The General Board of Church and Society carries a mandate from General Conference. Its job is to educate, advocate and connect around social justice issues as guided by the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions. It works to provide resources to the 35,000 United Methodist Churches around the country.
“It’s our priority to provide resources to local churches,” said GBCS General Secretary Susan Henry-Crowe.
Henry-Crowe was th Director of Connectional Ministries in South Carolina, the Conference with largest African-American population in the connection. She was also a pastor there for nine years, trying to build bridges between communities.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is also not so onerous that we should just not engage,” she said. “Young people can be very helpful in bridging divides.” She had seen success with activities like community poetry slams and music events. In a recent Faith In Action newsletter from GBCS, local churches were encouraged to reach out and start conversations about race and policing.
“The more grassroots these conversations are in their formation, the better,” Henry-Crowe said. “I remember in the 1960s we had community relations councils that were very effective. We need deeper engagement, reaching out across the boundaries that divide us. General Agencies and Bishops can issue proclamations, but real engagement needs to happen at the local church level.”
The new GBCS website is designed for local churches to be able to easily access factual information around specific topics. The “What We Care About” drop-down menu lists the topics civil and human rights, economic justice, environmental justice, health and wholeness, peace with justice, and women and children.
In each area there are Faith Facts cards available to print-off around specific topics, like gun violence. The cards have four headings: what the Bible says, what the church says, what the facts are and what you can do.
GBCS is following four priority areas– poverty, peace, immigration and health. It has been working intently on immigration issues, and is developing a task force for each jurisdiction to address specific issues in their areas.
GBCS also must keep in mind that the United Methodist Church is a global church. Of the 132 annual conference, only 50 are in the United States. The needs of the central conferences that GBCS is attuned to include health issues safe water, earth care, free elections and women’s issues.
Although resourcing the local church is a primary function of GBCS, it does also lead the denomination in direct engagement around issues the church has decided to address. Henry-Crowe publicly sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this year, calling for compassion toward immigrants.
“People were very supportive of the Sessions letter, and hundreds of people have sent their own
letters,” she said. “A lot of people appreciated that action. We work hard to help churches understand our mandate. A letter isn’t about what I believe, and it may not be representative of an individual United Methodist’s position, but we are pushing forward on issues on behalf of the positions taken at General Conference.”