The Christian and Race Relations (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1959)
The Christian and Race Relations (GCMC, 1959)
Fear and hate, pride and suspicion, and strife and violence have from time immemorial set man against man, one racial group against another, nation against nation, and Christian brother against Christian brother. Within our own nation closed schools, riotous mobs, restricted housing, and segregated churches give unmistakable evidence that sinister feelings are tearing us asunder, leaving in their wake all the tragic consequences of discrimination against racial and minority groups (Mexicans, Negroes, Jews, American Indians, Oriental peoples, and others).
Christian people cannot remain silent under conditions like these. Our failure to exercise Christian love at home has weakened our mission outreach. How shall we extricate ourselves from the tangle of such unhappy social relations? How shall we seek a society where people of all races and nations enjoy equal privileges and responsibilities?
It is clear that before God all mankind is one. He created man in His own image. "God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35). "And (He) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26).
God does not make distinctions on the basis of physical features. He does not look on "the outward appearance" but looks "on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
Before God all men without exception are sinners (Romans 3:23) and all stand in need of God's redeeming grace. There is therefore no room for condescending pride or scorn of any person or group. Racial prejudice is sin.
In Christ all barriers of race and nation are shattered for time and eternity because He calls men through the experiences of forgiveness and of commitment to a new unity, in His body, the church. Here the gathered of all nations are united in love under the one Head, Jesus Christ. To this church He has entrusted the ministry of reconciliation, man with God, and man with man.
The early Christian community understood that within the church there can be no significant difference of race or nationality. Even the deep-rooted barrier between Jew and Gentile was overcome by the power of the gospel. To the astonishment of many, the Holy Spirit came upon all who repented. By the power of the Spirit the early church broke the barriers of class, race, and nation.
We confess that we as a Conference fellowship have sinned and are guilty of the spirit of exclusiveness.
Is it not somewhat disturbing that our Conference body assembled here is almost exclusively a white group?
Have we wrapped around ourselves a robe of self-righteousness, afraid lest a free Christian brotherhood of love dilute our Mennonite customs and culture?
Have we in our church-sponsored institutions--schools, hospitals, homes for the aged--accepted people because they were human beings in need of our love and we in need of theirs? Or have we inwardly and outwardly discriminated against them because of race or nationality?
How concerned have we been about hateful, discriminatory practices against minority groups in our communities? Is it not ironical that the law courts of our land should manifest a more sensitive conscience on such discriminatory practices and surpass the church in proclaiming a just view of race?
By the grace of God we as individuals and congregations will strive sincerely and prayerfully to love every person as we are loved by Christ. Each person is infinitely precious in the sight of God and as God's child he must be as precious to us. Always mindful of this, we will reach out in service to our fellow men, irrespective of race, language, or color of skin.
We will conscientiously strive to free ourselves from pride, condescension, and scorn toward any group whether it be racial, national, economic, or religious.
We are strengthened in these concerns by a firm conviction that the historic Christian peace witness is now demanded. Peacemakers are surely needed in the midst of the present deadly racial warring of man against man. We will therefore surrender ourselves completely to the love of God that we may become channels of His reconciling purpose to build a brotherhood of love in Christ Jesus--a brotherhood which is open to all men.
We call on our member congregations and our Conference institutions to examine themselves and to purge themselves from prejudiced attitudes and practices toward racial and other minority groups. We further ask them to oppose such prejudice wherever it appears in their local congregations, institutions, and communities. To give reality to this confession and commitment we request:
1. Each congregation of our Conference prayerfully to consider adoption of the following: As a congregation under the Lordship of Christ and by the grace of God we declare that "In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts. 10:35). Such a person of whatever color or national origin is therefore welcome to us as brother and member, co-worker and leader.
2. Each Conference-related institution prayerfully to consider adoption of the following: As an institution under the Lordship of Christ and by the grace of God we declare that we will in our personnel and admission policies and in our programs of service give consideration to all persons without regard to color or national origin.
Context of the Statement
The late 1950s saw increased awareness of racial prejudice and discrimination in the United States. The Board of Christian Service brought this statement to the General Conference Mennonite Church convention meeting at Bluffton, Ohio in 1959.
The resolution was debated at length and a number of editorial changes were made. The final version was approved unanimously. It was later made available to local congregations in leaflet form.
The General Conference Mennonite Church minutes, 1959 (Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1959): 8, 10, 23-24.
"The Christian and Race Relations," The Mennonite 74 (September 1, 1959): 540.