Carlos Romero is Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency. This piece originally ran in the January issue of The Mennonite magazine, focused on education.
I can’t remember living in a more polarized time than today. No matter how you view the results of the presidential election, its aftermath has underscored those disagreements. Fear and hatred of “the other” and acts of oppression, cruelty and violence that grow from this seem to have become normal.
I wish I could say the people and institutions of the church are immune from these forces. We like to think we are separate, but in fact we are greatly influenced by negativity in our culture.
I have experienced this negativity. It’s happened to me in the past and recently as well.
Last October, I received a call from an alum of Mennonite educational institutions. A hate call. The caller told me I needed to go back to Mexico where I belong (I am from Puerto Rico). I was told that my kind of people are rapists, thieves and criminals. The caller said the Mennonite church is corrupt because it made the mistake of welcoming me and that our educational institutions are corrupt because a person like me serves as executive director of Mennonite Education Agency.
I wish I could say such an engagement is rare. While the outright hostility and forthrightness of the caller is rare to experience, which I am grateful for, at times the spirit behind it is all too alive and active within our church. While it may be couched in more sophisticated and nuanced language, the same spirit of racism and bullying still finds ways to express itself in our church.
I struggled mightily to view the caller as someone created in God’s image. Sometimes it seems we lose the ability to look into the eyes of another and see Jesus, and this was real to me as I thought about that call. I continue to face this, with God’s help. I know that at times we become so consumed by our own sense of self-righteousness that we can’t see the gap between our words and our actions.
What can we do at a time such as this? The Mennonite church and our institutions can no longer be silent. Being “the quiet in the land” is an inadequate response to God’s call today.
Each time we sing these words in worship, from the hymn “How Can We Be Silent?” (Sing the Journey, No. 61), we ask ourselves: How can we be silent when we know our God is near, bringing light to those in darkness, to the worthless, endless worth? We need to share openly the gospel message of love, peace and reconciliation.
And we cannot be effective in spreading this message to the world without it beginning with us. One of the simplest commandments we have been given also is one of the most profound: to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. As church people and church institutions, we need to say clearly and unapologetically that we cannot engage in racism, sexism, abuse and bullying.
I’ve been asked many times, as a person of color, why I remain in the church. My answer always is this: I have hope and faith in God’s call and God’s kingdom.
In times of disagreement, church institutions can be an easy target for criticism. No institution or each person connected with it is perfect; my caller’s action is evidence of that.
But I would argue with great conviction that if there was ever a time the church and our world needed Mennonite education, it is today. Mennonite education is about transformation and inviting all to be full participants in the educational endeavor. Mennonite education is about developing critical thinking skills and learning in a rigorous environment. It’s about understanding that peace is a real way to live our lives and that we are called to be part of community. It’s about knowing the blessing of giving and serving, and remembering that we are all children of God.
How can we be silent when we are the voice of Christ, speaking justice to the nations, breathing love to all the earth?
My brothers and sisters, let’s move forward with the commitment that we will not be silent, with the realization that the work of healing a broken country and world must begin with us.
Let’s open our hearts and minds, willing, as the prophet Isaiah said, to go up to the mountain of the Lord, so that the God of Jacob may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his path.
Let’s work hard to maintain our ability to see God in the eyes of others and the assurance that others will see God in ours, to keep faith and hope. Education is about transformation, and transformation starts with us.
None can stop the Spirit burning now inside us. We will shape the future. We will not be silent. TM
Excerpt from “How Can We Be Silent?” by Michael Mahler Copyright ©2003 by GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
This “Opinions” section of our website provides a forum for the voices within Mennonite Church USA and related Anabaptist-Mennonite voices. The views expressed do not necessarily represent the official positions of The Mennonite, the board for The Mennonite, Inc., or Mennonite Church USA.