An invitation from Discipleship Ministries
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Discipleship Ministries staff members were present at the October 2017 board meeting and heard a reference to white supremacy that assumed it is not a part of our denomination. Since then, we have heard many responses to that statement from across the denomination that represent the diversity—geographic, racial, ethnic, and cultural—of our denomination in the United States. A common theme in the responses we have heard is the importance of affirming and reaffirming that racism, in all its forms, is a sin. It can be difficult to recognize and commonly agree on all the forms that racism takes but it is important to acknowledge that white supremacy has been and continues to be a part of American culture that we must all struggle against.
The Lord promises that “justice shall roll down like water and righteousness will be like a stream”. White supremacy, a form injustice and profanity, is against the will of God for the wider world and in our hearts. The work of discipleship serves to restore our relationships, with one another and with God, in ways that uphold justice and righteousness. This includes the work to eliminate white supremacy in all its forms. This begins with a recognition of white supremacy as a power and principality of evil that continues to separate Christians from one another and from closeness with God. As evil can take on the appearance of innocence to trick us, so too white supremacy continues to change with each generation, fit within the context of the laws, and shape itself to seem like a benign part of culture. However, it was and continues to be a sin that is a stumbling block between us and our Lord.
Discipleship Ministries works with individuals and congregations to embody and articulate our faith –including the Revelation 7:9 vision of all people gathering before the throne. In the context of America’s racialized hierarchy, we offer resources and opportunities to learn more about the impact of race and racism on our nation, the identity of the church, and individual discipleship. We do this by intentionally inviting speakers of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds to our conferences and gatherings. We have workshops and insight sessions specifically dedicated to equipping and empowering people to recognize racism and white supremacy and the negative impact they have on our faith. We have given talks, sermons, and teachings that specifically address these concerns in the modern and historical contexts. We continue the conversations that are happening in the wider cultural context within the framework of Christian discipleship and the values and teachings that are specific to the Church of the Brethren. We provide coaching and visioning about hospitality that equips congregations to be welcoming to the racial diversity in their communities. We help congregations facilitate local forums and panels for multi-voice, multicultural perspectives on the issues in their community.
It is important that we recognize the ways that white supremacy has shaped our country, our neighborhoods, our lives, and unconscious biases and has infiltrated how we do church. We can turn with a repentant heart towards God’s vision for how we are to live with one another, especially our brothers and sisters whose lives are harmed by white supremacy within the denomination and the wider body of Christ.
We invite you to join us in this work and awareness.
Definitions of white supremacy
- What is white supremacy?
White supremacy as a term is most often connected to images of white robes and hoods and burning crosses. These kinds of examples are symptomatic manifestations of an underlying problem. In truth, white supremacy is interwoven within our culture. It is an ideology that is subtly formed in us through stories, institutions, and practices that organize society hierarchically, with white people at the top. In short, we are all socialized by a cultural system of racialized hierarchies.
Drew Hart helpfully shifts our attention away from a horizontal understanding of racism, where there is a “divide between two people on equal standing,” towards a vertical view where “social hierarchy and power have defined, in varying degrees, human worth, beauty, and significance in society.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 26) When we begin to see our racial struggles through this vertical nature of power over others we can see that white supremacy is woven deep into the values, ideas, art, institutions, and practices of our society. Hart phrases it succinctly saying that, “our society is structured in hierarchy in such a way that whiteness has mattered most.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 115) White supremacy is so insidiously woven into our society that “we can begin to see that the average white person lives a highly racialized life, though he or she is often unaware of it,” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 51) and “we can actually predict many people’s life experiences and opportunities based on their race.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 109)
An answer to the problem of racism and the powers and principalities of white supremacy is not colorblindness. For, as Hart reminds us, “white supremacy thrives off unexamined claims of colorblindness while simultaneously engaging in highly racialized practices.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 109) Instead, Hart invites us into deeper discipleship to Jesus Christ, who sought out those marginalized by the dominant systems of their day. Following Jesus reorients our perceptions of the world and others, and changes what we intuit as right and true. “Discipleship is the cure for dominant cultural blinders that leave people’s intuition and vision impaired and unreliable. Not going with your gut, when it is socialized by dominant culture, and moving toward counterintuitive solidarity with the oppressed must be understood as a Christian discipline, as necessary a practice for Christian formation as is praying, gathering in Christian community, reading scripture, sharing resources, worshipping, and giving thanks.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, 96)
Written by Joshua Brockway, Director of Spiritual Formation. This definition has significant guidance from Drew G.I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2016). Joshua Brockway and Drew Hart were partners on a 2017 Sankofa Journey and have written about the experience in Messenger Magazine (Jan/Feb 2018).
Drew Hart, theologian and professor at Messiah College, has been speaking and writing about white supremacy in the Church and sharing the experience of being a person of color in the Anabaptist community. His book is a recommended resource for congregations and leaders who want to engage in conversations about race and the impact is has on our faith. He has provided leadership at the Cross Cultural Celebration and Consultation and attends the Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren. More at: https://drewgihart.com.
- What happens when we learn about white supremacy
In 2012, Wendy McFadden became the first person in the Church of the Brethren to attend the Sankofa Journey. Josh Brockway attended with Drew Hart in 2017. For both, this was an eye-opening and heart-changing experience that encourages them to speak up in the denomination about the importance of understanding.
Brethren Voices (Brethren Community Television) with Wendy McFadden offers insights on how learning our racialized history and redefining white supremacy impacted her faith.
Josh Brockway and Wendy McFadden co-presented on their experiences at Manchester college last year:
How this conversation started
Moorefield delegation Newsline report: It was not supposed to be a conversation about race. The presentation was from a delegation representing a gathering held earlier in Moorefield about concerns raised by a district introducing a pastor in a same-sex marriage at Annual Conference. During that presentation, an analogy made that referenced a denominational response to a hypothetical group dedicated to white supremacy.
Following the Newsline reference, there was a lot of questions and online conversation. In response, the Executive Committee of the Mission and Ministry Board released this transcript.
"Now let me ... If you have a hard time understanding how the people in Moorefield feel, and many in our denomination, let me just change the subject matter. Suppose ... now we have a number of statements - Annual Conference statements - on peace and race. We all know that. Suppose a group of Brethren would form “Brethren for the advancement of white supremacy.” Would they be given space, and with all we’ve said about being a peace church, we’d become a pro white supremacy thinking group by default? If you have a hard time understanding why people are upset over the homosexual issue, I’m using that as an example. I think we would all be upset over that." Read the transcript.
Brethren Mennonite Council Response: "...White supremacy is the belief that white people and white culture are superior to all others and should therefore dominate society. It is intricately woven into the very fabric of our nation, including our church. As America’s original sin, its stain has affected all of us. White supremacy groups propagate this ideology, often using tactics of intimidation, fear, threats, and violence to express their feelings of resentment and entitlement. They target vulnerable minority groups including, but not limited to, people of color, Jews, lgbt people, adherents to minority religions, and immigrants. Theirs is a message of exclusion, fear, and rejection....
To liken BMC to a white supremacy group is ill-informed and ruthlessly inflammatory. It functions to divide and disrupt rather than unite and heal. It perpetrates sentiments of hate, anxiety, and exclusion, falsely pitting people against one another...." Read the rest of the statement