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. To explore this invitation, please contact Gimbiya Kettering, Director of Intercultural Ministries, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Josh Brockway, Director of Discipleship, at email@example.com.
What Next: Join Us on the Dikaios Journey
Registration for this exciting pre-conference event is open. See details at www.brethren.org/dikaios
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 Life and Discipleship. 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.
- Online Conversation: Check back soon. We are gathering permissions to share sample comments from Facebook threads. We are interested in sharing the thoughts with the wider denomination and not everyone has access to or chooses to participate in social media. If you commented at the time and would like to give us permission to include your please contact Gimbiya Kettering at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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
Earlier conversations about white supremacy
- Engaging with the story of Sarah and Hager: Two Brethren pastors wrestle with the Old Testament story of the wife and slave woman who had children for Abraham for lessons on racial hierarchies in the United States and how White American Christians can understand their privilege and the broken interracial relationships in our country.
- Sarah, my sister by Bob Bowman
- When good intentions are not enough by Dana Cassell
Speaking up in our blog
- God’s Time is Always Near: Ministry of Summer Service volunteer at the Washington Witness Office, Monica McFadden, reflects on her visit to the African American History Museum.
- Blessed by CCS: Josiah Ludwick, associate pastor of Harrisburg (PA) First, reflects on how intensive learning experiences and faith formation about the inequalities (including related to families divided by documentation, hunger in Native American communities, and the impact of mass incarceration) in our nation are enabling youth to speak up about why these things matter from a Christian perspective.
- DACA Story: Erick: The story of a Brethren young adult
- An Anabaptist Family Meeting: Josh Brockway reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of our theological and ethnic historic identities that have resulted in a very monocultural church today.
- Race, Cages, and the Church: BVS Volunteer Jesse Winter found a connection between our Annual Conference statements and the call for a criminal justice reform that would truly reflect justice and freedom.
Mission and Ministry Board
- Patrick Starkey, board member, shared about his Sankofa Journey experience at the March 2015 meeting. Organized by the Evangelical Coventant Church, the Sankofa Journey is a bus trip through major historical sites of America’s racial history and combines learning with spiritual reflection. The board has committed to sending members on this since 2012 and several have gone.
“[Patrick] shared a photo of his own children, who have different skin colors, and reflected on their future. What will their lives be like? They are being raised in the church, where there remain walls between people with different skin colors. What will be their experience of church?”
- Susan Liller, board member, led devotions at the July 2015 meeting:
“She reflected on issues of equality and inequality–justice and injustice–and lamented recent shootings involving police and members of the black community. Susan recalled her years growing up as a minority in her neighborhood and schools in the inner city of Dayton. After hearing Drew Hart speak at the recent intercultural gathering, she realized that she was a minority only in certain settings, but in the world she still had “white supremacy.” In 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, Paul points out that even though he is free, he limits his freedom. He gives up some of his rights in order that he can more effectively deliver the gospel to all people.”
Statements and reports
- Messenger Sankofa Journey articles featuring writing by Belita Mitchell, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, Drew Hart, and Josh Brockway, plus “180 years of statements on race” compiled by Gimbiya Kettering
- When lamentations are not enough: Moderators respond to racialized violence of summer 2016
- The 1991 Annual Conference Report on Brethren and Black Americans states:
“Because racism is built into our way of life, it is extremely difficult to unmask it and honestly face the radical changes that need to be made in ourselves and our institutions if it is to be eradicated. Members of the Church of the Brethren face the subtle temptation of thinking that because there are not many black Americans in the denomination, or because many of us do not live in physical proximity to black people, that the problem of racism is not our concern. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of us benefit from racist practices, without being direct participants, because of decisions and policies already in place in our religious, economic, and political institutions.”
- Reflections on Race: Special Report (Feb 2015)
- Intercultural Ministries offers a list of denominational statements about race, racism, and our diversity