Advocating for justice in the name of Christ


Individual articles from the Fall 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

For more than 50 years, policy advocacy and public engagement in Canada and the United States have been integral ways MCC has carried out its mission of relief, development and peace in the name of Christ. MCC uses advocacy as a tool to address systemic causes of poverty, oppression and injustice. The advocacy network is comprised of the Washington, D.C., Office (started in 1968), the Ottawa Office (1974) and the United Nations Office in New York (1990). Building on MCC’s unique relationships with churches and community-based organizations around the world, the network is tasked with engaging decisionmakers on both national and international levels to address policies that contribute to poverty and injustice, as well as with offering proposals and affirming policies that can lessen suffering and promote justice, peace and human dignity.

“Advocacy has given MCC legitimacy on a local level, as MCC’s work in advocacy demonstrates a commitment to righting relationships distorted by war and legacies of colonialism and responding to partner realities.”

This work has not been without controversy, including some Anabaptists raising concerns about how advocacy conforms to the proper role of Christians in relating to government authorities. In the years leading up to the opening of the Washington Office, MCC staff, board members and Anabaptist church leaders had hearty debates on the subject. Some preferred a “quiet in the land” approach, maintaining a strict two-kingdom theology that drew stark divisions between the church and the world. Others saw a less clear distinction between the “sacred” and the “secular” and argued that the church should instead set an example for the broader society. An MCC church-state study conference in 1965 concluded that “Where the church’s concern for human welfare overlaps with the state, in such areas as civil rights, the church will urge (1) an emphasis on just laws, which protect and uphold the human dignity of all citizens and (2) the fair and just administration of all such laws.” This approach helped lay the foundation for MCC’s future advocacy work.

Advocacy has also given MCC legitimacy on a local level, as MCC’s work in advocacy demonstrates a commitment to righting relationships distorted by war and legacies of colonialism and responding to partner realities. During the Vietnam War, recipients of MCC’s relief efforts urged MCC to advocate to the U.S. government to end the war. More recently, some partners in Palestine and Israel have expressed concern about only receiving humanitarian aid and support, stressing the importance of MCC being willing to speak publicly about Canadian and U.S. policies that perpetuate systemic injustice in the region. 

MCC’s advocacy work is based on partner knowledge and experience and builds on grassroots peacebuilding and advocacy work already taking place in a variety of local contexts. Advocacy network staff meet regularly with MCC staff from around the world, who serve as a communications channel between partners and the network. Advocacy staff then pass on those communications to policy decisionmakers and to MCC constituent churches and supporters in Canada and the U.S. In some cases, the offices may speak on behalf of those who are not able to do so directly, but they function primarily as a megaphone to amplify partner concerns. These relationships give legitimacy to MCC’s voice in Canada and the U.S. An Anabaptist faith witness also informs and guides the work of advocacy, as MCC’s commitment to nonviolence and to grassroots peacebuilding form the foundation through which MCC understands and speaks into policies.

“An Anabaptist faith witness informs and guides the work of advocacy, as MCC’s commitment to nonviolence and to grassroots peacebuilding form the foundation through which MCC understands and speaks into policies.”

In Ottawa, the connection between MCC’s program partners and its constituent churches is a pillar of the office’s work, with this connection fueling advocacy that strives to be relational. Education to encourage advocacy is a way to share stories and lived experiences, often between churches in the global south and the global north. Through awareness raising activities like the Mining Justice Campaign and A Cry for Home (MCC Canada’s campaign on Palestine and Israel), the Ottawa Office has connected people from around the world with Anabaptists in Canada, with the goal of learning that will lead to political action. For political change to take place, Canadians must understand global connections and the impacts of Canadian policies and then take action to encourage change. The Ottawa Office provides spaces for reflection and learning, including ways of communicating with elected officials. These acts of relationship building often take place through educational resources, such as fact sheets, blog posts, student seminars and social media. However, the Ottawa Office has also facilitated direct bridges between people, such as strategic learning tours to Palestine and Israel or encouraging Mennonite Brethren (MB) churches in Canada to visit MB churches in Colombia to learn about how the churches in Colombia respond to conflict in their country, a conflict exacerbated by the presence of Canadian extractive industries.

The Washington Office functions similarly. From its humble beginning in space rented from the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the office has long recognized that it brings a small but distinctive voice to “the empire.” Congressional foreign policy staff generally welcome the opportunity to hear from MCC staff and partners, with many saying that it gives them more insight into what is happening on the ground in various countries than what they can get from news sources or the U.S. diplomatic corps. The Washington Office works closely with and values ecumenical and interfaith advocacy colleagues. But on occasion, the perspective provided by MCC’s partners has led to a different emphasis than what our D.C. colleagues are supporting. A recent example is the advocacy carried out by some colleagues in Washington to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Syria for the purposes of civilian protection. While understanding that perspective, MCC continues to advocate for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Syria, following the lead of our partner organizations within the country. As is the case in Ottawa, the Washington Office also devotes significant time to ensuring that church members in the U.S. are informed about U.S. policies and have the tools they need to take action.

“Our faith cannot be confined to the private sphere. It spills out into the public sphere as we call on our governments to implement more just and peaceful policies.”

As Christians, if we believe that Christ is indeed Lord of all, that includes the powers and principalities described in the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians. Our faith cannot be confined to the private sphere. It spills out into the public sphere as we call on our governments to implement more just and peaceful policies. This work for systemic justice, following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, is often less obvious than sharing a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42). But as MCC’s partners in the U.S., Canada and around the world have made clear, it is no less important.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach was director of MCC U.S.’s office in Washington, D.C., from 2007 to 2020. Anna Vogt is MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office director.

A theory of change for MCC’s work

How does MCC understand change? At the level of specific education, food security, health, livelihoods, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding initiatives, a variety of localized factors help determine what will effectively bring about desired changes. So, for example, when seeking to improve food security outcomes for displaced peoples, MCC and its partners use a variety of approaches to bring about change, from giving displaced families cash disbursements to vouchers to monthly food baskets, with each of those approaches emerging from context-specific determinations about what will contribute to change in each situation.

“Lasting change requires long-term dedication and happens when all members of a community connect across lines of difference to actively participate in shaping and implementing visions for just social, environmental and economic structures.”

While MCC can thus be said to have multiple context- and sector-specific theories of change at the project level, more fundamentally MCC has an overarching theory of change captured by core commitments (referred to internally as operating principles), which name key dimensions that MCC considers essential for durable change: who is involved in lasting change and where and how it comes about. These core commitments, fleshed out below, encapsulate MCC’s conviction that lasting change often requires long-term dedication and happens when all members of a community connect across lines of difference to actively participate in shaping and implementing visions for just social, environmental and economic structures.

Serve in the name of Christ: Undergirding all of MCC’s program is the conviction that when people serve in the name of Christ, change can happen, with God’s Spirit taking our incomplete and sometimes fractured attempts to follow Jesus’ example and using and transforming those efforts for the purposes of God’s reign. All of MCC’s other core commitments are rooted in this foundational commitment to service in Jesus’ name.

Accompany the church and other partners: MCC believes that local communities are best positioned to identify community assets and needs and to determine what types of changes or outcomes towards which they want to work. Local institutions and organizations within those communities that have the trust of community members are essential to the process of identifying, planning for and mobilizing efforts to realize desired change. Specifically, churches and other local faith communities are vital actors for bringing about change: they inspire and offer hope to communities with a theologically-rooted vision of peace, justice and reconciliation; they have a lasting presence within communities and relate to networks of other churches; they mobilize and motivate volunteer efforts; and they are influential shapers of community norms. MCC thus prioritizes long-term partnerships with community-based organizations, and particularly with churches and other local faith communities, because they are critical agents for bringing about lasting change.

Act sustainably: MCC understands human beings to be part of, rather than separate from, God’s good creation. MCC operates from the conviction that any type of lasting change must contribute to, rather than undermine, the sustainability of the ecological systems in which all human beings, including the communities with which MCC works, are enmeshed. MCC recognizes that ecological, social and economic sustainability are interdependent and are thus all essential for enduring change.

Build just economic relationships: Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, is with the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40), found among persons marginalized by economic systems. In his inaugural sermon (Luke 4:16-21), Jesus proclaims the fulfillment of the Jubilee year, with its promise of liberation from economic captivity and the radical transformation of unjust systems that oppress and exclude. Because Jesus is present and God’s Spirit is at work among the economically disenfranchised, MCC understands durable change not as something done to or for the poor, but rather as led by economically marginalized communities and shaped by their strengths and visions.

Connect people: In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), God binds together a new people from diverse languages and backgrounds. The new creation inaugurated by God through Jesus connects people across various divides into a shared body. When people come together crossing lines of difference, the opportunity arises to learn from the rich diversity of humanity created in God’s image. From such learnings, positive changes in the lives of communities can emerge. MCC thus supports initiatives that create bridges of connection across difference.

Dismantle oppression: Lasting change occurs when the talents and gifts of all community members are valued and nurtured. Discrimination and oppression mar the dignity of persons created in God’s image and prevent the full use of God-given abilities. In its relief, development and peacebuilding efforts and through public policy advocacy, MCC works with partners to dismantle discriminatory and oppressive barriers so that all persons might use their talents and abilities to their fullest.

“MCC endeavors across its programs to bring about positive change by doing no harm, supporting peacebuilding efforts and integrating activities that transform conflict into its relief and development.”

Practice nonviolence: As followers of Jesus, who taught his disciples to love their enemies, MCC believes that violent, armed conflict does not bring lasting and positive change. Entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19), MCC endeavors across its programs to bring about positive change by doing no harm, supporting peacebuilding efforts and integrating activities that transform conflict into its relief and development work. MCC also believes that lasting change flows from love and mutual care for one another, including “strangers” and “enemies.”

Seek a just peace: With the Psalmist, MCC understands lasting change within a vision of justice and peace embracing (Ps. 85:10). Inspired by that vision, MCC supports efforts that address the structural barriers that prevent broad participation and leadership in communities. MCC supports community-based efforts and public policy advocacy at local, national and international levels that build durable peace by naming, dismantling, and transforming structures of injustice and their legacies.

Developed by MCC’s international program directors in May 2018.

The hard work of anti-racism: the good, the bad and the ugly


Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

It seems ironic that I would be writing about MCC’s work on racism from the mid-1990s to the first part of the decade of this century. Our nation finds itself in such troubling times of overt racism and hatred and our churches are struggling how to respond. Why is it so hard for us, as Mennonites, to find ways to address racism? I hope that sharing the story of MCC’s work on racism from within the organization and external work with other agencies can help us understand ourselves. I hope that learning our history will give us the foundation we need to respond and the good sense not to repeat our mistakes.

MCC has worked to address racism from long before the 1990s. MCC, along with other Anabaptist groups, sought to counter racism during the civil rights movement. In the 1960s, for example, Vincent Harding and Rosemarie Freeney Harding led MCC’s Voluntary Service house in Atlanta and became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Other Mennonites joined, but in the end, for many Mennonites, the cost of challenging racism was too great. For Mennonites in leadership, engaging in overt activism went too far: although Mennonites at the time did not fully articulate their concern in this way, one can see white Mennonite fear of giving up white privilege. Unfortunately, Mennonite reluctance to undertake the costly work of challenging racist structures led to the loss of the Hardings, two giants in the faith, who had left the Mennonite tradition by 1967, frustrated by Mennonite and MCC hesitancy to combat racism with greater vigor.

I came to work for MCC U.S. in the fall of 1996 as Director of Peace and Justice Ministries. By then, MCC U.S.’s Damascus Road Training was underway under the direction of Regina Shands Stoltzfus and Jody (now Tobin) Miller Shearer. What came to be called Damascus Road developed over the course of a long labor process starting in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, MCC hired John Chapman part-time to work on MCC becoming more ethnically and racially inclusive, both in its staffing and in its engagement of the full racial and ethnic range of Anabaptist groups in the U.S. Staff worked to make human resources policies more inclusive. Lynette Meck, then MCC U.S. director, wrote the first draft of a paper entitled Broadening the Vision in August 1994, in which she outlined a future of MCC becoming more inclusive of people of color. These efforts sought to build on relationships with people of color while resisting systemic racism within MCC. 

As we worship, consider the realities of racism in the Anabaptist community, and share ideas and experiences out of our attempts to resist that racism, may our sight be restored… As we discuss the difficulties of power and privilege, may we be clear and compassionate.

— Invitation letter to Restoring
Our Sight conference, 1995

The Damascus Road program started to take more concrete shape in 1994. That year, Tobin Miller Shearer published Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege toward Racial Reconciliation. In 1995, the MCC U.S. Racism Project hosted a conference in Chicago entitled Restoring Our Sight. Invitations went out to leaders in U.S. Anabaptist institutions and in MCC U.S. and MCC Binational. A total of 250 people attended. The invitation letter sent out on March 1, 1995, stated the conference’s purpose: “As we worship, consider the realities of racism in the Anabaptist community, and share ideas and experiences out of our attempts to resist that racism, may our sight be restored. . . . As we discuss the difficulties of power and privilege, may we be clear and compassionate.” This event birthed what we came to be called the Damascus Road process.

That same year, MCC U.S. produced a video, Free Indeed, as a resource for congregations and other groups seeking to learn about white privilege and the importance of addressing privilege in order to dismantle racism. The video became one of the most widely requested videos in the MCC resource library for many years.

When MCC U.S. established the Damascus Road training program, it set as the program’s goals the preparation of teams within all Anabaptist agencies, including MCC,to dismantle racism within our Anabaptist institutions. The focus was looking at the systemic reality of racism. This work, though promising, also became controversial and threatening. In response to our work at becoming anti-racist and in confronting “whiteness” [racialized ideology that produces white privilege], we began to receive threatening letters. Tobin Miller Shearer, director of the Anti-Racism Desk in 1996, got a death threat from a white supremacist group. He also fielded many angry and negative comments from within the church. As a person of color, I found that very frightening. We consistently received pressure from some within MCC to focus on work on interpersonal relationships rather than on systemic issues, because white people were more comfortable discussing interpersonal relationships rather than confronting their own white privilege and the systemic barriers that kept white people in control, not just in society but within church institutions as well, including Anabaptist institutions.

John Powell, of Buffalo, New York, pins a square of cloth onto a piece of fabric as part of the first night of the Damascus Road conference, “Damascus and Beyond: seeking clearer sight, bolder spirit,” held in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2005. Damascus Road used trainings about systemic racism to organize teams to work on dismantling racism in their own institutions or congregations. In 2005, Damascus Road was developing a system of chaplains and organizers in order to better nurture teams and link them together. (MCC photo/Matthew Lester)

Despite this pushback from various segments within MCC, Damascus Road did make an impact both on MCC and within the broader Anabaptist world in the U.S. This past year, my congregation welcomed Julie Hart as a guest speaker. Julie had been a sociology professor at Bethel College in Kansas when we organized a Damascus Road training there many years ago. When we talked briefly this past summer, Julie shared how her academic training had not previously introduced her to concepts of whiteness and white privilege: the Damascus Road training equipped her with analysis that has now become standard within sociology. Damascus Road anti-racism training has had an impact not only on individuals but also institutions. For example, today we have many more people of color in leadership positions within and on the board of Mennonite Church USA than when this anti-racism work first began. People of color groups, meanwhile, have been able to find places to be heard and contribute within Mennonite Church USA in ways that did not happen twenty years ago.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, Tobin Miller Shearer and I co-authored a book together, Set Free, in 2001 while working for MCC U.S. In that book, we named the reality of racism and highlighted how power is used to maintain the status quo. We repeatedly found that many white people named racism as an issue of relationships, while people of color identified the issue of racism as systemic. The truth, of course, is that racism has both relational and systemic dimensions, but it is the systemic piece that affects people of color the most, from access to resources to the toll on our physical and mental health.

Anti-racism work often faces backlash, with the impact falling most frequently on the people whose voices are marginalized, who are silenced when what they have to say becomes uncomfortable and who are terminated when they become a threat to white institutions.

The Damascus Road program found that it was imperative for white people to address their racism if the task of dismantling racism could gain traction. The MCC U.S. anti-racism program thus developed a training module entitled Fire and Clay, a workshop for white people to confront the white privilege they carry. The first Fire and Clay gathering was held in April 2003. People attended, but MCC leadership, for the most part, did not participate. Earlier in June 2002, the Damascus Road program had developed a training called Set Free for people of color to work on internalized racism. Set Free trainings helped to inspire events like the Hope for the Future gatherings sponsored by Mennonite Church USA, in which people of color began to amplify their voices and make connections to one another to work together on issues that were important to them.

By the first decade of this century, the difficulty of working both within and beyond MCC U.S. to confront racism was taking a toll on people of color, who frequently felt they had to be the bridge builders and teachers for white people. In June 2006, MCC Binational and MCC U.S. jointly hired Rick Derksen, a white man, as coordinator of MCC’s Anti-Racism Accountability Council. Rick did a lot of good work, but by then many people of color tasked with anti-racism work were exhausted. Eventually, after much internal consultation, Damascus Road trainers determined that they wanted to undertake a broader, more intersectional, approach to anti-racism work, while also reaching out beyond Anabaptist communities. These discussions led in September 2012 to Damascus Road spinning off from MCC, becoming part of the independent organization, Roots of Justice.

Anabaptist institutions continue to work with Roots of Justice to hold Damascus Road anti-racism trainings because it has proven so effective in transforming their boards and leadership structures. To be sure, the gains made by this anti-racism work has come at a cost, taking a toll on people of color and white allies. Anti-racism work often faces backlash, with the impact falling most frequently on the people whose voices are marginalized, who are silenced when what they have to say becomes uncomfortable and who are terminated when they become a threat to white institutions. The work within our institutions needs white people to take ownership. Funding must be available for the work if the church is serious about dismantling racism. I pray and hope that MCC U.S. will come forward again in a bold way in its anti-racism work to name and speak against the renewed racist nationalism and xenophobia we are experiencing in our society and in our churches and that MCC will stand with congregations and institutions that are speaking up in defense of those at the receiving end of racism and hate.

Iris deLeón-Hartshorn is associate executive director for operations of Mennonite Church USA.

DeLeón-Hartshorn, Iris, Tobin Miller Shearer and Regina Shands Stoltzfus. Set Free: A Journey toward Solidarity against Racism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001.

Shearer, Tobin Miller. Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

——. Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege toward Racial Reconciliation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994.

Mennonite Conciliation Service: challenges, successes and learnings


Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.

In 1975, the seed for Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) was planted. MCC had a well- respected reputation for responding to basic human needs, such as the provision of food and shelter. Yet those carrying out these responses realized more could be done—something was missing. There were needs not being met, and this missing piece impacted the success of the material responses. This need for a Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) parallel to Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) was a need for an organization that would address conflicts and crises before they become violent. Such an MCS would also advocate for justice. This ministry would be collaborative with other Anabaptist organizations and with other Christians active in the work of conciliation, mediation and conflict transformation. In this article, I offer my reflections as a former MCS staff person on the challenges MCS faced, the successes it experienced and learnings from the MCS story.

Ron Kraybill, director of Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS), addresses a conciliation meeting in Salunga, Pennsylvania, in October 1983. MCS developed educational and training materials around conflict resolution skills, including the Conciliation Quarterly. (MCC photo/Nancy Witmer)

I joined MCS in July 1999. Having never lived east of the Mississippi, I experienced culture shock upon moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to work for MCC. I had lived in Dallas, Texas, for close to 20 years, working as an insurance claims examiner. In many ways, being an insurance claims examiner stimulated my interest in resolving conflict. During my off-work time, I trained with and volunteered for many years at the Dallas Mediation Center. When I received the call to join MCS, I was on a personal journey to determine how I could make my avocation my vocation. I therefore accepted the offer, moved to Lancaster and took on the position of associate on urban peacemaking. I eventually became MCS’s director and then later co-directed the Office on Justice and Peacebuilding with Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz when MCS merged with the MCC U.S.’s Office on Crime and Justice. I continued in that position until 2011, when I left MCC to pastor (and then later rejoin MCC as executive director for MCC Central States, the position I hold today).

MCS certainly faced challenges throughout its history. The earliest documents outlining the origins of MCS make for fascinating reading. From the beginning, MCS’s creators were mindful of two challenges that would be ongoing concerns for MCS: first, the theological, historical and cultural approaches to conflict among traditional Anabaptist groups and, secondly, racism. In a 1976 study on the possibility and parameters of MCS, William Keeney placed MCS within a history of MCC peace witness: “Mennonites have often expressed their opposition to violence and war by the refusal to participate. We have offered alternative service as a demonstration of our positive contributions to society. Mennonite Conciliation Services would seem to be another positive contribution we could make by minimizing the consequences of evil conflict and violence.” In the beginning of his study, Keeney acknowledged that the realities of violence to and in African-American, Latinx and Indigenous communities related to “discrimination” and being “excluded from the benefits of American Society.” Keeney did not use the same language for people of color I use here (that is my translation to the contemporary vernacular), but Keeney clearly understood that ongoing racism was a primary source of violence. If MCS was to take seriously the mandate to address and respond to conflict and harm before it turns to violence, Keeney recognized, then it must contend with the “social disasters” leading to it.

Mennonite Conciliation Service named, from the beginning, that addressing conflict or harm without acknowledging systemic oppression is hypocritical.

Ron Kraybill’s report to the MCC Peace Section regarding the proposal to establish a Mennonite Conciliation Service was more forthright and explicit about the challenges. Informed by discussions with non-white Mennonites, Kraybill found affirmation for the MCS proposal, yet also heard strong caveats, including from Mennonites of color. These caveats included the following points:

  • People of color must be included in the effort to establish MCS;
  • Emphasis should be placed on mobilizing local resources, rather than on maintaining a “flying squad of intervenors”;
  • MCC needed to ask if Mennonites were ready to take on questions of justice as it sought to establish MCS;
  • Involvement in conflicts should be contemplated only in those situations where Mennonites have “earned the right” to speak;
  • Mennonites have a lot of “in-house” conflicts that need to be addressed;
  • To be credible, MCS would need to develop slowly: MCC would need to be committed to the MCS venture for at least five years before judging it as a success or failure.

I arrived at MCS twenty-three years after these preliminary discussions. During my tenure with MCS, the issues identified at MCS’s inception continued to come up in our internal discussions. We knew that naming, addressing and acknowledging concerns around justice and racism were always at the core of the work as we continued to resource, train, mediate, facilitate and participate in conciliation efforts. As a woman of African descent whose chosen faith expression has been in the Anabaptist tradition, it was important for my credibility and sanity to keep these challenges in the forefront of our work.

Although MCS faced persistent challenges, we also had many poignant successes. For me, to work with people who were called to be peacemakers was a gift. The people who worked for and collaborated with MCS were committed to mediating, educating, practicing and growing. Together, we were committed to work at our internal conflicts just as we worked with others beyond our doors. We acknowledged injustice and advocated for justice. And we knew our limits: we did not think every case or referral could be addressed by MCS. However, we maintained relationships with others to whom we could refer cases. We were constantly challenging our work and the conciliation field to be anti-racist and anti-sexist in our approaches to conflict and harm.

To be credible, Mennonite Conciliation Service would need to develop slowly: MCC would need to be committed to the MCS venture for at least five years before judging it as a success or failure.

The most laudable success MCS experienced was the production of conflict resolution resources—books, training manuals, videos and periodicals—that became widely-used within the conflict resolution, mediation and restorative justice fields. Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, while MCS director, joined Lawrence Ressler in editing Making Peace with Conflict, a seminal book for churches to understand conflict as neither good nor bad, a resource that encouraged Mennonites (and other Christians) to face and learn from conflict. Schrock-Shenk was also responsible for a video, also directed at churches, called Conflict and the Church. MCS published four editions of its Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual, a resource used as a core text in many colleges and universities. The fifth version of the manual (Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual), produced jointly with the Office of Crime and Justice, was similarly widely used. And, for 23 years, MCS published a periodical called Conciliation Quarterly that highlighted learnings and grappled with challenges from the conflict mediation and restorative justice fields. Although MCS, the Office of Crime and Justice and the Office of Justice and Peacebuilding no longer exist at MCC, their contributions continue to be respected across the conflict transformation and restorative justice fields.

MCS spurred Anabaptist communities in the United States to expand their understandings and theologies of nonviolence and nonresistance. MCS encouraged churches and communities to develop new understandings of and healthier approaches to conflict. MCS named, from the beginning, that addressing conflict or harm without acknowledging systemic oppression is hypocritical. MCS provided a space and opportunity for the non-dominant voices to be heard in venues such as the MCS-produced manual and in Conciliation Quarterly. It has been an honor and blessing to be part of MCS’s legacy: my hope for MCC is that it will find creative ways to extend MCS’s legacy of creatively addressing conflicts in ways that take questions of justice and racism seriously.

Michelle Armster is executive director of MCC Central States.

Amstuz, Lorraine Stutzman and Michelle Armster. Eds. Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual: Foundations and Skills for Mediation and Facilitation. Fifth edition. Akron, PA: MCC Office on Justice and Peacebuilding, 2008.

Schrock-Shenk, Carolyn. Ed. Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual: Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation. Fourth edition. Akron, PA: Mennonite Conciliation Service, 2000.

The past is present: The historical trauma the United States does not want to talk about

Sharon: In my mind’s eye, I see a woman working in a cotton field. It is an oppressively hot day in Lowndes County, Alabama. The woman is young—less than 18 years old. She is wearing a coarse brown osnaburg dress. Her head is wrapped. Sweat is running down her face and back. The sack she is pulling weighs more than one hundred pounds. That is half of her quota for the day. She has been picking bolls since before sunrise. Her fingers are pricked and bleeding. Her mother is working two rows over. Her husband is in the same field, but out of sight. There is a white man on a horse. He has a whip in his hand.

The woman, her mother and husband are real people. Their names are Rhody, Easter and Tom. They are my ancestors. During and after slavery, they and countless unknown siblings, children and other relatives were consigned to a societal dustbin with vicious racial slurs standing as unwritten (but often spoken) epitaphs that colored every day of their lives and mine from those times forward.

Close your eyes and see what I see. Feel what I feel when I try to fathom the moral cost of what slavery wrought. Try to feel the profound historical harm that continues to plague us in the form of racism.

Tom: I see men pull a chair to the rail of the slave ship upon which they are transporting captives from the “slave coast” of Ghana to Cuba. The year is 1790. My ancestor, James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, owns and captains this ship. He would become the most successful slave trader, and one of the richest men, in the United States. A middle-aged African woman is chained to the chair. It has been determined she has smallpox, potentially lethal to the captain, crew and other “cargo” in the hold below deck. Captain DeWolf orders his crewmen to lift the chair over the railing and push the woman into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. She relinquishes her spirit without so much as a cry, a gag having been tied around her mouth to silence her. The story handed down is that DeWolf lamented the loss of such a good chair. This story sickens my heart.

Stories like these illumine the fact that the past is present. We are the sum of all that has gone before and carry the unhealed wounds of history in our hearts, minds and even our genes. We must confront the past because that is the only way to come to terms with the preeminent issue—racism—that is tearing our society apart today. In this article we discuss slavery’s traumatic legacy, the failure of U.S. society and its educational system to grapple with this historical harm and the Coming to the Table program that seeks to acknowledge and heal wounds rooted in slavery’s legacy.

Every state in the Union—and (by commission or default) every white citizen thereof—participated in and benefitted from slavery. As white people smoked tobacco, sipped rum, wore cotton clothing, drank coffee and ate peanuts, they lost sight of the fact that they were living in an economy based on the stolen labor of enslaved African people on land stolen from Native Americans. The road to culpability wended south from New York to Florida and spread westward under the cloak of Manifest Destiny. Money trumped morals at every step of the way and was resolutely justified by religious conviction.

Well after slavery’s abolition, its traumatic legacy continues to shape the United States, reflected in numerous disparities between African Americans and their white counterparts. People of color fall on the negative side of virtually all measurable social indicators. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that “the median white household was worth $141,900, 12.9 times more than the typical black household, which was worth just $11,000.” Poverty rates for African Americans are more than 160 percent higher, while unemployment rates are double. One-third of black males born today can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes. Young black males have a 21 times greater risk of being shot dead by police than whites. Infant mortality is 130 percent higher for black than for white babies.

The U.S. educational system has failed to adequately confront slavery and its ongoing harm. Take, for example, a history textbook written in 1916 by Mary Simms Oliphant. Commissioned by the superintendent of education in South Carolina to update an 1860 history written by her grandfather, Oliphant posited that slavery was a “necessary but benign institution” and glorified slaveholders, depicting their victims as ignorant savages in need of Christian salvation. Oliphant credited the Ku Klux Klan with restoring “truth and justice” after the Civil War. Her retelling of her grandfather’s tome was adopted by the state Board of Education. In 1932, she wrote her own history, a 432-page text that informed the public high school curriculum from that point forward. Will Moredock, a South Carolina native, recalls that his parents “used Oliphant’s books in the 1930s; I used them in the 1960s.” He observes that “Later editions of Oliphant’s book were somewhat toned down, but this was by and large the official history of South Carolina—taught to black students as well as white—until 1984,” with the state educational system thus perpetuating slavery’s historical harm and preventing a serious reckoning with its traumatic legacy.

Poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry argued in a 1970 essay that racism is the “hidden wound” of the U.S.’s political body, asserting that racism involves an “emotional dynamic that has disordered the heart both of the society as a whole and of every person in the society.” Sociologist Joy DeGruy shares this understanding of slavery as a traumatic wound that continues to perpetuate harm, poignantly asking: “What do repeated traumas visited upon generation after generation of a people produce? What are the impacts of the ordeals associated with chattel slavery, and with the institutions that followed, on African Americans today?”

As descendants of slaves and slaveholders, respectively, we encountered one another in 2008 as participants in a Coming to the Table (CTTT) workshop at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Through CTTT we learned about “historical harm” and the transmission of traumatic legacies from one generation to the next: these understanding were deepened through participation in training organized by the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program. These workshops helped us make sense of our distinctive, yet intertwined, pasts. We learned about “Cycles of Violence,” a theoretical construct that translates to “hurt people hurt people.” We emerged from these workshops convinced that both African Americans and white Americans have been damaged, albeit in significantly different ways, by slavery and its ongoing legacy in the form of systemic racism and that both are in need of healing. CTTT workshops designed to confront this legacy and to foster healing push participants to engage in four main activities in this healing journey:
• Research, acknowledge and share personal, family and societal histories of race with openness and honesty.
• Connect with others within and across racial lines in order to develop deep and accountable relationships.
• Explore ways to heal together.
• Champion systemic change that supports repair and reconciliation between individuals, within families and throughout society.

Breaking free of cycles of violence and healing historical trauma take work. It requires that we transcend what we were taught in misguided history books and embrace the values we find true in our hearts. It calls on us to amend how we view and treat “others” and actively engage in changing ourselves and the society in which we live. We can either continue a legacy of racism and doom future generations to racial conflict and inequality or change the paradigm to make this a better world for all. Our hope is that when, in the words of the psalmist, “Mercy and truth are met together,” then righteousness and peace will follow.

Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf are co-authors of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press, 2012).