This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Passing the torch to a new set of midwives

After the election of President Obama in 2008, civil rights leader and Mennonite theologian Vincent Harding used the image of midwifery to describe an emerging America.

John Powell

A midwife encourages the mother and child through the pain and ecstasy of childbirth. While helping the mother bear the pain, she talks to the child. She tells the child that he or she can, and must, make it through. Harding suggested we are midwives of a new America.

“Perhaps,” he said, “we are the ones who will walk through the great dangers into the marvelous opportunities for helping our nation begin in a new way to realize its best possibilities — to be born again.”

Many people embraced the newness of the idea and assumed their role as midwives for a new society. Doors were opened for an inclusive community to emerge. But opportunities began to quickly dissipate.

Our communities are embracing exclusion, isolation and violence. The center of justice is reeling from the dismantling of many things that created an environment for a new America. Rather than encouraging a rebirth of hope that has evaded many, we are observing abortion of justice.

What has happened to the vision of new birth? Have we lost our moral compass? Has morality gone silent? Are we squandering the opportunity to be beacons of hope for the world? We can’t follow the existing compass because it leads to destruction.

Repairers of the Breach founder William J. Barber II wrote Dec. 15 at that we are witnessing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction. The First and Second Reconstructions occurred after the Civil War and during the civil rights era. He advocates for a moral movement that will revive the hearts of American democracy. He is encouraging the mid­wifing of a renewed society.

Who and where are the moral midwives who will bring about this new birth?

There are many, particularly young adults, who aren’t ready to follow the current trajectory. They believe the current state of affairs cannot continue. They are from many cultures, racial groups and socio-economic classes. They see the error of isolationism and injustice. They mourn the senseless violence and poverty of soul and spirit among us.

A recent conversation at Goshen (Ind.) College among justice movement leaders in the Mennonite Church during the late 1960s and young leaders of today provided a glimmer of hope. The young leaders conversed with their elders about what it means to be a midwife for justice. As they experience pushback and negative responses for their advocacy, they desire support. They demonstrated a readiness to make rebirth happen.

There are many others emerging in our communities who know we have come too far to turn back. They are midwives for an inclusive justice, waiting to take their place in the resistance.

As I begin my second retirement, my days seems to be fairly empty of agenda.

But no! It’s not empty! We who are retiring have wisdom to help the emerging corps of justice midwives be skillful in tending the painful birth of a renewed society. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, has said, “This is much more than partisan politics. This is a moral moment of integrity, a test of conscience for the nation.”

Our young justice midwives need you. Are you an equipper?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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