Heard any good prophecy lately? Not the kind that predicts the future. The kind that awakens the moral conscience, rebukes sin and energizes hope.
Mennonite Church USA has received just such a prophecy this year. It is in a letter from participants in Hope for the Future, an annual gathering for leaders of color to address issues of power, privilege and racism. The event drew nearly 70 people to San Antonio in February. They asked each other: “What prophetic word would you have for MC USA?” The letter, released March 20, was their answer.
The writers believe the denomination has reached “a turning point in our history.” The seeds of racial inclusion sown over several decades are bearing fruit. The letter itself is evidence of this progress.
Its first prophetic word is that our faith, at its core, is simple. “Too often we . . . neglect the basics of the gospel,” the writers say. They concede the necessity of theological conversation but observe that complexity must never overshadow the primary importance of being centered in Christ and led by the Holy Spirit.
In its simplicity, the second point heeds the advice of the first: “Love one another as Christ has loved us, despite our differences.” This brings to mind the Sunday school song that lists several skin colors and proclaims “all are precious” in God’s sight. In a time of resurgent white supremacy and suspicion of brown-skinned immigrants, the simple theology of a children’s rhyme reminds us Jesus’ love overcomes racial prejudice.
Fulfilling the prophetic role to expose sin, the letter says the church has failed to recognize each of us is precious to God: “For too long . . . we’ve forced people to deny pieces of who they are for the sake of unity, rendering them invisible.” Respecting each other’s true identity requires knowing we bear the image of God: “We choose instead to see and value the imago dei in all people.”
People of color modeled the letter’s call to love each other despite differences during the April meeting of the MC USA Constituency Leaders Council in Lansdale, Pa. They affirmed loyalty to the denomination even while disagreeing with an Executive Board decision that allows LGBTQ people to serve in leadership roles. They may differ with LGBTQ-affirming members on what it means to be “at the moral center of justice movements,” as the letter urges. But they are steadfast in the letter’s call to “reject the demonic mindset of ‘us versus them.’ ”
Like the biblical prophets, leaders of color are bringing MC USA a word of critique, hope and, ultimately, reconciliation.