Oak Grove UMC hosts racial justice workshop Aug. 5


Oak Grove United Methodist Church is preparing to host a racial justice workshop on August 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event, entitled "I'm a Good Person! Isn't That Enough?" will be led by renowned racial justice educator and author Debby Irving. The church is asking for a $10 fee for attendance, but waivers are available to ensure everyone has access to the event.

Oak Grove UMC has a long-standing history of commitment to anti-racism work, a commitment that was intensified following the tragic death of George Floyd in May 2020. Floyd, a Black man, lost his life at the hands of police in Minneapolis -- an event that served as a poignant catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement. The resulting protests against systemic racism and police brutality, as reported by The New York Times, were recognized as some of the largest civil rights demonstrations in the United States since the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. The global church continues to draw upon this renewed focus in its efforts to combat racism and foster inclusivity within its own community.

This workshop comes amidst internal discussions within the church concerning the removal of a non-inclusive painting from the church's fellowship hall. The re-evaluation of the church's artwork, notably the Last Supper painting, came as part of a significant commitment from Oak Grove UMC's leadership team in 2022. The painting, donated by a long-time member of the church, depicts Jesus as a white European, a portrayal that has come under scrutiny. A team comprising Stori Long, Valerie Valdivia, and Devin Valdivia was tasked with examining the artwork within the church building, focusing particularly on depictions that could be seen as exclusionary. The church council's motion to remove all non-inclusive depictions of Jesus from the church's walls was passed unanimously, but it was not without subsequent controversy.

Early in 2023, a backlash occurred due to confusion about the council's decision. A small group of church members, upset with the decision to remove the painting, sent heated letters comparing the council to destroyers of sacred art, and a few even left the church. Recognizing this conflict as a teachable moment, Oak Grove UMC's pastor, Rev. Dylan Hyun, convened a group of church members and volunteers, from where the idea of hosting the Debby Irving workshop was born. Hyun and the rest of the church leadership hope this event will provide a platform to clarify their intentions and ignite more meaningful dialogue on racial inclusivity and justice within their community.

"We had an internal debate whether to publicly expose divisions within the church over this issue," said Hyun. "But we decided that it is important to help others understand why we invited Debby Irving to speak to us."

Hyun, seeing an opportunity for a learning amid the confusion and outrage over the Last Supper painting, decided to organize the workshop. The decision to host this event was influenced by Hyun's previous experience with Irving's book at another church as well as a BIPOC support grant.

The upcoming workshop is part of a broader attempt by Oak Grove UMC to engage with societal issues, particularly racial justice. Hyun hopes that the event will serve as a wake-up call to the church community.

"I want people to know that we are actually called as the faith community to advocate and be on the front line on this type of issue of justice," Hyun said. "I hope a lot of people outside of my congregation come, they show up. So the people in the congregation realize this is actually happening."

The first 100 attendees will receive a free copy of Irving's book and a chance to have it signed by the author. Registration for the event is currently open on Oak Grove UMC's website.

"My hope is that people can show up," says Hyun. "Showing up is the most important significant support for us -- not only me, but for the team and for the church that we're doing this. We're putting a lot of energy and resources and time into everything. It's showing up itself that supports us."

You can find out more information on Oak Grove UMC's website https://www.oakgroveunitedmethodist.com/ or you can register here.