A biblical approach to the work of anti-racism


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.

Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love.” As Christian churches look to understand and confront racism, we can build the body of Christ by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV) The history of the United States must be examined and owned by the church so that we can address the past and current practices of racism that go against the very scriptures we are called to follow by Jesus himself, when he told the teachers of the law that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).

As Christian churches look to understand and confront racism, we can build the body of Christ by ‘speaking the truth in love.

Anti-racism training work is a critical part of our work at MCC. Beginning in the early 1990s, MCC U.S. began its anti-racism efforts through a training program that came to be called Damascus Road (a program that spun off from MCC in 2012, taking on the name Roots of Justice). MCC U.S. remains committed to the hard work of dismantling racism. Over the past three years, I have worked with colleagues to develop a three-tier, biblically-focused approach to the work of anti-racism, a training program that invites both MCC staff and Anabaptist leaders from outside MCC to grapple with biblical texts and to root ourselves in the biblical foundation for anti-racism work. We began rolling out this training in November 2017 with a gathering of eight persons at Nyack College that offered a basic introduction to people who are just now entering the conversation around race or have had a difficult time understanding how racism works. Every one of the tiers follows a three-day model, in which the first day is set up as interactive and experiential and in which participants gather and visit a museum or a national monument that exposes people to the history of race, migration, slavery, immigration and more in the United States. For example, the first training participants visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (other times we have visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.) and then gathered for a time of debriefing and identifying historical truths that are often not told in our educational narratives about our past. The three tiers of three-day anti-racism trainings unfold as follows:

In this 1963 photo, David Augsburger (right) interviews Dr. Vincent Harding on the Mennonite Hour, September Vincent Harding was Program Director in the Atlanta (Georgia) Mennonite Service Unit. Vincent and wife Rosemarie Harding were stationed in Atlanta in October 1961 as peace and service workers with a mandate to search for ways in which the peace witness might come alive in the midst of racist oppression in the United States. (MCC photos)

Tier 1: Uncovering the Roots of Race, Racism and Immigration: This workshop invites participants to understand the role that racism plays in U.S. history. The training introduces participants to the roots of racism in the formation of this nation, including how the Doctrine of Discovery shaped attitudes and practices towards Indigenous people and how the transcontinental trade in enslaved persons was bound up with the nation’s origins. The training culminates with an opportunity to think about our current national systems and about our own organizations as places to dismantle racism. We also address the role of the church and racism in this training, something that is critically needed as we commit to truth-telling and lament.

Our nation’s history must be examined and owned by the church so that we can address the past and current practices of racism that go against the very scriptures we are called to follow by Jesus himself.

Tier 2: Living in the House We Did Not Build (Focus on Racism and Economics): This tier examines the intersectionality of racism and economics, especially with regards to the development of wealth. It looks at how laws, policies and classifications have historically created or denied opportunities based on race. Day one of the training is participatory, interactive and experiential. In past trainings, we have visited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, where we considered how exploitative economic systems undergirded slavery and the theft of land from Indigenous peoples. Looking at more recent history, we explore practices such as “redlining” in which banks denied mortgages to people based on race and geography, practices that prevent groups from building up wealth. We review case studies on the systemic challenges for people of color in institutions. We identify ways in which wealth (in the form of land, education, cultural capital and more) is created as well as examine Scripture to better understand how our Christian faith addresses these issues.

Tier 3: The Gift of Agitation for Change (Focus on Policy and Collaboration): This tier is still in the development process but will focus on understanding current movements that are challenging inequality in our country’s laws, policies and practices. It will invite participants to identify how they can collaborate with churches, faith-based organizations and other groups in their contexts to challenge racism and create positive change. This training will push participants to respond to the biblical call to act justly and care for the vulnerable. This culminating tier of MCC U.S.’s anti-racism training will equip participants to work towards dismantling racism by addressing the oppressive systems of injustice such as mass incarceration, unjust immigration policies, disparities in access to and the provision of health care and education and more.

The prophet Amos cries out: “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24) MCC U.S.’s three-tiered anti-racism program invites participates to join Amos in calling upon God to let God’s justice that dismantles racism flow upon our nation and our institutions.

Dina Gonzalez-Pina is MCC U.S. ethnicity and gender equity specialist.