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Bethel speech winner takes first place in binational contest

April 16th, 2018

by Rachel Bergen for MCC

AKRON, PA. – Jacob Miller, a 2017 graduate of Bethel College, has won this year’s C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest administered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.

Miller’s speech, “Mennonite Protest of the U.S. National Anthem Lacks Inclusivity of the Black Community: A Call to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” prompts Mennonites to include race in discussions of peace. He also encourages Mennonites to recognize the violence inherent in nationalist songs such as “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“On September 1, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who is now a free agent) took the knee heard ’round the world to bring light to social injustices facing black Americans in contemporary times,” Miller wrote in his speech.

Although some Mennonite educational institutions do not perform the national anthem before sporting events, he says, they’re missing the connection with race.

“Rarely is Mennonites’ opposition to the anthem rooted in the continued violence of unequal systems that disenfranchise the black community.”

A communication arts and literary studies major at Bethel at the time of the contest, Miller, from Westmoreland, is now a graduate student in communications at Kansas State University.

“The why behind the protest matters,” he says. “So today we must, first, look to how Mennonites decrying the anthem generally glosses over the black community’s history of oppression and, second, reintroduce the official black national anthem that Mennonite institutions should play.”

The anthem to which he refers is “Lift every voice and sing,” #579 in Hymnal: A Worship Book, the hymnal used in most Mennonite Church USA congregations.

“Matthew 5:9 says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ but activism without inclusion is not peace, it’s injustice.”

Miller, who grew up in the Manhattan (Kansas) Mennonite Church, received a cash prize of $500 and a $300 scholarship to a peace-related conference or seminar of his choice.

In three years of entering the peace oratorical contest at Bethel, Miller finished first twice and second once. In 2015, he was third in the binational competition with his speech “For the Sake of Peace, Please Remember that Not All Terrorists are Muslim.”

Hannah Mack-Boll, an Eastern Mennonite University student from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the second-place winner this year for “What is Your Intention?”

Mack-Boll received $225 in cash and a $200 scholarship. Her home congregation is Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster.

Canadian Mennonite University student Marnie Klassen, from Abbotsford, British Columbia, came in third with a speech entitled “Filtering Dispositions: Water Pollution in Canada.”

Klassen, whose home congregation is Highland Community Church, received $150 in cash and a $200 scholarship.

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest is open to all students at Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the contest, speeches must apply a peace theme to a contemporary concern.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen (Indiana) College and Bluffton (Ohio) College, now Bluffton University.

Participating colleges host individual campus contests, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and judges selected by MCC choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus contest.

This year’s MCC judges were Titus Peachey, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, former MCC U.S. peace coordinator; Janna Hunter-Bowman, assistant professor of peace studies and Christian ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana; and Paul Heidebrecht, director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.