DALLAS — Hope for the Future attendees celebrated the legacy of Stanley W. Green, one of the event’s original organizers, and discussed ways to press forward for peace and justice throughout the church.
Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, has led the Mennonite Church USA mission agency for 20 years and will retire in July. He and other people of color helped organize the first HFF in 2011 in Tampa, Fla.
They sought to create a space where Africans, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans could freely discuss their experiences in the church.
After years of evolving into a larger event that also included white participants, HFF returned Jan 23-26 to its earlier, more intimate purpose. Thirty-eight people attended the time of worship and Bible-based discussions. These discussions were themed “#Bring the Peace: There Is No Peace Without Justice,” rooted in Micah 6:6-8.
Small group learning topics included intersectionality, facilitated by Yvonne Diaz of Iglesia Menonita Hispana; antiracism, by Yvonne Platts of Roots of Justice; and community organizing, by Richard Aguirre of Goshen (Ind.) College. Preachers included Pastor Jerrell Williams of Salem (Ore.) Mennonite Church; Shannon Dycus of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.; and Green. Pastor Isaac Villegas of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship led Bible study.
Unlearning a false faith
Speakers emphasized God’s ideal of peace and justice as a circular relationship: God, people and the land (all of creation) in harmony and equally reflecting God. The group explored the importance of unlearning the version of Christianity that aligned with European empires to colonize other continents, destroying indigenous cultures and dehumanizing people of color.
Also among the speakers was Cheryl Bear of Nadleh Whut’en First Nation. A Canadian singer, songwriter and educator on Christianity and indigenous people, Bear led a learning lab on decolonizing the Bible. She explained how Western colonialists falsely demonized generations of Native American religious practices and concepts. The damage from this demonization persists, harming all people and the land.
Bear, who is Christian, opened the gathering with an ancient prayer from her culture. She also honored Green for his godly spirit.
“Each word you have spoken has been like a seed that has been watered by the Lord,” she said.
Paving the way for others
Attendees celebrated Green with a banquet emceed by fellow HFF co-founder Carlos Romero. He reflected on a first meeting in 1993 when Green became the leader of Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of MMN.
“There were only four people of color at the denominational leadership level,” said Romero, who resigned as executive director of Mennonite Education Agency in 2019. “Stanley became the fifth.”
Romero read tributes from colleagues who described Green as graceful, dignified and a tireless advocate for peace and justice.
MC USA executive director Glen Guyton, the first African- American to hold the denomination’s top leadership position, thanked Green for being among those who paved the way for him.
Fellow HFF co-founder and current lead organizer Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director for operations, thanked Green for his perseverance and persistence.
Visibly moved, Green urged attendees to continue to be agents of healing and grace in ministry.
Attendees expressed concern that as leaders such as Green move on, MC USA will experience a reversal of leadership gains and a “backlash” toward people of color.
During his closing sermon, Green encouraged attendees to be agents of change to “liberate the Jesus” that has been misrepresented by many Christians. He encouraged them to show through their actions that Jesus taught that everyone and all of creation should be valued equally.