Lots of Mennonite churches are named after the city in which they’re located. Our city happens to have chosen the name Columbus.
The headline of the Metro section of Sunday’s Dispatch read, “Columbus statues still stand in city.” It noted: “Statues of (Christopher) Columbus have been beheaded, toppled or plunged into bodies of water in Boston; St Paul, Minnesota; Camden, New Jersey; and Richmond, Virginia, in a rebuke of his history as a colonizer and slaver and his ‘discovery’ of America.”
It’s a rapid development given the slow moving efforts in past years to draw attention to the abusive history. In our city, the largest Columbus in the US, there are three prominent statues of the man – by City Hall, the Statehouse, and Columbus State Community College. They are still standing, although, in another rapid development, Columbus State has now pledged to remove theirs.
The headline article of today’s online New York Times adds another wrinkle noting that elevating the Italian Christopher Columbus was one way for Italian Americans to battle widespread discrimination in the 1800’s. The article also highlights differing convictions within the Black Lives Matter movement, some claiming statue removal as too easy an appeasement for necessary systemic changes.
Katie Graber tells the story of traveling to a Cheyenne Mennonite church, a congregation that embraces both its Native American and Mennonite identity, for her work in gathering material for the Voices Together hymnal. The delegation was discussing a gift they could bring – something from one of their local settings. One of them commented that it probably shouldn’t be from Columbus.
Earlier this year Leadership Team discerned that one of our congregational Open Questions for the year would be: “As an Anabaptist community, how do we live faithfully within a politically contentious environment.” It’s perhaps easy, given our pacifism, to view ‘contentious’ merely as a negative word. Our commitment to being anti-racist, however, compels us into the long-term work of contention against the “principalities and powers” (the Apostle Paul’s language), the myth-making narratives and systems that prop up racism.
I confess that before this year I was never bothered by the fact that our congregation bears the name of someone whose letters back home included the promise of “slaves as many as they shall order to be shipped.” As people of nonviolence, what is our part in the work of de-colonizing our own minds, embodying the values we profess, and taking guidance from those most affected by persistent racism?
The congregational SURVEY sent out yesterday begins with a question about how urgent you feel is the discussion around our congregation’s name which would take place in a broader context of our anti-racist efforts. It includes space for comments. Your input on this (and the other questions) is greatly appreciated.