Confronting white privilege
ICOMB director David Wiebe opened the week-long consultation on mission and prayer with a brief overview of Mennonite Brethren history, especially as it relates to the spread of our denomination around the world through missions. The outline of our diversity (35 countries, etc.) provided the segue to the uncomfortable reality that “white people” (i.e.. North American MBs) have dominated the missions structures and therefore the worldwide fellowship of MB conferences. He indicated that this could be felt in areas of theology and practice.
Facing the difficulties of “white privilege” in missions is a central aspect of my own involvement in cross-cultural missions. Just last week, I had sent David an article about this that I had read as I was preparing for my workshop at the consultation on honour-shame cultures. So, knowing that we as a family of churches were finally going to have a public conversation about this is exciting.
David asked one of the most important questions a North American director pose on this subject: “I sometimes think things are going well (toward integration), but as a white guy, how will I know?” He encouraged the leaders from the rest of the global family to have the courage to speak up, and to know that he and other leaders in the ICOMB and MB Mission world would listen.
“We must genuinely appreciate all cultures as being capable of reflecting biblical faith,” David quoted Richard Twiss (American indigenous theologian). This is the “fourth” self that in recent years has been added to the older ideal of a three-self healthy church. The component of self-theologizing (in addition to self-governing, self-funding and self-reproducing) is actually the healthiest “self” to develop if the other three are to develop naturally.
David finished with a call to make the most of an unprecedented and hopeful moment in time; love can conquer all.
—Robert Thiessen works alongside Mixtec indigenous leaders in Mexico with MB Mission.