by Jackie Nelson
MOUNDRIDGE—Taking on racism in a small town can be a challenging task. However, Eden Mennonite Church Pastor Derek King and First Mennonite Church Pastor Laura Goerzen are doing just that through congregational book studies.
King and his congregants are reading “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing The Way The Church Views Racism” by Drew G. I. Hart. Goerzen is focusing on “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.
Both pastors said they were inspired to look deeper into the issue of racism after the death of George Floyd and the nationwide protests and conversations that have followed.
“In this context, I was aware that it’s easy not to even talk about race or racism in Moundridge, because it seems like an issue for Wichita or Hutchinson. What we realized, race and racism affects everyone and not just POC [People of Color]. It was a good time for us as a church to have this conversation about what does race and racism mean in the current context nationally and what it means in Moundridge,” King said.
Goerzen said her congregation was ready for a hard conversation about race.
“People in our congregation were hungry for an opportunity to talk and learn more. I think there was almost relief when I emailed the congregation about starting a book study on ‘White Fragility,’” she said.
Goerzen said Micah 6:8 guides her congregation. “Part of our mission as God’s people is to practice and promote right and just relationships with others. Stories from people of color in our own small-town communities, as well as national events following the killing of George Floyd, brought to our attention that we have been failing to practice and promote right and just relationships with people of color.”
Goerzen said, in reading through the book and discussing chapter-by-chapter, congregants are becoming more aware of the role racism has played, even in their own success.
“We have all experienced some discomfort as we have engaged with the ideas in this book and learned about the ways that we, well-meaning white folks, have allowed racism to flourish,” she said.
At Eden, King said the discomfort can hit closer to home and be an indictment of his congregation’s heritage.
“As much as we want to claim that we’re not racist, we are recognizing we are benefiting from generations of racism and racist practices. Many Mennonites received land when they came from Europe, and that land ultimately was stolen from Native Peoples. We didn’t see or participate in that. We are benefiting from someone doing that. What responsibility, if any, do we have to recognize that and make amends,” he said.
Goerzen said her congregants are becoming more aware of how white people “participate in social systems and norms that are harmful to People of Color.”
King said talking about racism weekly in Moundridge can be hard, as many white people in a predominantly white community do not need to think about or consider their race on a daily basis.
“That’s not a good place to be in. The people who responded wanted to have that conversation and recognized our goal as Christians should be to find ourselves alongside the people at the margins of society.
“Jesus came and identified with the lowest of the low. We have to recognize while we think of ourselves as average people, we are well above average in racial and socioeconomic position. Associating with and coming alongside those in the margins of society are what we should be doing,” he said.
Goerzen said she has seen a paradigm shift in her congregants, as they think more carefully about their actions.
“It has been powerful to hear people look back on interactions they’ve had with people of color in the past and see them in a completely new light. Sometimes there are feelings of regret or guilt, but it’s also very hope-giving to be able to look forward and have a better understanding of how we can be supportive of our brothers and sisters of color in the future,” she said.