Author Archive: TimN

Four Streams of Anabaptism


This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.

What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water.

Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”

And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.

This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.

In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.

Here’s what it looks like:

Anabaptist Stream
16th Century Corollary
Social/cultural non-conformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Menno Simons
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Pilgram Marpeck
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists


C. Henry Smith on Mennonite church splits and schisms

C. Henry Smith

In his 1941 book, The Story of the Mennonites, historian C. Henry Smith describes the 1847 church conflict that led to a group of Mennonites leaving Franconia Conference to create Eastern Pennsylvania District of Mennonites. This new group eventually launched the General Conference Mennonite Church. In describing this schism among Mennonites, Smith observed a broader pattern:

It will be observed that the questions in dispute did not concern themselves with fundamental Mennonite doctrine. Mennonite quarrels never do. The new party did not differ from the old in its belief in adult baptism, non-resistance, opposition to the oath, rejection of secret societies, and for a time even in the retention of footwashing. The chief distinction lay rather in a more tolerant attitude of the “News,” as they were called by the “Olds,” toward the non-Mennonite world, both political and religious. (p. 602-603)

The “News,” led by John H. Oberholtzer, went on to adopt such radical innovations as Sunday School.

The roots of our ruptures

Why are Mennonites so prone to church divisions? (more…)

7 Radical Discipleship communities that have shaped my journey as an Anabaptist

Sapling growing in rock in forest

This was first posted on Geez Magazine. From February 16-20, 2015, I was immersed in the Between Seminary, Sanctuary, Streets and Soil: A Festival of Radical Discipleship. The gathering featured over 80 presenters from communities around the U.S. Their stories of radical discipleship inspired me to put together this primer of seven communities that I have visited and interacted with over the past decade. Each of them were represented at the Festival.

Beloved Community Center

Joyce and Nelson Johnson have lead the Beloved Community Center for over 20 years based on the vision and mode of Dr. Martin Luther King and inextricably rooted in the Greensboro, North Carolina. When I visited their community for in June 2011 I sat in on their “Wednesday table” where BCC staff and interns sit down with supporters and fellow organizers from the community to talk about what’s going on. I also joined one of the Bible studies and worship services that are a foundation of the centre’s life and work.

Their organizing work includes police accountability, economic justice, environmental justice, and community organizing. They see themselves as a “levelling place” for people from different racial and economic groups around the city of which 30% is African-American, 40% is white, and 30% is other (Latino, Asian and others). They were also instrumental in organizing the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked deeply into the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Five members in an anti-Klan protest were killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. Nelson Johnson was one of the leaders of the march and his 2011 account of the event includes footage from the massacre itself taken by news crews at the time.

Carnival de Resistance

The Carnival de Resistance flows out of the prophetic vision of Tevyn East and Jay Beck in conversation with many scholars, activists, and artists. In its residency form, it involves week-long convergences complete with nightly performances, a bicycle powered sound system, and a carnival midway. Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams executive director and CdR member, describes how the experience impacted her:


Consistency in small things: Wrestling with the “A word”

Stamen and Petal of flower.

I wrote this piece on my blog for The Mennonite back in October 2012, but never got around to posting it here. I finished up my role of interim assistant director at 5 months ago and moved back to doing web site building. However I continue to ponder the themes in this post.

In September I accepted a position as interim assistant director with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). This role comes as a bit of a surprise, for a number of reasons.

As regular readers of the blog know, I’ve been outreach coordinator with CPT for four years now and I’ve thrived in the role. I love meeting with new people and connecting them with CPT’s work. I like coming up with creative initiatives and following them through to their conclusion. I’ve walked with all our teams in the process of finding a new mission, vision and values (and soon, a new logo). I like working with changing teams of people to accomplish shared tasks together. But I’ve never been comfortable with the term “administrator,” or the “A word” as I like to think of it. I’ve always preferred “coordinator” or “organizer” to describe my work.

But then it happened. I was sitting with Rod Stafford, long-time pastor at Portland Mennonite. We were talking through logistics of their church hosting Peace, Pies and Prophets in January. “There aren’t many peacemaker administrators out there.” he said, “I wish there were more.” And then the conversation went on.


“Mennonite Women’s Posse”: How feminists organized for accountability for John Howard Yoder

Green plant and Tree trunk

In the new issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review, five essays look at John Howard Yoder’s systematic project of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Unless otherwise noted, the articles named below are part of the issue.

Rachel Waltner Goossen’s essay “‘Defanging the Beast': Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” is the most extensive of these pieces. It is the result of an in-depth year-long study using previously inaccessible files. Her piece makes clearer then ever institutional complicity with Yoder’s abuse, starting in the late 1970s through the four year attempt to rehabilitate him that ended in 1996:

“As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interests—rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation—was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics.”

I’ve argued previously that this complicity continued up through the summer of 2013. At the time I asked “How do we develop a theology of power that give us ears to hear the voices of those marginalized and eyes to see the way we participate in their marginalization?”


Why I am going to “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred” and why you should too

Fabulous Fierce and Sacred Logo

In 2 weeks, I’ll be attending “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred: A gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* community” and I think you should too. We’ll be gathering in Chicago at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center from the afternoon of Friday, November 21 through noon on Sunday, November 23. It’s sponsored by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors and the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests I interviewed some of the organizers about why this gathering is so important and here’s what they said:

“There is a widely-felt sense that it is time for a gathering to bring lgbtq people together for celebration, healing, and the sustenance of our vibrant community.” Annabeth Roeschly said, “While some of us have gathered at the bienneal MCUSA conventions, those events bring us together primarily in a spirit of nonviolent resistance and action.”

“Columbus 2009 is when I said yes to the Mennonite Church, when I said yes to being queer and Christian and when I began taking communion again.” said Christian Parks, “I do a lot of work outside of the Mennonite church. I come to this gathering to rest and to renew so that I can be strong. I want to connect to the experience of how resilient queer people of faith are and I want to sink into the story of the people who have come before me. This conference will be sacred space.” (more…)

Is discernment a bureaucratic or a brotherly-sisterly process for Mennonite Church USA?

Do you want a bishop?: Ceramic artist Dennis Maust with his pieces.

In a May 2014 letter in The Mennonite, C. Norman Kraus asked whether the role of Mennonite Church USA Executive Director (ED) and has begun to look like a "new papal office." He said, "…are we not loading an institutional position with official authority that our polity does not accommodate?"

By bringing the pope into it, Kraus is drawing attention to some important questions about how the ED functions. Stay with me as we take a journey through the crufty corners of Mennonite bureaucracy and bylaws. It’s hard slogging, but it matters.

The response from Executive Board and Executive Director

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Ed Diller, current MC USA moderator and a former moderator of the EB respectively, responded to Kraus in an August 2014 letter to the editor in which they stated that "…there is no papal office in Mennonite Church USA.". They went on to defend the current role of ED with this mandate from the bylaws: "an Executive Director as a primary administrative officer who shall be its principal agent in the management of Mennonite Church USA."

Managing Mennonite Church USA… sounds pretty dramatic, eh? They left out the next point, which makes the organizational scope of the role sound a bit less grandiose: "The Executive Director shall conduct the administrative affairs of the Executive Board, serve as an officer, and supervise employees of Mennonite Church USA." The Mennonite Church USA being managed is an organization with a staff of 25 people, not the 90,000+ members of the denomination.


Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community

Today a friend shared his experience when he was a young white teenager hanging out with young Latino men. When there was a possibility of encountering the police, they would say, "act white" and my friend would be asked to do the talking. What does "acting white" look like? If you’re asking that question, you’re probably white. For people of color in the United States there is often a "constant background processing" to empathize with white people around them and deal with their stereotypes. Strategies may range from dressing impeccably to whistling Vivaldi.

This week I’m preparing for a panel with Mennonerds on Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist Community. This blog post is a brief look at some of the themes I’m hoping we can discuss as practices for white people developing lenses to see differently through listening with humility.

Let’s start with changing lenses as Jesus talked about in this classic Sunday school passage, Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me." (NIV)

Immediately in my mind’s eye I see this image or one of a thousand like it:

Let the Little Children Come Unto me


Report from Christian Peacemaker Teams in Greece

For the last week, I have been part of a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Europe to Greece to listen to the stories of refugees into Europe and those working with them here. Here are a few windows into our time so far.

Thursday morning our boat arrived to Lesbos. We rented a car and have been visiting people and places. From Lesbos, you can literally see Turkey on the other side of the straits.


The view across the water from Lesbos to Turkey


CPT delegate Kathryn and I on the boat from Athens

We drove up to the village of Kalloni (central Lesbos) to meet with Father Stratis, a Greek orthodox priest who has been helping refugees for 10 years. Refugees arrive to the village soaking wet and exhausted, often having walked many hours. Greek citizens face jail time if they pick up the migrants (similar to U.S. citizens at the border with Mexico). If they know their way it is 10 hours from the beach to Kalloni. If they don’t know the way, it may take days. George described how their shoes are usually completely destroyed between the water and the walking. The balcony of Father Stratis’s church is filled with donations of clothes that he and three volunteers sort and process for handing out.


Made for such a moment as this?: From Fundamentalist to Anabaptist

This week in my seventh post in my ongoing Anabaptist Camp Followers series, I interview Benjamin Corey. He is a retired US Air Force instructor turned Anabaptist speaker and writer. He blogs at Formely Fundie and is author of the upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

photo of Benjamin L. Corey Can you share about your first encounter with Anabaptist thought and practice?

I first encountered Anabaptism when I was studying church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, but it was only in the context of their role in Church history— we didn’t get much into Anabaptist thought and certainly didn’t delve into the existence of Neo-Anabaptism, so at that time I had no idea how deeply I would connect with it.

As I continued to make my way through seminary I went through a massive paradigm shift as I realized that even though I had been a Christian for more than 20 years, Jesus himself was the missing aspect to my faith. Once I made this realization, I went through a reorientation of my faith not around Christian religion but simply around Jesus— a process that is the topic of my upcoming book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. During this reorientation, my views on a host of issues changed— I embraced nonviolence, gender equality, rediscovered the need to live out faith in authentic community and a host of other new discoveries.

I had no idea what to call myself anymore- I felt like a misfit in Christianity because I knew I wanted to follow Jesus, but didn’t know where I fit in. One day I picked up the book Naked Anabaptist and started reading about the tenants of the Anabaptist Network and it was a lightbulb moment for my wife and I, because it articulated our new worldview in a way that felt like someone was inside our head. In that process, we realized that Anabaptist ins’t necessarily something you become but something you realize you already became. Being able to "label" who we were was incredibly freeing for us and helped us realize that we weren’t alone anymore.

What are some of the ways you’ve connected with the wider Anabaptist community that have helped you feel like you are not alone?

Once I realized that I had been an Anabaptist all along, I started to seek out others like me and stumbled upon MennoNerds and folks like my friend Kurt Willems. While an online community is often a poor substitute for real-life interpersonal community, the Anabaptist community online is pretty darn good. It’s the first "tribe" that I’ve ever had where I felt like I belonged and like I was accepted— flaws and all. I think what I love about it is that it is diverse enough to allow for a "big tent" feeling yet we all share several core values to our faith that keep us all linked together. It’s something I haven’t quite experienced before— there’s definitely a kinship factor with the Anabaptist community. Ironically, the only other place I’ve ever experienced this was during my ten years in the military.


Voices for LGBTQ inclusion from Pink Mennos

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The Mennonite Church USA executive board meetings in Harrisonburg wrapped up yesterday. It’s been an intense two weeks. On Feb. 4, the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) website posted Ervin Stutzman’s response to the “Rule of Love” letter from 150 pastors calling for MC USA “make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jesus-followers.”

As one of those responsible for managing Pink Menno’s social media presence, I’ve watched over the last few days as the community has responded to Stutzman in anticipation of the MC USA Executive Board meetings next week. This post curates different voices and perspectives from those who participate in the Pink Menno community. This is not an official Pink Menno statement.

As the MC USA Executive Board met, I hope they considered these voices.

Shift in tone and wording

A number of people appreciated the shift in tone they saw in Stutzman’s letter. The most obvious was his use of the term “people on the LGBTQ spectrum” rather than “gays” or “same sex attraction.” His use of this term acknowledges the existence of transgendered people (the T in LGBTQ). “He is naming that there is a problem with how we relate,” says Cynthia Lapp. “He is naming the pain. Small steps and yet coming from Ervin it is an important shift.”


Privilege, Appropriation and Leadership among the neo-Anabaptists

Earlier this month, Charity Erickson wrote an article, "Peace Reformation = Humble Leaders" that offered some questions and challenges for neo-Anabaptists around leadership and the roots of this growing movement. The response, in the comments on her post and on social media, was cantankerous. I followed up with her to do an interview, the fifth in my Anabaptist camp followers series. My questions are in bold. Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Charity EricksonWhat does neo-Anabaptism mean to you?

Charity: I understand neo-Anabaptism to be an ecumenical movement that is inspired and influenced by Anabaptist thought. This influence isn’t confined to traditional Anabaptist thought as expressed in documents like the Schleitheim Confession; it includes the critique of power that we get from post-modernism and post-colonialism. These critiques are not native to Anabaptist thought. In many ways, they are not native to Western thought. But they are good critiques; they are Spirit-guided, I think.

How did you first come across neo-Anabaptist thought and practice?

Charity: When I was 11—around 1996—I joined the Bible Quiz team at my Christian Missionary Alliance church. We memorized a lot of scripture; but we also had these t-shirts that we inherited from a group that had recently split off from our church to focus on their urban ministry in Minneapolis, which included communal living, serving those struggling with poverty, and fostering interfaith dialogue. The t-shirts were black with an anarchic kind-of symbol on the front, and the words, “Resistance is Futile.”


David Joris, Part 2: Early Mennonites through an Anabaptist rival

This is the second in a two part series on David Joris and establishment Anabaptists here is the first: Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons. This is also part of a broader series on the Four Streams of Anabaptism.

Today, we tend to think of Mennonites as descended from all early Anabaptists. However, the followers of Menno Simons had some distinctive practices that set them apart from other Anabaptists of their era. Looking at them through the eyes of David Joris and his disciples can help us to understand what set them apart more clearly.

Joris’ approach clashed dramatically with the leadership style of Menno Simons. As I discussed in part one of this series, Joris was charismatic; people were drawn to him.

He excelled at accommodation, diplomacy and mediation between different Anabaptist sects, "ranging from the peaceful followers of Obbe Philips to the marauding adherents of Jan van Batenburg." (Zijlstra 251). Simons, on the other hand, was a rural priest whose focus on the purity didn’t make any sense to Nikolaas Meyndertsz Blesdijk, the primary lieutenant of Joris:

Blesdijk pictures the Mennonite elders as hostile and closed-minded, both unwilling and unable to carry on a religious discussion with orderly marshalling of evidence and in the spirit of gentleness (sachtmoedicheyt) that distinguish a true teacher.

Instead of behaving civilly and honorably, argues Blesdijk, the Mennonites are hypocritically preoccupied with distinguishing and separating themselves, whether by manner of dress, appearance or words …

Since they shun their opponents, forbidding all moral human contact with them, in total disregard of the initiation of the ban in Matthew 18 and the New Testament examples of its use, it is not surprising that they are so fixed in their opinions: they seldom speak with anyone who thinks otherwise than they. (Stayer, "Davidite vs. Mennonite" 464)


From poet Jeff Gundy: “When Madonna Met Menno”

We do have a poetry category and I thought I’d invite it out of the dusty corner to join us for a little conversation today with Mennonite poet, Jeff Gundy. I’ll open the space by sharing a poem of his, a bit of a story from him to go with it and then a chance to ask him questions in the comments.

When Madonna Met Menno

“You’re a slut,” he said, “but God loves you anyway.”
She took a long pull on her beer. “Don’t be simple,”
she said. “I was a Catholic schoolgirl. I’ve known that
since I was twelve.” She was all knees and ankles,

and he was a river toad, the two of them crammed
into a tiny booth among the hard-drinking yuppies.
“Besides, I’ve got babies now,” she said, “and all that
whore stuff was for sales anyway.” “I know what you mean,” (more…)

The Politics of John Howard Yoder: 41 years of tiptoeing around power

This is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The last two months have seen a growing number of articles on John Howard Yoder’s sexual harassment and abuse of women (for a list of articles, see the Women in Learship Project’s timeline and annotated bibliography) led by Barbra Graber’s July 17 article on Our Stories Untold. Many of these pieces have been in conversation with Dr. Ruth Krall’s important book, The Elephants in God’s Living Room, Volume Three: The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder, Collected Essays, which I draw on heavily in this article. I especially recommend her sixth chapter, “John Howard Yoder, D. Theol. 1927-1997: Believer’s Church Theologian and Ordained Mennonite Clergyman,” which looks in detail at Yoder as a case study.

In joining this conversation, I’d like to look particularly at how systemic issues of power and privilege played out in the tiptoeing response of Mennonite church institutions and their leaders to Yoder’s persistent sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women. In her introduction, Krall succinctly names the many power layers of systemic privilege from which Yoder benefitted. He was a “clan-protected, powerful, tenured, white married male.” (Krall, 16) We have much to learn from looking at those layers.

The problem with sexual misconduct

In her introduction to the collection, Krall points out that the term “sexual misconduct,” which has been used to describe Yoder’s behavior, is unhelpful because it does not differentiate between consenting adultery and coercive, violent and dominating behaviors. (Krall, 6).