‘The Church in Black and White’ symposium is planned for Sept. 12

Church of the Brethren Newsline
August 22, 2020

A release from the Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center

The Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center in Harrisonburg, Va., announces “The Church in Black and White,” a one-day symposium on the racial history and future of the Brethren and Mennonite churches, Saturday, Sept. 12, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, and virtually via Zoom.

Brethren and Mennonite churches in America typically pride themselves on their progressive history on issues of race. As pacifist communities they refused to participate in the institution of slavery, they sent mission efforts across the globe to engage peoples of many nations and races, and their institutions were some of the first to desegregate in the middle of the twentieth century.

But this history is also far more complicated. Even while seeing themselves as removed from mainstream American culture and politics, these denominations happily benefitted from and embraced their whiteness, and often used their nonresistant and quietist ways to justify ignoring the plight suffered by their neighbors of color. Martin Luther King Jr. himself called attention to this fact in 1959 when, after years of struggling to gain white allies, he turned to a Mennonite minister, and asked, “Where have you Mennonites been?”

Though initially planned for last spring but delayed because of COVID-19, now, after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the resulting protests and national debates driven by the Black Lives Matter movement, this one-day symposium is more timely than ever as many historically white Mennonite and Brethren congregations are looking in earnest at their own racialized histories.

The symposium features five speakers from across the United States, each addressing different aspects of racial relations, past and present, of these two denominations. They include:

— Doris Abdullah, Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations, on ways to address international issues of religious intolerance, greed, racism, bigotry, and ignorance;

— Eric Bishop, superintendent/president of Ohlone College with campuses in Fremont and Newark, Calif., on how historic peace churches can and should react to the racial issues of today;

— Drew Hart, professor of theology at Messiah University in Pennsylvania, on his books, “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism” (2016); and “Who Will Be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance” (2020);

— Stephen Longenecker, professor of history at Bridgewater (Va.) College, on Brethren and Mennonite responses to slavery in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the 19th century; and

— Tobin Miller Shearer, director of African-American Studies at the University of Montana, on his recent book, “Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America” (2017).

Continuing education credits are available for ministers in the Church of the Brethren. Students of Brethren and Mennonite institutions may register for free. For full details and registration information, visit https://brethrenmennoniteheritage.org/events-calendar/the-church-in-black-and-white .

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