Since Many Mennonites across the internet are having lots of fun posting anti-black rhetoric. Oh… and the juiciest ones are where black people criticize other black people… those are really really special aren’t they? I think it’s time I let loose and take a more aggressive approach at speaking out against what are sometimes racist, and often ignorant stances that the church is taking at this time. But far more importantly, I would like to speak out on how I believe the church can mobilize at this present time. Not all of what I think is presented here, but maybe these are the ones you will be albe to comprehend. As time moves forward, our methods will need to adapt.
This article isn’t for you if you disagree that there are people of color being oppressed in our world today. Please move along.
This is my voice to those who have been asking me “Keeshon, how are you seeing all of this?” “Keeshon, how can we help?” “Keeshon what am I supposed to do?”
Before doing so, I want to thank those of you that are using your voice to speak up not only for those who are hurting, but against any (including those in our church) that are spewing non-biblical jargon. Their arguments are genuinely mind-numbing, and as I read my Bible, I’m utterly confused how they can make their arguments without feeling convicted. So for those who have been speaking and demonstrating, I salute you.
I don’t have the energy to have a proper introduction to this article. I’m frustrated, but not bitter. I’m disappointed, borderline angry, but not malicious. I’m tired, but not silent. But I know the more that is said, the more that those who have no intention of listening will simply come back with strawman arguments and unfair assumptions. I want you to know as the reader, that when I say “the church”, I understand not everyone is behaving this way. But the reason I say “the church” is because I and many others see a general voice among the Anabaptists. And we are hurt, we are baffled, and we are standing against it. If you are unsatisfied with how the voice is being portrayed, then maybe you should be speaking more loudly.
At first glance it may look scary as they are quoting Scriptures (as am I), so how could we stand against God Himself? The problem with that feeling is that we aren’t arguing against those points (unless they are out of context), we are arguing against the conclusions. So I hope that as I take a firm stand on some of these issues, you can listen to what I am saying.
“The Two Kingdom Theology Means That I Shouldn’t Be Involved in Social Justice”
So many people are hiding behind a two-Kingdom theology. Proclaiming that they don’t need to care about the injustices happening in the world because of Jesus.
I wish Jesus was here to flip over their tables.
This argument is a disappointing trend among the Conservative Church at this time. So many write this response with their head held high thinking that they just dropped a truth bomb on all watching. It is often worded in a way that at first glance, seems to just be a true statement. But when looking closely at the argument, you can see the hypocrisy and inconsistencies bleeding through. And yes, not even the great Voddie Bauchum Jr. is off the hook on this one. We need to stray away from the idea that people of color are uneducated and tone deaf. Especially when we hold a mirror to the Mennonite church.
I have been having a profitable conversation with someone who ascribes to this theology. I’ve heard a bit of his voice and believe I may have come to understand why some, especially young people, have arrived at this fallacious argument. They are tired, they are fatigued.
They are tired of having to worry about problems that seem like they have no solution. They can never make progress, and so they try to revert back to the source of hope, which is Jesus. So far we aren’t in disagreement, they don’t think I’m tired as well? If they’re tired, I can assure you that I and many other people of color are tired as well.
If you have read my series on racism, you are fully aware of my proclamation that Jesus is the answer for this problem. I’ve linked the first article in the series and can find the rest from there. But here we have discovered a new problem, the body of Christ has sat down and refused to execute His will. And even worse, they have justified it by using His own words.
All throughout the Scriptures we see Jesus and church being heavily involved in the ethnic and socio-economic struggles of their time. As much as the Mennonites have appropriately taught me that the believers of the New Testament are our example to follow, we sure haven’t been paying attention. The same way Jesus’s own people sought to kill Him for using “liberal logic”, many in the church are dead set on ridiculing and shaming those who dare indicate there is something wrong with the world around us, and they want to be involved in changing it.
The disagreement doesn’t stem from whether or not there is evil in the world. The disagreement comes in when we argue whether or not the body of Christ should be active in helping correct the oppressions. This is what we as people of color (especially and maybe specifically in the church) have a problem with. We have a problem with how the two-Kingdom theology doesn’t reach it’s logical conclusions. We see Jesus as the example, but we see the opposite of His example in the Conservative church today.
I can’t stand liberal politics. I think it’s just as illogical as the other spectrum, and so you don’t need to lecture me or many others about the wrongness present in many SJWs today. But they are at least making an attempt (not a perfect one) to do what their conscience is urging them to do. God set this idea of right and wrong into our minds from the very beginning. He desires for us to be like the Samaritan, not the Levite as found in Luke 10:25-37. But so many are like the Levites, assuming they hold no responsibility to be actively involved. My dad, Clayton Shenk used to always say… “I like my way of doing something, better than your way of doing nothing.” And as my biological dad, Kevin Washington, used to say, and this a bit of a paraphrase… “You can tell how selfish a person is by how hard they try to justify their inaction.” As my dad slowly died, he saw how far the world had to go, and we talked about societal struggles a lot more than we did earlier on in life. He told me stories of race riots here in York, Pa. He talked of the division between him and white kids, and how they would have rock battles on a daily basis. How police targeted people who looked like him. At one point he was pulled over three times in the same week, by three different cops, and for ultimately no reason. These same stories came to pass in my brother’s life, and my own. I was pulled over earlier this year for a blown rear tailight. And three more cruisers pulled up within minutes. As the cop walked up, he spoke from the back side of my car, and as I looked in my mirror, he had his hand firmly placed on his gun. I was now in a position that required me to do everything right. I’ve got 6 cops around me on a routine traffic stop, and the only one talking to me is fearful and speaking to me from 8 ft away. I was asked to turn my car off and I dreaded what I believed would be coming next. I thought he would ask me to get out of my car, an all too familiar set up to what is an overreaction by a police officer, which leads to more issues. But no, he finally walks up to my window, sees my hands on the wheel, hears me greet him politely, and takes his hand off his gun. I asked him why there were so many police, and honestly told him it seemed like they were suspicious of me for some reason. He assured me that they just happened to be in the area and pulled in to see if he needed help. But why? Have you ever had encounters with the police where they felt the need to assemble an army to protect themselves? I spoke not one ill word, never hid my hands, and never talked back to the officer. But before he even came to speak to me, he already had a gun ready to pull on me. It’s undoubtedly time for police reform in America, this should be clearly seen whether you are a liberal or a conservative.
I understand that I was raised differently than you, but I see both by the way I was raised, and by the examples found in the life of Jesus, that we need to be active. It’s time to stop being passive, and it is especially time to stop hiding behind theologies that don’t actually justify our conclusions.
“Black People Need to Repent of Generational Sins”
You think this isn’t a common one, but it is. I’ve heard it now from five different voices, even a conservative black man. Those comments seem to get the most likes on Facebook, I know that many of you have closeted beliefs but this one is on a whole different level.
It truly baffles me how ignorant many Mennonites are of black history. As I’ve sat in circles as an Anabaptist teacher, and fellowship with hundreds of teachers from across the world, I’ve discovered that Anabaptists have failed to teach their children an entire chunk of history. Often the argument is that you can’t cover it all, and so one shouldn’t take it personally that black people and Africans are unrepresented compared to Europeans or the Ancient Chinese. But this is again, fallacious. It completely ignores the fact that history has been written from the white man’s perspective. This then requires a humility and intentionality that isn’t present in many Anabaptist teachers. Black history is not just another history in America, it is a history that has shaped America in ways that completely change where we are as a people and as a church. Often, Mennonites will downplay the role of generational oppression that black people have been subjected to. But they do this with a very dim and simplistic understanding of two things. One, the true extent of the wrongs that have been done at the hands of an anti-black America for 100s of years. And two, the impact that has continued to hurt in the form of abortion clinics, criminilization, employment, criminal justice, representation, and many more.
Your child needs to know why they can sit next to a black person in a school. But your child will likely never do that, so why teach them? Your child needs to know why we don’t have separate water fountains anymore. But your child will seldom drink next to a black kid, so why teach them? Your child needs to know why the man of color (whether Black, Hispanic, Asian, or other) is welcome in your church and doesn’t need to be seen as an alien or foreigner. But there may never be a person of color in your church, so why bother? Right?
My point is, it isn’t enough to have solid intentions, you need to understand the context of the world you are living in. We have to take an honest look at what is pressing in our world today. Mennonites come from a disadvantage, they don’t have people of color of adult age to be a voice and teacher in their congregations on these matters. And if they do, there is a good chance they were adopted or have come in young enough to completely switch circles and be shaped in a different way. Their voices are just as important as mine, and I respect them. They carry a struggle unique to them, some of which even I struggle to understand. If it didn’t run the risk of them getting the same hate mail or overwhelming questions I have, I would link 10 of them here for you to see. Some of them have voiced their opinion on social media, and I respect and support them.
But their voice is also limited, their knowledge of history may not be any stronger than yours. They may have been taught to be color blind, and ignore the racial differences around them. This is what the Mennonites teach, and it ends up hurting and crippling people more than it helps. And to be completely fair, I can be just as unknowledgable if the right circumstances were to arise. Ultimately we can all learn, but even I, also, an adopted black man in a Mennonite church, need to see where I could be influenced negatively. I may have been adopted after having a deep awareness of the struggles of the black man in my home city, but I still need the voices of others to round out my perspectives.
I have many Mennonite friends that are messaging me that have adopted black children. They are growing concerned and want to know how to help them grow up in this climate. Among many things, see what I’ve written above.
Many Mennonites have asked me what they can do as a church, you can start here:
Because the Anabaptists struggle to diversify, it is imperative that adults do their part to do three things:
- Learn and apply the complexities of black history
- Teach your children the history and don’t sugar coat it with cute cartoons and sentimental platitudes (which Mennonite curriculums love to do)
- Ensure your children have a diverse set of friends so they don’t have a handicapped understanding of people around the country, or even the world.
Herein lies a significant issue. Some Anabaptists have missed one or several of these three things. Family leaders and church leaders have failed to shepherd soldiers of the Lord to combat ethnic struggles and the work of Satan in the lives of minorities and white people alike. Because of this, we get people who were never taught the struggle of the black man, trying to teach the black man how to be liberated. This leaves them unqualified and out of place to say the very least.
I’m still at a loss on how to help adult Mennonites who were raised with blindspots to learn from their position of disadvantage. I’ve found that it only comes through grueling relationships, and often it comes with collateral damage to mental health and joy of the person of color. It’s easy to live on forgetting and ignoring the ugliness of the world (as it pertains to ethnic/racial struggle) when you don’t need to face it every day. I can’t walk away and live a normal life for the next week like you can, I have to (and love that I get to) wear this skin every day of my life. We are looking for an ally, a friend, a companion, not a teacher. We don’t see your qualifications, and often we are gracious about it and don’t condemn you for it. Please don’t come to condemn us. If we truly want to proclaim the need for understanding and humility, then it will start with a recognition of where we are weak.
*This is specifically crucial in interpersonal friendships. We learn to know each other better through friendship, and so friends get a different side of a person of color than strangers do. I mention this only because someone could retort and say “so why are so many black people condemning white people right now?!” It’s important that as you ask that question, you evaluate the thoughts I’ve written above and ask if you operate at a disadvantage. And if this disadvantage blinds you the struggle that the accuser is going through. Humility… that’s a word that describes it well.
Many Mennonites have good desires, but they lack appropriate knowledge on crucial issues in America. Proverbs 19:2 says: Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
“Black People Are the Puppets of a Political Agenda to Hate White People.”
No I’m not. And before you claim I am an exception, neither are the people I grew up with. We didn’t hate Nate, Bryce, Josh, or Megan. We loved them, actually as our own. I didn’t hate Willard or Tyler, they were two of my best friends. I don’t recall them making statements that offended me, so we were just that, friends. They knew when to be quiet and learn about things I was already well versed in, and I reciprocated that attitude when they spoke on things I was unfamiliar with. None of them are Mennonite, and none of us were Mennonites growing up, so I and all of us have found it to be an unfair sweeping statement.
But let’s be fair, you are allowed to have this opinion. In the same way I have seen and classified the church as a whole by the many voices I have heard, perhaps you truly have 1000 connections with people of color to base your claims on. Anyone?… Hello?
This is the problem. People of color have a large sample size, they have seen the church and know it’s fruit. We can all relate to the frustration that comes when an atheist who grew up only observing Christians from a distance, makes a harsh statement about Christianity. It’s not that their voice doesn’t matter, it just means we can’t ignore the bias and ignorance they come from. Many of my atheist friends have left conversations with me ready to acknowledge they weren’t aware of the kind of experience I have had. Their perception of Christians may have been clouded, and while they aren’t ready to repent and become a Christian, are less opposed to listening to them. This comes through practice, it comes through taking long times of not speaking and only listening during a conversation. People will usually respond well to a humble heart.
There is nothing humble about a Mennonite, who is potentially culturally illiterate, making a harsh statement like the one in bold above. And before they flaunt their ministry track record, boasting a senior trip to China as proof that they understand the cultures around them in America, they should understand that those they oppose may have more experience with their kind of people than vice versa. So if a man, a Mennonite man that has spent 30 years in a city and has successfully befriended 100s of people of color, whom they’ve had loving relationships with that have lasted, is willing to say something like this, you will find me listening. I haven’t found one yet.
And, after all of that, even if I did, I speak on behalf of many friends, both white and of color, that just because you spend years knowing people of color, doesn’t mean you really know their voice and can empathize with it. There is so much character and love that needs to be involved, and I’ve met well over 50 Bible school leaders in the Mennonite church, spoken at over 25 of their clubs, and have held deep conversations with them. Many of them, but not all, have a long way to go if they hope to truly empathize with the children they are reaching. Platitudes and rich sayings have worked against us in this way. We need to understand that race is too complex to wish away with good words. I would love to live in a world where race is a myth, and color didn’t matter. And while I recognize we have an ideal to dispel the myth of these categorizations, we simply can’t do it. And we don’t need to. Somewhere down the line I will write more on this specific topic. I’m so grateful to not be color blind. I see so much beauty in the differences that are present in our physical expression today. I still imagine the beauty that John saw when he looked up into heaven and saw all tribes worshiping together.
It’s time that Mennonites preach about the things they are qualified to preach on. If there were voices in the church to lift up, then we should be lifting them up to help us understand the struggle that is happening right now. Because most churches don’t even have the voices to lift up, we can now see just how far we have to go before this can change. Many are at a place where they don’t think the change can or will happen. I used to be very confident that the Mennonite church as I know it would be at a different place 10 years from now (for my future children) than it is now. I am no longer so sure myself.
I’ve heard so many youth workers say “I just love holding the little black boys and girls.” Maybe you need to start to hear and recognize their struggle. We have programs all over our culture on how we can teach them in hopes they come to learn our culture. Now is the time to establish programs with youth in which we are able to listen and ally with them. We will carry a heavy voice of the teachings of Jesus and His example, but we will relate closely with those we are trying to reach. So far, I’ve seen this bring people closer to the Lord than our current practice. And don’t be afraid of the parents. They won’t be as easily convinced, and some of them may bite back, but they are not a lost cause as many will see them. Go out for coffee with them, communicate liberally, build relationships. I enjoy my interaction with the parents of my students as much as I do with the student themselves. I love when they make me rice, and I love when I can make them chicken. We are sharing our cultures, and it’s so fun and warming.
More that you can do:
1. Walk alongside people of color. Be a part of peaceful protests. We don’t need to see a protest as a form of disrespectful resistance to the government. Protests are different than riots or strikes. Protests serve several profitable purposes.
- You can engage in profitable conversations with people who are hurt and hoping to be heard.
- You can meet community leaders and network with the people who can help connect you with opportunities to volunteer and better connect with your community. Engagement with your local community, specifically for those who live in a city, is a needed step in the Mennonite church being an ally.
- You can take a stand, and live out the Scriptures written to us about opposing oppression in a practical and moral way.
- You can be there to pray if unrest does pop out. 95% of protestors can desire a protest without violence, but a small group can come in and ruin their voice. Be there to speak out, don’t hide behind your computer screen. So many black people have tried to protect businesses and stop violence, join them in standing in the gap. You can find videos of black people lamenting the violence in America right now. Go find those videos and listen to them.
I think of a time when a friend and brother of mine by the name of Ken Miller was unjustly criticized for helping a sister with an issue. The world attacked him, and the church united in support. My own brother stood with Ken and rubbed his shoulders before he went into the courtroom, Mennonites were literally protesting, making their voice and stance on the issue known loud and clear. Interesting isn’t it? We should, and we can protest.
2. If you aren’t willing to attend a protest, write to your local mayor. Our mayor has done a good job at listening and exacting movements to bring change in these injustices. So my letter is one that is of support and encouragement to keep going in a Godly Way. In the letter, I will be proclaiming the need for biblical reconciliation, while also affirming that I am watching what is happening and praying for him and our city. I will also extend my offer to help where I am able. Your letter may be different, depending on their religion, perspectives, and actions. But writing a letter is a great way to get in touch with and relate to those who have the power to make changes. If you aren’t willing to write, ideally pastors will represent their church with a unified voice of peace and reconciliation. Not a letter that is anti-black or anti-protest, but is meant to make our voice heard, and offer our bodies to help bring change. That’s where the conversation can begin. I’ve spent several years as a city employee, getting to meet community voices and government officials. They value conversation, and they need your encouragement. Sometimes they even need a healthy rebuke.
3. Stop being silent! Use your platforms and speak openly in your social circles. This may not always be fitting, but if you know a person of color that is struggling, reach out to them. Not out of obligation, but if you find yourself caring, make it known. Have a prayer meeting with them.
4. Rebuke racism. Stop finding reasons to give racist statements the benefit of doubt. Sinful rhetoric is damaging, and the sin of racism is prominently represented in the Anabaptist community. Whether it comes from a leader, or a brother/sister, you need to speak up for truth. It will likely lead to tension, but this tension will help strengthen us. I understand intentions, I understand the person may want to do well, but if they continue to think the way they are, they will be found distracted and dangerous to the cause of justice. They need your help, even if they don’t want it.
5. Appeal to your pastors to preach and evaluate the Scriptures I have listed below. When is the last time a sermon has been preached in your church on justice? If you’re like me, I have never recalled one. We need to work together as a local body to bring change, I know for some of you that won’t be happening because of the overwhelming ethnocentrism and lack of awareness in your local body, but where possible, unite. Learn together, and take action together.
I pray that no matter where you stand on this issue. No matter how much of this you disagree with, you would join in what should be the cry of the entire church. Let Justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream (Amos 5). See a poem I have recently written in regards to this scripture.
I pray that you learn to seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17).
I pray you will open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).
I pray that you will long for the hand of the oppressor to be removed from the oppressed (Jeremiah 22:3).
And finally, I pray that as you would hope they would do for you, you would do for them (Matthew 7:12).
I write this with love to you all. May many find themselves leaning on Jesus as they take action, modeling their behavior off of our great example.
Thank you, Keeshon. That post seems very level-headed and insightful to me. I guess it says something about me when I re-read Amos 5 at your prompting, and got hung up on the 13th verse: “Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.”
Now, I’m concerned that I’m not thinking of the same concepts you are when you use the word “Justice.”
For example, in the George Floyd case someone could respond “We’ve seen a terrible act of police brutality. The police officers involved have been arrested and charged with murder, it seems the legal process is moving at an unusual speed. Justice is being done, why are there repeated calls for more of it?”
That sort of “justice” is not what you’re talking about, is it?
When I think of the times I hear “Justice” mentioned in sermons, it’s along the lines of “We might say we want justice, but we actually don’t. That would mean we all get what we deserve, and for ourselves we want mercy.” And, I was just surprised to find that my Bible software cannot find the word “justice” in the KJV New Testament, what most Conservative Anabaptists are using. It found 28 instances in the Old Testament.
I’m guessing you’re thinking of “Justice” as “removing sources of oppression, even and especially unintentional ones” rather than specific punishment for specific wrongs. Am I anywhere close?
Consider what it would mean to see justice “flow”. The model in Amos is OT, but it’s lived out it practical ways through the life of Jesus. It wasn’t, and isn’t about case by case due process. That is the world’s process and while we operate under it in subjection, and should care in some cases, it isn’t our primary focus. This “justice” is about correcting oppression, standing in front of those receiving the blows right now. So yes, I think the way you are going with this is on the right track.
I think some people jump to conclusions when I give practical ways in which we can do this. But at the end of the day, all these actions point to a heart and call that we as Christians have. Not every physical intervention is a political one just because it involves speaking to authorities.
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Thank you Keehson for your perspective. Are there any books or materials that could help us understand looking at the world thru the eyes of an urban youth that would be recommended?
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Your voice is needed and appreciated, Keeshon. Courage, friend. Rich
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“White People need to Repent of Generational Sins” is far more accurate.
Thanks for your voice, Keeshon! Praying God’s grace and strength for you as you speak.
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Can you recommend a decent history curriculum that that faithfully records the history of racial issues in. America, and isn’t laced with nationalism? I homeschool our kids, and it’s hard to find such a curriculum. I remember you mentioning this is one of your previous posts. Have you found a curriculum you’re happy with?
Nope, I’m using BJU, but it is sourced from very compromising organizations with a bad track record. I use it though, and enjoy it, because of the raw information it offers me as a teacher. I source just as much of my own research and trusted resources into my lessons as I do from the text. I am not in any way a curriculum bound teacher. I’m hoping for a solution to this need sometime in the next 10 years, I want better for my future children, and my nephews and nieces.
We’ve been using Truthquest History. It is not nationalistic, and frames history through the lens of the questions–Who is God? and Who, then, is mankind? Because of that, American history is presented differently than I’ve seen in other curriculums. They teach that the founders wrote the constitution with the idea that all people should be respected, but acknowledge that American history would show that respect didn’t actually include everyone.
The teacher’s guide briefly walks through the time period. Then it gives book lists that are used as the primary student text and are categorized by grade level. It’s definitely not perfect and the narrative is written in an elementary style. However, in general the narrative is pretty strong. I find it pretty easy to edit the material and especially easy to add in books that round out the story.
We use the curriculum Biblioplan, and I have found it to be very forthright about USA’s racist history.
Thank you…thank you. Keeshon, your voice is so valuable. I’m so sorry that you have faced such difficult things. May the Father bless you for sharing with boldness and clarity. We must, with humility, grieve and listen….. I’m appalled at the arguments that many Anabaptists are utilizing in order to avoid the raw truth of racism.
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Now may not be the time. But I’m curious what your message to dark skinned folks would be. One of the things that bothers me (and probably others) is that I feel like I’m solely responsible to fix this problem because I happen to have light skin. We (Anabaptist) certainly have deep rooted generational sins that we must work to tear out and lack of compassion for the disadvantaged and oppressed is definitely one of them. It also takes a lot more forms than racial ignorance. But, is there no generational sins in other cultures? It makes me wonder if one of the reasons that some Anabaptist folks are saying some of these things is, in part, because they do not see the people hammering us (rightly so) for our sins also speaking out as loudly against their own weaknesses. I’m not defending those actions for I see how it had hurt you and others, but I certainly struggle with some of the same tendencies and want to grow on understanding.
Limited caveats here, so if we need to say more let’s go for it.
Eric, let’s remember the need for humility here. Assuming that we look at this on a level that is exemplified through the Kingdom, we will ultimately be more focused on the shortfalls and responsibility that lies in us, than what lies in the other cultures. There is undoubtedly flaws in other cultures, but what does that have to do with what we do? Are we not sheep, servants, lovers? We need to be careful of a carnal response.
On a racial, or cultural level, It can be fairly off putting to me and other POC to hear these kind of sentiments. Although my experiences help to empathize with your thoughts here more than others. I will say that I believe that I as a POC is more aware and in tune with the struggles of my people than people usually give credit. I think that is a problem of arrogance. I’ve had several rude Mennonites email me to tell me the issues that lie with my people, and how I need to be confronting them, not the Mennonites. Their cultural pride and arrogance makes them sound less like Jesus, and more like religious hypocrites(who Jesus rebuked). I am at the same risk if I fall into the opposite ditch, but I can assure you, as I interact with youth of color every day, few are more critical and harsh than I. This is my experience with the black culture, we aren’t excusing the issues of the present time, but our rebuke is private. We don’t want to contribute to the unfair bashing of our culture, we feel plenty of that is in the spotlight already.
Does this sound fair? Your question was loaded 🙂 Maybe we need to discuss this more.
I appreciate your voice and keep on sharing it. On the Two Kingdom Theology I believe the Church should be like ambassadors. I don’t think the Church should be demanding change of a evil government, I believe its focus is holding up the Church and reaching out to individual lives to change. When it comes to any evil things going on I believe we should call evil for what it is. I think its okay to petition the government for things but I don’t think we should demand things of the government. The only time Jesus used force was the flipping of the tables which was also directed at the Church of the day not the government. So when it comes to the Church I believe the Church should aggressively root all racism out of it. For me to participate in a protest would feel like I’m demanding things of the Government which I don’t believe would be right. Also I’m fully aware there is a lot of Mennonites that are not consistent at all and are basically Republicans that Don’t vote. I use to be that way but more and more I see the value of a separate Kingdom that shouldn’t get involved in evil this political system and also can’t have loyalties as well. So the question is do you think the two kingdom concept is not a correct biblical view? Also what ways can I be involved in rooting racism out in the Church because that is where I believe my focus should be.
Thanks David, in 100% disagreement that protests need to be a form of force. Please recognize the difference between a riot or sit in, and a protest, many of which are sanctioned by the local government who shut of streets for the protest to happen. Many in which government leaders will be there, to listen and hear. But I hear you, I understand the skepticism, I’ve just seen it work out differently than you fear first hand. Shoot me an email on the question about racism in the church: email@example.com
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I’m in a Mennonite community that will have a very hard time supporting protest activism after watching how things have gone for Mennonites involved in peace protests and such from the 1960s onward. In fact, initiating any entry into public discourse – even writing letters to the editor for a local paper – would probably be discouraged. I know you disagree with this position, and will continue listening to your challenges to it.
To further develop the discussion, what forms of protests or activisim would you agree Mennonites should NOT be involved with? Nothing forceful or violent, we already have that. Is there anything else where you’d tell Mennonites to end their involvement if you saw them participating?
Hey Karlin, it doesn’t surprise me that many Mennonite churches would be against protests. I believe this falls into the category of government resistance only because of lack of experience. I understand that every muncipality is different, but here in York for example… The protests have basically been worship services. I sat downtown and listened, I didn’t participate in any chants, and I wasn’t afraid of association either. The truth is, there weres dozens of different organizations downtown, they don’t all harmonize together. I was there for Kingdom work, and I had several great conversations. I was also there for prayer, and the cool thing was, they initiated the prayer service. I didn’t even need to pray alone amongst the noise. As for forms of protest that are inappropriate? I think protests should be planned and approved, sometimes mayors will silence people and that’s it’s own problem, but a demonstration should have appropriate planning. It’s irresponsible of us as Kingdom Christians to arrive at a random protest with no knoweldge of the intent. A well intentioned protest can turn riotous, but a bad intentioned one certainly will. So I guess I’m saying contact and align closely with the organizers. Tell them where you stand and get a feel for whether you are welcome and gain some impressions. We do not protest for no purpose, we protest with real objectives, that way when our leaders do listen, we have something to say. What will we have to say?
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A couple of comments
I view the two-kingdom theology as a reason not to be involved in politics (among other things). Just about anything I say on the subject at the moment will be viewed as some form of political statement. The only thing I can do is continue preaching Jesus.
“Because of this, we get people who were never taught the struggle of the black man, trying to teach the black man how to be liberated. This leaves them unqualified and out of place to say the very least.” I understand the sentiment of this statement, but isn’t this equivalent to saying, “since you didn’t lose your father or mother at a young age, your advice or counsel is useless to me”?
All of the Old Testament verses at the end of your writing were written directly to kings or rulers. We can preach “about” justice and we can pray for it, but in the end it is God who will bring it. I’m reminded of the verse in Revelation where the saints are at the throne asking the Lord, “how long until you bring justice for the blood of the martyrs.” Abortion is in my mind the greatest injustice in America today. If I believed in protesting, that is where I would start.
Now I’m going to speak from a purely human perspective. This is obviously not your perspective, but I think you would do well to hear it. I have heard your perspective and I thank you for sharing it.
I live in a region of the country that is considered liberal, but only about 2.1 percent of the people are POC. I might see a black person (in a city or town) a dozen times a year unless I visit friends elsewhere in USA. For the many of us who live away from the city this whole thing thing makes no sense whatsoever. We see the injustice of what happened to George Floyd, but we have all seen or heard stories of police officers doing horrible things closer to home. About 15 years ago an officer in a nearby city shot and killed a harmless mentally handicapped person he somehow saw as a threat. A few people protested, but there were no riots. The officer lost his job and spent about 4 years in jail. He was not convicted of manslaughter. It is hard for us to reconcile the differences between the two responses of the people. It appears to us a movement attempting to find the worst possible intentions in everybody (did the officer really intend to kill George) quickly hijacked by political forces for their own purposes. We want no part of either.
I will close with this truthful confession: I AM culturally illiterate.
Blessings to you my friend as you seek Him.
M.B. if you can really not see that officer Chauvin intended to kill George, then we are operating on two completely different paradigms. My thoughts are not about this one incident, but that comment sure caught me off gaurd. I would hope you would have a more balanced perspective of the world then asking questions like that. The key here is realizing what you already admitted, you don’t see the problem, and the way you grew up contributes to it. So I’d encourage you to not find reasons to not believe the wrongs of the police force just because you can’t personally relate to them. Especially when there is literally 0 ground to stand on… again, how could you even ask a question like this. What does it prove? What point are you trying to make brother?
Thanks for your reply Keeshon.
I will reveal my thinking and I’d like to say right up front that I have no special insight and am prone to be wrong. I do believe that police brutality is a problem. And it is obviously fairly common, maybe especially in larger cities? I personally believe most police departments need to take a step back and rethink their whole philosophy. I have a hard time reasoning this as a intentional killing because there were so many witnesses and what was he going to gain by it? His current charges are 2nd degree murder – unintentional – while committing a felony. But that’s just my opinion and as you and I know, well it might not be worth much. 🙂 (I have read some things about the two having known each other so maybe he did have a hidden motive for killing George.)
Regardless of my opinions, the world (and our nation) is faced with the ever present problem of racism. If only the world could see that we are “one blood”! Only through Christ can we see each other as we ought to and I still have a long ways to go in this. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
One thing I noticed in the story you shared, is that the officer lost his job and spent four years in jail. Often police offers who have killed black men, may get a only a brief suspension or suffer no consequences at all. That is part of the reason there has been such an outcry for justice.
At the school where I used to teach, we had some blacks in our school. So glad this was the case. Yes, they ate next to and drank from the same water fountain and never gave it a thought. When we got to the slavery or before civil rights parts of history, they were horrified that “we wouldn’t let someone come to our school because they were black.” (I taught lower elementary.) Quite astonishing when you are sitting next to your best friend who happens to be black. I liked that my students had the opportunity to interact and live alongside people (yes, blacks as well as other people from various church groups) who were different from them. Our students should know that life/the world is so much bigger than white Mennonite American.
Keeshon: I enjoyed reading your entire series. Someone on another forum pointed it to me. I grew up in a conservative Mennonite setting, trading time between Oregon and Belleville PA. I’m now a teacher like you and have worked in diverse urban schools in Texas and Washington so, I hope, have a different perspective from my Central PA Menno kin.
A striking example of what you are describing is the Fresh Air Fund which for nearly a century has taken black kids out of NYC and Philly and placed them with rural farm families for the summer. My Menno family in PA would host “fresh air kids” every summer on the farm. Probably for generations. My uncle was the regional coordinator who would drive every summer to the dark scary city to pick up kids on the bus and bring them back to Belleville where they would spend the summer wearing “Menno” or Amish clothes, eating Menno foods, learning Mennonite hymns and attending Mennonite churches, going to Sunday school and vacation Bible school.
It occurs to me that in the entire 100 year history of the program, there has probably never been a single white Mennonite or Amish family that has done the reverse and sent their kids to live with a Black family in Harlem, attend Black churches, learn Black church music, enjoy Black foods, and experience the cultural opportunities that NYC would have to offer. In fact, such a thought would not even ever occur to 99% of conservative white Mennonites. And if such a suggestion was made, would most certainly immediately brush it off for “safety” reasons even though crime rates in NYC are actually no higher than rural PA or Ohio.
One way to address the sort of pervasive racism you are writing about would be to establish this very sort of 2-way exchange. I’m sure there are plenty of middle class Black (or Hispanic) families in NYC and Philly who would be happy to help establish an actual 2-way exchange so that rural white Menno kids could experience summer in the city in Black America, learning Black hymns, and experiencing the diversity of the city.
But go ahead and suggest such a thing and watch how fast it will get dismissed with reasons for reasons only lightly disguised as not having to do with race.
Interesting stuff Kent. We actually implemented a similar thing here In York for a number of things. (supremely dislike fresh air programs myself btw) We brought Mennonite kids into the city and had them sleep in rooms with people like me and my other friends of color. Of course, along with our pastor’s kids. We weren’t able to simulate exactly what you said, but it was our response to a broken and disturbing system.
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I dislike fresh air programs too because they are so racist and patronizing. It’s along the same line as all the international adoptions of children of color by rural white evangelical Americans who think they are “saving those children.” I worked in Guatemala for a couple of years in the Peace Corps and there were a steady stream of largely evangelical families coming down to adopt Guatemalan children. One thing I think Mennonites (or whites in general) don’t really understand is the distinction between racial hatred and racism. I expect a large percentage of my rural white extended family think racism means overt racial hatred such as flying confederate flags, burning crosses, overt discrimination, and so forth. So as long as they don’t do those horrible things they aren’t racist. Whereas attitudes such as the notion that black children will benefit from living with white families but we couldn’t imagine sending white children to live with black families. That can’t be racism. That’s just “understandable concern for your children’s safety.” I think we often talk past each other because we don’t have a common understanding of terms.
(Replying to Kent, there must be a depth limit for Reply links)
I’m pondering the comment on rural white Americans doing international adoptions and thinking they’re “saving the children.” I’d like to see a compare-and-contrast with that movement and the one for bringing middle-east refugees to America.
I’ve been asking a lot of questions about how an Anabaptist Chrisitian can help bring about change, so I enjoyed reading your suggestions. I have been in conversation and in prayer with my neighbors and brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’ve been having conversations with white Christians who want to learn and those who want to deny. I’m getting a clearer picture of how much work there is to do within the church to unravel racial bias that is so neatly hidden beneath our good intentions.
Thanks for the work you are doing. I will pray for courage and endurance for you to be able to keep speaking up about race and to rest when you need to. It is a difficult, but needed conversation.
Keeshon, thanks for the article. You mentioned the lack of understanding of black history. I’m thinking I want this subject to be the next book I read. Do you have any recommendations or resources that you can point me to? Thanks, and blessings to you.
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Hi Keeshon, you have a powerful voice, do not give in to discouragement. I share your suspicions of what is hiding behind Two Kingdom Theology. It began when I read Luther’s writing on the two kingdoms and realized the version Anabaptists are holding is in character the same as the Lutheran version. This did not prevent the Lutherans from dangerous political alliances and engagement, including the persecution of Anabaptists, nor will it shield modern Anabaptists from a similar fate. Luther used the terms God’s right hand kingdom (church) and God’s left hand kingdom (state), this allowed him to create a wing of power still under the authority or influence of the church but called the state, with the sanction to operate in force and violence.
One side of the two kingdom theology will eventually rule the other, no man can serve two masters. I think it better to allow Jesus is king of kings, reigns overall and deserves my full allegiance and let go of the “left hand” theology.
Peace, Harlan Barnhart
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