By Chris Young,
Pastor Cary Stockett, Galloway United Methodist Church
PHOTO BY CHRIS YOUNG
Since moving to Jackson, Mississippi fourteen months ago, I’ve had far more questions than answers. Again, that’s a big part of why I moved here. A question that torments me regularly is centered on religion. How can a predominantly Christian region, squarely inside the Bible Belt, demonstrate such contempt for black people? It’s evident almost everywhere you turn. I like living in Jackson, but I don’t like racism; I have the same respect for all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Rev. Cary Stockett, senior pastor at Galloway United Methodist Church, 305 North Congress Street, agreed to sit down with me for a discussion. He was kind to his time, sincere and very informative. Apparently he too enjoyed our conversation, suggesting that in the future “we should sit down and shop for groceries together”.
On Galloway’s website, below the church’s name, is a banner that reads – We Are His Hands and Feet in Downtown Jackson and Beyond. I really felt that feeling as we waded through nearly ninety minutes of questions, answers, thanks, and challenging content.
Explaining his core beliefs on racial issues, he said he grew up near Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in a home where using the N-word would get you in more trouble than using profanity. It just wasn’t allowed. “In a place, in a state, where the N-word fell from people’s lips as easily as John 3:16, it stuck with me.”
He confided that in his early 50s things really changed for him, and he ended up having questions he couldn’t answer, “And experiences with people that I just didn’t have. of the folder.” He talked about homosexuality and how he had always opposed relaxing any of those bans, but then he started meeting gay Christians who had a walk with Christ who couldn’t be denied. He mentioned a woman in a church he used to pastor, and he knew her well, and knew she was a lesbian, “but when I looked at where she was sitting on Sunday morning – she was glowing .” This experience led him to change jobs.
Although some inner-city people complain, Galloway feeds the homeless four mornings a week. “It’s a morning meal, but not really a breakfast. It’s high in protein because we know that might be the only meal they get that day. On Tuesdays they feed in St. Andrews, so we feel like our sisters and brothers in the homeless community are covered on those days.
Finally, in our discussion, I shared that what I struggle with the most is the stark contradiction of people who present themselves as Christians but behave in a way that is diametrically opposed to the most fundamental tenets of Christianity – and overt and covert resistance to any form of advancement of non-European-Americans and especially black people, while clinging to the nickname of Christian.
When asked what he thought, he shared that we have a lot of unreconstructed Confederates, and that in the Deep South people have been drinking the Kool-Aid of the lost cause mythology and the lies about the reasons why the Civil War was fought and do not want to accept that everything was wrapped up in slavery. He added, “We believe here in the Bible Belt that because we are the most church-going place, we believe that our Christianity is you Christianity.”
One concept that seemed to come out of our dialogue was that for many bible belt Christians, as long as you pray the prayer and ask for Jesus in your heart, that you don’t go to hell, then you can do whatever you want, because that is what is most important. An apparent belief system so strong that it insulates from any wrongdoing like hatred and oppression. And in some ways, even worse, ignores the gospel.
In the context of Christians behaving unchristianly towards their fellow man, I asked if there were any days when he felt like change was really possible. Reverend Stockett, who insisted I call him Cary, didn’t stop for a second before he answered in the affirmative.
A history student, he believes a stronger black voting bloc will be key to turning things around. “I feel like African Americans, especially here in the South, feel such discouragement or disenfranchisement that they don’t vote. Redistricting can neutralize a black vote, and God forgive us, I think it’s still going on.
Yet he believes we are getting more black elected officials and they are being heard more. As an example, he mentioned the Senate vote on the CRT in the last legislative session and the whole black delegation standing up and walking, and that action was heard by many. He also mentioned the importance of outreach groups, like the Mississippi Humanities Council, which can find ways to reach open-minded people. He summarized that “there are many disparate influences in which I hope, plus my own prayers – God wants it to be better than it is – that cannot happen without our active participation and our participation with each other”.
This discussion made me feel good. There are influential people in Jackson, like Cary Stockett, who see things for what they really are and try to do something about it. I would sit and eat groceries with him any day.
Finally, I should mention that I contacted five white pastors from major churches in Jackson. Despite emails and multiple phone calls, Reverend Stockett was the only one to respond.