It was only recently that I have come to identify with Anabaptist Christianity, and it has only been within the last few days that I have come in contact with Young Anabaptist Radicals. Nevertheless, I have been graciously invited to share my story with you, and introduce myself.
My religious journey really started out like most Americans. I was raised in a home that was culturally Christian. We occasionally went to church (typically Christmas or Easter), were baptized at a young age, attended Sunday school every so often, and were read stories from the Bible. My family was the standard Mainline Protestant American family. Despite my early experiences with Christianity, I never did actually believe in it. Really, I was more of an agnostic on most days, and an atheist on some. I spent most of my early childhood like this.
Despite my secularism, I did eventually develop an admiration for the Buddha, and before I knew it, I was reciting the Three Refuges, reading Buddhist literature, and identifying as a Buddhist. Then, due to by brother’s influence, I developed a small interest in Christianity. I got my first Bible, and I began attending church with my brother. Unfortunately, it was an Evangelical Free megachurch that had an unholy mix of the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism. It is needless to say that I did not last long in that church, but it did have an effect on me. I associated it with Christianity and returned to Buddhism.
This would all change when I came across a book by my favorite Buddhist scholar and activist — Thich Nhat Hanh. His book Living Buddha, Living Christ completely changed my understanding of Christianity. It introduced me to St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Elaine Pagels, and numerous others. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to some good theology. Not a theology of greed or hate, but one of social justice and love. So with this book, I developed an interest in Christianity again.
For a few years after this, I was religiously confused. I was involved in both Buddhism and Christianity mostly, but I also dabbled in the Baha’i Faith and others. Eventually, I found Progressive Christianity. I found numerous communities, movements, churches, and online forums that were associated with Progressive Christianity. Having discovered other forms of Christianity that did not embrace the bad theology I had previously experienced, I did some serious thinking and converted to Christianity. (Note that I was baptized as a child, but actually became a Christian much later. This will have an effect on my theology.)
I would eventually attempt to return to my family’s denomination — the Presbyterian Church (USA). However, earlier this year, I came to have far too many disagreements with this church and was forced to leave. This left me without any specific church. I would later join the Progressive Christian Alliance, but that was not enough. I needed something radical.
You see, I have always been politically left wing. I have always been a pacifist, but I have also always been a socialist. I started out as a democratic socialist in the tradition of Eugene Debs, but I continued to become more radical. I dabbled in Marxism and spent a little bit of time in the Communist Party. In the end, I found a political home with Revolutionary Unity, and I came to embrace anarchism (or libertarian socialism). It is important that I mention my political past because it relates to my theology closely. With my radicalization of politics came a radicalization of theology. For quite some time, I have embraced Liberation Theology, and more recently, I have also embraced Christian Anarchism.
So, I needed a religious tradition that was radical. I began to reflect on what I believed and desired in a tradition. First of all, I did not like the baptism of small children (after my own experiences). That fact alone led me to Anabaptist groups; however, I also consider other things. I wanted a tradition that was anarchistic in church structure. I wanted a church with a past in radical economics and politics. I wanted a church that stressed the red letters in the Bible. Really, it did not take long for me to arrive at Anabaptist Christianity as the solution. My liberationist, anarchist, and pacifist theology was not only compatible with historical Anabaptist theology, it was a part of it.
Unfortunately, there is not an Anabaptist church near me, but I hope find community in other areas (and perhaps even start my own Anabaptist community). Despite my lack of a church, I have found that Anabaptism is a very suitable spiritual home, and I am very glad that I have been invited to make a home on the Young Anabaptist Radicals.