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, 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, who simply wanted to peacefully watch birds in Central Park. Christian Cooper, like me, is an African American man. The language used on that call 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. If I am honest, the Amy’s of the world scare me more than the white supremacist that I can easily identify and avoid.
It has taken me some time to draft this letter because I have been torn by my anger, my fear, my Christian faith and my Anabaptist commitment to peace. Systems of racial power would like nothing better than for leaders like me to lay my blackness and pain aside; they are part of what shapes my identity. But as a leader, I am called to push down my fear and sadness. I need to call upon the people of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA).
Our historic peace church needs to speak to the growing injustice in our country. Our historic peace church needs to speak to the increasing use of military force on civilians and the militarization of our police force.
In 2019, over 1,000 people were killed by police. Although blacks and Hispanics are at greater risk per capita, 44% of those killed were white. This violence impacts us all. Our historic peace church has a responsibility to combat toxic masculinity, which puts men in the role of both aggressor and victim ~95% of the time.
Along with thoughts and prayers, we need action. We need to be unified around who we are as transformative peacemakers, not our political ideologies. I am calling on all MC USA congregations to have a time of prayer on Sunday, June 7, to lament the violence, pain and injustice that is plaguing our country. I ask that you pray for compassionate and wise leadership for our country during this time.
After the 2019 convention, we launched #BringThePeace. That initiative is more important than ever. Some called me out on that vision, saying it was too bold, too forward, but as the voices of the unheard manifest in riots, the body of Christ needs to respond in tangible ways. We encourage you and your congregations to answer the following questions:
- How will you join God’s peace at work in your community?
- 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?
- Where have you struggled to find God’s peace?
- What are some things you can do to actively be a conduit for transformative peacemaking?
Our denominational leaders will walk alongside you to help identify ways that we can address these questions, but we urge you to act now.
We need to engage in more costly peacemaking, rooted in radical discipleship, which seeks to dismantle systems of oppression.
The violence and unrest that is happening now is not an accident; it is what the system is designed to do, and it jeopardizes all of us, not just people of color. Stand with the marginalized in your communities. If you have the power of privilege, use it as a shield to protect people of color who don’t have it. Use your voice and your power to prompt action from local government officials. Create spaces for reconciliation, healing and hope.
I am determined not to allow the past and present circumstances of systemic oppression to make me feel powerless. For many in the white community, including our Mennonite family, my skin color is a barrier. It is a consideration that I can’t easily set aside. But for many of you in MC USA, your race is not a barrier but rather an advantage you can use to dismantle racial injustice in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need your voice. We need to #BringthePeace.