The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations (Mennonite Church, 1955)
The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations (Mennonite Church, 1955)
The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 24, 1955.
Among the forces of evil challenging the advance of Christianity is a prejudice which many Christians feel towards those who are of a color or of a national origin different from their own. This prejudice,. usually growing out of a feeling of superiority, often leads church members, as well as others, to practice various forms of discrimination contrary to the teachings and spirit of the Gospel. The victims of this kind of unjust treatment often become bitter towards their oppressors. Not only has this tension led to social antagonism and international ill will, but it has created conditions that have made the advance of the Gospel difficult and it has dimmed the Christian witness. Furthermore, those who have been guilty of attitudes of prejudice and superiority have been unable to experience the fullness of the Christian life.
As a fellowship of Christians which throughout its four hundred years of history has placed great emphasis in all human relations upon Christian brotherhood and the way of love, we must periodically reexamine our application of the faith which we profess in order to maintain and promulgate a vital witness in our time. This is the faith in our Lord and Master who is the true revelation of God; in the Holy Scriptures which are the written revelation of Jesus Christ; and in the way of the cross as given in His teachings, in His life, and in His death.
I. The Teaching of the Bible
A. The Unity of Man in the Order of Creation
The Scriptures teach that God "made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26). The Bible throughout clearly teaches this fact which is corroborated by scientific observation: that all people are one people though they may have superficial differences. Such differences, whether due to variations in the physical features of the body or the cultural differences due to social environments, have no hearing upon the worth of a person before God, for each person bears the image of the Creator.
Therefore, the Christian must regard every man as his brother in the flesh, whom he must love and seek to win to the kingdom of God even as Christ loved and sought those among whom He walked.
B. The Unity of Man in the Order of Grace
1. The Bible teaches that all men "have sinned and come short of the glory of God." This fact is corroborated by the observation: that every section of the human race is guilty of evil, and that in every man the original image of God is marred.
2. The Bible also teaches that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Against the dark background of man's sin shines the glory of God's grace. As Paul says, "No distinction is made, for all alike have sinned, and consciously fall short of the glory of God, but are acquitted freely by His grace through the ransom given in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-24, Weymouth).
C. The Unity of the One Fellowship
The Bible teaches that it is the purpose of the Good Shepherd to bring all of His sheep as one flock into His fold. Jesus said, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16, RSV). This one flock is the church, His "one body" (Ephesians 4:4), a new society of men recreated in the image of God. This new society transcends all human differences: "Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian,, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11, RSV). This transcendence is not a mere matter of theory, but it is a reality among men in whom Christ dwells and is therefore to be worked out in an actual realized fellowship on a local and intercommunity level.
D. The Way of the Cross in Race Relations
1. The Bible teaches that the church must take the way of the cross in all race and group relations. This means that we must reach aggressively across all barriers with the call of the Gospel, to include all who repent in the fellowship of the church. This call includes the expression of Christ's love in both word and deed.
2. Those who follow the way of the cross in proclaiming the Gospel of love to all men, and in exemplifying Christian brotherhood, may suffer persecution and injustice which they must be ready to accept with joy. Matthew 5:9-11.
3. The way of the cross is the way of Christian nonresistance, where the egotisms of nation or race give way to Christian love and human solidarity. To refuse participation in warfare demands that Christians likewise rise above the practices of discrimination and coercion in other areas, such as race relations.
II. The Witness of Church History
1. During His ministry Jesus said that "Men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29, RSV).
2. While Jewish Christians sometimes had difficulty in understanding this great truth, the manifestation of God's grace in the conversion of Cornelius taught them that "God is no respecter of persons "; that "in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35); that God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles as much as to the Jews; that "he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8, 9, RSV).
3. There is ample evidence that from the time of the Jerusalem Conference through the time of the Reformation the church accepted into its fellowship people of different cultural, national, and racial backgrounds. Nowhere in the New Testament are distinctions made on the basis of race or color. The baptism of the Ethiopian took place without any hesitancy, nor did it raise any question within the brotherhood. Neither in the early centuries nor in the long period of the Middle Ages and the Reformation does the literature reveal any sign of a racial basis of admission to the Christian congregation or of discrimination and segregation based on race or color.
III. The Sin of Segregation and Discrimination
A. Racial Discrimination a Recent Phenomenon
1. Racial tension as expressed in the denial of privileges and the segregation of peoples of different colors in public transportation, in schools, and even in churches is a relatively recent historical development.
2. In the United States colonialism produced the institution of slavery. This was followed by the struggle for its abolition, culminating in a civil war and a reconstruction period marked by bitterness and hatred, creating a situation in which the Negro members of our society were the unfortunate victims, and which affected to a greater or lesser degree all peoples of non-Anglo-Saxon stock among us.
3. Out of this situation has grown a vast mythology to the effect that people of color constitute a race which has a different ancestry from that of the Caucasian, and which in every way is inferior to it. Unfortunately, some Christian people have even deepened the confusion by claiming to find Biblical sanction and support for this myth. Thus many Christians find themselves in a position where they deny the basic principles of the Gospel, both in theory and. in practice, in a manner never found before in the history of the church.
B. Racial Prejudice and Discrimination Is a Sin
We believe that racial prejudice and discrimination, as illustrated in the American pattern of segregation, or wherever it may be found, is a sin. Among the many reasons why we believe this to be true we note the following:
1. It is a denial of our professed faith that all those who are in Christ are one. Jesus prayed to the Father: "Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17: 11).
2. It is the perpetuation of a myth long proved false both by Christian faith and modern science.
3. It brands and discredits those discriminated against as undesirable and inferior.
4. It is a violation of the human personality as created by God; a denial of the opportunities and privileges which in the providence of God are meant for all peoples to enjoy.
5. It is a violation of the basic moral law which requires a redemptive attitude of love and reconciliation toward all men, and which forbids all falsehood, all feelings of hostility, and all attitudes which lead to strife and ill will among men. Matthew 5:21-48.
C. The Consequences of the Sin
The sin of prejudice and discrimination has a harmful effect not only upon those directly involved, but upon the church and upon society as a whole.
1. It humiliates and frustrates the victim so that it becomes difficult for him to behave as a normal member of society.
2. It scars the soul of the one who practices the sin.
3. It contributes to social tension, to hatred and strife.
4. It is a major cause of present-day international conflict and war.
5. It strengthens the hand of atheistic communism which claims to do away with the very sin which many Christians still defend.
6. It violates the central Christian message of redemption and love and thus discredits before the whole world the Christian church and the Gospel which it proclaims, and weakens its mission program.
IV. The Response of the Church
A. Our Confession
In the light of the above, we are conscious of the contrast between the message of the Gospel and the conduct of men in their relations with their fellow men. As Christians we therefore humbly confess our sins. We confess that we have been blind when we should have seen the light; that we have failed to see that mere nonparticipation in violence and bloodshed is not an adequate expression of the doctrine of love to all men; that we have professed a belief in the urgency of the Great Commission without bringing into Christian fellowship our neighbors of "every kindred, and tongue, and people," and that we have failed to see that acceptance of the social patterns of segregation and discrimination is a violation of the command to be "not conformed to this world." Often we have been silent when others showed race prejudice and practiced discrimination. Too often our behavior has been determined by our selfish considerations of public and social approval more than by our desire to accept the way of the cross. Some of us have accepted the false propaganda of racism and anti-Semitism which has come into our homes in the guise of Christian literature. Too often we have equated our own culture with Christianity without sensing which elements were genuinely Christian and which were merely cultural accretions from a secular society. Many times we have made it difficult for Christians of national origin different from our own to find fellowship among us because our own cultural pride and attitudes of exclusiveness served as obstacles. For these and our many other sins we repent before our fellow men and our God.
B. Our Hope
Nonetheless we do not despair. The Gospel is not mere idealism, for within and around us we see manifestations of the grace of God working redemptively among men. There is reason for gratitude that in our brotherhood there are genuine expressions of Christian relations; and for the progress evident in many communities, we thank God. We appeal to fellow Christians everywhere with us to submit their hearts and lives to the scrutiny of the Scriptures and the Spirit. We know that in repentance and confession we experience the renewing grace of God, and that through this experience our relations with our fellow men can be healed.
C. Our Duty
Repentance means that we turn from the sins which estrange us from God and amend our ways. We therefore urge:
1. That, as Christians, we cultivate a sense of belonging together on the basis of unity in Christ and discipleship.
2. That we recognize that any acceptance of the prevailing customs of discrimination is a violation of the Scriptural principle of nonconformity to the evil of this world.
3. That our congregations and mission stations follow the policy of inviting and receiving into their fellowship all who receive Christ and follow Him in true discipleship regardless of race or color; that in communities where there are now adjacent segregated congregations, sincere efforts toward intercongregational fellowship be cultivated.
4. That institutions and agencies of the church (as schools and colleges, hospitals, and homes for children and the aged, and the various church boards) if they have not yet done so, announce and carry out a policy of admission and service without discrimination on the basis of race, color, or nationality.
5. That in work with children, as in the case of summer Bible schools and summer camps, for example, an effort be made to conduct it on an interracial basis wherever there is a natural occasion to do so.
6. That we cultivate personal contacts among persons of various racial and other social groups.
7. That in our day-by-day social and business activities we become more sensitive to inequalities in practice.
8. That we express gratitude for the many manifestations of an awakened social conscience with respect to this question and for the many steps now being taken, especially by our government, to correct the evils of racial intolerance within our society; that in our communities we support efforts to that end which are consistent with Christian principles, and that we give our witness against the evils of prejudice and discrimination wherever they may be found.
9. That in all differences of experience, insight, and conviction on this question within the brotherhood, we exercise Christian forbearance, and seek for positive Christian solutions.
D. Our Program of Teaching and Preaching
Realizing that proper understanding is a necessary condition for the improvement of human relations on any level, we commend the following specific tasks and goals for our teaching and preaching program on race relations.
1. That we seek to present more clearly the teachings of the Bible, striving particularly, to correct misunderstandings as to a supposed Biblical basis for discrimination.
2. That we help people to understand that science provides no basis for supposed qualitative differences among races.
3. That we deal with the psychological and sociological factors in race or other prejudice, helping our people to understand what this sin does to men's thought processes and social attitudes.
4. That we learn to think of all persons as persons, to meet them as such, and to be natural and at ease in their presence.
5. That we teach the necessity of uprooting from our conversation all words, expressions, and stories which lend support to racial prejudice.
6. That we call attention to the free interracial association in such countries as Brazil and localities in our own country where good relations have been achieved.
7. That on the question of interracial marriage we help our people to understand that the only Scriptural requirement for marriage is that it be "in the Lord"; that there is no valid biological objection to interracial marriage; and that, as in all marriages, the social implications of any proposed union should receive careful consideration.
V. The Conclusion
In summary, the Gospel of Christ is a Gospel of redemption, of reconciliation. God has made of peoples of diverse "races," colors, and nations a new fellowship, a new people, in Jesus Christ. He has called this new people to the ministry of reconciliation. If we have been incorporated into this fellowship, which is the body of Christ, our whole life is dedicated to the great process of redemption. This is the essence of our missionary task, and only as we rise above the differences of race and class are we truly engaged in the Christian witness.
This statement, now the official position of the Mennonite General Conference, originated in a Study Conference on Christian Race Relations sponsored by the Committee on Economic and Social Relations of the Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Community Association at Goshen, Indiana, April 22-24, 1955.
Context of this Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1955, arose from increasing concerns about race relations, especially within the United States. In April 1955 the Committee on Economic and Social Relations, a standing committee of the Mennonite church, together with the Mennonite Community Association sponsored a conference on Christian race relations. This statement resulted and later in 1955 was approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church General Conference.
The Committee on Economic and Social Relations was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1943 until 1965 when it was merged with the Peace Problems Committee to form the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns. Prior to 1951 it was known as the Committee on Industrial Relations. During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of five members -- four from the United States and one from Canada. The Canadian member was Milton R. Good from Ontario. Guy F. Hershberger served as staff for the committee and provided the theoretical background for its work.
Although most explicitly written for the U.S. context, the statement was framed in general terms making it adaptable to the Canadian context.
Context written 1999 by Sam Steiner
Twenty-ninth Mennonite General Conference, Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas, August 23-26, 1955 (Scottdale, PA : Mennonite Pub. House, 1955: 20-26.
Christian Race Relations: Proceedings of the Conference on Christian Community Relations Sponsored by the Committee on Economic and Social Relations of the Mennonite Church and by the Mennonite Community Association. Goshen, IN, 1955.
Hershberger, Guy F. The Way of the Cross in Human Relations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1958: 337 ff.