Polemics

A Letter From the Exiles

Douglas Jacobsen in his essay “Anabaptist Autonomy, Evangelical Engulfment” describes a Mennonite ‘diaspora’ in two senses. First is the sense that ideas and movements from other denominations and traditions have gone out from their homes and have settled among the Mennonites. Mennonite churches can feel very different, with charismatic, evangelical and even liturgical influences making their rounds. Second is the sense that Mennonite ideas and movements have gone out and settled among other Christian traditions of all sorts – Evangelical, mainline Protestant and even High Church.

I am part of this strange diaspora. On the one hand the faith communities I have been apart have been formerly Anabaptist. These congregations have come from traditions that at one time were Mennonite or still retain the name but who no longer bear any Anabaptist distinctiveness, having been caught up in the wider Evangelical movement. On the other hand in Bible College I was significantly influenced by Anabaptist ideas, read intensively of Anabaptist writers, with my vision for faith and community coming into close proximity to those that descend from Harold Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision”.

Now when I say “I read intensively of Anabaptist writers” I perhaps am being dishonest. It was really one Anabaptist writer who influenced my thinking and has shaped the way I look at things immensely: John Howard Yoder. As a young evangelical at odds with the social witness of the evangelical tradition I found Yoder’s writings refreshing. Dare I even say life giving. Within my first year of bible college I recall reading at least five of his books. At the same time I observed other young evangelicals becoming excited with missional church writings, or the work of new monastics like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Anyone familiar with book indexes could easily figure out that Yoder’s shadow has been cast on these writings.

And here’s the thing: it was not just about thinking. It is about how lives are lived. For me Anabaptism as mediated by Yoder opened up doors for a radical discipleship that had only been hinted to in my congregations. For one thing it helped shaped a long-term commitment to a new monastic community in Kitchener-Waterloo I helped found. It helped me engage issues of poverty and injustice in new ways. In reinvigorated a commitment to pacifism, transforming the nonresistance I had inherited from my grandparents into a robust, articulate sense of nonviolence.

During my second year I stumbled upon the story of Yoder’s abusive actions and the Church’s response. Needless to say I was disgusted and disillusioned. (more…)

Manifesto of the Mennonite Anti-Mission Association

We are Mennonites (and fellow travelers) who reject the church’s mission activities.

We believe Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural destruction. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic crusades and mission boards that proselytize, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be.

We reject the authenticity of the so-called “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:19-20). We simply don’t think Jesus said it. Most New Testament scholars doubt its authenticity as well, for a couple reasons. Firstly, any statements supposedly made by Jesus after his death must be called into question. Secondly, if Jesus told his followers to go out and convert the world, then the debate about the inclusion of Gentiles during Paul’s time makes little sense. To modern scholars, the “Great Commission” sounds more like the post-70-A.D. church talking than the historical Jesus.
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The Universe Loves You! (A publication of the Marginal Mennonite Tract & Propaganda Dept.)

The Universe Loves You! … & thinks you’re perfect just the way you are!

The christian church teaches the doctrine of original sin, that everyone is born with a sinful nature.

… We, on the other hand, believe in original goodness, that the spark of the divine resides in each and every human being. (Psalms 82:6, John 1:9)

The christian church portrays God as the heavenly father.

… We believe in God as mother, as well as father. (Isaiah 49:15)

The church says God’s justice will require him to damn most of his creatures to eternal punishment.

… We believe hell is a myth, and that every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. (Isaiah 25:6)

The church claims Jesus was rejected by the Jews, and that his message superseded the “Old Testament.”

… We believe Jesus was a Jew in good standing until his dying day, and that everything he taught was firmly grounded in Torah.

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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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Mennonite Takeover?

Just read this article. I feel misunderstood; but in a way they do call us out on some stuff. It’s called “Mennonite Takeover?.” What do you think?

An excerpt:

All these neo-Anabaptists denounce traditional American Christianity for its supposed seduction by American civil religion and ostensible support for the “empire.” They reject and identify America with the reputed fatal accommodation between Christianity and the Roman Emperor Constantine capturing the Church as a supposed instrument of state power. Conservative Christians are neo-Anabaptists’ favorite targets for their alleged usurpation by Republican Party politics. But the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state commandeering health care, regulating the environment, and punishing wicked industries.

Even more strangely, though maybe unsurprisingly, mainstream religious liberals now echo the Anabaptist message, especially its pacifism. The Evangelical Left especially appreciates that the neo-Anabaptist claim to offer the very simple “politics of Jesus” appeals to young evangelicals disenchanted with old-style conservatives but reluctant to align directly with the Left. Most famously, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, once a clear-cut old style Religious Left activist who championed Students for a Democratic Society and Marxist liberationist movements like the Sandinistas, now speaks in neo-Anabaptist tones.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Chicago Style: More then Funny Signs?

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I just got back from the satellite Rally to Restory Sanity and/or Fear here in Chicago. I’ve been reading the confused articles leading up to the rally. Is it all about irony? Is it about moderation? Is it about progressive politics? Is this the millennial generation’s Woodstock?

After spending half an hour wondering around the edges of the rally here in Grant Park, it’s clear that those in attendance weren’t sure either. On the stage were Chicago progressive (trying their best to show enthusiasm and commitment to making a difference in challenging Chicago’s corrupt politics) competing with a Chicago comedians making jokes about sandwiches.

Alongside the stage was a muted jumbotron showing Comedy Central’s live coverage of the D.C. rally. The most unifying cry the crowd could get behind while I was there was shouting, “Audio! Audio!” when Jon Stewart came on screen. That’s right: They’d come to stand with thousands of other people in the middle of Grant Park on a beautiful October day so that they could all watch television together. And the funny thing is that they weren’t trying to be ironic.

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How would you translate Menno’s TEF?

As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; (more…)

Minarets, church towers and Babel

British anti-minaret posterSwiss anti-minaret posterI don’t know whether in the States you have noticed the debate about the Swiss people’s decision last Sunday (29th of November) to amend their constitution to forbid minarets. Here in Germany and the rest of Europe fascists and right-leaners are celebrating and want plebiscites on these issues as well(check out their posters!). Swiss politicians are shocked as no one would have anticipated such a result and are now checking if they can squirm out of it, by saying that basic liberties cannot be changed, not even by the will of the people. Analysis shows that the most votes for the ban came from the rural areas where there are almost no Muslims, and most votes against the ban came from the cities where there is a relatively high Muslim population, still not high. In all of Switzerland there are four mosques…

To me, this shows a fundamental flaw in democracy as good as it maybe: Democracy does not mean the rule of people, it means rule of the majority and if the majority should decide not to tolerate the minority -like the case with Switzerland – so be it. Ok, in order to correct this there are things like independent judges and not directly elected secretaries, but that is exactly what the SVP, the “Swiss People’s Party”, wants to change next. Democracy is not an absolute value.

But how is the Anabaptist view on this, is there one at all? In the beginning, Anabaptists didn’t gather in fancy churches, they met in houses or caves in the forest to prevent being sent to prison. The only time one would find them in the usual churches was to storm the pulpit and preach the gospel. When Anabaptists were allowed to settle in Southern Germany after the 30 years war they weren’t allowed to build church towers.

The bells in church towers have often been melted in times of war to make swords and guns, a reversion of Micah 4,1-4 so to say.

During the campaigning for the ban on minarets the initiators always claimed not to be anti-Islamic, but that they were only against radical Islamists and that Islam didn’t need minarets, therefore a  minaret was a political extremist statement and it’s ban would not interfere with the right to religious freedom.

Let’s look at Christianity then, I did find one story in my Bible, where people wanted to build a tower. But after God “came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building” Gen.11,5 he didn’t like it too much and confused their languages.

In the New Testament there is not a single reference of towers… So, are towers needed in Christianity? Shouldn’t the Swiss people perhaps also ban church towers?

Or maybe Swiss Mennonites and Mennonites in general should build “mennorates” in solidarity with the Swiss Muslims?

Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

Three Interesting Articles on the Subject of Whiteness

I have found a few interesting articles that have come out from person of color perspectives on aspects of Christian “progressivism” or “monasticism”.

Here’s one by Chanequa Walker-Barnes on New Monasticism and White Privelege

Here’s one by Anthony Smith at Emergent Village on the tendency for “not voting” in progressive circles
Here are responses by Brian McClaren and David Fitch.

Then there’s this piece by Tim Wise on how white privelege is manifesting itself in the US presidential election.

United States: the last best hope of earth

Bush hands the mic to McCainI just read John McCain’s victory speech after today’s primaries. This passage caught my eye:

They will paint a picture of the world in which America’s mistakes are a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an enemy that despises us and our ideals; a world that can be made safer and more peaceful by placating our implacable foes and breaking faith with allies and the millions of people in this world for whom America, and the global progress of our ideals, has long been “the last, best hope of earth.”

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Inspirational Lunch

I had a great lunch conversation with two young white men today who are feeling the pressure to “produce and provide” and are looking for alternatives to succumbing to this stereotype and just joining the corporate project. After lunch, I wrote this:

As I think about our conversation more in the understanding of my daily work at a social services agency in town, I am reminded on the necessity to invite anyone and everyone with whatever ethnicity or background (age, sexuality, religion, political persuasion) to participate in the work of healing (and radical positive social change and happiness creation) in our society. There is enough pain to go around. Everyone can have a hand in creating peace. I think a place like where I work, is where push comes to shove, and the realization that we can’t find enough people (of ANY race, class or gender) to facilitate the creation of a new society, and not enough people to persuade others to stop beating each other in inter familial violence). It feels desperate.

There were some black people back during the time of emancipation, who didn’t want to participate in the mainstream US society, and they opted to farm somewhere and live in peace with their indigenous neighbors. Just a random thought about what it would look like if instead of clamoring to be just like white people (when I say white here, i mean the white people that southern black folks encountered…rich, conservative, separatist, tea parties, cult of true womanhood, Victorian, etc) and be accepted into their culture and politics, we searched the alternatives that our indigenous (to Africa) pasts gave us. but we didn’t for the most part. (more…)

Political Assimilation

We’ve had quite a few flabbergasted mentions over the months of the shocking recognition that so many Mennonites vote Republican, wondering helplessly what to do about their ignorant collusion with oppression, and Tim mentioned in his post on Gregory Boyd the converse fear that the new generation of Mennonites and their teachers (at least) have similarly sold out to a left-wing political program and forsaken the gospel for social activism. Both fears, I admit, seem to me deeply right. Whether by overlooking the horrors of war and sidestepping the political example of our crucified Lord, or by flattening salvation to a social phenomenon and forgetting that the truth of Christ transcends every political concern, Mennonites of all political stripes have given up the principle of nonconformity that’s necessary for the church to be the church.

That’s my contention: that the problem across the board is that we’ve lost the principle of nonconformity. And more specifically, we’ve forgotten that nonconformity is a theological principal. It’s not that we refuse to conform to this or that bad policy, but that we refuse to conform to the world, this fallen, deathly, blasphemous, and violent world, this world whose goodness has been disfigured by sin. And we are joined instead not to justice or righteousness or fairness in the abstract, but to Jesus Christ: ‘joined’ as an apprentice to her master, ‘joined’ as a child to her mother, ‘joined’ as any person to her own spirit and power. Being so joined to God passes judgment on every political program, certainly, because it reshapes the notion of the political itself. No political agenda is untouched by the good news of Jesus’ resurrection–because Jesus is resurrected as Lord–and every form of praise and discipleship becomes a political act. Judgment on so-called conservatives: by ‘conserving’ what remains wrapped up in the powers of violence, you serve the prince of darkness rather than the prince of peace. Judgment on so-called radicals: by preaching justice rather than Jesus,* you cut the world off from the root of true life and condemn it to self-destruction, meaninglessness, and hell.

Of course, this suggestion seems sectarian to the right and absolutist to the left. But this is precisely what I mean: nonconformity to the world. We must constantly and seriously consider in what ways our commitment to Christ pronounces judgment on every political commitment–for Christ alone is Lord.

* This is no better, of course, than preaching Jesus rather than justice–as if the two could truly be split. But it must be admitted that the radical ‘program’ often quite explicitly renounces actually preaching Jesus, thinking justice a near enough equivalent.

Use of Tasers by University Security Guards

Last year I posted over on the Shoup blog about an incident in which UCLA security guards tasered a student 5 times in the Library. The accompanying video seems to show a situation in which, in my opinion, security guards indulge themselves in an entirely unnecessary power trip. You can read more of my response in the link above

Yesterday at a debate with Senator Kerry, security guards at the University of Florida used a taser on a student who went over his alloted question time:

I showed this to a friend and his response was that the student seems to be deliberately escalating the situation. Personally, I find the situation disturbing because of how quickly the security guards escalate the situation in the first place, by grabbing him. What do all of you think? (more…)