Mennonite Church USA
The location for Mennonite Church USA’s 2013 convention — Phoenix, Ariz. — is being called into question because of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which passed April 23.
Two weeks before news of the Arizona immigration bill hit national headlines, Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning for Mennonite Church USA, met with the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss her disappointment with and concern about the upcoming change in legislation.
“We want all parts of Mennonite Church USA to feel welcome at convention locations,” Swartzendruber Miller said. “Our national convention is meant to be a reunion of Mennonite brothers and sisters from across the country, representing many ethnicities. This bill does not send a welcoming message.”
Arizona Senate Bill 1070 — the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act — declares that it is a crime to reside in Arizona as an illegal immigrant and that law enforcement has the right to demand proof of legal residence from people suspected of having illegal immigrant status. In Arizona, 30 percent of the population is Hispanic. Since the bill passed, demonstrators have lined the streets of downtown Phoenix, protesting that the bill legalizes racial profiling. Phoenix’s mayor, Phil Gordon, released a statement describing the immigration bill as “unconstitutional”
Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership has been in conversation with racial/ethnic leaders within the church to discern the most appropriate course of action regarding the convention location.
“As a church, we intend to stand alongside and support our Hispanic brothers and sisters who are deeply affected by this new law,” said Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
Yvonne Diaz, executive director for Iglesia Menonita Hispana, shared her disappointment with the Arizona bill in a recent letter to church leaders.
“I grieve the effects of this law on our Latino congregations and all Latinos in the United States,” Diaz wrote. “At the same time, I also have hope that Mennonite Church USA will rise to the task of supporting immigrant brothers and sisters. Let’s use our creativity to figure out how this can be a teaching moment for the whole church.”
While several binding contracts for the 2013 convention have already been signed — the choice of Phoenix as the site was finalized in January 2009 — Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Committee, Convention Planning and Intercultural Relations will continue to focus on this issue in the coming months, remaining in conversation with the city of Phoenix and racial/ethnic constituents of the church.
“Our hope is to support the racial/ethnic persons of Mennonite Church USA and to give hope to the congregations of Pacific Southwest Conference, specifically those in Arizona who are feeling the brunt of this legislation,” Swartzendruber Miller said.
Regarding next steps for convention planners, Swartzendruber Miller noted, “The question we will be grappling with is, ‘Will we be helping the situation by refusing to meet in Phoenix to show that we are resisting this unjust law? Or, is God calling us to face this injustice by being a present witness of healing and hope in the Phoenix community?’”