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.
October 8, 2014
Change, Mennonite Church USA, Politics, Pope, Power
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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.
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…)
March 15, 2014
Anabaptism, History, Martyrdom, Poetry, Politics, Social movements
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I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.
Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)
This passage is a bit different than Romans 13. Unlike Romans 13, this passage is pretty straightforward. Romans talks about vague authorities, the sword, and taxes, and it is surrounded by teachings on religious instruction and ethics. Simply put, Romans requires a lot of unpacking in addition to looking at possible translation errors. On the other hand, this passage from 1 Peter is pretty much independent, and any issues in our reading of the text would primarily originate from possible translation errors. (more…)
February 12, 2014
Anabaptism, empire, Interpretation, neo-Anabaptism, patriotism, Politics, Power, President, The Bible
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There was one text in the Bible that has been the most influential on my life. It was this text that really helped convince me to become a Christian, and it was this text that brought me into radical politics. The passage I am referring to is the Sermon on the Mount.
It was when I was in middle school that I was first introduced to this famous sermon, and it ignited my interest in the gospel. By reading its words, I fell in love with the man who spoke them, and I wanted to apply the sermon to all aspects of my life. It was a big reason that I became interested in left-wing and anti-war movements as well. It would be years later, when I read Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You, that I really started to realize just how much was packed into Matthew 5-7. Recently, a friend of mine who I know from both Young Anabaptist Radicals and MennoNerds, said, ”The Sermon on the Mount or Plain is the Christian’s constitution.” I think there is a lot of truth to that. (more…)
November 13, 2013
Anabaptism, Church, Economics, empire, Ethics, neo-Anabaptism, Nonviolence, Politics
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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).
September 10, 2013
Mennonite Church USA, Politics, Power, Sexism, Social justice
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Yesterday being Father’s Day, I naturally got to thinking about my father. I love him dearly, but he is literally the exact opposite of almost everything I stand for. To give you a rough picture of who he is, he listens to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck on his radio daily; he used to be a police officer, then a constable, and now he is a TSA agent. That is only the tip of the iceberg. What often gets me thinking, and the reason I write this post, is the sort of fusion of cultural Christianity and American patriotism that I find with people like my father. In this context, Christianity is not so much a way of life, but more like an ethnic heritage and set of social customs that are merely used to reflect the American way of life.
Though it was my father who got me thinking about this subject, it is something that is found globally. Every empire for the last 1700 years has been turning Christianity, or at least the facade of Christianity, into a religion that can be used to reinforce the imperial way of being. I think a great example of what this kind of Christianity is pretty much any state church in western Europe. Most of these churches have almost lost every single legitimate believer, but a shell of Christianity remains as part of the historical and national heritage. Church is for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and presidential inaugurations, but very little of it is used for everyday Christianity. I also suspect that Mainline Protestantism will be in a similar situation either very soon, or it is already there. (more…)
June 17, 2013
Anabaptism, Discipleship, empire, patriotism, Politics
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I am sure that many here and elsewhere are overjoyed with the popularity surge that Anabaptism is receiving of late, especially those that stem from Mennonite origins, since it has given them a means to experience more of the glare of publicity.
Some most likely think that this is a good thing, after all others are becoming familiar with that legendary group. Yet I feel that people need to be concerned, particularly when individuals are using Anabaptism for a denominational agenda?
In a blog-post entitled An Anabaptist Infatuation Amongst Some Southern Baptists by Joshua Breland he writes:
There has been an increase of blogging recently regarding how great and wonderful the Anabaptists were/are and how much we modern day Southern Baptists owe to the so called “radical reformers.” Often the Anabaptist “hoorahs” are joined with condemnatory remarks about the evil and oppressive magisterial Calvinist reformers.
The author adds in his opinion, “The narrative seems to be, “anyone but the Calvinist magisterial reformers.”
As of late the Southern Baptist Convention is in a state of fragmentation with the influx of Reformed theology specifically Calvinism or the self-styled “Doctrines of Grace”. It is apparent that the SBC is seeking some sort of Arminian Reformation era link in the same fashion that the Reformed churches call back to John Calvin as their theological forebear.
I just wonder if once all the contention between the Calvinists and Arminians over in the SBC has concluded will the Anabaptists be as popular and will their reputation remain intact. I am going to look into this matter a little more and make a follow up post later.
April 4, 2013
Anabaptism, Media, Politics
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A page from the Martyr’s mirror depicting Geleyn Corneliss, who was hung by his thumb while his torturers played cards. Modified illustration from Third Way Cafe
Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled
Yesterday, March 6, 2013, we in the US learned in The Guardian that our government put torture and death at the center of our policy in Iraq. According to the article, Jim Steele, who was heavily involved in the El Salvadoran death squads, was called in to replicate the model in Iraq in 2004 with millions of dollars at his disposal. This strategy, known as the “Salvador Option” was apparently known and discussed at the highest levels of the US government and supervised closely by General David Petraeus. These actions are consistent with US policy since the end of World War II: torture and mass murder in support of US economic interests.
This is no aberration: it is the norm for empire. Nevertheless, many will hem and haw, rationalize and suggest this is still a few bad apples, albeit 4 star general apples. Tragically, most in the United States will simply ignore it. But what about us, as Mennonites: as Anabaptist Christians? What will we do?
March 7, 2013
Anabaptism, Death, empire, Foreign Policy, Martyrdom, Mennonite Church USA, Military, Politics, Torture, US Military
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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.
November 2, 2012
Anabaptism, Biographical, Blog, Community, Interfaith, liberation theology, Politics, Social justice, Spiritual Life, Young Folks
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As the sun hovered at the horizon, I got into the big canoe with 20 people from Las Pavas. We were mostly men with a few woman and one young boy. We pulled away from the bank of the river and began motoring towards the sunset, racing against the light.
June 25, 2012
Corporations, Peace & Peacemaking, Politics, Power
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Several months ago I drafted a post on Occupy Wall Street suggesting that people interested in thinking through issues of race and gender (re)turn to Adrienne Rich as a wise source. We so often forget those who have gone before us, outside a fairly limited range, and I thought posting a few quotations from one of Rich’s essays might provoke thought and also encourage folks to dig out college anthologies, hunt down books in the library, or do a little web-searching.
I didn’t post the little piece because I wanted it to be Just Right. Then I got busy.
And now Adrienne Rich has died, and I am reminded again of how much she has to teach us.
March 30, 2012
activism, antiracism, Books, Current Events, Economics, Gender, Group Identity, Media, Poetry, Politics, Privilege, Race, Sexism, Stories, Wealth, Writing
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Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled
It’s been a month since I wrote a piece on Young Anabaptist Radicals about my experience of visiting Occupy Chicago. It was three days after they had started camping in front of the Federal Reserve of Chicago and 10 days after Occupy Wall Street (OWS) kicked off in New York. At the time, I wrote with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. The visit gave me a glimpse into the sense of possibility that I remember from watching the Seattle protests but also a dose of skepticism bordering on cynicism. What could such a small group of people really do?
A month later, the answer seems clear: plenty. It still seems miraculous in many ways. While announcing the death of apathy and despair in the United States (as Michael Moore did at Occupy Oakland on Friday) is probably premature, the OWS movement has gone a long way towards tearing down the barriers that prevent so many of us from working together for change.
I’d like to share a few observations building on the framework that Steve Kryss developed in his article for the Mennonite Weekly Review. He named these parallels between the OWS movement and the Anabaptist movement that sprung up across cities in Europe nearly 500 years ago:
The Anabaptist movement emerged largely among the young. It moved through the urban contexts of educated Europeans without clarity but with a clear bent toward justice for the poor.
It emerged in and around the Peasant Revolts, which threatened established governments and religious perspectives. The radical Anabaptists were sympathetic to those whose lives were controlled by overlords.
Early Anabaptism was a movement of conversing, addressing powers and protesting. It was met with ridicule and with sympathy. There were dialogues and diatribes.
I notice three other parallels with early Anabaptism that inspire me: (more…)
October 31, 2011
Anabaptism, Corporations, Group Identity, Politics, Tactics, Young Folks
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This last year our church determined that we would open to shelter the local homeless each time the weather went below freezing, but the city wouldn’t permit other churches to open up. We live in a fairly temperate climate, but the winter was cold, and most homeless weren’t prepared for it. After opening more than 15 nights, the city shut us down. Here is my reaction to my conversation with the city. If you are interested in our church and what our focus is, please check us out at www.NowhereToLayHisHead.org
I had a mysterious conversation with the emergency services manager of Gresham and the fire marshal a couple weeks ago. I was talking to them about the need of people sleeping on the street and how much danger they are in, especially when it gets below freezing. I spoke of Fred, whose leg was cut off a couple months ago because he had slept outside in freezing conditions. I spoke of the sixteen year old girls who have been sleeping outside all winter. And about a father and his sixteen year old pregant daughter who found themselves desperate without shelter.
And the response I recieved from them is a lot of fire codes, and how we can’t open because we don’t have 200 square feet per person and how it is acceptable to have a standard of only opening churches when it gets below 22 degrees. And they told me, “This is not a social problem,” and they said, “This is not an emergency,” and they said, “You should just let other people deal with this.” This was a foreign language to me, so I spoke of fire code with them, because it seemed to be the only language we could both understand. (more…)
February 17, 2011
activism, City, Civilization, Healthcare, Illegal, Love, Politics, poverty
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Like many of you, I’ve been watching closely as the events in Egypt unfolded this week. When the protests first began on Tuesday of last week it seemed like it might be a brief flare up, quickly repressed like so many others. But momentum grew through the week and the brutality of the police proved ineffective in preventing mass protests after prayers on Friday.
Then on Saturday, the olice left the streets and the media stories began to talk about “looting” and “lawlessness”. It’s clear now that the regime’s hope was that things would get so chaotic that people would beg the police to come back. To encourage this, undercover police joined in the looting and thousands of criminals were released from jail according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Mubarak’s mantra to his own people was that he was the guarantor of the nation’s stability. It would make sense that he would want to send the message that without him, there is no safety,”said Peter Bouckaert, the emergency director at HRW.
February 2, 2011
Current Events, Foreign Policy, Police Brutality, Politics
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I live in Phoenix, the front line in the war against the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to be free. I would imagine everything here looks pretty awful from the outside, seemingly without a silver lining, but I’ve been seeing something different, something beautiful happening here.
In the midst of our police raids, our masses of children orphaned by deportation, women giving birth in shackles, and our racist legislation, something wonderful is happing in the heart of the church. People from all sides of the religious spectrum are coming together in a way I haven’t ever seen before to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
And it’s beautiful.
A friend of mine and I went to a meeting of clergy recently, gathering to discuss what we as a church can do. We met in the chapel of a United Church of Christ congregation downtown and had everyone from pastors and priests with their collars to rabbis with their yarmulkes, Muslim women in their hijabs and a few Anabaptists with babies in slings across their chests. Throw in a few Buddhist monks, devout Hindus, Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, and everyone in between and you’ve got a good idea of what the average immigration reform demonstration looks like here.
It’s a rainbow of beliefs putting our differences aside and uniting in the belief of a God without borders, without nationality, and who cares more about someone’s well being then their legal status. I have in my mind an image of God looking down on us and repeating the phrase “It is good.” as he did in the creation story in Genesis.
The hardest thing about SB1070 and similar hate based legislation is that politically, in a lot of ways, they makes sense. But I believe that we are called to do something radically different when we decide to follow Jesus. Jesus’ teaching didn’t make sense. Loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you, turning the other cheek, these things don’t make sense at all… and that’s part of what makes it so fantastic.
Believing in Jesus is believing that doing what doesn’t make sense can be the best thing, and that sometimes doing what doesn’t make sense is what makes a better world possible. I believe in that world and I want so badly to be a part of it.
July 28, 2010
antiracism, Bigotry, Church, Current Events, Illegal, Immigration, Politics, Race
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