Unpacking Racism

Here I offer a brief overview of what I believe are some of the basics that can assist white folks, me being one of them, in coming to a fuller understanding of racism and how it has infected the church and society.  While none of us will ever arrive at a full understanding of this important and urgent matter, there are experiences, relationships, books, movies, seminars, classes, and other things from which I have learned over time.

Listen.  This is the first step.  We may have something to offer to the conversation, but consider that as white people we do not understand what it is like to experience widespread discrimination based on the color of our skin that significantly affects our lives in negative ways.  Our society has been shaped by race, and the form it has taken privileges those who fit the category of “white.”  This is why we often here the term, “white privilege,” mentioned in discussions of race and racism.  This term does not mean that every white person has suffered less or had an easier life than every person of color.  It means that being considered “white” affords people certain privileges or rights that they would not otherwise possess.

Race is a social construct.  A social construct “concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on” something or someone by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with that something or someone.  These ideas are “created, institutionalized, and made into tradition by humans” for various reasons.[i]

In the United States, and elsewhere, the concept of race was created to justify and institutionalize the dehumanization and subjugation of people who were not of European descent with light-colored skin.  Think about it.  Nobody’s skin is truly white or black – just various shades of pink, peach, tan, and brown.  Racial categories were made up by light-skinned Europeans in order to obtain free labor, land, and wealth.

Despite race being a created concept rooted in falsehood, the consequences of its creation are widespread.  This is why it cannot be ignored.  Racial categories and their implications are embedded in the roots of our country’s institutions, shaping everything from our economy to our justice system down to our neighborhoods and churches.  Racism is still alive and well in all of these, which is why our society is often labeled, “white supremacist.”  Groups like the KKK come to mind when we hear this term, but more broadly it means that the people, practices, and traditions considered to be “white” are the norm and viewed as superior – or supreme.

On a more personal and individual level, in discussions of racism, people will often say that they are color-blind, usually meaning that they do not judge people by the color of their skin.  But the truth is that color-blindness is a myth.  Even if we strive to love everyone equally, regardless of their skin color, we all see the color of peoples’ skin and attach meaning to it, whether we want to or not.  This truth is a result of implicit bias, which is “the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group.”[ii]

I have been in a serious relationship with a black woman, graduated from a three-year seminary as the only white person in my cohort, and had many black friends while in the military who were like older brothers to me, yet there are times when I still find myself making negative judgments about people based upon their skin color.  It is often very subtle, but it is there.  We must become more aware of our thoughts, inner life, and bodily reactions when crossing paths with and relating to people of color.  We do not want to push these thoughts and sensations away, but allow ourselves to experience them and process them in constructive ways.

Finally, be aware that intentions are not the final word when it comes to what is considered racist.  Perceptions matter just as much, and often more, as to whether or not something is racist.  Educate yourself.  Read and listen to people of color talk about race and their experiences.  Solidarity is the key.  Finding ways to be in solidarity with people of color is how we will find a way forward.  Be open and willing to be led by these communities, and discover how your gifts can be a contribution to resisting and overcoming racism in our churches, neighborhoods and beyond.





Ben Walter grew up in Selinsgrove, PA. After high school he joined the Army infantry for three years and was stationed in Washington and Korea. He received a M.Div. from Biblical Theological Seminary in 2011. His interests include theology, social justice, and politics. Ben served as a volunteer youth worker at Selinsgrove Church of the Nazarene for 8yrs before becoming one of the pastors at Ripple in Allentown, PA in 2011.





[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_stereotype

Webinar–Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus


This month, The Gathering Place hosted Drew G. I. Hart, author of the book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. Drew presents a thicker understanding of racism for the Church to consider in this webinar, “Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus.”

Here are some additional resources to supplement learning on this topic:

  • Host a book club and read/discuss, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart
  • Consider taking your youth (or intergenerational) on a learning trip. Todd Allen runs the Civil Rights Bus tour, “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Tour”.  He has a FB page rather than a formal website where information is disseminated regarding information on his 2017 summer options.
  • A priority named in Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan is “Undoing Racism.”  This page highlights some resources available for congregations/individuals to use regarding this initiative. A video on undoing the Doctrine of Discovery can be found here.
  • Older resources are also available about race analysis (white privilege, etc.) – MennoMedia, “Beyond the News:  Racism” – http://www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/50/13989 and MCC’s “Free Indeed” – http://www.commonword.ca/ResourceView/18/7968.
  • Teaching Tolerance, offers a variety of free film kits and education resources.
  • Gather and watch “Hidden Figures” film in your local movie theatre and hold a post-movie discussion.

Intercultural Development Inventory administrators equipped to serve

Are you ready to take the next step of self-awareness and leadership? Consider exploring an Intercultural Development Inventory, now available to you (and your congregation) across Mennonite Church USA. Learn more below.

IDI now available throughout the church

By Jenny Castro

Intercultural Development Inventory-qualified administrators met Aug. 9–11 in Kansas City, Missouri (l. to r.): (front) Elaine Enns, Karin Kaufman Wall, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Chantelle Todman Moore, Michelle Armster; (second row) Sue Park-Hur, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Jan Ellen Reid, Ruth Yoder Wenger; (third row) Susannah Lepley, Darin Short, Linda Herr; (fourth row) Glen Alexander Guyton, Shana Boshart. (Not pictured: Carlos Romero, Rachel Stoltzfus) (Photo provided)
Intercultural Development Inventory-qualified administrators met Aug. 9–11 in Kansas City, Missouri (l. to r.): (front) Elaine Enns, Karin Kaufman Wall, Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, Chantelle Todman Moore, Michelle Armster; (second row) Sue Park-Hur, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Jan Ellen Reid, Ruth Yoder Wenger; (third row) Susannah Lepley, Darin Short, Linda Herr; (fourth row) Glen Alexander Guyton, Shana Boshart. (Not pictured: Carlos Romero, Rachel Stoltzfus) (Photo provided)

(Mennonite Church USA) — Sixteen qualified administrators of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) from across Mennonite Church USA gathered for the first time Aug. 9–11 in Kansas City, Missouri.

According to Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, the IDI is an assessment tool that measures the intercultural competence of individuals, groups and organizations. Intercultural competence is the ability to engage effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures. An IDI-qualified administrator, de León-Hartshorn has been using the IDI with area conferences and Mennonite Church USA institutions since 2012.

“The learnings of intercultural competency show that until people are able to see differences and commonalities among them, it is very hard for them to recognize power and privilege,” she says. “Developing intercultural competency helps people move to a place where they can better see and understand racism within their context.”

Throughout the last year, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board staff provided 10 scholarships for people across the church to be trained to administer the IDI.

“We intentionally awarded scholarships to people in different regions,” de León-Hartshorn said, “so that churches, area conferences and other organizations would have access to qualified administrators closer to them.”

De León-Hartshorn says that IDI administrators participate in a course that explores the various levels (theory and practice) of intercultural competency. Qualified administrators are not only certified to administer the IDI, but also to provide feedback to individuals and organizations working to improve their intercultural competence.

“The IDI can empower our congregations, area conferences and institutions,” she says. “What are the things we have in common and the things that are different among us? We have to find ways to navigate our differences and still be church together. If we want to show the world a different way of being — working with our differences — the IDI can give us the skills to be able to do that.”

The meeting, which included IDI administrators from Mennonite Central Committee and Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, as well as independent consultants, provided Mennonite IDI administrators the opportunity to connect with one another and resource each other. De León-Hartshorn plans to hold annual gatherings for the IDI administrators over the next two to three years — and eventually biennially — for networking and equipping.

“We gained tangible resources — a PowerPoint template, intercultural games and activities and more — that we can use right away and tailor specifically to Mennonite Church USA congregations and agencies we serve,” says Sue Park-Hur of Pasadena, California, an IDI-qualified administrator who participated in the KC event. “We also got to know each other and built trust, recognizing that we are not working alone but as part of a great team.”

IDI trainings are available to all Mennonite Church USA conferences; the following conferences have IDI-qualified administrators within their region: Atlantic Coast Conference, Central District Conference, Central Plains Mennonite Conference, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Mountain States Mennonite Conference, Pacific Northwest Conference, Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, Virginia Mennonite Conference and Western District Conference.

A complete listing of IDI-qualified administrators as well as a fee schedule will be available on the Mennonite Church USA website in mid-September; see http://mennoniteusa.org/what-we-do/undoing-racism/intercultural-development-inventory/.


The Truth of Ubuntu

One of my favorite things about being Mennonite is that we are people of the Gospel.  We are people who believe in Christ, trust in the Word of Christ and seek the ways of Christ in our lives.  The Christ we find in the Gospels is one who is present and compassionate, he offers healing and grace.  As Christians, we celebrate and speak of the love and grace of Christ in our own lives.  Yet the hardest and deepest task as Christian is to not just speak and teach the Gospel, but to be as Jesus was in the world.

How do we not just proclaim, but convey the beauty of Christ in our world today?

For the blind men, the woman with issue of blood, the 5,000 plus – Jesus was first present to them.  Removing the distance between them and the grace he brought, Jesus came to them.  Undoing the stigma of their cultural identity, he accepted the sacrifices it required to listen to their needs.  When I think of how our Church relates to people of color, I am grieved by how much physical and emotional distance we maintain.

Our ability to preach and teach the Gospel endures while we resist the call to be present with compassion and grace as Christ did.  Where are we standing?

Are we standing in our churches talking about the love of Christ to each other?


Are we standing in our courtyards and prisons and hospitals being the love of Christ for each other?

Any analysis of our current events will reveal how much distance there is between demographic groups.  We do not stand in the same places when we speak about the death of Mike Brown, our presidential hope, or the Doctrine of Discovery.  We have not done the uncomfortable yet just work of being present physically and emotionally to others unlike ourselves.  The Gospels reveal a Christ who stands with those who are not seen or heard, under-supported, and oppressed. 

Where are we standing? 

Where are we choosing to depart from our prevailing comfort bringing presence, compassion and healing to those outside of ourselves?  The great commission bids us to Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… (Mat 28:19 NRSV).  Discipling and baptizing are secondary to the appeal Christ first makes to “Go.”  As Christ did, we are invited into the sacrifice and solidarity of standing with each other.  Imagine what you might see or hear in the stories of others.  Think of how you might be changed by seeing from their location. 

The South African philosophy of Ubuntu reminds us: I am because you are.  I exist because you exist.  Whatever I do to enhance your humanity, I enhance my own.

May this be so. 

Shannon Dycus lives in Indianapolis, IN with her husband, Gregory and two sons – ages 4 and 6.  She is Co-Pastor at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. The realities of race, power and justice are ongoing conversations as a pastor of color and a predominantly white congregation.  The conversations almost always include food and grace 🙂

Relationship is where it starts

Over twenty years ago First Mennonite Church of Reedley, an historically predominantly Anglo General Conference Mennonite Church, started a little Spanish language Bible study for folks in the community.

Reedley is a rural town, its population around 25,000 today.  Agriculture is key to the local economy.  Reedley is surrounded by stone fruit tree orchards.  From late Spring to early Fall we relish the taste of peaches, nectarines, plums and more.  In the winter our citrus trees are lovely as oranges ripen midst the deep, green leaves.

Our community has proved attractive to folks looking for work in the fields who trace their roots back to Mexico or countries in Central America.  It’s not unusual to hear stories of people who began their careers working in the fields, and now their descendants are graduating from universities.

The aforementioned Bible study soon became a worshiping body.  Our congregation had determined that someday this worshiping body, known as Iglesia Vida Nueva, would become an independent Mennonite church.  However, around 1996 we decided that the God appointed thing to do was not spin off the Spanish language worship service, but rather embrace it as part of the whole.  We decided altogether to become one united church instead of two separate churches.  Since that time we’ve had two worship services most every Sunday.  We call them our “early” service and our “late” service.  The first one is in English, the second service is in Spanish with most everything translated into English.

Our church’s story over these past twenty years includes many chapters, some prettier than others.  We’ve had our share of mistrust and miscommunication.  Early service folks, mostly Anglo, struggle with issues of power.

One place where our church has seemed most “united” is the youth group.  For all these years junior high and high school youth from all corners of our congregation have joined together on Wednesday evenings.  We’ve gone to Mennonite Youth Conventions, done a few service projects, held fundraisers, and conducted regular Bible study nights, service nights, “group” nights and social nights.

Each individual in our youth group has a different story.  If we were to unearth them we would quickly be swimming in the deep waters of difference.  We go there for a time but mostly our youth group is focused on the present and the things that hold us together in the now.

The public schools everyone attends provides important adhesive materials.  The homework assignment in an English class, the difficulty of yesterday’s biology test, the travails of the football team, the challenges of playing water polo, the new uniforms the marching band wears…this is fodder for easy conversation and basic shared understanding.

We’ve sort of lived with a casual assumed belief that we go to school together, we are all Californians, we are all part of this one Mennonite Church, so let’s leave it at that.  Tacitly we are living into, one day at a time, some wistful dream of a unity that transcends ethnicity and culture.

We have not specifically endeavored to deliberately unpack in our youth group unspoken power dynamics, white privilege, or how to foster a deep-rooted anti-racist spirit in our youth group. We’ve just plain ‘ol sat in a circle every Wednesday, piling up one little experience after another, learning to know each other bit by bit.  We might get there, but for now, we are focusing on building trust and building relationships with one another.  Because you don’t have anything if you can’t start there.

To our credit or discredit, that’s how we roll.




Steve Penner is a native Californian and pastor at First Mennonite of Reedly since 1999. He graduated from (now) Fresno Pacific and later attended AMBS, and then graduated from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary with an M.Div.  Steve served with MCC internationally and domestically for almost 21 years. Married to Glena, they have three married sons and two grand-children.  When not at church, you might find Steve running as he has run 15 marathons (including Boston!) and likes to golf.  He’s also self-published two books….Tea in the Desert (a memoir about a few of my Africa years) and A Simple Meal (a small book of poetry),  on the Mennonite Mission Network board and is a commissioner on the Reedley Parks and Recreation board.

So many stories

Before I knew the pain of prejudice, the tears of trouble, and the injury of injustices, I knew people.

They came to my home in the form of troubled teens. Some came from broken homes, others came who were pregnant, and still others were looking for a love and someone to care.

They came in the form of immigrants and refugees fleeing violence and war from Mexico and Central America.  Others came escaping poverty.  Still others came who were afraid of being killed in their countries for standing up to their governments.

They came in the form of Mennonite Voluntary Service workers coming to help build a church after people no longer fit in the small Spanish Mennonite house church my parents pastored in South Texas.  Others came in the form of Mennonite Central Committee staff person who brought films, literature, and stories of people around the world who needed relief.  Still others came to sing in our church, to preach, and to lead our youth group.

They came in the form of aunts, uncles, and relatives passing by on their way to Brownsville 2 hours to the south of us to visit our grandma and grandpa.  The sharing of family stories and their struggles from the times they were migrant workers following seasonal crops and laughter at memories of riding in the back of pickup trucks often resounded into the late hours of the night.

All of the stories of the people I came to know provided a backdrop for the troubles I would soon face myself.

Trouble came quickly in the form of middle school for me.  I was so excited to be going to the 6th grade, but on the 3rd day in a Science class, someone asked me where I lived.  I didn’t think much of it and said, “I live on Dakota Street.”  The Hispanic girl who had asked me gasped and proceeded to tell me in a demeaning tone that my street was in Casablanca, a neighborhood where the projects and drug dealers lived, I instantly felt humiliated.  For the life of me, I didn’t realize that the new houses that had recently gone up in our area were a form of low-income housing called the projects.  I also didn’t have a clue as to what a drug dealer looked like, thus felt I couldn’t defend myself in front of everyone.  I didn’t know that the railroad tracks I crossed everyday were a socio-economic dividing line between the north and south sides of town.  The pain of prejudice became left a mark on my soul that day.

When I was in the 8th grade, my best friend, a Mexican American like me, was beaten half to death by her father when he found out she liked an African American boy in our grade, I was shocked.  After her 7-day absence, long sleeved shirt and refusal to dress out for athletics class, I begged her to tell me what had happened. When she showed me the bruises on her arms and back, I cried.  I cried tears of sorrow for her, I cried tears of sorrow for me, and I cried tears of sorrow for us all.  The tears of trouble flooded my heart as I cried out to the Lord from that day forward.

When our high school band director was called out one day from band class, I got scared.  Someone had immediately turned off the lights as he left, and all I heard was the tumbling of cymbals and drums being knocked over.  When it was all said and done, the lights were turned back on, and there stood one of the few white Caucasian students, red-faced and disheveled.  One of the Hispanic drummer boys was picking up drums and cymbals when the band director came back into the band hall, but neither said a thing.  In the dark, no one knew that the popular Hispanic drummer had pummeled the white Caucasian French horn player in a matter of minutes.  The injury of injustice left me dumbfounded while others laughed.  I sat knowing in my heat that the bully was wrong, but I hadn’t had the courage to do anything about it then.

Through my formative years, knowing people helped prepare me for the prejudices, troubles, and injustices I would later face in life.  I have journeyed a ways since my youth, and have discovered that knowing and loving God’s people matters.  I carry every story inside.  I carry my own stories, too.  I pass them on to the next generation for them to tell and learn in their own contexts.  The pain, the tears, and the injuries that they will overcome give me a sense of hope for the future.

Because this is the truth that we cling to…

Jesus said in John 16:33, “I’ve seen your pain, I’ve seen your tears, and I’ve seen your injuries.  Take hold of me, I have been there, too.  I will see you through because I have overcome the world.”




Alma Ovalle is a wife and mother of 3 teenagers who has served as a youth worker for the last 25 years in Youth Ministry in the Spanish Mennonite Church and as a Middle and High School Teacher at Sarasota Christian School.  She loves spending time with her kids, nature photography, and gardening.

Race(ism) and the Church

This month on The Gathering Place, we will be diving headfirst into conversations that might feel a bit uncomfortable–Race(ism) and the Church.  But as the Body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, we acknowledge that the intersection of life and faith is sometimes messy. Just because it feels messy doesn’t give us license to ignore exploring the reality of what actually is.

Messy stories are all around us. The 2016 election enabled white-supremacists to feel empowered, with racial divisiveness and tension on the rise. So what is the response of the Church these days? How are we speaking out words of Truth and Love, welcoming all as neighbors and as brothers and sisters?

But perhaps deeper still–these hard realities force us to look within. The Church has its own fair share of inconsistencies.  How do address our own issues of power? Why do we have such a difficult time stopping the “Mennonite Game,” when it is so obviously painful and a hurtful litmus test of who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’?

This month, hard questions are being asked, and there are no easy answers.  But there are stories to share. Transformation always begins with building relationships.  And building relationships begins with listening and sharing together.

Well-known author and pastor Eugene Peterson writes, “Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” Sharing our stories of life and experience is an authentic way of building bridges, forging relationships and creating community.  What would happen if we could sit down with one another—and talk together?  How might sharing our own story and honoring another’s story change us, and possibly awaken us to seeing how God is moving in the world around us, inviting us to take part in new ways of embodying a witness of love, reconciliation, access, and justice for all?

The Gathering Place this month will seek to share stories together and learn with and from one another:

  • Join webinar with Drew G.I. Hart, “Racialized Society and the Way of Jesus.” Hart will help to expand the church’s thin understanding of race and racism into a thicker framework that has a better handle on our societal realities. Though the church ought to be a space to speak truthfully and openly about suffering and oppression we have often remained silent. With a thick framework for race/racism in view, Drew will redirect the conversation with a robust Jesus-shaped theology that gestures us towards a more faithful way of life as disciples of the Messiah. Drew tells everyday stories that help make the anti-racism frameworks and theological ethics accessible and practical. Join us if you want to renew your mind and transform the patterns of your life in our racialized society. Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30pm. Sign up today.


  • Listen to tGP Podcast interview series.  This month Rachel continues tGP interview series talking with Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA  about our need for intercultural compentency. In a second interview podcast, Rachel connects with Sue Park-Hur about peace and racial reconciliation with her life’s work, ReconciliAsian.



  • Blog posts are new each Friday!  This month our blogger perspectives come from: Shannon Dycus, First Mennonite of Reedly, Alma Ovalle, and Ben Walter.

Vlog–Chantelle Todman Moore

In this vlog, Chantelle Todman Moore unpacks race(ism) and the Church–it begins with owning our shared history as we move together towards reconciliation and unity. It’s not easy, it’s not quick, but it is the Church that God intends us to be.

Chantelle Todman Moore is co-founder of Unlock Ngenuity a coaching, consulting and therapeutic business.  Previously, she served as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee and as the Program Director for both Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and Eastern University. She has served internationally in Central America and in South and Northwest Africa with various organizations. Chantelle holds a BA in International Community Development from Oral Roberts University, and a MBA in International Economic Development from Eastern University. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Sam, and their three daughters.