Must race divide?By John Powell
Mennonites in North America are seeking to become a multicultural and interracial church. National bodies have adopted statements that place this as a high priority. Many congregations have expressed a desire to become racially, socially and economically inclusive. There is a feeling that we are a multicultural church in which people of color are embraced and feeling at home.
But is there a disconnect between commitment and action? In some African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian communities, sentiment is growing that, while there is progress toward inclusion, action and words don’t match.
Many are frustrated. They feel they are not fully accepted at the table of power and influence. They point to traditional Mennonite culture and a desire to hold onto power as hindrances to racial inclusion.
Is there hope? I say yes! Differences separate us, but much more bonds us together.
In 1688, Mennonites joined with Quakers in the first protest against slavery in America. In the 1960s, urged by Vincent Harding, some Mennonites participated in the civil rights struggle. Anabaptists and Native Americans share a deep conviction about peace. Lawrence Hart, a Mennonite pastor and a Cheyenne chief, is a bridge to both traditions.
European and non-European ethnic Anabaptist histories are interwoven. Both have existed on the margins of society. Both have experienced the pain of being discounted and marginalized.
All except Native Americans are immigrants. Living on the margins of Europe, Anabaptists sought a new life in North America that provided freedom of religion and economic opportunity. Africans came to North America on slave ships, while others came under duress or in search of a just society. Native Americans experienced home dispossession and genocide.
European Anabaptists were marginalized because of their religious convictions. People of various races were marginalized in North America because of the color of their skin. European Anabaptists and people of color understood that their Creator wanted them to live in a just and reconciled society.
But more than that, we all are bonded together by Christ, our liberator. People of diverse races in the church remain hopeful because they believe the Anabaptist understanding of the gospel is what is needed to bring about true reconciliation.
For Mennonites of all races, Jesus Christ is the center for our faith and action. This is who we are as people seeking to live out God’s agenda. This is the focal point of our interconnectedness.
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