26 June 2013
UNITED STATES REFLECTION: Acknowledging the dividing wall and respecting the call to
abstain from the Mennonite convention in Phoenix.
by Sarah Thompson, Outreach Coordinator for Christian
In 2011, the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) announced that it
would continue with plans to have the biennial church-wide convention 1-6 July
2013 in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, despite recent legislation passed in Arizona
that put Latino Mennonites at risk of search and deportation if they “looked
illegal.” The MCUSA constituent
group Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) stated that it was
hurt by the symbolic message this sent to Latino Mennonites. It further said that it would abstain
from participation in the convention.
Ephesians 2:14-16 illustrates the way Jesus’ life, teaching,
death and resurrection brought people from different ethnic and religious
groups together. Indeed Jesus’
call was broad, beautiful, and boundary-crossing. It was not, however, without challenge as to how people from
these different groups were to come together as part of the larger, new
Jesus’ work of breaking the dividing wall that stood between
people was not so much a naïve “forget your differences and privileges” as it
was a careful invitation to form new relationships. These new relationships became possible through analyzing
old tensions and building strong new bonds of care and community.
Those who want to break down walls must accurately name and
patiently examine the impact of entrenched inequality of power created by
division. Otherwise, we may be
able to come together physically but as the dividing wall falls it may crush people
entering the relationships.
In these cases, sometimes standing apart helps us to analyze
critically the dividing walls that separate us from being in right relationship
with one another, and find safer ways to reach out to each other in the midst
of the rubble.
Part of breaking down the dividing wall of imperialist
immigration politics is to abstain from going to a place where the fall of the
wall is dangerous for a vulnerable group. It forces us not to celebrate unity in Christ prematurely. In their abstention, Iglesia Menonita
Hispana (IMH) called for allies to share the weight of the falling wall.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), as an organization
constituted primarily by U.S.ers and Canadians with legal documents chose to be
an early ally to IMH. One CPT
supporter expressed surprise that CPT—an organization that does strategic
nonviolent intervention in areas of lethal conflict (www.cpt.org)–would not be present in “the middle
of this Phoenix conflict.” I
responded by saying that we only go where we are invited, and in this case, we
were invited NOT to go somewhere.
The IMH’s abstention forced the Mennonite church to have a
necessary conversation about U.S. immigration politics. The content and programming of the
upcoming MCUSA convention in Phoenix is better because of that heartfelt,
analytical conversation about the dividing wall. I pray that the symbols of other falling walls, will open
our eyes to see the necessity of the upside-down kin-dom…the necessity of being
a community fortified not by walls and warnings, but by commitment to believer’s
baptism, discipleship, bearing nonviolent witness, love, and networks of care.