This is the first in a blog series from participants in Hope for the Future (HFF), a gathering of people of color serving in leadership positions across Mennonite Church USA. HFF gatherings began in 2012 and initially served to create space for mutual support among people of color in Mennonite Church USA institutions and agencies. In recent years there’s been an increased urgency to see change within our organizations — to see intentionality among our institutions to make space for people of color — culturally, interpersonally, systemically. In 2015, white leaders across the denomination were invited to the gathering as participants engaged in discussions around power. HFF 2016 focused on Human Resources: strategy, policy and best practices that together create interculturally competent organizations.
Madalyn Metzger is the Marketing Director for Everence. She is the former Board Chair of On Earth Peace (an agency of the Church of the Brethren), during which she led the organization’s elimination of racism work – work that is still ongoing today. Currently, she is a member of the Manchester University Board of Trustees, the American Marketing Association and Anabaptist Communicators. Madalyn and her husband, Kris Brownlee, live in Bristol, Indiana, and attend the Goshen (Indiana) City Church of the Brethren.
Power. Privilege. Racism. Church.
Four words that, when put together, fill me with both angst and expectation. This has been true in my antiracism work in Church of the Brethren circles, and it was true as I arrived at the Hope for the Future V Conference in Hampton, Virginia.
Some of the angst is personal. As a biracial individual (my father is white, my mother is Vietnamese), I have long felt a sense of belonging-but-not-quite, in school, at work and – yes – at church.
The angst also stems from the larger picture and deep wounds of racism. Of how family, friends, neighbors and strangers of color have dealt with injustices for generations. How it’s (too) easy to frame it in terms of history, of lessons learned, or as someone else’s problem. How it’s so painful for some, words can’t be found – and so shameful for others, words aren’t found.
Anabaptists and people of faith aren’t immune to this angst – far from it.
Despite our history of religious persecution and our theological opposition to the oppression of others, systemic racism is alive and well in our faith community.
It plagues our denominations, congregations and institutions, by providing privilege to some and not to others. It silently permeates our policies, practices and norms. It consciously and unconsciously frames our language, our theology and our interactions with each other.
It hurts to talk about it. It hurts to think about it. It hurts.
The Hope for the Future Conference didn’t take away the hurt, nor did it fix once and for all the issues of systemic racism in the church. Discussions about power and privilege, differences and struggles aren’t simple.
All of us come to the table with different experiences, different perspectives, and different expectations – which can both help and hinder the process.
But what gives me faith – that sense of expectation – is that we are trying. Through opportunities like the Hope for the Future Conference, we are having the difficult conversations. And I’m glad to see church agencies and institutions (including my own employer, Everence) wanting to be part of this work.
Because, together, we are actively looking at what it means to be God’s family.
Together, we are earnestly exploring how far we’ve come and what we still need to do.
Together, we are wrestling with and shaping how to intentionally grow into the vision of Revelation 7:9, where there will be “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Together, we are being a community – doing our best to listen and learn and act – to transform the church and our institutions into the whole body of Christ.