History

Early Anabaptism as Social Movement, Part 4: Conclusion

This post is the final part of an essay looking at the Anabaptist movement through the lens of social movement theory. See Part III in the series here, which compares the early Anabaptist movement with four stages of social movements.

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Photo by Rachel Friesen

Gaps, Tensions and Overlaps

Though there are apparent overlaps, it is clear by now that there are also gaps where the phases of social movements inadequately describe or leave out elements of the Anabaptist movement. Sociologist Charles Tilly writes, “The employment of invariant models…assumes a political world in which whole structures and sequences repeat themselves time after time in essentially the same form. That would be a convenient world for theorists, but it does not exist.”[1]

One shortcoming of social movement theories is that they sometimes fail to capture the many complex, different stories within an observed movement. They tend to look at movements as a whole, and the four phases are very linear in their approach. While this progress-oriented “bird’s eye view” is often helpful, it misses the contradictions present on the ground. C. Arnold Snyder offers a more nuanced understanding in his way of describing the Anabaptist movement as a polygenesis rather than monogenesis. He highlights the similarities and differences in how Swiss, South German-Austrian, and North German-Dutch Anabaptisms developed, conversed and converged. The polygenesis approach does not lend well to the homogenizing categorization implicit in social movement theories. For example, one may argue that Anabaptism did in fact experience the fourth phase of decline due to eradication by the sword in Austria and many parts of South Germany, though in other places it survived. (more…)

The Shenandoah Confession: A Call To Silence

Detail of Contemporary stained glass
by Jerrett Lyday

Is it not so, that from its conception, Christianity has always, to some degree, been wrapped up and consumed by Empire? There is a dark and ominous foreshadowing in the temptation of Christ, where Satan offers up the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory. We realize, of course, that we have submitted ourselves to the demonic, that now, in hindsight, Christ left the desert with a golden crown on his head, and descended upon his glorious, gilded throne, rather than dying there on the hill in golgotha.

Perhaps this is what Martin Scorsese really intends with his film, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, where Christ (Willem Dafoe) submits to the temptation to wield God’s power and remove himself from the cross. He goes on to live a normal life, marrying Mary Magdalene having children, etc. Perhaps Scorsese gets at a horrible reality of our Christian condition today, that our Christianity looks more and more like Christ submitted to Satan’s temptations, that he had given into the conditions sanctioned by the ruling elite, and surrendered into the bourgeoisie, leaving our world relatively unchanged and forever steeped in slavery. (more…)

Early Anabaptism as Social Movement, part 3: The Four Stages of Social Movements

This post is the third part of an essay looking at the early Anabaptist movement through the lens of social movement theory. See Part II in the series here, which looks at definitions of social movements.

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Photo by Katerina Friesen, Sainte-Chapelle

The four generally recognized stages of a social movement are emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline.(1) Some social movements never evolve beyond the first two or three stages, and others continue in new forms if they are adapted into mainstream society. The model of four stages of social movements sheds light on elements of the Anabaptist movement, though it has limitations, since, as I have argued, the Anabaptist movement was not a social movement according to modern definitions.

Emergence

The first stage of social movements, emergence, is seen as the time when consciousness of a problem or societal ill is just forming. Collective action has not yet grown out of the discontent that is felt by many people, and organized leadership has not yet emerged though “agitators” may be at work at the grassroots. I believe that both the Peasants’ Revolt and the Protestant Reformation were crucial in this first stage of emergence.

The Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1525) laid the groundwork for widespread social unrest, and raised issues of unjust rulers and the need for social reform. Snyder writes that many early Anabaptists, especially in South German regions, were closely involved with the peasant movement for social reform and shared many of their egalitarian ideals. Hubmaier, for example, started his evangelical reform teachings in Waldshut, which greatly supported the peasants. Snyder also cites other early Anabaptist leaders’ connection or collaboration with the peasants; these leaders included Reublin, Brötli, Krüsi, Grüningen, Hut and Rinck. He writes, “Many of the same religious, social and economic impulses that fueled the so-called Peasants’ War remained issues within the Anabaptist movement well after the peasant uprising had been suppressed. Many of the first Anabaptists were active in these protest movements ‘from below.’”(2) (more…)

Early Anabaptism as social movement, part 1: Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

This is the first in a four part series from my essay entitled, “The Early Anabaptist Movement through the Lens of Social Movement Theory.”

By way of introduction to my piece, I wrote the following poem. I invite you to read it as an exercise of imagining what the emerging Anabaptist movement must have felt like to a new believer.

Dappled Sunlight in Highgate Wood

Movement of the Word, 1525-1535

The word spreads on farms,
in taverns and barns, in sewing circles
the fold grows, stitch by stitch.
Behind the looms we whisper
good news and now dozens come to sit
on stumps and stone, our forest pews.

We dare not learn our leaders’ names,
for fear that tortured tongues might speak;
we know the brothers when they say,
“The Lord’s peace remain with thee.”
‘Til He returns to vanquish our foes,
many join Christ’s agony. (more…)

Pilgram Marpeck: Living Christ

This multi-part post is the third in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It features different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream. In this post and in the next two weeks we will focus on Pilgram Marpeck.

In 1520, Pilgram Marpeck, trained in civil engineering, was welcomed to the brotherhood of miners in Austria . After doing some favors to the Archduke Ferdinand over the next five years, he was appointed by Ferdinand to be mining superintendent over Rattenberg. As normal in such a position, Marpeck gave an oath of loyalty to Ferdinand, vowing to obey all of Ferdinand’s commands and to obey all the laws of the land. In that charge he represented the Archduke in taking custody of rebels, and held the lives and deaths of the miners under his care in his hands.

In this time, the writings and controversies of Martin Luther enflamed Europe. Although his career and solid government connections would be effected by any strong religious conviction, he held conversations with young Lutherans and were convinced by their arguments. (more…)

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

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)

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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…)

Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons

This multi-part post is the first in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.

In this article (and two following) I’ll focus on the Davidites, a little known Anabaptist sect that had a tremendous impact on Menno Simons and the group that became the Mennonites, what Sawatsky identifies as the establishment stream. The Davidites were the followers of David Joris, an urban prophet responding to massive disruption of the traditional social fabric, what Ferdinand Tönnies called Gemeinschaft (Graham and Haidt, 376). Understanding Joris can help us understand Mennonites and how they became who they are today. I’ll be drawing heavily on Gary Waite’s David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543.

David JorisDavid Joris, painted between 1635 and 1665. From Wikipedia

We’ll start by looking at how Joris established his authority as a leader. Anabaptists as a movement rejected traditional sources of authority, so the question of how to organize their own communities was constantly evolving.

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Save Buddhism from Christian Missionaries: A Manifesto

Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.

He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.

The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”: (more…)

Time is short … until 1700 years shall have been completed!

My young, my very young anabaptist radical friends,

you’re all much too young to remember this, so let me – as an ancient of days – tell you about something that is much older than you. …

No actually, I don’t want to talk about the past, but rather about how a past event is being overcome by the present and future! This October it will have been (note the future perfect tense!), yes this October the 28th of 2012 it will have been 1700 years since Constantine won the battle of the Milvian Bridge bearing on his standard the sign of the cross. He raised the severed head of his enemy on a spit as a sign that the “Christian god” had shown him favour.

This occasion is a sad day for many followers of Jesus who regret that our church leadership decided to accept the offer of the Emperor to endorse his military victory and accept the generous sinecures of the state. They laid down the cross and took up the sword. The unholy alliance between Constantine and the bishops of the Roman empire is the most significant (human) event of church history. As a consequence, the Church aided in the violent aggression against Jews and Muslims, against Africans and other peoples, against so-called witches and heretics. The medieval church believed that pope and emperor were entrusted with the two swords of Christ (Luke 22:38). Unfortunately, the repercussions persist to this day. (more…)

The Golden Thread: The promise of universal salvation throughout the Jewish bible (Bronx Streets Translation)

“God says: I’m gonna have mercy on whoever I’m gonna have mercy on. And I’m gonna have compassion on whoever I’m gonna have compassion on.” (Exodus 33:19)

“God got mad mercy. Mad grace too. She don’t get pissed off much. Her love stretches down through the years. She lets people off the hook pretty easy.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

“God is one merciful dude. He won’t kick you to da curb. Won’t mess you up. Won’t off you neither.” (Deuteronomy 4:31)
(more…)

A study in Tweaking: Steve Jobs, Vincent Harding and Mennonites

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This month Malcom Gladwell had an article in the New Yorker looking at the legacy of Steve Jobs. His central thesis is that Jobs’ gift was not originality, but rather tweaking: the ability to take the inventions of others and refine and improve them dramatically. Gladwell points out that the iPod came out 5 years after the first digital music players and the iPhone more than a decade after the first smart phones hit the market.

Gladwell is building on the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr who used this lens to look at the industrial revolution in Britain. For example, they point out the importance of the many engineers who improved on Samuel Crompton’s original invention of the spinning mule. These “tweakers” dramatically improving its productivity through minor changes.

Likewise, Gladwell says, “Jobs’ sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.” Gladwell makes his point with many episodes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Job’s particular way of tweaking made him very difficult to get along with, even as he was dying of cancer:

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated… Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

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Jesus sayings from the Sermon on the Mount (the Marginal Mennonite version)

(Revised November 2011)

The Sermon on the Mount is defined as the 40+ sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. About half of those sayings are considered by scholars to be non-authentic (meaning they were likely created by the early church rather than originating with Jesus). Non-authentic sayings are not included here. Most Sermon sayings have parallels in other gospels (Mark, Luke & Thomas). Sometimes the parallels are in simpler form, and thus probably closer to what Jesus actually said. Listed below are 21 of the most authentic Sermon sayings, along with Torah passages that Jesus probably had in mind when formulating them. Similar sayings from other traditions are offered as well.

Luke 6:20: “Congratulations, you poor! God’s kingdom belongs to you.”

Compare to:

Matthew 5:3: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them.”

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Manifesto of the Marginal Mennonite Society

We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.

We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)

We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.

We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.

We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”

We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.

We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment. (more…)

Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)