MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON DIVERSITY, POWER, & PRIVILEGE

Updated 5/7/2015

Introduction

Mennonite Church USA has roots in sixteenth-century churches planted by what today we might call “radicals,” and was impacted and shaped by “social justice activists” and thinkers. 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 seek to join with the new civil rights movement happening all around us, galvanizing around the movement created by three Black women, two of whom are queer women: #BlackLivesMatter.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and follow the lead of all our marginalized community members regardless of any status.

Action

MCUSA Executive Board has thought and prayed deeply about power and privilege. Prayerfully and humbly, every member of the MCUSA Executive Board will be stepping down, and will be replaced with a consensus-based collective composed only of members of the communities mentioned above, and the collective will remain open to marginalized communities we have overlooked in our privilege. Our first collective member is Carol Wise of Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests, and she’s speaking with potential members from African American Mennonite Association, Iglesia Menonita Hispana, and the Anabaptist Disabilities Network, those associated with Anablacktivists who are interested in helping shape MC USA, Pink Menno, and Our Stories Untold to begin. Their first effort will be filling out the collective with more members. Those stepping down will be available to the collective to provide information about past procedures, solely at the discretion of the collective.

Biblical Background

The Bible offers us some valuable insights about welcoming strangers, which is often how we frame anyone different from us. In the following verses, we’re interpreting the term “stranger” to represent and make plain the differences among members of our beloved community. “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do [the stranger] wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love [the stranger] as yourself; for you were strangers in  the land of Egypt…” (Leviticus 19:33, 34). We affirm that God has called us to welcoming, because all of us are sojourners (Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 24:17, 18). We believe that when we welcome “strangers,” we welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35).

In the United States

We may not realize it, but our nation’s laws are structurally oppressive. Laws police our bodies in ways that oppress many and privilege few, and that hurts us all. To name only a few examples, welfare and healthcare laws are designed by people who will rarely or never need those systems, leaving out the voices of those the laws actually affect. It is the same with laws impacting poverty, with laws affecting those who have experienced violence, with laws impacting people without documentation, and a plethora of others. Indeed, many of the laws that govern our bodies are not ostensibly about race, abilities, gender, or other status, yet they deeply negatively impact people in the communities.

In our current system, our government’s policies lead us to view “strangers” as a threat to our safety, comfort, and economic security. It is commonplace that enforcers of these policies kill people of color in the streets.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and follow the lead of all our marginalized community members regardless of any status.

In our congregations

People who are part of the communities above are members of many Mennonite Church USA congregations. People who are members of our churches face a society whose policies and practices discriminate against them and their families. People in these communities are often more deeply affected by poverty, housing issues, healthcare issues, interpersonal violence, and other issues at the heart of Mennonite values. For too long our church leaders have mimicked the governmental structure of the United States and represented a privileged group, with token efforts of inclusivity, while still making decisions about marginalized groups without including their voices in a meaningful way.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and follow the lead of all our marginalized community members regardless of any status.

Our commitment

We affirm individuals and churches that are already working against oppression and privilege and toward peace and justice. We affirm those who are speaking to the government about our nation’s unjust policies. We affirm the church’s work with anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-stigma, anti-xenophobia, and all peace and justice work while we acknowledge that much more work remains. We also affirm the church’s support of agencies that are addressing the roots of inequality, which causes people to suffer. Because of our nation’s abundance, because God has called us to welcome the “stranger,” and because of the richness that all people bring to the Mennonite  Church USA, we commit ourselves to action at the direction of and with our marginalized community members.

We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and follow the lead of all our marginalized community members regardless of any status.

We invite Mennonite Church USA congregations to the following actions (resources listed below):

  1. Listen, listen, listen – and then act. Take action based on the requests of the communities themselves.
  2. Immediately cease all punitive actions in your conferences, and wait for further actions and words from the collective.

“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks

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7 thoughts on “MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON DIVERSITY, POWER, & PRIVILEGE

  1. This is so excellent, I am teary. This statement is full of love, wisdom. acceptance, respect, and the Spirit of God. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for voicing your thoughts. Our church needs to hear from everyone. I acknowledge the pain in your words and I support what you are doing. However, I was a bit taken aback by the tone of some of what you said. Specifically, “Prayerfully and humbly, every member of the MCUSA Executive Board will be stepping down, and will be replaced with a consensus-based collective composed only of members of the communities mentioned above, and the collective will remain open to marginalized communities we have overlooked in our privilege” and also “Those stepping down will be available to the collective to provide information about past procedures, solely at the discretion of the collective.” Perhaps I am reading too much into what you wrote, but what I heard in those lines sounded almost as though you were looking to punish and gain retribution against those currently holding positions of power by consigning *them* to a position of marginalization. I do not believe that we achieve anything when we elevate one group by marginalizing another, no matter how much we would like them to experience that same kind of marginalization. That does not seem to me to be gracious and Christ-like behavior. I hope that is not what you intended with what you wrote. I long for the day when no group is marginalized and all have a voice at the table.

    • Thank you for stopping by, and thank you for your question, Jan.

      In this case, as I wrote, I was envisioning myself as a member of the MCUSA Executive Board, and envisioning that we collectively discerned God’s call of letting go of our power and privilege, giving leadership of the church to members of marginalized communities. This discernment came to us as a way of beating the swords of oppression, power, and privilege in our church policy into the plowshares of planting peace. We discerned that God’s call of true allyship to our community members who are marginalized is to listen deeply to their experiences, questions, needs, and direction, and to take action as requested by them. We discerned that God’s calling was for us no longer to make decisions about and for people who have few or no voices represented – instead to take action at the request of, with, and beside these members.

      I hope that helps.

      Much love.

  3. Thank you for stopping by, and thank you for your question, Jan.

    In this case, as I wrote, I was envisioning myself as a member of the MCUSA Executive Board, and envisioning that we collectively discerned God’s call of letting go of our power and privilege, giving leadership of the church to members of marginalized communities. This discernment came to us as a way of beating the swords of oppression, power, and privilege in our church policy into the plowshares of planting peace. We discerned that God’s call of true allyship to our community members who are marginalized is to listen deeply to their experiences, questions, needs, and direction, and to take action as requested by them. We discerned that God’s calling was for us no longer to make decisions about and for people who have few or no voices represented – instead to take action at the request of, with, and beside these members.

    I hope that helps.

    Much love.

  4. I offer these two notes with goal and intention of being helpful! First, in the scholarly circles I travel in, we typically talk about Mennonites having 16th rather than 17th century roots. Second and again from a scholarly point of view, the social activist label is a bit tricky to claim because of the “polygenesis” historiography of Anabaptism — what we call the “peace position” wasn’t one of the common features among the “Anabaptisms” popping up around Europe back in the day. If we use Richard Foster’s spiritual streams language, we see that the early Anabaptists have bequeathed to us spiritualities of both the Holiness AND Social Justice streams. (This tension that runs back 500 years might be part of the reason we are currently in such intractable “dialogue” in 2015.)

    • Thanks, Malinda. Very helpful, because those details are more from the childhood teachings of my pastor/professor grandfather, and I maaaaay need some refreshers. Let me know when AMBS starts offering queer scholarships. 🙂 I’ll edit, and you can feel free to let me know if it’s a more accurate reflection.

      I appreciate the input from an expert, and hope these details don’t detract from the broader framework.

      Love & Liberation

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