This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Pre-existing conditions

Our communities are hurting. Few want to accept responsibility, particularly those who benefit from the conditions that have created the pain. We have learned to play the blame game. Blame the victims. Accuse them of being lazy and irresponsible.

John Powell

Many of us will say we didn’t cause the problems and have little to contrib­ute to solutions. The first part of that statement is correct. The current generation didn’t create the problems. We are experiencing the consequences of past oppression carried into the present. But little to contribute? We have no one but ourselves to look to for solutions.

Health care was the principal concern of many people during the 2018 elections. Politicians wanted to assure voters that their pre-existing conditions would be covered. But there was little recognition that we are suffering from the pre-existing conditions of racism, sexism and classism. These conditions have manifested themselves in poverty, hate, exclusion and violence.

Americans have not known a time when conditions have been good for nonwhite people. They have been plagued by unjust conditions since the beginning of our national identity.

African-Americans experienced slavery, and the scars have lasted for generations. Native Americans experienced death and removal to reservations and continue to be “wards of the state.” Immigrants who came looking for freedom experienced discrimination. Today some are threatened with deportation.

We have overcome injustices in the past. When people worked together to clear the paths of resistance, local and national actions helped pave the way to address the unjust acts.

Somehow, this time seems different. I believe acts of injustice will worsen before they get better. The proliferation of white supremacy is making it harder to deal with the effects of racism and violence. It’s an epidemic spreading deep into the soul of our communities.

Americans’ religious faith has undergirded acts of dehumanization. As the United States expanded, so did the belief that God ordained the “pioneers” to subjugate other races. That belief resonates with many people today. The pre-existing conditions of racism and dehumanization continue to resist a cure.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe our faith undergirds our humanity. Since faith has been used to support racism, we need to turn the tables and use faith to cure the sickness of racism — sometimes called America’s original sin — and our other pre-existing conditions.

To accomplish this, we need to be reconciled to each other. Can we tear down the walls that separate us?

We aim nationally, but our actions need to focus locally. Join with other faith communities to respond together. Join community advocates to combat laws and regulations that discriminate. Choose an issue that has the greatest impact where you are — education, housing, medical care. They are interconnected.

We can’t excuse ourselves and move on from the casualties caused by racist — or sexist or classist — actions. Knowing our history and doing something about its effects today is the only way to heal the wounds of the disenfranchised. If it didn’t matter to us before, it should matter now.

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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