By Chris Young,
Contributing Writer,Pastor Cary Stockett, Galloway United Methodist Church
PHOTO BY CHRIS YOUNG
Since moving to Jackson, Mississippi fourteen months ago, I have had many more questions than answers. Then again, that is a big part of why I moved here. One question that nags at me regularly is centered in religion. How can a predominantly Christian region, squarely inside the Bible Belt, demonstrate such disdain for black people? It’s apparent nearly everywhere you turn. I love living in Jackson, but I don’t love racism; I have equal regard for all people, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Reverend Cary Stockett, senior pastor at Galloway United Methodist Church, 305 North Congress Street, agreed to sit down with me for a discussion. He was gracious with his time, sincere, and very informative. Apparently, he too enjoyed our conversation, suggesting that sometime in the future “we should sit down and eat groceries together.”
On Galloway’s website, under the name of the church, is a banner that reads – We are his Hands and Feet in Downtown Jackson and beyond. I really felt that sentiment as we made our way through nearly ninety minutes of questions, answers, acknowledgements and some difficult content.
In explaining his core beliefs about racial issues, he stated that he grew up near Crystal Springs, Mississippi in a home where use of the N-word would get you in more trouble than using profanity. It simply was not permitted. “In a place, in a state, where the N-word fell off people’s lips as easily as John 3:16, that made a mark on me.”
He confided that in his early 50’s things really changed for him, and he ended up having questions that he couldn’t answer, “And experiences with people that I just didn’t have a file folder for.” He spoke about homosexuality, and that he had always been opposed to loosening of any of those prohibitions, but then he began to meet gay Christians who had a walk with Christ that could not be denied. He mentioned a woman at a church he used to pastor, and he knew her well, and knew she was lesbian, “but when I looked out there where she sat on Sunday mornings – she glowed.” That experience led to him changing his position.
Despite some people downtown complaining, Galloway feeds the homeless four mornings per week. “It’s a morning meal, but not really a breakfast. Its protein-loaded because we know that may be the only meal they get that day. On Tuesdays they feed at St. Andrews, so we feel like our sisters and brothers in the homeless community are covered on those days.”
Eventually in our discussion, I shared that what I struggle with most is the gross contradiction of people who put themselves out there as Christians yet behave in ways that are diametrically opposed to the most basic principles of Christianity – and the overt and covert resistance to any form of advancement of people who are not European-Americans and especially black people, while clinging to the moniker of Christian.
When asked for his thoughts, he shared that we have a lot of unreconstructed confederates, and that in the Deep South people drank the Kool-Aid of lost cause mythology and the lies of why the Civil War was fought and don’t want to accept that it was all wrapped up in slavery. He added, “We are convinced, here in the Bible Belt, that because we are the most church-attending place, we are convinced that our Christianity is thee Christianity.”
A concept that seemed to fall out of our dialogue was that for many Bible Belt Christians, so long as you pray the prayer and ask Jesus into your heart, so you won’t go to hell, then you can do as you please, because that is what’s most important. A seeming belief system so strong it provides insulation from any wrongdoings such as hatred and oppression. And in some ways, even worse, ignores the gospel.
Against the backdrop of Christians behaving in an un-Christian manner toward their fellow man, I asked if there are ever days when he feels like change truly is possible. Reverend Stockett, who insisted I call him Cary, didn’t pause for a second before answering that he did.
A student of history, he believes a stronger black voting block will be a key to turning things around. “I feel like African Americans, especially here in the South, feel such a discouragement or else a disenfranchisement that they are not voting. Redistricting can neutralize a black vote, and God forgive us, I think that still goes on.”
Still, he believes that we are getting more black elected officials and they are being heard more. As an example, he mentioned the Senate vote on CRT in the last legislative session and the entire black delegation getting up and walking out, and that action was heard by many. He also mentioned the importance of bridge-groups, like the Mississippi Humanities Council, that can find ways to reach out to people with open minds. He summarized that “there are many disparate influences that I am hoping in, and plus my own prayers – God want’s this to be better than it is – that can’t happen without our active participation and participation with each other.”
This discussion was heartening for me. There are influential people in Jackson, like Cary Stockett, who do see things the way they really are and are trying to do something about it. I’d sit down and eat groceries with him on any day.
Lastly, I should mention that I reached out to five white pastors of prominent churches in Jackson. Despite emails and multiple telephone calls, Reverend Stockett was the only one who responded.