. She would often tell her, “If you are bored, go read a book. It can take you wherever you want to go.” Ms. Corry's encouragement in education translated in Tori being the first person in her peer group?from her neighborhood?to graduate with a college degree. Dr. Butler received a BA in History and International Study from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. Dr. Butler graduated from Duke with a Master of Divinity in 2010 and is published in Do Not Be Afraid: Bishops & Young Clergy Share Signs of Resurrection & Words of Hope. By God’s amazing grace and through tremendous perseverance on May 13, 2019 she received her Doctor of Ministry degree from Emory University with a concentration in Biblical Interpretation and Proclamation. Her Doctor of Ministry project is entitled, “The Power of Mourning: Creating Spaces of Vulnerability for Black Clergywomen to Lament and Holler.” She is excited to be the Lead Pastor of Good Hope Union United Methodist Church. She gives praises to God for the opportunity to serve in her home conference and believes that God is up to something good and can’t wait to see what it is.

Erin Beasley

Erin Elizabeth Beasley, is from Gulfport, MS and currently resides in Memphis, TN. Erin is an ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church (2017). She is a member of the Memphis Conference. She attended Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. In 2010, Erin graduated with Bachelor of Accountancy degree and a Minor in Music. In 2011, she decided to answer God’s call to the ministry and began her studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. While at Candler she fulfilled her contextual education requirements at the United Methodist Children’s Home, Zoar UMC, and St. Timothy UMC. In May of 2020, Erin obtained her Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary. Her dissertation explores racial segregation in the mainline church. Erin is the founder and producer of Waking Up Church podcast. Waking Up Church explores dynamics within churches and communities that have gone unnoticed, dynamics that must be seen and addressed for the sake of the church’s future. Waking Up Church is devoted to church leaders and parishioners who are ready to have honest conversations about issues that have become invisible detriments to the church’s mission and vitality.

Jevon Caldwell-Gross

The Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross has been a transformational ministry thought leader for over a decade. Serving in a variety of contexts, ranging from urban cities to multicultural suburban communities, Pastor J is known for his ability to connect with different audiences and to make the gospel accessible and practical.

Pastor J’s journey has brought him to one of the largest United Methodist churches in the country, St. Luke's United Methodist Church, located in Indianapolis, IN. There he serves as the Teaching Pastor and has been instrumental in leading the congregation in redefining and expanding its digital footprint to reach people around the world. He is currently spearheading the effort to establish St. Luke’s first online campus and transition into the role of Online Campus Pastor. As a Pastor, Author and Professor, his mission is and has always been to equip churches and congregational leaders for relevant and effective ministry in a rapidly changing society.

When he’s not filming a mobile message or designing the next online sermon series, you’ll find him at a coffee shop with something hot in hand.