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Last updated March 03.

March 3, 2014 issue

Call for conversation

By John Powell

My congregation planned a worship service with a conversation on race. It was a revealing encounter for many present.



Being the only African-American in the congregation, I and a white member sat up front during the children’s time. The storyteller asked them about similarities and differences between us. Among the numerous differences named, there was only one matter-of-fact reference to skin color. After church, several members expressed a desire to continue the conversation with children and adults.

Do these children’s responses reflect the thoughts of children in society generally? No! I think these children’s parents are trying to teach them to value everyone, regardless of race.

My view was affirmed by a person struggling to find a spiritual community. We talked about race and its impact on children, and I brought up the worship service. He said, “Was this in a Mennonite church? From my experience, Mennonites teach their children how to love and respect everyone.”

So, have we done enough?

Race is a dominate force in America. Historian Robin D.O. Kelley says, “Racism is not about how you look, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama dealt with racism. There was a call for a national conversation on race. It never happened. The desire for political change persuaded reluctant whites to say, “I’ll vote for him. He’s half white.”

A 2012 survey on racial attitudes showed 51 percent of Americans express explicit anti-black attitudes. A similar 2011 survey revealed 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes.

These statistics are revealing but not surprising. While no racial attitude tests have been conducted in Mennonite communities and congregations, several friends have suggested these statistics probably represent the attitudes of Mennonite communities, too.

That’s hard for me to believe. We place a high value on being an antiracist denomination. Many people have participated in antiracism training and engaged in racial reconciliation endeavors. If our children are representative of the attitudes of Mennonite parents, we are headed toward racial reconciliation.

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