Urban-Racial Concerns (Mennonite Church, 1969)

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Urban-Racial Concerns (Mennonite Church, 1969)

Statement Context

Mennonite General Conference received with appreciation the following statement presented by the executive secretary of the Urban-Racial Council:
  1. That the Mennonite Church confess in word and action to the sins committed against black people and that we understand why some black people have felt it necessary to bring to the Christians of America the document known as the Black Manifesto. The Mennonite Church, since it is a religious minority, should be able to identify with other minorities and work toward implementation of needed reforms in our society.
  2. That the Mennonite Church commit itself to a war against prejudice and discrimination by each member demonstrating by personal action in special activities and in their daily affairs that they are not biased against minority peoples.
  3. That the Mennonite Church make necessary efforts to establish and maintain a positive Christian image and rapport in the black community.
  4. That each Mennonite employer review his hiring practices with a view of removing unnecessary barriers to the employment of minorities.
  5. That Mennonite employers and skilled tradesmen become involved in job training in the inner city.
  6. That congregations develop and implement programs to provide new housing in suburban areas which will allow black citizens the freedom of choice and mobility to travel to, move to, and live near jobs.
  7. That congregations become involved in the development of exhibits and demonstrations which stimulate pride by blacks in their communities through an understanding of the rich heritage of black Americans.
  8. That congregations become personally involved as well as financially in assisting in minority self-help projects, letting black people take leadership responsibility in such endeavors.
  9. That congregations aid individuals in finding better alternatives to the present welfare systems and practices.
  10. That individuals should become involved in minority relations through the VS program.
  11. That the Mennonite Church provide monies for scholarships to minority youth to allow them to attend Mennonite colleges and high schools.
  12. That deliberate efforts be made to elect and employ persons from minority groups in all echelons in the church-related agencies such as the Mennonite General Conference, missions boards, colleges, Publishing House, and other related agencies.
  13. That congregations become educated in the rich heritage of black Americans.
  14. That Mennonite landlords apply the principle of "equal opportunity owner" in the sale and rental of any property they may own.
  15. That congregations develop methods of initiating and maintaining racially balanced neighborhoods.
  16. That congregations employ an "equal opportunity employer" attitude when filling pulpits.
  17. That the Mennonite Church, through congregations, conferences, and General Conference, immediately respond with one-half million dollars ($500,000) to be channeled through the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, Elkhart, Indiana, for the purpose of developing and expanding ways of serving the urban poor and other minorities in new and more meaningful ways. Allocation of these funds to projects and programs will be handled by the Urban Racial Council and the Executive Committee of the Mission Board. It is further proposed that this same amount be raised for the next five years. This recommendation is based on the principle that we are committed to equality. This would amount to approximately $.50 per member per month over the next five years. This amount of money would only begin to open the door to a new world of freedom and brotherhood. There are many programs which can be initiated with this amount, e.g., co-ops, urban training centers, secondary education, housing projects, recreation, and leadership training. This should also involve racial sensitivity education in white congregations.
In recognition of the heightening crisis and tension in urban areas, and among minority groups, we affirm anew the 1955 statement on "The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations" and further resolve that:
  1. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, confess our general indifference, lack of concern, and inadequate efforts in troubled urban areas.
  2. We recognize the presentation by the executive secretary of the Urban Racial Council as embodying areas of valid and significant involvement and ministry for the church in relation to all minority groups.
  3. We summon our brotherhood to an aroused support in prayer and finance for the projected plan of MBMC "to a greatly increased ministry among minority groups in urban areas," with the expectation that we respond with a minimum of six dollars per member per year for this emergency above the $33 per member per year needed for current ministries.
  4. We call upon each congregation and conference to intensify their efforts to express their Christian compassion in practical ways and to develop relationships of understanding with all minority communities.
  5. We charge the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns to take immediate steps to help the brotherhood to implement the recommendations from the Urban Racial Council.

Context of the Statement

At little over a month prior to the 1969 Mennonite General Conference delegate session a group of black leaders met in Detroit, Michigan for a National Black Economic Conference. Out of this meeting came a Black Manifesto that demanded reparations of $500,000,000 from white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. The Manifesto called establishment of a Southern land bank to help blacks who had to leave their land, new publishing industries and TV networks, a research skills center, a training center for community organization and other skills, a new organization for welfare recipients, a National Black Labor Strike and Defense Fund, and international fund to provide capital for cooperative business ventures in both the U.S. and Africa, and a new Black university. The Manifesto also called for sit-ins and disruption of religious services in support of these demands.

The Mennonite Church had worked in a token way for many years with various minority groups in the United States. In 1968 in the wake of widespread civil unrest and racial tension, including the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Mennonite Board of Missions helped to establish an Urban-Racial Council to work on these issues as they affected the Mennonite Church. The Council selected an Executive Committee composed of Gerald Hughes (chair), Lee Roy Berry, John Powell, Hubert Schwartzentruber and John Ventura. John Powell was then asked to serve as Executive Secretary of the Council, and in November 1968 he joined other Mission Board staff in Elkhart, IN.

John Powell was the author of the seventeen point statement presented to the delegates against the larger backdrop of the Black Manifesto. The $500,000 called for in point 17 would have seen the Mennonite Church provide 0.1% of the total reparations.

The five-point response by the delegates was crafted at the conference sessions by the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, chaired by John E. Lapp, and the conference session's Resolutions Committee. The $6/member/year target would have directed between $650,000 and $700,000 per year to minority groups in urban areas through the Compassion Fund. This target was never achieved, and the Compassion Fund soon disappeared in the restructuring of the Mennonite Church in 1971.

Statements by the Mennonite Church General Conference stated the understanding of the Mennonite Church at the time of the action. Statements had informal authority and influence in the denomination; they had formal authority as confirmed or endorsed by Mennonite Church area conferences and/or congregations.

Context written December 2005 by Sam Steiner

[edit] Bibliography

Thirty-eighth Mennonite General Conference (36th Biennial Meeting)[Proceedings]: Turner, Oregon, August 15-19, 1969. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite General Conference, 1969.

Mosemann, John H. "Why an Urban-Racial Council?" Gospel Herald (25 November 1969): 1026-1027.

Black National Economic Conference. "Black Manifesto." The New York Review of Books 13 (10 July 1969). Retrieved 26 December 2005. <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/11267>

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