Mennonite Brethren denounce racism

National conference, local churches respond to racism with prayer, repentance, fasting

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The Butler Church congregation joined hands in prayer to signify their unity.

U.S. Mennonite Brethren have taken a stand against racism following the Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, Sept. 11-12, 2017. USMB national director Don Morris has issued two statements and local churches have spent time in prayer,

The goal of the far-right rally was to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park. Protesters, some of which were armed with semi-automatic rifles, included white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazis and various militias. The rally occurred amidst the backdrop of controversy generated by the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the country in response to the Charleston church shooting in 2015.

The Charlottesville Unite the Right rally turned violent after protesters clashed with counter-protesters Friday night, leaving 14 injured. Protest and counterprotest events continued the next day, and Saturday afternoon a man linked to white-supremacist groups drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one person and injuring 19. Two hours later, two state police officers died when their helicopter crashed at the outskirts of town. The Bell 407 helicopter was assisting with the unrest in Charlottesville.

In his August 15, 2017, statement, USMB’s Morris says, “It is difficult to understand how there can still be those who hold onto blatant white supremacist ideologies. I’m asking the MB family to continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who have been hurt physically and/or emotionally by the actions and words of those who hold onto ungodly concepts that are based on hatred, disrespect and delusion. Instead, let’s all work to repeal racism in our communities and in our churches. Let’s work hard to bring peace where there is chaos.”

Morris’ statement goes on to encourage people to attend the upcoming LEAD One on racism led by Terry Hunt, pastor and North Carolina District Conference minister. The one-day event will be held in Edmond, Oklahoma, and Hillsboro, Kansas in October and in Bakersfield and Fresno, California, in December.

In his second statement, posted online August 21, 2017, Morris invites the national Mennonite Brethren family to fast and pray Sept. 1-2, 2017, in order “to draw close to God and to listen to his voice” and to then respond.

Morris says, “Even though many in our nation would choose and have recently chosen ungodly actions, words and even violence in attempts to get their way, as God’s people we should seek him in the midst of strife instead of becoming despondent about the sad choices people are making.”

He writes, “I’m inviting our national Mennonite Brethren family to a day of fasting and prayer as we seek God to guide us and as we collectively listen to Him—in light of what we might do as His people to help bring the gospel of peace and reconciliation to a broken nation caught up in turmoil and division.”

Read Morris’ statement for details.

Congregations respond

While many USMB congregations addressed racism during their worship services Aug. 13, 2017, two Fresno, California, congregations notified the CL regarding their response. The CL invites additional readers to share their congregations’ responses by commenting on this article or emailing the editor at editor@usmb.org.

Butler Church is a church in southeast Fresno comprised of four distinct congregations, says lead pastor Scott Holman, who also is the pastor of Common Ground, the congregation that holds a contemporary English congregation. Jim Holm is the Faith Community pastor, the English-languge congregation that worships in a traditional style. Elbio Barballo is the pastor of Armor y Fe, the Spanish-language congregation, and Souk Sivongsay is the pastor of Asian Grace, a Lao-speaking congregation. While both of these congregations use a common language, they have multiple nationalities within them, so they are multicultural within themselves.

A combined worship service was already planned for Aug. 13, says Holman. “We are incredibly diverse in every way: ethnicity, culture, language, age, education and social class,” says Holman in an email to the CL. “So, as a church it was important that we addressed the events of Charlottesville and the ongoing racial divisions in our nation.”

At the opening of the service, Holman invited the congregation to stand and to join hands. Calling racism hateful and ugly, Holman said, “Racism is a sin which invades our past and our present. We have made strides as a nation, but the works is far from done. Racism continues to divide us in ways both blatant and subtle. We the church, Butler Church, have an opportunity to rebuke that sin of hate and racism…. May our worship this morning be a declaration of love in the face of hate. A declaration of unity in the face of division…. Beauty in the face of the ugliness of racism”

In an email interview, Holman says, “For us to stand hand in hand, united in the peace and love of Jesus, was a necessary symbol of our unity and a proclamation against the sin of racism and hate.  I feel we need to be clear on this point as a church (not just Butler), and we need to bring this message to our world.”

Halmon describes the congregation’s response as “powerful.”

“There were more than a few tears,” he says. “Multiple people mentioned they had not experienced a more powerful and moving moment in worship before. It struck a chord.”

Fresno congregation holds joint service

Pastoral staff from College Community Churchhttp://www.clovismb.org/ a USMB congregation also located in Fresno, and New Light for New Life Church of God, a small non-denominational black church in west Fresno of about 30 people, planned a joint worship service Sunday evening, Aug. 13, 2017, to pray, lament, repent and worship together in light of the events that took place in Charlottesville.

Floyd Harris, Jr., pastor of New Light for New Life, is a student at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, the Mennonite Brethren seminary located in Fresno, and connected with College Community through Lynn Jost, a seminary faculty member who is actively involved at College Community. The two churches also held a joint Maundy Thursday service in 2017.

Harris and Whitney Allen, College Community pastor of youth and outreach, planned the hour-long service, that was held at College Community and attended by about 50 people from the two congregations as well as people from other churches who had heard about the service.

Harris shared (for about 15 min) both the shock and encouragement he felt when Allen phoned to ask about jointly planning the service. He also talked about the need for unity and spoke of the loving nature of God and how that love extends to all people.

For her portion of the service, Allen condemned racism, bigotry and white supremacy and apologized for the times she personally has been silent and the white church has been silent about these sins. She noted with sadness and apology that it takes tragedy to bring people together.

The audience sang several songs and hymns that emphasized grace and love and together said the prayer attributed to St. Francis that begins, “Lord, make us instruments of your peace….”

Harris and Allen served communion to all attendees.

Following the closing prayer, Allen encouraged people to stay and talk to each other and many did, lingering for at least 45 minutes after the service.

“During that time many ideas arose for what we could do to build continued relationships between our two churches,” says Allen in an email interview. “Pastor Audrey (Hindes) and I are eager to pursue intentional relationships across many lines that divide us in the body of Christ and are excited for the opportunity that a relationship with New Light for New Life Church of God has arisen. We are better together!”

Allen says she also received verbal, email and phone calls from people who were unable to attend, affirming the churches’ response.

When asked what prompted her to initiate the joint service, Allen says, “My heart has been continually broken by the hate and fear that divides us. And as I see brothers and sisters of color hurting, afraid and feeling alone, I felt it very important to call some of the ones closest to me to say, ‘You are not alone, we are with you.’ To have the opportunity to do more than just say it but (to) live it out through worshiping together and building community is huge.”

 

 

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Connie Faber
Editor
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law and one son-in-law. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.

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