Glen Guyton serves as the executive director for Mennonite Church USA. He has more than a quarter century of experience serving in the denomination at various levels. He has authored two books, “IDEAL ME: Discovering Your Call in a Cluttered World” and “Reawakened: How Your Congregation Can Spark Lasting Change.” Guyton holds a Bachelor of Science in Management from the United States Air Force Academy and a Master of Education from Regent University. A father of two adult children, he currently resides in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife.
I lament this weekend of violence. I watched the news with horror and great sadness about what was happening in our nation.
- On Sunday, an Asian man in his 60s opened fire on members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, which meets at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, leaving one dead and five injured for reasons yet to be determined.
- On Saturday, a reportedly self-proclaimed white supremacist traveled to Buffalo, New York, killed 10 people, and wounded three others at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
- On Friday, a Dallas shooting that injured three women in a Koreatown salon may have been a hate crime and could be linked to two other shootings at businesses run by Asian Americans.
These expressions of violence and hatred are senseless and far too common in our country. Mass shootings and hate crimes have increased significantly in recent years. In 2022, there have been over 200 mass shootings in the U.S. in the first 19 weeks of the year. Likewise, hate crimes — particularly against people of color, as in Buffalo — are also on the rise, according to reports from the Department of Justice.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.” So how should our church respond? Are our thoughts and prayers enough to bring healing to our troubled communities? What is our responsibility as the Body of Christ?
Our vision statement says, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” Do we still believe in that mission, or have our eyes been darkened, drawn elsewhere?
There is so much anxiety about our pending delegate assembly and the impact various “divisive” resolutions will have on the future of Mennonite Church USA. I would challenge all of us to consider that the greatest impact on our future will be if we fail to be relevant to a world that needs the Good News. Our Renewed Commitments remind us of the importance of witnessing to God’s peace: “We are called to extend God’s holistic peace, proclaiming Christ’s redemption for the world with our lives. Through Christ, God frees the world from sin and offers reconciliation. We bear witness to this gift of peace by rejecting violence and resisting injustice in all forms, and in all places.”
I know that our church is not immune from the same hatred and rhetoric that may have inspired some of this weekend’s violence. It bothers me even to consider that those elements may be creeping into some corners of our historic peace church.
Yet, here is a small sample of messages I have received:
“Hi Glen, Here’s a helpful hint: Take your antiracism glossary and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Then get off your ass and do some productive work instead of demanding that somebody give you something.”
“My advice: Watch your back, Brother! The very reasons you made a good politically correct candidate (African American, ex-military, not a heritage Mennonite) are exactly the points at which you are most vulnerable to attack, even by those back-slapping liberals who are now celebrating your appointment.”
“I love my church, but when I am called a raciest [sic], white nationalist, homophob by people who are gay, transgender, support Black lives matter, support defending [sic] police, liberal courts, you are backing an [sic] promoting programs that only hurt the poor the most. Can’t you see this?”
No, I can’t! It is difficult for me to see through the pain and hopelessness that has caused so much hate in our communities and our own church. It is difficult for me to see the disease in a church that has so much potential to facilitate transformation but has become trapped in the rhetoric of popular culture.
“Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister abides in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates a brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” 1 John 2:9-11 NRSVUE
My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered harm through violence this past weekend. I especially pray for God’s grace for the families who lost loved ones.
My thoughts and prayers go out to those wrestling with change and their place in the world.
My thoughts and prayers go out to our leaders as they seek to respond to hatred and violence in their local communities.
Mennonite Church USA has provided resources to encourage our congregations not only to pray but to join in God’s activity in the world as well. Check out our peacebuilding resources. Despite some opposition, our leadership is committed to equipping leaders and engaging in the intentional work of peacebuilding and supporting peacemakers.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 NSRVUE
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 NSRVUE