“As never before in our history, we are called upon to sustain and expand our commitment to building up the communities where we live. As far as we have come, we must understand how much more we have to do. For unless we continue to work to bridge the fault lines of race and class and the educational and financial disparities that still divide us, we can never expect to reach our true potential … ”
– Former Gov. William F. Winter, University of Mississippi, May 10, 2003
Chapters of Mission Mississippi meeting monthly across Northeast Mississippi succeed in broadly breaking down racial barriers as has no other statewide organization.
As Lena Mitchell reported in her regional overview of its work in Tuesday’s Daily Journal, Mission Mississippi unapologetically grounds itself in Christian relationships, which are foundational in the lives of many Mississippians.
While the spirituality in the movement is central, its influence can reach profoundly further into the life of our state.
In an upcoming book from Oxford University Press, “Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship,” author Peter Slade describes the impact changed relationships could have in improving the economic life and prosperity for all citizens.
Slade examines Mission Mississippi from the view of social justice, which in Mississippi inextricably addresses historically lost opportunities for economic fairness, personal prosperity – and making up lost ground.
Slade argues that Mission Mississippi’s goal of “changing Mississippi one relationship at a time” is both a pragmatic strategy and a theological statement of hope for social and economic change in Mississippi.
Mission Mississippi sometimes allies itself formally with economic development organizations and sometimes with sponsoring businesses, as in an upcoming event in Grenada with the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Slade concludes, in a preview summary of his book, that Mission Mississippi’s outreach indeed offers hope for racial reconciliation and mobilizing economic and social power to benefit broad-based community development.
Slade, who teaches at Ashland University in Ohio, is identified with the “Lived Theology” movement. He recently brought some of his students through Mississippi on a tour of important civil rights landmarks.
The pragmatism Slade describes flows reasonably from strong intra-community relationships. Economic progress as a central focus is a natural outgrowth of people who learn to trust and communicate with one another.
Most of Mississippi’s history had two large blocs of Christian believers, one white and one African-American, saying essentially the same things about their faith, but seldom in conversation with one another.
Mission Mississippi is a powerful agent for change. Reconciliation leads to working together.