Anti-Racism Work at First Mennonite Church
Lamenting the devastating impacts of racism in the United States, claiming ways that our actions can and do perpetuate unjust systems, and seeking to engage our communities in ways that undo a legacy of white supremacy in American society are priorities that flow from FMC’s commitment to following Jesus.
There is widespread congregational involvement in this work. Our preachers preach and Mennonites sing. Church Council and committees are engaged and fruit is born in the lives of individuals.
A group called “FMC Racial Justice Working Group” began in 2017 and meets monthly. We are committed to the long hard work of self-examination, listening, showing up and showing up again, speaking out, and staying strong in the Spirit.
As part of a commitment to unlearning and dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, we recognize and acknowledge that we gather on the lands of the Kickapoo, Piankeshaw, Peoria, and Potawatomi Nations. These Nations endured a forced removal and the lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity.
In July 2020 Church Council committed to the Faith in Place Anti-Racist Pledge, committing to be proactive: to learn from voices of color, prioritize our budget, assess mission allies, analyze cultural norms, and connect faith with activism.
September 2020 FMC will engage in the FMC Initiative & Conversation Around Environmental Justice, by participating in the Faith in Place Green Team Summit
October/November 2020 Book study for adults and high school youth
Council 2020/21 question: “Does FMC’s long-held priority of working for racial justice, held by many individuals, call us to make this an institutional commitment?”
“Anti-Racism Action Plan” by Thom and Martha Moore, June 2020. Prepared for congregational discussion, August 2020.
FMC audit to assess cultural norms, power, and language
“My soul cries out”
Sing the Story, Faith and Life Resources, 2007.
“For everyone born”
Voices Together, Menno Media, 2020. Publication pending.
“How can we be silent”
Sing the Journey, Faith and Life Resources, 2005.
Community Involvement — Desire to listen and stand with local groups. We have long-term ties to the NAACP and to members of the faith community, including partnership with Fifth Sunday churches (Bethel A.M.E., Salem Baptist, Church of the Brethren, St. Luke C.M.E., and New Covenant Fellowship). Action: attending meetings, protests, and community-building events.
Criminal Justice Reform — Action: following state legislation and local efforts concerning the Champaign County Jail and bail bond practices.
Education — Concern for our youth. Action: Encouraged by the recent resolution passed by the Champaign School Board “To Declare Racism is a Public Health Crisis as it Adversely Impacts our Students, Families, Staff, and Community at Large”, stay informed about actions to translate intentions into practices. The Urbana School Board is facing questions of SRO’s and restorative justice and our members regularly attend meetings and communicate with the Board.
Fair Housing — One of our first initiatives, was to work for the repeal of Section 17-4.5 of the Champaign City Code which gives landlords the right to discriminate against former felons in search of housing for five years following their release from prison. In 2019 the City Council reduced that restriction to 2 years, so work remains to be done
Indigenous peoples — A 15th century religious edict known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” created the philosophical, theological, and legal framework that justified Western colonization and continues to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands today. Guided by the work of the Anabaptist Coalition for Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, we consider our own responsibility and ways forward.
Mass Incarceration — Seek to be informed of our country’s history which has led to the reality that one out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, NAACP) Action: Continue to support the work of First Followers and find projects where our interests/capabilities align.
Policing — Concern with current reality for brown and black people in our country, militarized practice, new visions of public safety. Action: monitoring the Urbana City Council and the need for improvement in its Citizens Review Board
Restorative Practices — Bringing an Anabaptist perspective to issues of justice, several members have taken training in restorative practices.
Study — We are committed to knowing the history of white supremacy and black strength and resistance in order to understand the issues of our day. Action: Adult education classes are offered to the congregation and members pursue their own study individually and with other community members.
“We recognize and acknowledge that we gather on the lands of the Kickapoo, Piankeshaw, Peoria, and Potawatomi Nations. These lands were the traditional territory of these Native Nations prior to their forced removal; these lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity.
As a Christian church, First Mennonite has a particular responsibility to acknowledge the peoples of these lands, as well as the histories of dispossession that have allowed for the growth of our institutions. We are also obligated to reflect on and actively address these histories and the role that our religion has played in shaping them. This acknowledgement and the centering of Native peoples is a start in the present as we move forward toward the future.”
This statement was studied by participants in the 2019 adult Christian Education class, Doctrine of Discovery.
Left: One member of the class, Rachel Horst Lehman was commissioned by the Central District Conference of MCUSA to create fiber art (pictured) which, in her words, “communicate[s] a sense of yearning for social justice, for claiming our part in history and actively seeking peace.” This short video describes the project.
We are committed to knowing the history of white supremacy and black strength and resistance in order to understand the issues of our day. Adult education has a strong presence in our congregation. A Resources page contains texts that have been important in our recent journey and suggestions for further reading.
In September and October FMC will engage in the FMC Initiative & Conversation Around Environmental Justice, by participating in the Faith in Place Green Team Summit, holding-follow up virtual FMC conversations and on October 4 hosting, in conjunction with our Fifth Sunday partners, a panel presentation to address priorities identified in previous conversation. Our Fifth Sunday partners include Bethel A.M.E., Salem Baptist, Church of the Brethren, St. Luke C.M.E., and New Covenant Fellowship. Recordings of the Summit are available.
In October 2020, two Zoom classes will be offered for adults and high school youth:
Study: The 1619 Project. The articles in The 1619 Project demonstrate the direct link between slavery, codified racial discrimination that began in the late 1800s, and many current policies. Understanding these connections and the implications for our society is a critical step in understanding and eliminating racism. Facilitator: Randy Nelson
Study: Abolition from Slavery to Policing. With help from the book, The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale, study the landscape of policing in the U.S. and the prophetic work of those who call for an end to unjust systems past and present. Facilitator: Michael Crosby
In June of 2020, Church Council adopted the following question for consideration from the congregation during the coming year: “Does FMC’s long-held priority of working for racial justice, held by many individuals, call us to make this an institutional commitment?” In 2018 and 2019, FMC Council chose to “Work for racial justice within ourselves, our congregation, and our community” as one of three yearlong church-wide priorities.
Congregation members Thom and Martha Moore drafted Anti-Racism Action Plan which was discussed on-line at a congregational meeting in August 2020.
FMC audit — Utilizing the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, focus groups will assess community cultural norms, discuss how power is used and shared at FMC, and analyze shared language used in worship and other public spaces at church.