Category: Ethics and Social Justice

Before You Punch a Nazi: A New Anabaptist Response to White Supremacy

There isn’t much to be surprised by in Charlottesville. There’s much to grieve, but none of it should be a surprise. All the elements of Saturday’s events have been in headlines for months, or years, and they are quintessential to this time: cars swerving into crowds; statues of Confederate warriors being removed; white nationalist rallies; … Continue reading Before You Punch a Nazi: A New Anabaptist Response to White Supremacy

#Charlottesville

What else is there to say? Have we not convinced you?Were you surprised at the images and videos this weekend?Did you think we were exaggerating when we said the nation's demons were being released?"I can't believe this is happening"Aren't you persuade...

Melding of Heritages: A Swiss/Latino Hybrid

With few exceptions, everyone wants to know where they come from, i.e., their heritage. This is especially true of those of us who are children of immigrants in the United States. During this past year in Switzerland, I have been steeped in discovering my own ancestral roots. From the Alpine foothills near Schwartzenburg and the Gürbetal Valley near Wattenwil, the Wengers, the Hersheys and the Horsts were pushed into the deep crevices of the Emmental Valley. Constantly pursued by Bernese Authorities, they moved on to the Palatinate in Germany, and finally settled in the USA after years of uncertainty. The Clemmers (Clymer, Kleiner, Klymer) came from the region of Zürich.
The Hohgant Ridge near where the Emme River begins.
I travelled the Emmental (Emme River Valley) both literally and in my readings from the beginnings of the Emme River near Kemmeriboden-Bad under the majestic Hohgant Ridge, to Burgdorf with its majestic fortress on a hill overlooking the Emme River. The whole area at one time was riddled with Anabaptists. Our travels included the castle in Trachselwald were my forbearers were held in prison, and the Anabaptist Hideout where the Frankhauser family concealed Anabaptists in a hidden chamber in their barn while Bernese “Anabaptist hunters” pursued them. 
I discovered that one part of my family had been Anabaptist since 1591, making me a tenth generation Anabaptist. That same family came to the USA in 1731, and eight generations of that family still live in the original house in Lancaster County. My Clemmer relative supposedly arrived in the USA in 1730 in the same wave of Anabaptist immigrants, making me an eighth generation Anabaptist in the USA. 
All of this family history has made me feel rooted, understanding where I’ve come from, and some of the idiosyncrasies of my cultural make up. There are times here in Switzerland when I meet someone, walk a certain road, or hear a piece of music that makes me feel an uncannily nostalgic bred-in-the-bone affinity to Switzerland. 
In the middle of this journey to find my roots, I received a message from the director of the Latino Student Alliance at Eastern Mennonite University. They wanted to invite me to be the keynote speaker for the kickoff of their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. I was delighted to accept, while protesting that I am not Latino. “You are an honorary Latino,” was the response from the planning committee. 
Lago Atitlán in Guatemala
Indeed, I have lived, worked, studied and related to Latinos more than eight years in the countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. I taught Spanish full- and part-time for over 30 years at two institutions in the USA. I served on Mennonite Central Committee’s East Coast board of directors for six years. During that stint with MCC, I caucused with the Latino representatives, sometimes translating, often serving as a liaison. We shared our stories with each other, laughed and worked together for a cause that transcended our heritages. They fully accepted me into their circle as one of them. 
To say that I was not affected or influenced by my exposure to the Latino cultural heritage is to ignore reality. Once while attending a party of mostly Latinos, a non-Spanish speaking participant friend of mine remarked after the party: “You seem to have a different personality when you speak Spanish.” This was a totally new and intriguing thought to me. 
Do I have two distinct personalities that weave in and out of the cultural situations in which I find myself? One Latino and one Swiss-American? If this is so, am I schizophrenic? 
I would rather believe that I have learned to meld the two heritages together into a hybrid personality that functions in whatever particular culture I am in. This melding does not make me two-faced, or a doppelganger, but rather an example of what has potential to be an emerging culture in the USA. 
As evidenced by many posts on the recent MCUSA Convention in Orlando, there are still numerous cultural divides that separate rather than meld together. An example of this comes from a Latina friend of mine who is the most acculturated Latina Mennonite I know. She wrote on Facebook while on her way to the Convention: “The white people in this shuttle have identified each other as Mennonite, and have left me out of this conversation. So therefore, I think they think I'm here on some other business.” The Swiss, German, Dutch, Russian-American heritage white card left my Latina friend excluded. I have heard many similar stories. 
Our church has much to learn about the melding of heritages, and our racially divided country even more. My hope is that my church can become an example, a witness, to the power of the Gospel to meld cultural heritages. Even though Paul was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) he became the apostle to the Gentiles, crossing and melding cultural heritages “becom[ing] all things to all people in order to save some” (1. Cor. 9:22). There has been some progress, but we have a long way to go. 
The Latino Student Alliance accepted me as an “honorary Latino.” I felt that the Latino Caucus at MCC did the same. How soon will we be ready to invite non-European heritage people into our midst as not just “honorary Mennonite/Christians,” but fully accepted as equals?

Implicit Bias vs Explicit Bias

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Deciderata Explains Implicit Bias
For most of U.S. history, racism has been overtly on display and at a conscious level. Signs designated separate seating. Slurs were common designators. Racially-targeted violence went unchallenged. Laws unabashedly identified people of color as less than human. After the Civil Rights Movement, the explicit bias of previous eras largely gave way to the more subtle, but still pernicious, era of 'colorblind racism'. With its being no longer socially acceptable to display blatant bigotry, racism had to evolve, surviving and thriving amidst a strategy of ignoring race all together. It was this colorblind era that gave us mass incarcerationstop-and-friskthe school-to-prison pipelinechildren at our borderdetention centers, and racist mascots. These systems emerged and expanded largely due to implicit bias.  Implicit biases are the "judgments and/or behaviors that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control." We all have them, and they develop out of our brain's beneficial ability to identify patterns. But it goes awry when we inappropriately affix significance to social identities resulting in adverse outcomes for others.
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It affects us all
Racial implicit bias manifests itself in everything from assumptions about sports prowess, to who we hire/fire, to who we are afraid of as we walk down the street. To combat our implicit biases, we must first become aware of their existence (try an IAT test!), so that we can consciously combat their effects on our thought processes and actions. Implicit bias can’t be fixed with colorblindness, in fact colorblindness makes it worse. While overt racism never really went away, over the years implicit bias was allowed to take root and fester, unexamined and unchecked. The result has been decades of accumulated disparity, often perpetuated by unwitting 'basically good' people. Resumes were overlooked, mortgages and leases were declined, school applications were denied--indeed innocent people were shot. All because largely well-meaning people, acted on their implicit biases, often without even realizing they are contributing to systemic racism in our society. Image result for moving sidewalk racismWe each have the opportunity to confront our own biases and begin to combat their effects on our lives adn the lives around us. Dr. Beverly Tatum describes racism as a moving sidewalk in society--even if we are standing still we are still moving with the system and allowing racism to persist. Changing the situation requires actively turning around, indeed repenting, and walking against the way things are currently set up. Let us each identify and walk against the many moving sidewalks on which we find ourselves. Most recently, explicit bias has made comeback. We've observed a resurgence in overt fear and hate in ways we largely haven't seen since the Civil Rights Movement. If we’re not careful, this dynamic will lower the bar for racial progress, and allow well-meaning individuals to rest in the comfort of knowing that at least we’re not like those ‘bad apples.’ But let us not be lured into thinking explicit racism is its only form. Instead, we must continue to uncover and counteract our own implicit biases, understanding the profound role they play in perpetuating systemic injustice around us.

A Positive Reading of the Old Testament

[This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation, the fourth in a series on salvation and human flourishing. Here’s a link to the third in the series, “Positive Theology”] Ted Grimsrud—July 9, 2017 [Gen 12:1-3; Lev 19:2-18; Hos 11:1-9] I have this little joke. On the Sundays I preach I make sure to … Continue reading A Positive Reading of the Old Testament

When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell

There’s a fascinating episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History that looks at the issue of truth and how we tell it. In the episode, Gladwell explores the history behind a statue in a park in Birmingham, Alabama that has come to be among the most iconic images of the civil rights movement.  […]
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