It does not happen often, but I am at a loss for words as cities across the United States burn, and as I have endured several weeks of seeing black bodies sacrificed in the name of order and discipline. I am torn between being an enraged black man and being a leader in a predominantly white institution, whose members are united by theology and, for many, a common ancestry.
The most recent names that have shredded my heart are George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. I watched in horror as a woman named Amy Cooper, walking her unleashed dog attempted to weaponize the police against Christian Cooper (no relation), who simply wanted to peacefully watch birds in Central Park in New York. Christian Cooper, like me, is an African American man. The language used on the white woman’s call to police means that any black male – me, or my son – could have fit the description, giving the responding officers a license to kill with the qualified immunity that withholds justice.
Systems of racial power would like nothing better than for leaders like me to lay my blackness and pain aside; however, they are part of what shapes my identity.
As a leader, I am called to push down my fear and sadness. I need to call upon the people of Mennonite Church USA. I also call on my Anabaptist family from around the world to speak out against racial injustice at home and abroad.
We must reject cultures that demonize dark skin. We must reject cultures that cause some to whiten their skin because that is somehow perceived as better.
Our Anabaptist churches need to speak to the growing injustice around the globe. Missionaries have come from North America and Europe, wrapping God in the cloak of whiteness. But, as Anabaptists, we must insist that we are all created in God’s image. The Spirit connects us all and we should treasure the brush of diversity that God uses to paint humankind.
Along with thoughts and prayers, we need action. We need to be unified around who we are as a global body of peacemakers. I have challenged the church in the United States to reflect on the following:
- How will you join God’s peace at work in your community or nation?
- Are there people or organizations in your communities who demonstrate what peace looks like?
- Where have you found God’s peace in the work that you’re doing?
- What are some things you can do to actively be a conduit for transformative peacemaking?
People from around the world have reached out to me asking how they can help. Let us stand for justice. Together, we can make a difference. We need to engage in more costly peacemaking, rooted in radical discipleship, which seeks to dismantle systems of oppression anywhere we see them. The violence and unrest that is happening now in the United States is not an accident; it is what the system is designed to do, and it jeopardizes all of us.
—Mennonite World Conference release by Glen Guyton. He is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
At the burning bush, Moses learned that God is attentive to circumstances of the oppressed: “I have observed the misery of my people.... I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters…. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.” (Exodus 3:7-8a, NRSV)
God of the Exodus is paying attention to world events today. In response to yet another police killing of an unarmed black man in the USA, protests have broken out in North American cities and elsewhere in the world. Looting and vandalism have occurred. Police in the USA have fired rubber bullets and tear gas even upon journalists reporting about the protests.
We lament systemic racism that leads to killings and daily indignities for people of colour. We grieve the violent actions by both protesters and law enforcement. We confess the lack of equity and justice that at times from characterizes our own responses. We acknowledge the long, intercontinental roots of racism that include complicity in the slave trade.
We reaffirm the following Mennonite World Conference Shared Convictions: “As a world-wide community of faith and life we transcend boundaries of nationality, race, class, gender and language... The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God in all areas of life so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies [and] seek justice...”
Creator God, reach into our hearts and our troubled world to bring repentance and right relationships!