Racist violence, domestic terrorism

Jul 20, 2015 by

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Our communities are reeling from the brutal, racist assassination of African-American parishioners in Charleston, S.C. The arson of six black churches in Georgia, North and South Carolina, following the assassinations, has created more anxiety. The church is the principal sanctuary for black folks. It is the center for spiritual community and justice work.



I am a child of the South, and these racist attacks leave me shaking. They rekindle the memories of hatred that my family endured. This terrorist act was an assault on all African-American communities.

“You are an albatross around America’s neck,” it said. “We don’t want you here.”

While the murder of African-Americans is an everyday occurrence, this deliberate targeting reinforces the need to focus on the insidious nature of racism.

Significant efforts are being made to eliminate the Confederate flag from public places. While this addresses one symbol of racist attitudes, it does not deal with the underlying problem facing African-American communities. Racism, America’s original sin, gives privileges — economically, politically and socially — to white folks.

Many say we are in a postracial society, but the continued bigotry, racial violence and denial of basic human rights to marginalized communities says we are not. The Confederate flag only reminds me of how far we still have to go in race relations.

Joanne Braxton, professor of English and African studies at the College of William and Mary, and civil rights reporter Michael Sainato wrote in The Guardian that the Charleston shootings were not isolated but represent rampant, structurally embedded American racism.

Some of us advocate for non-participation in the political process. Yet, we do vote by our inaction. We elect individuals to represent the common good but then watch as they take actions that are just the opposite of a just and beloved community. Many opt to not become involved with societal concerns because it may marginalize their lives. But we all are accountable for terrorist activity if we don’t work to eliminate the bigotry and hatred that grips us.

Brothers and sisters, how long will we remain silent about domestic terrorism? We easily get excited about issues that involve individual lifestyles, but we remain silent about the violence and hatred that seemingly has us in bondage. When will we say, “Enough already”?

The slain parishioners in Charleston welcomed and extended the right hand of fellowship to the murderer. In grief, families continued to extend fellowship by offering forgiveness. That’s hard. If they can forgive, so can I. However, that forgiveness comes with a request to all justice-seeking people to lay aside personal, political and social ideology and join the fight to eradicate racial oppression and hatred among us.

I continue to seek direction from the prophet Isaiah. He tells the people who were caustic in their relationships with each other that the day is coming when they will trust and not be afraid.

That day for us is now. Maybe our Creator is saying, “I’m trying to tell you something. I’m here to help you stop the madness.”
I’m outraged but hopeful. I will listen and obey our Creator’s voice. Will you?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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  • Debra B. Stewart

    John, John, John. The Mennonite church hasn’t changed an iota racially since you were a firebrand in the 1970’s and 80’s. Remember? I don’t, for the life of me, know why you stay. Come on over and join the “Nones and Dones and Gones.” Seriously, I’ve given up on systemic change, especially in MC USA. One example: Two “Mennonite” churches in St. Louis, five miles apart, one white, one black. And that’s lauded and praised in Mennonite publications? Really? So, I do the best I can individually to call out wrong when I see it, use my privileges to help those who are not so privileged, do the right thing when I can.

  • Gary Blosser

    John, I agree with you on the need to “stop the madness” of racism, racist violence, and domestic terrorism in America. It’s appalling! But I was surprised by the lack of research done on the six fires. According to CNN and Washington Post reporting from June 29 and 30 investigators report that “none of the six fires show evidence of being a hate crime and only two might be arson.”
    1 was a Caucasian church, fire started by a lightening strike
    1 fire caused by electrical wires downed by a storm
    2 cause undetermined
    2 fires believed to have been caused by arson (one by vandals)
    None were ruled as hate crimes.


  • Berry Friesen

    John, you are right to encourage voting and I make an effort to vote in every election.

    But I also publicly and categorically refuse to support either a Democrat or Republican for the office of President. I first adopted that position in 2012, after voting for Obama in 2008 (my first success in ten tries to vote for the winner of a presidential race).

    By publicly refusing to join the D/R rivalry around who leads the empire, the church of Messiah Jesus makes several radically political statements: (1) we have no stake in who leads the empire; (2) in regard to the U.S. agenda to dominate the world, there is no difference between candidates endorsed by Ds or Rs; (3) we refuse to allow the circus of a presidential campaign to polarize our fellowships and fracture our solidarity with one another; (4) we recognize what a sham the Washington D.C. “democracy” is.

    On another topic, please write soon about our political (public) response to climate change and global warming. I’m interested to know if you bring your usual race-based analysis to that topic, and whether you do or don’t, what we might learn from you about how to organize a response to a threat that clearly negatively affects all of us, but not equally.

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