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.