“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.