To the white eye, fires of protest violence might have illuminated only criminal destruction, not 400 years of oppression suffered by nonwhite people in the United States. As a result, some Anabaptists might have lost sight of the broader campaign for racial justice.
To react this way is to weaponize peace — to use the desire for peace as an excuse to disregard legitimate pain, righteous anger and a movement’s goal of equality. Focusing on a lack of immediate peace on the streets while ignoring the systemic violence of racial injustice shirks Christian responsibility to stand with the oppressed (Matt. 25:31-46).
Within Anabaptist circles, weaponized peace can manifest as a velvet hammer, knocking flush stubborn nails that snag and tear at church life. Hushing or shaming victims of abuse who dare to speak out is a prime example.
An invisible system of racial oppression is being uncovered, one cellphone video at a time. This isn’t simply a time to confront police brutality. It is a time to speak up about things easier for white people to leave unaddressed.
This might mean talking back when a coworker makes a joke around white people they would not make in a multiracial setting. It could mean an awkward conversation about racial privilege with a close relative.
For several high-profile white professional athletes, it meant stating clearly and conclusively that kneeling during the national anthem is not about disrespecting the flag, the troops or freedom, but respecting fellow human beings and protesting their suffering.
Confronting a family member, friend or yourself is uncomfortable. But that fear or stress pales in comparison to the reality lived by so many nonwhite people today. The soft and smooth way is to be silent, but Jesus wasn’t silent, so we shouldn’t be either.
It’s easy for members of a dominant group to be quiet, humble, hard-working folk and go with the flow, especially in racially homogenous rural and semi-rural Anabaptists enclaves. We are separate. We are exceptional. Racists are other people. Hope of getting back to “normal” is code for returning to a way of life that is superficially placid but beneath the surface rife with systemic oppression.
The statistics are eye-opening, but the implementation is subtle. A 2003 National Bureau of Economic Research study found job applicants with “white” names are called back 50 percent more than those with “black” names, despite resumes being identical. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reported in 2014 black students are three times more likely to be suspended from school than white students, despite similar infractions. A 2017 U.S. Sentencing Commission report found black people are 20 percent more likely to be sentenced to jail than white people, and receive 20 percent longer sentences, despite being convicted of similar crimes.
Christians who desire God’s righteousness to rain down must not be content to proclaim “blessed are the peacemakers” and go about their day as usual. Fixating on peace separatism sidesteps injustice and leads to complacency rather than change.