A Church of Many Peoples Confronts Racism

"Many Peoples Becoming God's People" is the theme of this joint gathering of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, August 1-6, 1989, in ' Normal, Ill. Our theme is an expression of our ethnic diversity and thus a cause for cel- ebration. We are becoming more like the church for which our Lord prayed (John 17:11-12,20-23; Eph. 2:11-22).

It is surely a gift of God's grace that the generations of Mennonites now living can witness the worship of our churches in North America in at least two dozen languages: Amharic, Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cantonese Chinese, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Creole, Cree, English, French, Garifuna, High German, Hmong, Hopi, Indonesian, Laotian, Low German, Mandarin Chinese, Navajo, Saulteaux. Portuguese, Spanish, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and others.

That some of these worship languages seem unfamiliar to many of us is merely a measure of our new beginnings toward a church of many peoples. We recognize with sorrow that we are part of a society established by invading the lands and the rights of ear- lier residents and by importing and enslaving other human beings. Many of our sisters and brothers, decedents of those early victims, still suffer from the prejudicial attitudes of the majority and from economic and other manifestations of racial bias. At this gathering we are affirming in prayer, worship, and fellowship that we intend to become one church of many peoples. We recognize that our response to God's will in this matter will call for repentance from sinful attitudes in our own hearts. It will set us apart from some of the sinful directions of our North American societies, in Canada and the United States.

Racism is a particular social reality of evil our Lord asks us to confront in becoming God's people. There are those in our societies who actively promote racial strife and the domination of one race over others. Many resist equal opportunities for minorities in immigration, education, employment, and housing. Sometimes the social climate allows hate language in the public media, harassment on college campuses, gang beatings of minority people, defacing and arson of churches and synagogues, public demonstrations by hate groups, terrorism against minority means of livelihood, and even murder. The movements in many areas of North America to uphold English as the sole "official" language may tend to foster such hurtful racial attitudes and give sanction to unacceptable public behavior.

We reaffirm our previous statements, made in the 1960s, on various racial concerns (see Attachment 1). Yet too often we have been silent in the face of these injustices. We commit ourselves anew to witness and work for racial justice in our communities.

The foundation for our concerns is that we have become one in the blood of the crucified Christ (Eph. 2:14), and our membership is to be drawn from every race and tribe and language and nation (Rev. 5:9-10). Our public witness to this fact is an essential part of our evangelism. As representatives of Mennonite congregations throughout North America, we declare here and now that expressions and attitudes of racism are sin and are never acceptable in our Christian life. They must also not be accepted in silence in any of our personal, work, or leisure relationships.

As "Many Peoples Becoming God's People" churches, we encourage our congregations to identify and speak out against all forms of racism in our communities. This will require study to recognize subtle forms of racism in the media, in social practices, housing and employment patterns, and even within the church. It will require us to learn to know and become known to the victims of racism who live among us so that we may publicly stand with them. Those who practice racial abuse and discrimination deprive themselves of the enriching variations God intended for the human family. We need to find ways to experience the joys and challenges of racial diversity through our social interactions and residential choices. Where congregations are predominantly of one race, initiatives should be taken to foster fellowship with congregations of other racial heritages. Where feasible, congregations should join in projects of common service and witness.

We confess that our church institutions--district and provincial conferences, churchwide and inter-Mennonite agencies, our colleges, camps, and health service centers--have not always escaped our society's pattern of institutional racism. We are called by the gospel to review our practices in employment, promotion, purchasing of materials, and inclusion of minorities on boards and committees. Where inequity is found, we need to repent, be reconciled, and take affirmative action to correct it. At least once each year congregations can celebrate the richness of ethnic and racial ad- versity and examine anew ways we can combat the lingering racism in our society, in our church and in ourselves. Opportunities for raising awareness may be found in the observance of World Fellowship Sunday on Pentecost (as promoted by the Mennonite World Conference), and celebration of a "Many Peoples Sunday." Other opportunities include the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday[1] in the U.S. or remembrance of the Acadians[2] and Louis Riel[3] in Canada. Resources for congregational study will be made available in 1989-1992 by the Commission on Home Ministries (GC) and the Board of Congregational Ministries (MC). CHM and BCM are asked to report on the usage of these resources to their respective 1991 and 1992 delegate assemblies.

We ask each congregation, district and provincial conference, board and commission of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church to give re- newed attention to issues of racism. Particular encouragement and support is needed for the development of leadership of all ethnic and racial groups from local to churchwide levels. The vision God gave Peter, that "God knows not partiality" (Acts 10:34), is still needed today. Let us pray for courage to be a people of God who fulfill that vision.


Notes

1. The birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), as civil rights and nonviolence leader, is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States on January 15. Various states commemorations are held on other days in January.

2. The Acadians were French settlers in what is now Nova Scotia. In 1755, they were rounded up by the British and expelled. Many fled to what was then French Louisiana, where their decedents today are know as "Cajuns." Other sizable numbers returned to the Madawaska region of Maine and New Brunswick. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Evangeline" depicts this episode (which the United Nations would now label as genocide).

3. Louis Riel (1844-1885) was a Metis (mixed native and French) leader from Assinibola, Manitoba. The "Riel Rebellions" of 1869 and 1884-1885 established short-lived provisional governments which attempted to resist English domination in settlement of the Canadian West. Riel was tried and hanged in Regina on Nov. 16, 1885. He is regarded by many as a French-Canadian and Native people's patriot.

Attachment

1."The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations," MC General Assembly, August 24, 1955, Hesston, Kans.

2."The Christian and Race Relations," GCMC Triennial Sessions, August 12-20, 1959, Bluffton, Ohio.

3."Reconciliation," MC General Assembly, August 20-23, 1963, Kalona, Iowa.

4."The Freedom Movement," GCMC Triennial Sessions, July 10-17, 1965, Estes Park, Colo.

5."Urban Riots," MC General Assembly, August 21-24,1967, Lansdale, Pa.

6."Urban-Racial Concerns," MC General Assembly, August 18, 1969, Turner, Oreg.


Adopted by the Tenth Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 3. 1989, August 1-4, 1989, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, Proceedings,pp.32-34.

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Adopted by the Tenth Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 3. 1989, August 1-4, 1989, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, Proceedings,pp.32-34.