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Miller wins Bethel peace speech contest for second time

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College announced the winners of the C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest at one of two final convocations of the school year.

Jacob Miller, senior from Westmoreland, Kansas, placed first with “Mennonites’ Protest of the U.S. National Anthem Lacks Inclusivity of the Black Community: A Call to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”

Miller graduates from Bethel May 21 with a double major in communication arts and English with a minor in business.

This was Miller’s third straight year in the top 2 of Bethel’s contest. As a sophomore, he placed first and went on to finish third in the binational competition (first-place winners from all participating colleges in the United States and Canada). Last year, as a junior, he was second in Bethel’s contest.

Miller summarized his speech by saying, “While the traditional Mennonite emphasis on peace and social justice is admirable, most Mennonites are in a position of privilege as part of the dominant, oppressive white culture.

“Mennonite-affiliated institutions are especially guilty when they play the U.S. national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ [as does Bethel], or even ‘America, the Beautiful’ in its place, because these anthems do not fully entail the black community’s history of oppression. …

“‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is a song easily found in most Mennonite hymnals, but few know that it is the official ‘Black National Anthem,’ adopted by the NAACP in 1919. As a call to action, Mennonite-affiliated institutions, in order to provide more inclusivity for the black community, should play ‘Lift Every Voice’ alongside ‘America, The Beautiful,’ but remain wary of appropriation.”

Only one other prize was awarded, second place to Emily Alexander, freshman Bible and religion major from Wichita, for a speech entitled “K(no)w God, K(no)w Peace.”

In her speech, Alexander noted that individuals, and society in general, are grappling with how to find and sustain lasting peace, and that much of this struggle can be attributed to the gradual disappearance, and sometimes deliberate removal, of faith-based values and morals from everyday life that has taken a peace-loving God out of the equation.

At Bethel College, the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) sponsors the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest.

Both students received cash awards. Miller sent his manuscript and a DVD recording of his speech to Mennonite Central Committee headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, to be judged against the winners from the other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas 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 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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Bethel College prepares students for meaningful lives of work and service through faith formation, the liberal arts, and practical experience in career pathways.