From the Conference Minister’s Heart
by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister
In recent months I have encountered a number of writings and presentations on the inter-related issues of colonialism, war, and racial injustice. It is difficult to address these topics as a U.S. citizen who is a white, middle-class descendant of European Mennonite settlers – all of which represent privileged communities that have perpetrated or been complicit in these evils. Yet, I also believe that grappling with these issues is a crucial part of being faithful to Christ’s gospel of peace in today’s world.
At Mennonite Church USA convention, I attended a performance of Discovery: A Comic Lament produced by Ted & Co about the Doctrine of Discovery, and oppression of Indigenous Peoples. The play, which combines both comic and tragic elements, includes scenes in Kansas. For more information see http://www.tedandcompany.com/shows/discovery-comic-lament/. On a related note, the book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017) tells about the killings of dozens of Osage people in Oklahoma in the 1920s by non-Native Americans seeking to take over inherited mineral and oil rights on Osage lands, and the corruption of justice that perpetuated this tragedy within the geography of Western District Conference.
Several books on my reading list feature the experience of African Americans in the United States. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) is a fictional account of slaves’ experience in the pre-Civil War era. Freeman, a novel by Leonard Pitts, takes place right after the Civil War, as slaves grapple with the promise of freedom and the obstacles that persist. A contemporary perspective is offered in Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015), written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about the feelings and realities associated with being black in the United States.
Issues of war and nationalism have also been on my mind. Last month I attended a presentation by Ben Goossen, author of the recently published book Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era that takes a new look at ethnic European Mennonite connections to German nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. This month I joined others watching The Vietnam War, a documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that includes perspectives of Vietnamese and U.S. veterans, family members and survivors, political leaders and protesters. And, I anticipate seeing the traveling exhibit Voices of Conscience created by Kauffman Museum (Bethel College, North Newton, KS). It will premier at the World War I Museum in Kansas City as part of a symposium, Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today (Oct 19-22), and then make its first stop at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City. (http://rainbowmennonite.org/voices-conscience-traveling-exhibit/)
Encounters such as this open new perspectives and compel us to confront the disturbing realities of human sin, brutal violence, and evil. Tragically, this is not only history – these realities continue in our own time. Names in the news – such as Congo, Korea, Syria, Charlottesville, and Ferguson – tell of the ongoing trauma of ethnic and political violence, nationalistic rhetoric, and the brutal legacy of racial injustice. If that is all we pay attention to, we are easily tempted to despair, bitterness, or the paralysis of guilt or apathy.
Yet, the good news is that God has not given up on us. God continually offers us new opportunities to give and receive goodness, beauty and love – to participate in the life-giving work of truth-telling, healing, justice and reconciliation. WDC congregations offer many examples of this. On Sept 21, the International Day of Peace, churches in Newton, KS, jointly hosted a community prayer service. Congregations in Houston are assisting community members and undocumented immigrants following Hurricane Harvey. Other congregations are reaching out to military veterans, supporting refugees, preparing school kits for Mennonite Central Committee, visiting prison inmates, engaging in interfaith dialogue, doing clean-up and repairs with Mennonite Disaster Service, advocating for the survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, caring for foster children, supporting ministries of conflict transformation, and so much more. In the face of human evil and sin, may we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God – the One who through Christ is our hope and source of peace.