Photo: Participants at the February 2017 Hope for the Future gatherings. From left to right: Rafael Barahona, Calenthia Dowdy, Ann Jacobs, Evelin Gonzalez and Colleen Whigham-Brockington. Photo by Jenny Perez Castro.
This piece was originally published in June 2017 in The Mennonite magazine.
It’s been seven months since I last wrote in this space about the results of the U.S. presidential election. Since then the broader shape of Trumpism has become clearer: there is a growing wave of misogynist and openly white supremacist groups in the United States that are emboldened to target women, Muslims, immigrants, black people and many others.
For many of us who are white, this feels new and different, but for peoples indigenous to this continent and for people of color, this is simply a highly visible form of what they’ve faced for a long time. My friend Dr. Joe Pruitt recently told me the story of his father, a black man, who fled the south after he received lynching threats due to his friendliness with white women. Closer to home and more recently, my friend Raul Lopez talked about visiting the Ojai valley in California, where I live. As a young man (10 years ago), he and his friends were followed around by white men in white pickup trucks who made it very clear he that he and his friends were not welcome. That hatred is invisible to me as a white person. (more…)
February 15, 2021
antiracism, Mennonite Church USA, Peace & Peacemaking
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“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois
I traveled to Ferguson, MO from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, LA. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear.
We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.
That evening, we saw how W. Florissant Avenue was closed to all thru traffic beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5 second rule” which required protesters to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protesters who began to gather together.
This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.
August 30, 2014
antiracism, Current Events, empire, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, Police, Police Brutality, Power, Race, Social justice, Social movements, Violence, Young Folks
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We are Anabaptists. We are Mennonites. We are distinct from other Protestants and denominations. We care about peace, justice, community. We are a unique and special people.
Many of us feel this way or at least I know, at times, I do. There is a special quality of Christianity that is evidenced in Anabaptism. Yes, we were persecuted by the Holy Catholic Church, but we were also persecuted by fellow Protestants. There is severity and deep conviction in our confession of faith.
Yet, in truth, too often we rest on the laurels of our Anabaptist forebears. We recall or express nostalgia for the countercultural, anti-empire sentiments and actions of those who came before us, all the while colluding with the current empire on many levels in our life. Some of us (even unwittingly) invest in stocks for pharmaceutical corporations and weapons manufacturers, thus endorsing a system that benefit from death and destruction.
Many persons and whole churches have substituted absolute pacifism with Just War Theory. In that regard we have embraced Augustinean Christianity to the detriment of Jesus’ command to love even our enemies who persecute and abuse us. We claim a Mennonite identity, but too often embrace an American identity or political ideology (whether left or right). We fail to recognize the radical calling upon our lives, which is to root ourselves in a Christ identity.
Some of us need a fresh baptism, a next baptism to awaken us to Christ’s calling upon our lives. We may have been baptized in water, but now we need a fire baptism to burn out the iniquity and inequality that pervades our lives. Like a prairie fire that burns the dead things and promotes richer soil, so too do we need the Spirit of fire to prepare us to live more deeply and richly. (more…)
August 20, 2014
activism, Anabaptism, antiracism, Biographical, Books, Change, Church, Class, Community, Conscientious Objection, Economics, empire, Martyrdom, Mennonite Church USA, Military, neo-Anabaptism, New Monasticism, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, Social justice, Social movements, Spiritual Life, Stories, Urban Ministry, Writing
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MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON LGBTQ COMMUNITIES, DIVERSITY, POWER, OPPRESSION & PRIVILEGE*
Mennonite Church USA has roots in seventeenth-century churches planted by what today we might call “radicals” and “social justice activists” from Europe. Our church continues to grow and be enlivened by people who join us from many countries, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, as well as other diversities and differences. As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these seekers of church community in our congregations and communities, especially as our government fails to serve all but a privileged few, with harsh laws frequently punishing difference. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of peace and justice in this country and in this world relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability status, citizen status, religious identity as well as other statuses.
We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of all our community members regardless of any status. (more…)
February 17, 2014
activism, antiracism, Current Events, disabilities, Ethics, Exclusion, Faith, Gender, Group Identity, Immigration, Indigenous, Leadership, LGBTQ, Love, Mennonite Church USA, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, Power, Privilege, Race, Sex, Tactics, Violence
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There is a growing movement of pastors, church planters, and churches around the globe who have become convinced that the center of the Gospel is a Jesus-looking God who calls his people to partner with him to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom. They sense that God is pouring out “new kingdom wine” that is bursting apart the tired old wineskins of Christendom. They sense we are at the cusp of a rising kingdom revolution that is going to radically alter what people identity as “the Christian faith” and “the Church.” The majority of these leaders are both encouraged and discouraged. They are encouraged by the Jesus-looking kingdom revolution they see rising up, but discouraged by the lack of networking and partnership amongst others who share their convictions. –Greg Boyd and Mark Moore
Several weeks ago, Greg Boyd and Mark Moore hosted a network exploration meeting for Neo Anabaptist types in the hours leading up to the conference on “Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty.” The conference, hosted by Woodland Hills Church, was slated to coincide with the recent release of Boyd’s latest book, Benefit of the Doubt. (which I hear is highly worth reading)
But it was the Neo Anabaptist “network exploration meeting” that became the basis of buzz amongst online Anabaptist circles as of late.
There certainly seems to be a need for cohesion among the emerging Neo Anabaptist churches and pastors across the country–something that goes beyond denominationalism, but can work in tandem with existing avenues (such as denominations) that many of us already have relationships with. Many think we have an opportunity to create a missional organization or association that empowers “the boots on the ground,” so to speak–a platform for Post Christendom theology and praxis.
Perhaps it is time to start bringing together minds and bodies in order to create a space for open resources, networking, and mutual affirmation. Still, the conversation thus far has given me pause, and so I want to highlight a few pitfalls to I think we should avoid as well as present a few proposals that cast some vision for the Post Christendom Reformation.
1) We need to acknowledge our privilege:
What I am not seeing so far is a space that creates agency for women, minorities, the marginalized as well as those who aren’t “big” theological personalities in the current Neo Anabaptist discussion. Let’s be honest: while I applaud Mark Moore and Greg Boyd for taking the initiative to invite Neo Anabaptist types into dialogue as an aside to this conference, I fail to see how hosting a “network exploration meeting” opens the space for the diversity the movement is already composed of, when the only ones who could attend such a meeting must have either
a) been conference town locals, or
b) have the time and means to fly to the Twin Cities and attend Greg’s conference. (more…)
October 9, 2013
Anabaptism, antiracism, Bigotry, Change, Church, Class, Community, disabilities, Education, Emerging Church, empire, Ethics, Evangelism, Exclusion, Global Church
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Today continues with the series, “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of my favorite authors, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey. As the series continues, you’ll find me interviewing the guest bloggers below, as they answer questions I’ve posed about their experiences.
My interview with Drew proved to be too intense and too important to try and cram into one long blog post, so I’ll be posting part II in the near future. I hope you enjoy it, and learn from them as much as I have.
“I once was raised African American Evangelical, but now I’ve found Jesus through the Black Prophetic Church tradition and Anabaptism.”–Drew G.I. Hart
Tyler- Evangelical is a word thrown around a lot in the media and in Christian circles. One rarely hears the phrase “African American Evangelical”–can you share what makes African American Evangelicalism and what its like being raised in that environment?
Great question, although in reality, I think people are probably a lot more familiar with what I call ‘African American Evangelicalism’ than they realize. However, I will start with a definition before I go there. As I see it, African American Evangelicalism is the by-product of Evangelical theology and African American experience blending together. So, in this sense, African American Evangelicalism would not be an exact duplicate of most dominant cultural expressions of evangelicalism. And yet still, they are closely related. Most African Americans share a lot in common theologically with evangelicals already, which is no surprise given that Black faith at the core is significantly shaped by the reinterpretation of white southern Baptist and southern Methodist traditions, in which Africans converted to in mass in the midst of slavery. (more…)
August 24, 2013
activism, Anabaptism, antiracism, Bias, Bigotry, City, Class, culture, Exclusion
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By Pam Nath. Cross-posted from The Mennonite
Image by Ricardo Levins Morales
If “your” elected officials are middle-aged, white people who smile at you a lot, it may be time to relocate. Being a “minority” – even a sizable minority – in a city with white officials has become more of a hazard than at any time in the last twenty years. American justice is divvied out across a great racial divide. We don’t believe that Black elected officials are – on their own – a cure for our problems. However, we do have a greater ability to pressure them. [Living in a white community], you may have more government services, but those services include more policing by officers who think your child is dangerous. If you move, the idea that your child is not as easily singled out can give some comfort.
—Kamau Franklin, New Rules for the Black Community after the Zimmerman Verdict
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly…Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8: 22–23a, 26
Because I know that Kamau Franklin’s words in the quote above are likely to be disturbing to many people who read this column, and some may be tempted to dismiss them as the words of a hateful demagogue, I want to begin by saying that I have met Kamau on several occasions, and once participated in a two-day strategic planning meeting with him. He has never been anything but kind and friendly to me, a white woman, and in fact, has always struck me as a particularly gentle and thoughtful person. If his words seem jarring and painful to you, my plea to you is to struggle to hear them nonetheless. I think doing so is critically important to the life of our church because I am sure there are other Mennonites who are reading this column who totally get where Kamau is coming from, and in fact are feeling and wondering similar things as he. We are a divided church and sadly, the dividing walls between us (Ephesians 2:14), rather than being broken down by a free movement of the Spirit, too often are growing ever thicker.
July 21, 2013
antiracism, Church, Privilege, Race
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Oh how I wish Jesus had set a better example!
Let’s be reasonable here. He should have proposed his prophetic action in consultation with the religious leadership far in advance of the Passover feasts. This would have reduced so much stress for the Pharisees and scribes.
He shouldn’t have made his case using sacred scriptures. Too risky, too radical, too much playing his religion card like he knew it all. Why did he have to bring Isaiah or Jeremiah into this, crazy activists claiming God’s house for foreigners, eunuchs and the like! One issue at a time now! How dare he come to the temple with an agenda!
He certainly should have worked within the structures to ensure no one would be offended, no one would risk the chance at dialogue due to untimely, unvetted mention of certain outcasts. Didn’t he know that if you want to include these people, you have to exclude those people.
He should have toned it down at least a little, no name-calling nor blocking pedestrian traffic in the temple. And what’s with the whip of cords!?
Read more and get involved over at overturningtables.org!
July 1, 2013
activism, Allyhood, Anabaptism, antiracism, Current Events, Exclusion, Gender, Group Identity, Immigration, Indigenous, LGBTQ, Mennonite Church USA, Peace & Peacemaking, Polarization, Power, Privilege, Race, Social justice, Spiritual Life
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Several months ago I drafted a post on Occupy Wall Street suggesting that people interested in thinking through issues of race and gender (re)turn to Adrienne Rich as a wise source. We so often forget those who have gone before us, outside a fairly limited range, and I thought posting a few quotations from one of Rich’s essays might provoke thought and also encourage folks to dig out college anthologies, hunt down books in the library, or do a little web-searching.
I didn’t post the little piece because I wanted it to be Just Right. Then I got busy.
And now Adrienne Rich has died, and I am reminded again of how much she has to teach us.
March 30, 2012
activism, antiracism, Books, Current Events, Economics, Gender, Group Identity, Media, Poetry, Politics, Privilege, Race, Sexism, Stories, Wealth, Writing
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Amtrak crosses the county carrying overnight passengers, strangers who engage each other as little or as much as they want. I overhear the social analysis of foreigners, business owners, union workers, environmentalists, activists and Amish. Wide seats, scenic cars, and café tables host a unique social atmosphere, literally a meeting in between places with a cross-section of the world.
Last night I returned from New York State via Amtrak, following a weekend of faith-based social justice fellowship with the Word and World mentoring program. I heard three young men relate their weekend experience of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Computer speakers played Colbert’s speech at the White House Press Dinner. Elderly voices discussed political debates in Iowa, “Those politicians are all liars” … “Well that should not attract votes the way they argue.”
Tim spotted the chance for a window into the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement from its source in New York City. We invited the activists to the café car for an interview. Eli Fender (23), from Seattle joined the camp for two weeks. Robert Smith (20) and Riley O’Neil (20) both originally from Rogers Park in Chicago (small world) both visited the camp over the weekend.
Charletta: Tell us about the movement’s shape. What are some of the tools that are important at OWS?
Eli: There’s the people’s microphone, which a lot of people know about. There’s also working groups such as the facilitation working group who guides the General assembly. In democracy you worry about where power starts welling up. So I joined the facilitation group meeting.
October 24, 2011
activism, antiracism, communication, Corporations, Current Events, Economics, Environment, Leadership, Nonviolence, poverty, Power, Privilege, Wealth
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I was a senior in high school in September 2001. I was to have a cross-country meet that Tuesday evening, the 11th, and the boy’s soccer team at my school was to play its archrival. I remember not being surprised that we were attacked. Previous visits to Africa and Latin American revealed to me glimpses of negative psychological and environmental impact of some US American foreign military and development policy. I saw why people could be very angry. I was coming into consciousness about the injustices in our national system, and I was not particularly happy with the USA either, at that point in my life.
But being raised Mennonite taught me that no matter how mad I was, I was not to use violence as a means to address conflict. So I was frustrated that others had mobilized power in a destructive way…and I was even more sad to hear the US government and many people’s reaction. The healing and clarifying line that emerged for me throughout the next years was that of the families of many of the victims who formed a group to make it clear in the saber-rattling days afterwards: “Our Grief is Not A Cry for War.” This line told a powerful story.
One of the most significant impacts that 9/11/01 has had on my ministry is that I have been challenged to tell more stories instead of making factual, theological, or ideological points. So, I would like to take the opportunity of this post to share a story about a Muslim young man who was a victim of a post-9/11 hate crime. Don Teague, from CBS News, wrote about it (18Jul11) and I quote his article at length: (more…)
September 11, 2011
activism, Anniversary, antiracism, Bigotry, Current Events, Death Penalty, Foreign Policy, God, Guns, Hate, Journalism, Peace & Peacemaking, Terrorism
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Yesterday, on my way to take my ten year old son to camp, I was telling him my plans for the day.I was driving to Harrisburg from Philadelphia with a van full of Mennonites (white and non-white, citizens and undocumented) to oppose the attempts of some State Representatives to make it a crime to be undocumented.
My son’s response was surprising, and a little funny—“Mom, who invented power?And I’m not talking about electricity here!”I’ll admit that I was proud of his question and his outrage.I’m glad that he can recognize that power is being abused, and used to perpetrate violence and hate.
I reminded my son, who is prone to violent flashes of anger, that power is neither good or evil, what’s more important is the way you use the power you have.Case in point, a ten year old raging about needing to practice his cello certainly wields a lot of power in our house.So can his loving response to his little sister who just needs some big brother hugs.
I’m not the kind of person that meets with my state representative or writes letters to politicians.It’s not my style—I’m not articulate under pressure.I do better with some time to craft a statement, or in one on one conversation. But yesterday, I went to the Pennsylvania State Capital to support the Dream Act, and to oppose the attempts of legislators to make it more difficult for my undocumented friends to live in country we all love.I sat in hearings where we heard testimony from law enforcement, and from tea party activists, who called my friends “aliens”, “illegals”, and “those people”.They said that my friends didn’t care about this country, but only wanted to drain our welfare and social security system.They said my friends were murdering, raping, and stealing from citizens. The testimony was so distorted, so shockingly racist—I couldn’t make it up if I tried.
August 31, 2011
activism, Allyhood, antiracism, Immigration
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I arrived in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the week of convention, eager to take it all in. I couldn’t wait to run into old friends in the hallway, participate in thought-provoking seminars, and, close to the top of the list, add my voice to the community of voices as we sang familiar hymns. I even announced (pre-emptively) in my Facebook status that “nothing says happy 4th [of July] like thousands of peace church members singing their theology together in four part harmony!”So when I arrived in the hall for the opening worship service on Monday evening, I was surprised to discover that hymns did not form the backbone of the singing. As the week progressed, it appeared that in fact hymns would take a backseat in the adult worship services for the duration. I was disappointed, a little confused, and as Betsy Headrick McCrae noted in her story Wednesday afternoon, thrown off-balance. I didn’t know the songs the worship band led. I missed the hymns I had grown up singing and come to love. Wasn’t this the Mennonite convention, after all? Weren’t hymns and four part harmony our bread and butter? I heard a similar sentiment echoed frequently throughout the week. Where had the hymns gone? (more…)
July 12, 2011
antiracism, Mennonite Church USA, Music, Race, Spiritual Life, Tradition
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by Tim Nafziger and Mark Van Steenwyk
In July, Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman blogged some reflections on his visit with Mennonites from various Native groups in Ashland, Montana. He clearly describes the way white settlers’ sense of manifest destiny led to the clearing of the Cheyenne and other groups from their land. He acknowledges the deep trauma these communities have experience. He shares the effect this had on him personally. In other words, he knows that oppression is bad and that he as part of the dominant group, is complicit in it.
Stutzman concludes the article with a commitment to “walk alongside our Native American brothers and sisters as they seek God’s way for their future.” What does this mean, exactly? What does it look like to take the the tragic knowledge of history of oppression and the analysis of how this oppression continues and do something to make a difference?
September 27, 2010
Allyhood, antiracism, Indigenous, liberation theology, Power, Privilege, Race
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I live in Phoenix, the front line in the war against the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to be free. I would imagine everything here looks pretty awful from the outside, seemingly without a silver lining, but I’ve been seeing something different, something beautiful happening here.
In the midst of our police raids, our masses of children orphaned by deportation, women giving birth in shackles, and our racist legislation, something wonderful is happing in the heart of the church. People from all sides of the religious spectrum are coming together in a way I haven’t ever seen before to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
And it’s beautiful.
A friend of mine and I went to a meeting of clergy recently, gathering to discuss what we as a church can do. We met in the chapel of a United Church of Christ congregation downtown and had everyone from pastors and priests with their collars to rabbis with their yarmulkes, Muslim women in their hijabs and a few Anabaptists with babies in slings across their chests. Throw in a few Buddhist monks, devout Hindus, Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, and everyone in between and you’ve got a good idea of what the average immigration reform demonstration looks like here.
It’s a rainbow of beliefs putting our differences aside and uniting in the belief of a God without borders, without nationality, and who cares more about someone’s well being then their legal status. I have in my mind an image of God looking down on us and repeating the phrase “It is good.” as he did in the creation story in Genesis.
The hardest thing about SB1070 and similar hate based legislation is that politically, in a lot of ways, they makes sense. But I believe that we are called to do something radically different when we decide to follow Jesus. Jesus’ teaching didn’t make sense. Loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, turning the other cheek, these things don’t make sense at all… and that’s part of what makes it so fantastic.
Believing in Jesus is believing that doing what doesn’t make sense can be the best thing, and that sometimes doing what doesn’t make sense is what makes a better world possible. I believe in that world and I want so badly to be a part of it.
July 28, 2010
antiracism, Bigotry, Church, Current Events, Illegal, Immigration, Politics, Race
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