A Church of Many Peoples Confronts Racism (General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, 1989)
Position Statements, 1989 Church of Many Peoples Confronts Racism, A (General Conference Mennonite Church; Mennonite Church, 1989)
"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 celebration. We are becoming more like the church for which our Lord prayed (John 17:11-12, 20-23; Ephesians 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 earlier 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 (Ephesians 2:14), and our membership is to be drawn from every race and tribe and language and nation (Revelation 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 adversity 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 birthday1 in the U.S. or remembrance of the Acadians2 and Louis Rie13 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 renewed 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- "The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations," MC General Assembly, August 24, 1955, Hesston, Kans.
- "The Christian and Race Relations," GCMC Triennial Sessions, August 12-20, 1959, Bluffton, Ohio.
- "Reconciliation," MC General Assembly, August 20-23, 1963, Kalona, Iowa.
- "The Freedom Movement," GCMC Triennial Sessions, July 10-17, 1965, Estes Park, Colo.
- "Urban Riots," MC General Assembly, August 21-24, 1967, Lansdale, Pa.
- "Urban-Racial Concerns," MC General Assembly, August 18, 1969, Turner, Oreg.
Adopted by the Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 3, 1989
Commentary on the Resolution
This resolution emerged from the General Conference Mennonite Church Commission on Home Ministries and the Mennonite Church Board of Congregational Ministries. It was discussed by delegates of both denominations in joint session, but was approved in the separate business sessions of the denominations.
By 1991 Mennonite Church delegates were unhappy that little action on the issue had been taken by congregations, area conferences or denominational agencies. These delegates approved a follow up resolution that read:
WHEREAS, the Mennonite Church in North America at its 1989 biennial meeting passed unanimously a resolution rejecting the social evil of racism and called on the church to "give renewed attention to the issues of racism," and whereas we have witnessed a continued erosion of race relations evidenced by the brutal beating of African-American motorists in Los Angeles, CA; the rise of politicians in Louisiana who espouse racial policies; and the insensitivity of Canadian federal and Quebec provincial governments in dealing with the claims of Native Canadians;
THEREFORE, the General Assembly of the Mennonite Church, meeting in Eugene, OR does hereby resolve:
To encourage the General Board, the program agencies, conferences and local congregations to establish procedures for monitoring the implementation of the 1989 statement passed at Normal, IL.
To require the General Board and program agencies to report back to the 1993 meeting of the General Assembly on specific actions they are taking to address racism as it impacts the mission of the General Board and the program agencies.
In 1993 each of the program boards reported on the level of minority participation on their boards and staff. By 1995 the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church helped to the form the Damascus Road Project that in 2000 was administered by the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Racism Awareness Program. This program is focused on the United States; there is presently (2000) not a comparable program in Canada.
Statements by the Mennonite Church General Assembly state the understanding of the Mennonite Church at the time of the action. Statements have informal authority and influence in the denomination; they have formal authority as confirmed or endorsed by area Mennonite Church area conferences and/or congregations.
Commentary written 2000 by Sam Steiner
Bartel, Lois. A New Vision: a Study in White Racism. Newton, KS : Faith and Life Press, 1973.
Brown, Hubert L. Black and Mennonite: a Search for Identity. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press, 1976.
LaRoque, Emma. Defeathering the Indian. Edmonton, Alta : Alberta Department of Education, 1975.
LaRoque, Emma. In Search of Peace: a Challenge From Four Non-White North American Mennonites. Akron, PA : MCC U.S. Peace Section, 1976.
Neighbors Near and Far: a Mission Course of Study to Interest, Inform, and Inspire Children. Newton, KS : General Conference Mennonite Church, 1986-1989.
Proceedings, 10th Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 1-4, 1989, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. Elkhart, IN : Mennonite Church General Assembly, 1989: 32-34.
Proceedings, eleventh Mennonite Church General Assembly, July 30-August 3, 1991, Lane County Convention Center and Fairgrounds, Eugene, Oregon. Elkhart, IN : Mennonite Church General Assembly, 1991: 20-21.
"Damascus Road Teams Affirm statement on racism." Mennonite Reporter 26 (July 8, 1996): 13.
Mennonite Central Committee (search for racism on MCC's search page)