A church for all nations
It was a deadly summer. Senseless terror attacks in civilian spaces in Europe and racialized police violence in North American assaulted the human spirit every time we turned on the news.
We shake our heads at this evidence of the outworking of human sinfulness and send “thoughts and prayers” to those affected. But does discipleship demand something more of us? What is our responsibility to confront our own complicity with unjust systems?
As Mennonite Brethren, we use this word discipleship to refer to our belief that being a Christian is about far more than recognizing our sin and calling Jesus Saviour; it’s about making him Lord of our lives and surrendering to ongoing transformation into his image.
In this issue of the Herald, our writers reflect on the process and programs we engage on this journey of following Jesus.
That work of transformation happens in community: in schools, but also in our churches, as we observe and work alongside mentors and coaches. But despite our best efforts, these institutions are often flawed, and may perpetuate the same injustices we see elsewhere in society. Our transformation must be not only personal but corporate.
If our transformation is to be patterned after Jesus (Gil Dueck’s cruciform shape), it means putting aside our comfort. We must start by releasing the need to control outcomes and taking a posture of humility that will allow us to learn from those who are different from us.
So what does the Canadian church have to do with #BlackLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore? For one thing, Jesus wasn’t a white, middle-class suburbanite, yet that has become the default picture of being Christian in North America today. Radically following Jesus should make our churches look different.
As we look at our convention crowds and even many of our Sunday morning services, it becomes apparent that, on average, MB churches in Canada have not realized this vision of unity – multiculturalism – as well as wider society. This ought to concern our churches not because we want to be politically correct, but because in God’s vision of shalom, “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
In the past months, letters to the editor, website comments and a crusading Twitter account have challenged MBs about diversity. In an article in the Fraser Valley News, a collective of local Christians “hounding the Church on the topic of racial inclusion” lamented that when people of colour come to church “to be included in a community that is focused on Christ, [they are] reminded of the many ways [they] are excluded.”
Changing that perception will require the church to go deeper than a surface celebration of diversity. In a June 2011 Herald issue, pastor Ken Peters called us to cultivate interculturalism: a “oneness in Christ [that] means risking identification with and embrace of the neighbours God has given us.”
Those neighbours take a variety of forms, some familiar to us, some very different. If we are to share a gospel that can truly be experienced as good news, we must learn to communicate welcome and redemption in ways that are intuitive to our neighbours, not only ourselves.
In this issue, David Thiessen reflects on this shift. As he learned alongside scholars of the North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Study, he realized that unlike those brothers and sister, he has never had to question whether his gender and ethno-cultural identity and his choice to follow Christ are compatible.
In our transformation journey, are we ready to name white privilege in the church and put it to use for change?
To raise our voice when another is put down. To educate ourselves about language that honours people with different identities. To employ our insider influence to make space for others in positions of power and to advocate for systemic changes that make it possible for others to participate.
Just as the task of identifying women for ministry leadership requires adjustments to our models and expectations (i.e., since women are more often primary caregivers, their time is less flexible), so also “interculturalizing” our structures and processes will mean learning to do things differently.
When the next death breaks on the news, I hope we’re not huddled in our churches. Instead, I pray we will be prostrate with grief alongside our friends in the hurting community, marching side by side in the demonstrations, and wielding our social capital to lift up voices that go unheard. That will be a picture of the bride.