NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College junior Jacob Miller, Westmoreland, has won third place in the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee U.S. for students in the United States and Canada.
It was the first Bethel speech to finish in the contest’s Top 3 since 2008.
The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel has been the long-time organizer of Bethel’s C. Henry Smith Contest. This year, the Departments of Communication Arts and Bible and Religion joined as co-sponsors.
Miller’s speech, “For the Sake of Peace, Please Remember that Not All Terrorists are Muslim,” which he presented at Bethel last April, was the college’s first-place winner.
Miller then sent his manuscript and a DVD recording of the speech to MCC headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania, to be judged against the winners from the other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges and universities in Canada and the United States.
Judges for the 2015 competition were Rebekah Sears, policy analyst in the MCC Ottawa Office, Jennifer Castro, coordinator for the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA, and Peter Dula, associate professor of religion and culture at Eastern Mennonite University.
Students are asked to speak on any theme that applies the peace position to contemporary concerns.
Starting from a personal vantage point – his own Iranian-American uncle – Miller explored “the inaccurate labeling of terrorism based on religion or skin color,” in particular the equating of “Muslim” with “terrorist,” within 21st-century American society and culture.
Examining reasons for this, Miller asked: “Who perpetuates this? Well, besides [us Americans], the media. And we buy in. The media’s portrayal of terrorism harms us all, because white people get a free pass, and it also undermines justice. And there’s nothing peaceful about either.”
Miller compared examples from the past several years. Nidal Hasan (an American of Middle Eastern descent), who killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, was instantly labeled “terrorist” while the word was never applied to Jared Loughner, who killed six and critically wounded 12 in Tucson, Arizona, or Andreas Lubitz, who crashed a German jetliner into a mountain and killed 150.
This kind of disparity – of those with white and Christian privilege marginalizing “the other” – Miller said, carries over to our criminal-justice system and the rest of our society, and is counter to a social-justice understanding of the words of Jesus, Paul and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
“Peaceful discourse on an individual level is the only way to ensure change for our national dialogue,” Miller said. “Otherwise, this contemporary issue will morph into a chronic one, and as Christians, as pacifists, as decent humans, we cannot let that happen.
“My Uncle Kamyar shouldn’t be threatened because of his heritage. Kamyar, Muslims and all Americans deserve better.”
As the third-place winner of the binational contest, Miller received $150 in cash and a $200 scholarship to a peace-related conference or seminar of his choice.
This year’s first-place winner was Emily Huxman, Waterloo, Ontario, a junior at Bluffton (Ohio) University, for “Reducing Global Violence Against Women Through Education.”
Second place went to Goshen (Indiana) College junior Dona Park, Abbotsford, British Columbia, for “Through the Eyes of the People.” Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College and Bluffton College, now Bluffton University. Participating colleges host a contest with student speeches. These individual campus contests usually take place during the spring semester of the academic year.