Powell: Voices raised in hope

When I began writing this column in 2012, I quoted a Mennonite agency staff member who said we were “M in the fire!” — meaning that Mennonites/Anabaptists were heading into hot places and situations.

John Powell

It has been eight years now, and we are still looking for ways to extinguish the flames of racism and injustice. Yet there is a difference now. We are recognizing God in the midst of the flames, and we are finding ways to join God’s activity among us.

Writing posthumously to a new generation of ­social-justice and racial-justice activists, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon, said, “I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. . . . Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

This is a kairos moment for our communities. A new movement, led by the Spirit, is emerging and providing a glimmer of hope for a reconciled community. It is the manifestation of our Creator’s preferred future. It echoes the prophetic words of Isaiah: “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

Many people are ready to take a leap into the unknown and become instruments of change and reconciliation. In a recent conversation about race, a white acquaintance said he was on a journey and refuses to turn back.

We are witnessing the rejection of the words and actions of those who exert power over disenfranchised communities. People are making their voices known by protesting in the streets and calling for equal and accessible opportunity for everyone.

There’s still a lot of work to do. We Mennonites are still good at keeping a close, homogeneous community. We are reluctant to talk about the impact of our own economic status on equal justice. It’s almost a crime to engage in building true and equitable relationships. Each of us, individually and collectively, wants to make our own lives the yardstick by which God judges humanity. As a result, a just and reconciled community is compromised.

Bill Hull, in his podcast, “The Gospel Americana = An Adulterated Gospel,” asks a pivotal question: “Are we willing to reject a contaminated gospel and follow Jesus, or are we scared to change?”

As people of faith, we have come face-to-face with the enemy — and sometimes that enemy is us. If we have a moral conscience, we can no longer ignore the disunity and inequality around us.

We have a choice: engaging the politics of Jesus or the politics of violence, fear and hatred. Choosing the latter will not only destroy the “enemy” but ourselves as well.

You may ask, “How do I engage in the politics of Jesus?” My answer might sound simple, but here it is: “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It will serve you well every time!

It’s said that a journey begins with a single step. The first is making the decision to become partners with God’s activity toward equity, racial-ethnic and socio-economic healing. Make that step. Let go, and let God help you handle it.

I end this column after eight years with the words of John Lewis: “So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May it be with all of us!

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

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