Home MB HeraldColumns Time for colourful conversations

Time for colourful conversations

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“It’s not about intent; it’s about impact.”

That can be a difficult truth to hear.

In this issue, we’re exploring the impact white Christians have on our brothers and sisters of colour – intentional or not.

For white Canadians, it can be hard to determine how to take responsibility for our histories (“I didn’t steal land from
Indigenous people!”). And it’s hard to discern our accountability for our situation. The term “white privilege” can make us uncomfortable because we never asked for anything special.

Yet, when harm has been done, as followers of Christ, we must be willing to repent and be humble, and ready to learn and change.

The cultural moment to talk about racism has been brewing for some time. To name just a few examples: the Black Lives Matter movement captured attention and has kept growing since 2014; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published 94 calls to action in 2015. And in the first months of 2018, two criminal court cases acquitted white men accused of murdering Indigenous youths – decisions many point to as evidence of systemic bias against Indigenous people.

The white Christians among us must stop to listen.

Canadians have rested easy, citing multiculturalism as evidence we don’t have “a race problem.”

No, our racism is more subtle, veiled under politically correct language and Canadian niceness.

Martin Luther King Jr. lamented that 11 a.m. on Sunday was the most racially segregated time in the U.S. Decades later, the situation is better but still has a long way to go, even in Canada.

Historically, Mennonites sought separation from the world, so it makes sense that many MB congregations were birthed in
homogeneity; however, as a community now preoccupied with evangelism and church planting, with a mission organization
spurring us to “the least reached,” mostly white congregations may want to ask: are we fulfilling our mission as broadly as we are able?

Spurred by his experience building relationships in the global church through Mennonite World Conference and ICOMB
(the International Community of Mennonite Brethren) and his reading of Indigenous theologians, David Wiebe calls us to
recognize and repent of what he calls “white power” (pages 8–9).

It’s not comfortable to accept our complicity.

We want to believe our churches are loving and colour-blind. But as Kate Henderson, Lee Kosa, and Natasha Tunnicliffe share in their piece on unravelling racism in their local church (pages 10–12), we are sometimes unwilling to recognize how deeply our discriminatory impulses run. We pile on error when we try to achieve equality through appeals to colour-blindness – which denies, rather than affirms, the ethno-cultural identities that are an integral part of all of us. Words meant in love may hurt when spoken in ignorance.

Why does it matter?

It matters because God’s vision of the church is one of diversity. This is not just a vision of heaven but something Scripture says God desires already in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:33–34; 2 Chronicles 6:32–33; Isaiah 2:2–3; Jeremiah 33:9).
Diversity in our congregations is a foretaste of heaven, a reward we must sow in humility but reap in blessings, urges
intercultural specialist Paul Chin (page 13).

And it matters because people matter. If we have brothers and sisters who are wounded – or just plain weary – of
microaggressions in life, let us not compound their frustration by continuing them in our churches.

We’re not guilty for our privilege, but we are responsible to use our power in ways that dismantle rather than prop up
inequality, in ways that journey toward reconciliation.

Fellow Christians, let’s start with a spirit of learning. Perhaps our first step is not to ask people of colour to teach us, but
instead to educate ourselves. Seek out the books and recordings referenced in the feature articles of this issue. Listen to voices that are already speaking.

Let’s start to see the world through different eyes. Learning appropriate vocabulary is important, not because that’s
politically correct, but because people God loves – people we love – may feel undermined by careless word choice.

Seeking diverse candidates for leadership – as pastors, on boards, committees, etc. – is important, not because that’s the
current trend, but because people with different backgrounds challenge our perspectives that have been skewed by holding
unacknowledged power. We need to listen to voices that speak “in colour” because we all have things to learn from each other.

Too often, our impact has been to squeeze out those who don’t look like us or do things like us. With humility and repentance, let’s lean in to our intent to see lives transformed as people are reconciled to God, to nature, within themselves, and to each other.

6 comments

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6 comments

robert thiessen April 4, 2018 - 13:59

I have lived among some of the “last and least” of Latin America for 30 years now. Both poor Latins and marginalized indigenous people. Throughout those years we have encountered many “white” people attempting to minister among them. Long-term and short-term efforts. As conversations unfold about how to do ministry lovingly, it amazes me how much “white” people think that as long as they intend their efforts to be good, they will be good. They never wonder about how their actions are perceived by the “target audience.” When I ask the outsiders what part the dignity of the host cultures might have to do with their efforts, they are caught completely unawares. They never considered what respect and dignity might mean in the equation of an outsider coming in (with little to no understanding of the local context) and at some level trying to change things. Their house of cards rests on the assumption that as long as their intentions are good, everything else is minor. That is just not sufficient. Too much harm and discrimination has happened under that banner for any of us to fly it anymore.

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Rob Froese April 7, 2018 - 00:09

It’s great the Chinese have their own church in Wpg – the Winnipeg Chinese Mennonite Church. No one has a problem with it I think. As a church alone it caters to one group. As a church among many it demonstrates diversity.
I can identify myself as white. You tell me I’m white and because of my specific skin colour I need to change something, you are racist. I don’t need to be treated a certain way because of my skin colour. I work at not treating others differently cause they are not like me. That behaviour is not loving,
My church periodical must not lend its voice to the shouting choir of the liberal left who in their arrogant piety, virtue signalling superiority hector the apparent offenders while demanding only the aggrieved can speak about this issue, if it is an issue.
BLM followers care less about black issues; black on black violence, poor representation among high school graduates and high levels of teen age pregnancy. Silence on those issues among the BLM advocates is standard. They are not respectable nor positive examples of modern canaries warning us about anything.
I’m not uncomfortable. I’m disappointed.

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robert thiessen April 7, 2018 - 11:00

hello, Rob,
it is hard to tell from your comment if you are attacking the overall point – that “white” people (any kind of dominant group) have discriminated against minorities – or not. It might help this conversation to know what your starting point in all this is.
I don’t think the article indicated that just because you are white you have to change something, but rather was asking you, and all the other “white” people in the Church, to ponder how we as a majority group could have, sometimes without intending to, hurt and marginalized minority groups. If you feel that the majority groups in North America have not done this, and that their members today are in no way responsible for those outcomes, then these kind of articles probably won’t do you much good.
Robert

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Kevin Guenther Trautwein April 7, 2018 - 10:30

Thank you for taking this issue to start a conversation about racism clearly and unapologetically. In my experience, it can be tempting to hide behind my (always?) good intentions, even when the real impact actually hurts others. This is true in many aspects of church history as well: missionaries who directly or indirectly supported colonialism in the name of spreading “good news”; charities that harm the people they mean to help in the name of “development” (see the book “Toxic Charity”); or even churches that make newcomers feel unwelcome by using coded “insider” language.

Intentions are not good enough; we need to do better. As Christians we all need to use the minds and ears God gave us to be smarter and to listen to those whose experiences are different than our own.

In particular, we need to listen to people like Bonita, as she talks about her experience with tokenism in predominantly white Mennonite churches.
(https://theebenezerproject.blogspot.ca/2018/03/on-subject-of-tokenism-and-white.html)

Let’s keep this conversation going!

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Lorne Welwood March 21, 2019 - 17:48

I do think there are forms of racism existing in Canada, in my city and in churches, including MB churches. And I do think I am a privileged person – but not primarily because of the color of my skin. What I have observed is that those who, like me, were born in Canada, had parents who were married and stayed married, who loved Jesus and participated faithfully in his church, obeyed his word, who valued education, did not abuse substances, paid their bills, were hospitable to all and pulled their weight – we, regardless of our skin color or gender, succeeded in life more than those who were not raised in that atmosphere.

The article says “We’re not guilty for our privilege…” but it feels to me like it contributes to the narrative of those who seem to say we are – or somehow have to atone for something over which we had and have no control. The article says (in the passive voice)”Yet, when harm has been done, as followers of Christ, we must be willing to repent…” Can I repent for something I did not participate in, such as residential schools or clergy pedophilia? The people who did such things were not even my relatives, so I cannot even meaningfully repent on behalf of my ancestors.

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Karla Braun April 5, 2019 - 23:35

Thanks for your comment, Lorne.
I encourage you to consider the second half of the sentence you reference: “We’re not guilty for our privilege, but we are responsible to use our power in ways that dismantle rather than prop up inequality, in ways that journey toward reconciliation.
We may not be in control of the advantages / privilege life hands us, but we can take responsibility for how we live within systems that are structurally unequal. And to the extent that we unquestioningly benefit from, participate in, and even perpetuate injustice through these structures, we may be called to repentance.

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