CORVALLIS, Ore. — Joining other Christian denominations that support the antiracism goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mennonite Mission Network will give $10,000 to partner with The Voices Project to offer nonviolent action training and organizing strategies.
The Voices Project, an Oregon-based organization led by Leroy Barber and his wife, Donna, trains black leaders who work in predominantly white evangelical organizations. Through the “Breaking Our Silence” fund, MMN 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, offer support and learn how they can be helpful. The agency will produce 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 Mennonite Fellowship, which invited Barber to speak.
MMN marketing and communication director Peter Graber told the congregation MMN’s leaders responded enthusiastically to Barber’s invitation.
“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,” he said. “We feel called to break our silence, both personally and as an organization.”
After the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, Barber visited Ferguson several times to support peaceful protests and work with local leaders. He told the Corvallis congregation that Christians have a responsibility to seek justice for the oppressed.
“Whether you understand what Black Lives Matter means fully or not, whether you think it’s political or not, whether you want to read every detail about each case before you make a decision or not — if you call yourself a Christian, it is our duty to suffer with our brothers and sisters,” Barber said.
Repent or compromise?
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, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the American Baptist Churches — have offered support and affirmed the movement’s goals to combat systemic racism and police brutality against black people.
MMN executive director Stanley W. Green said the church is facing a crisis of credibility due to the gap between the biblical vision of a new humanity reconciled through Jesus Christ and the realties people experience inside churches.
“Will we allow ourselves to repent of our racist accommodations, which are antithetical to God’s vision, or will we continue the silent compromise that continues to bedevil the church’s credibility?” he asked.
Barber served on the board of MMN’s DOOR program for youth leadership training in Atlanta. He has worked closely with Mennonites, including MMN director of Christian service Del Hershberger.
At the time this article was written, the Corvallis congregation had already gathered more than $7,500 for the “Breaking Our Silence” fund.