Mennonite Church USA has renamed its Leadership Development office Church Vitality to better reflect its focus on helping congregations thrive. “All of our work is […]
Photo: Donna and Leroy Barber are cofounders of The Voices Project, which trains Black leaders. Photo by Peter Graber/Mennonite Mission Network.
Joining other Christian denominations that have voiced support of the Black Lives Matter movement’s anti-racism goals, Mennonite Mission Network has announced it will give $10,000 to partner with The Voices Project to offer nonviolent direct action training and organizing strategies to the movement.
The Voices Project, an Oregon-based organization led by the Rev. Leroy Barber and his wife, Donna, trains Black leaders who work in predominantly White evangelical organizations. Through the “Breaking Our Silence” fund, Mission Network will also call for all Mennonite churches to more actively promote racial justice in their communities.
White Mennonites are urged to get to know African-American leaders in their communities, to offer support, and to learn how they can be helpful. The agency will produce a series of stories and resources to help congregations learn more about how racism impacts everyone in society, and to activate this part of their Christian witness. The partnership was announced Aug. 7 at Corvallis (Oregon) Mennonite Fellowship, which invited Barber to speak.
At the church service, Peter Graber, marketing and communication director for Mission Network, told the congregation that Mission Network’s leaders responded enthusiastically to Barber’s invitation to join forces.
“White Mission Network staff are convicted that they and Mission Network have not given sufficient voice to the call for racial justice, especially in our criminal justice system,” Graber said. “We feel called to ‘break our silence,’ both personally and as an organization.”
After the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, Barber visited Ferguson several times to support and participate in peaceful protests and to work with local leaders. Barber told the Corvallis congregation that Christians have a responsibility to protect and seek justice for the oppressed. Barber’s sermon was based on Ephesians 2:14: “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
“Whether you understand what Black Lives Matter means fully or not, whether you think its political or not, whether you want to read every detail about each case before you make a decision or not … what I know is that if you come to this altar of Jesus and you call yourself a Christian, it is our duty to suffer with our brothers and sisters,” Barber said.
Many congregants rose to affirm Barber’s message. A member spoke of her ministry over the past decade with the local police department, offering prayer and perspective on nonviolence and respect for all people.
Black Lives Matter began on social media in response to several shooting deaths specifically of young African-American men at the hands of White police officers or authority figures, as if their lives were valueless. The statement essentially means “Black lives matter, too.” The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was created in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. After the deaths of Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, at the hands of police, the Black Lives Matter protests evolved into an organized movement with local chapters.
Black Lives Matter has been controversial because of misinformation fueled by conflicting political agendas, and the violent acts of some among the majority of peaceful protesters. However, many Christian groups, such as the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and American Baptist Churches have offered support and affirmed the movement’s goals to combat systemic racism and police brutality of Black people.
Stanley W. Green, Mission Network executive director, said that the church is facing a devastating crisis of credibility that derives from the gap between the biblical vision of a new humanity reconciled through Jesus Christ and the realities people experience inside churches and in society.
“This moment is also pregnant with opportunity,” Green said. “Will we allow ourselves to repent our racist accommodations that are antithetical to God’s vision, or will we continue the silent compromise that continues to bedevil the church’s credibility? This opportunity for Mennonite churches to partner with The Voices Project gives me hope that we can bridge the credibility gap, and it gives me hope that the silence will be broken.”
The partnership grows from Mission Network’s long relationship with Barber, who served on the board of the agency’s DOOR program for youth leadership training in Atlanta. Barber worked closely with a number of Mennonites, including Del Hershberger, Mission Network director of Christian Service. Barber became close friends with Linda Langstraat, who worked with seniors in urban Atlanta, including Barber’s mother. Langstraat invited Barber to speak at Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship.
At the time this article was being written, the Corvallis congregation had already gathered more than $7,500 for the “Breaking Our Silence” fund.
The Mennonite, Inc., is currently reviewing its Comments Policy. During this review, commenting on new articles is disabled; readers are encouraged to comment on new articles via The Mennonite’s Facebook page. Comments on older articles can continue to be submitted for review. Comments that were previously approved will still appear on older articles. To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments, and comments don’t appear until approved. Read our full Comments Policy before submitting a comment for approval.