LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (Nov. 17, 2017) – An apology for past acts of racism and segregation against African-Americans has been issued by Lake Junaluska leaders in response to a resolution passed earlier this year by the Holston Annual Conference.
“Statement on Racism,” signed by the Board of Trustees of Lake Junaluska Assembly, acknowledges that Lake Junaluska’s 104-year history includes racist policies and behaviors committed by individuals as well as the organization.
“For this we repent,” the statement declares, before describing four ways Lake Junaluska commits to eliminating racism.
Jack Ewing, Lake Junaluska executive director, said the statement “was not written in response to any recent incident that happened here on our grounds, but is a statement that challenges and invites, not only us but all, to acknowledge racism and to take steps to address it.”
The Rev. Leah Burns, who asked for the apology through Holston Conference last summer, said she was “moved to tears” after reading Lake Junaluska’s apology for failing to “love all God’s children.”
“I am impressed by the actions that they are taking,” said Burns, associate pastor at Second United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. “This outcome is truly the very best that could have happened, and I am so grateful to have experienced it. It will be a great model for the churches in our conference."
The Lake Junaluska statement says it will seek to attract and hire more people of color; enforce a no-tolerance racism policy for employees; and train employees in behaviors that welcome all people.
HEAL THE WOUNDS
The Holston Annual Conference includes about 2,000 leaders from 874 United Methodist congregations in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia and north Georgia. The organization has held its annual meeting at Lake Junaluska every June for the last 40 years.
Burns’ resolution cited past policies of racial segregation that banned people of color from the swimming pool and relegated them to a separate cafeteria and housing. The retreat center did not officially desegregate until the formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968.
“In order to heal the wounds from our present, we must face our past,” the resolution stated.
“In the eyes of many who are like me and experience systemic discrimination, an apology matters greatly. By requesting this apology from Lake Junaluska, our conference is making the statement that we can do better, and we shall,” the resolution states.
Burns said she decided to submit the resolution after researching local history for a group that hosts regular “Conversations on Race” at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
“There is this wonderful, inclusive, welcoming statement on Lake Junaluska’s web page, but that’s not how it was, that wasn’t true in the past,” Burns said.
She noted that the denomination’s General Conference participated in a “repentance for reconciliation” service in Cleveland, Ohio, in the year 2000, while calling on other United Methodist groups to do the same.
In 2003, the Holston Annual Conference held its own “service of repentance and healing” while meeting at Lake Junaluska.
Burns said she could find no evidence that Lake Junaluska had ever apologized or repented for past discrimination against African-Americans.
“People like to say, ‘The past is behind us,’ but as people of faith, we have to call out these past sins,” she said. “You can’t do anti-racism work without calling it out.”
CALL TO ACTION
Ewing said the request for an apology was received by Lake Junaluska leaders with a desire to respond appropriately not only to Holston Conference but to a broader group.
“I wish we were more proactive than reactive,” he said, “but certainly the request by Holston Conference allowed us to address concerns and state clearly that we are not where we need to be and that it’s important for us, not just as leaders of the church but of society, to speak against racism.”
The deadly August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., elevated the urgency for all church leaders to speak against racism, Ewing said.
“The church has done a lot of lip service to the issue of racism," he said, "but this is a call to action."
Lake Junaluska’s “Statement on Racism” was signed Oct. 20, 2017, with “unanimous support” by the Board of Trustees, Ewing said.
The statement was first sent to Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, resident bishop of Holston Conference, and will soon be shared with all offices and annual conferences in the denomination’s Southeastern Jurisdiction, Ewing said.
Other United Methodists who have recently made public statements against racism include Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., which celebrated its 100th anniversary on Oct. 8 with a service of repentance instead of cake and balloons.
On Oct. 18, the Rev. Gil Caldwell urged Duke Divinity School to confront its past, after the school denied his admission in 1955 due to its policies on racial segregation.
Caldwell, a United Methodist pastor who marched for racial justice with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., has written about his experiences with the North Carolina Methodist Student Movement, which met regularly at Lake Junaluska in the 1950s: “The other black students and I who attended the meetings were expected to abide by Junaluska’s policies of racial segregation: no swimming, segregated housing, etc.”
In 2007, Lake Junaluska opened the Bethea Welcome Center, named for Bishop Joseph Bethea, the first African-American bishop elected in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and his wife, Shirley. The Bethea Welcome Center was an important milestone and symbol of reconciliation at Lake Junaluska, championed by the late Jimmy Carr, Ewing said.
The United Methodist Church addresses “white privilege in the United States” in the “2016 Book of Resolutions,” calling on “individual white persons to confess their participation in the sin of racism and repent for past and current racist practices.”
Statement on Racism (Lake Junaluska, 10/20/17)
Lean Burns resolution to Holston Annual Conference (6/13/17)
Civil rights leader urges Duke Divinity to confront its past (RNS, 10/18/17)
Church prays for peace in response to supremacist protest (KNS, 8/25/17)
Response to racism: Somebody has to risk taking initaitive (The Call, 8/1/03)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.