When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.
Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.
Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.
What about the Third Way?
I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.
January 3, 2014
activism, Anabaptism, Bigotry, Church, Class, culture, Current Events, empire, Exclusion, Faith, Gender, Leadership, LGBTQ, Mennonite Church USA, neo-Anabaptism, Privilege, Race, Schism, Sexism, Social justice, The Bible, Tolerance, Tradition
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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
What 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.”
October 26, 2013
Anabaptist Camp Followers, empire, neo-Anabaptism, Power, Privilege, Race, Sexism
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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…)
October 17, 2013
Anabaptism, Leadership, Mennonite Church USA, Polemics, Privilege, Sexism, Theology
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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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by Barbra Graber
This is cross-posted from Our Stories Untold
I remember the Sunday morning two Mennonite Youth Fellowship friends were made to get up in front of the congregation to publicly confess their sins. They were pregnant out of wedlock. Meanwhile John Howard Yoder, the most acclaimed Mennonite theologian and symbol of male power in the church sexually assaulted and harassed untold numbers of Mennonite women and was never made to publicly confess. And AMBS, the Mennonite seminary that hired him, was somehow rendered powerless to take action, allowing years of silence and collusion to go by while a file of complaint letters accumulated in the Dean’s office. To their credit, AMBS eventually fired him, but neither AMBS nor Indiana-Michigan Conference has ever been called by the church or anyone else to publicly explain or acknowledge the years of complicity. Quite the opposite.
John Howard Yoder continues to be lauded, his books roll off the presses, and there’s pressure from all sides to go back to business as usual, though again to their credit AMBS has made some helpful changes to the way in which his writings are introduced in the classroom.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse by men of the Mennonite Church, though not JHY. And I have walked through hell and back with many of the church’s soul-scarred women (and men), including victims of JHY. Long time friend Ted Swartz, after reading my recent rant about reviews of JHY’s books in “The Mennonite” asked me, “So what needs to be done? It feels like we are stuck…is it possible to move forward?” I like a challenge from friends and thanks to Ted I sat down again to reflect. I too would like to see us move forward. But we can’t cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” There is no peace (and may never be) for many women who lost years if not lifetimes of normal, healthy, joyous living for having been sexually abused by male leaders of the Mennonite Church. And JHY remains a symbol of those widespread woundings like no other churchman.
July 17, 2013
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“I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
~Leslie Marmon Silko
I truly believe that sharing our stories–including the actual process of writing them out–is one of our most powerful tools–a small act that starts a transformation in ourselves and the world around us. What if sharing our stories could help future generations of both men and women? What if a story could “overturn a table” in the various Temples of our day– including in the bellies of our own communities and congregations? Social media’s given more women affiliated with Mennonite Church USA a chance to get a glimpse of the diversity and reality present in our national congregations and communities–a reality and diversity that’s not always heard or lived out, let alone celebrated.
Let’s change that. Every step and every story counts.
Wanted: Stories from any woman or girl who considers herself Mennonite or shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite traditions. Check out the newly launched Mennonite Monologues web site where stories can be told through essays, poems, art, songs, photographs, and other forms of creative expression. The Women and Leadership Project needs stories that speak to your truth and experience: joy and gratitude, as well as stories of lament and pain. Multiple stories are encouraged. Whatever story you wish to tell, it is welcome. All will be collected on our blog and may be submitted with a name or anonymously.
“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
Prompts to help get you started
-As a woman, what are the stories that have shaped your sense of leadership?
-What are your experiences of being called (or not called) to leadership in Mennonite Church USA?
-How have you been empowered by the church to lead?
-How have you been discouraged from taking on leadership roles?
-Do you think there is a difference in the ways women and men are cultivated to be leaders?
-Did you grow up seeing women in leadership?
-Who were your mentors?
-What is your ideal vision of church leadership in the future? Where do you fit in?
YAR, we need your awesomely radical selves! Thanks for helping to spread the word. ~Women in Leadership Project, Mennonite Monologues team
July 9, 2013
activism, Anabaptism, Blog, Change, Community, Education, Gender, Mennonite Church USA, Peace & Peacemaking, Sexism, Uncategorized, Writing
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crossposted from As of Yet Untitled
It was five years ago in May 2008 when the Mennonite bishops of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference finally allowed minsterial credentialing of women in their churches. Notably, they stipulated that women were still not allowed to become bishops.
I followed this story closely because I grew up in the Lancaster Conference until I was 13. I watched the damaging impact the anti-women culture had on my mother when she became Sunday school superintendent in the church where I grew up. Shortly after my grandmother’s brother left the church as a result of my mother’s new role, my grandmother came to visit. I’ll never forget listening to my mother tearfully explaining to my grandmother why she’d taken on the role. "No one else wanted to do it," she explained. She had hoped that the male leaders in the church would back her up, but they did not. They were both crying by the end of the conversation.
May 1, 2013
Allyhood, Mennonite Church USA, Sexism
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As I attempt to focus on the death of Jesus today, on Good Friday, I find it difficult. I’d rather check Facebook, read a magazine or stare out the window. Tonight there’s a church service that I’ll go to, but for now the ugly reality of death and violence feels far away.
What happens if I look more closely at that aversion: that sense of yuckiness? Recently, Rachel Halder of Our Stories Untold, shared with me a story that got me thinking about this in a different way. Rachel is a survivor of sexual abuse who has become an speaker and organizer around the issue of sexualized violence within the Mennonite Church in the U.S. She shared this story about an experience working with women in a Mennonite related project:
I brought up the fact that we needed to collect stories of women who have been abused. Again, as they always are, people were very hesitant about this. They were (perhaps rightfully?) worried that older women in the church would be turned off by overt language about abuse and they wouldn’t be willing to talk about any of their stories because of that "yucky" topic.
I too often find myself avoiding the topic of rape, sexualized violence or sexual abuse. These are topics that are extremely uncomfortable. I know they are important, but I’d rather let someone else talk about them. And this is where the yuckiness of the cross challenges me. In Philippians 2:7-8, we read that Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross."
March 30, 2013
activism, Advice, Allyhood, Anabaptism, Mennonite Church USA, Rape, Roman Catholic, Sexism, Stories, Violence
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This piece by Rachel Halder is cross-posted from Our Stories Untold, a blog provoking conversation and allowing women and men to tell their stories about sexualized violence within religion, specifically the Mennonite Church.
“Most men in their lives will not commit sexual violence,
but most acts of sexual violence are committed by men.”
Joe Campbell from Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse
In order to end sexualized violence against women, children and men, we need men.
To end child abuse, domestic violence, verbal and physical abuse, we need men.
To end misogyny, we need to look to our young boys, teens, and husbands to assist in the fight for women’s rights. We need men.
It is when we see rape as only affecting the female victim that we’ve lost an important truth in the world. When we view the physical and psychological repercussions of abuse as damage only impacting the victim, we are missing a vital point. Rape and sexualized violence—whether it’s being committed against a man, a woman, or a child—destroys our collective humanity. It destroys our communities and institutions, even when we turn a blind eye or don’t admit that it’s there. Sexualized violence seeps into the cracks of our consciousness and it wiggles its way into our understanding of the world, gender roles, and where the blame should fall when such violent and horrible crimes are committed. This unawareness of rape is what allows rape culture to thrive. It’s what allows situations like Steubenville happen. And when we ignore it and act like we are separate or somehow different from these crimes, we are lost. (more…)
February 12, 2013
activism, Power, Privilege, Rape, Sexism
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Over a year ago, I wrote about grieving the loss of women’s voices here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, a problem that has plagued this space since almost the beginning. In the last 7 months, I’ve been delighted to watch Anabaptist women (including a few former YAR contributers) coming together over at The Femonite, a blog started by Hannah Heinzekehr last spring. The blog has brought together a wonderful range of feminist voices, both men and women from across the Mennonite church.
In her introductory post, Why Femonite?, Hannah talks about her identity as a Mennonite "… I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death."
Hannah’s introduction to the sexism "in earnest" came working in Mennonite institutions. Unfortunately, this fits with the stories I’ve heard from many of my Mennonite female peers working in church institutions. Hannah also names the hope she feels in so many people and communities who are finding Anabaptism for the first time and identifying with the story. This paradox captures the struggle of our generation: how do we embrace the incredible richness and potential of our faith tradition while challenging institutions shot through with oppressive patterns?
Even though this blog is only 7 months old, it’s already opened an important space to wrestle with this question. I’d like to share with you a few of the excellent posts that have been written there over the past month. In some cases I’ve added my own commentary while in others I’ve simply summarized the post. (more…)
October 30, 2012
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"Pink Smoke Over the Vatican" tells the story of the struggle for women to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Through interviews and historical vignettes, it portrays the tragedy of deeply gifted women, called by the spirit, but rejected by their own leaders.
In watching the movie, it was tempting at times to distance myself from the Roman Catholic Church. After all, I’m Anabaptist, and we don’t believe in the church hierarchy or that priests are a necessary bridge to reach God. But I realized that the story of the men in this documentary is my story as a Christian man.
The most moving scene in the film is the ordination of women as priests by a woman bishop. The scene brought unexpected tears to my eyes. My mother experienced deep pain from the Mennonite church where I grew up. Her call to leadership as Sunday school superintendent led to some members leaving the church, and she felt abandoned by male leaders. The story of these women joyfully entering the priesthood is my mother’s story and it is my story.
July 15, 2012
activism, Roman Catholic, Sexism
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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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This article was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Hospitality, the newspaper of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia
Last year was not my best year. Looking back I understand much of my dissatisfaction, but I would be lying if I said I have it all figured out, and I never expect to fully understand it. The biggest thing I came to realize last year was that I felt stagnant, in relationships, in my studies, with God. Wrapped up in my routine and my self-pity and my selfishness, toward the middle of first semester, I realized that I needed to do something really different from my usual activity for the summer. I wanted to immerse myself in a different community and a different lifestyle. I wanted people who would challenge my faith and the comfortable life I live. And I wanted to serve, to completely break off from my normal routine and just focus on serving others and looking for the face of God in those around me. I was lucky enough to get all of this and more. I came away from my SIP experience teeming with the love, knowledge of injustice, and will for justice that abounds in the community I found, but I also came away with the faces of our friends from the street imprinted in my mind and with the heartbreak of less than three months’ time living among Atlanta’s disinherited. The only other time I had more than passed through Atlanta in my life was in 2003 when I spent a week there for the Mennonite youth convention. The theme of that year’s convention was “God’s table-ya’ll come.” Now, 8 years later and after my second stay in Atlanta, I think I have finally learned what that phrase really means. (more…)
December 2, 2011
Community, Privilege, Race, Sexism
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Yesterday was 5 years to the day since my first post here on YAR, a week after Eric opened things up.
I was writing a little over a month after I returned to the United States from two and a half years in the United Kingdom, where Anabaptism was a set of values and relationships rather than a bunch of denominations. I longed for something similar in the US. I first started sending emails out to people about the idea of starting a blog in October 2005, when I was still in England. As I said in my first post:
The people I talked with shared an interest in a space where they could explore Anabaptist values and how they apply to broad areas like economics, war and society and more specific issues like abortion, homosexuality and the “war on terror.” They wanted a space to disagree or agree openly with the church,with society and with each other.
This is attempt to build that space.
September 7, 2011
Anniversary, Meta (YAR), Sexism
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I’ll admit at the outset–I used to read YAR and comment on post back in the day, but got busy with seminary. But, now that I’m out of school I’ve had renewed time and interest in reading again. I don’t feel like I have much of a right to comment on the state of YAR, because I’ve not been back int the blogosphere long. But, I’m going to comment anyway.
It’s been five years since YAR got started. When I first started reading, there was a decent balance between men and women commenting and posting. And there were a lot of questions about who this group was, who it included and excluded, and what this group wanted to be.
Looking at where the group is now, and using my powers of deduction, I see a lot of white, cradle Mennonite guys posting on this site. I wonder what happened to the women. I don’t see them posting much.
That’s leads me to my question for this group–when I look at the suggested taglines for YAR, it makes me wonder if these taglines maintain an exclusive vibe to them. The biggest culprits are the ones that really made me laugh–“Quilting outside the lines” and “Not necessarily naked”. I almost voted for one of them, but then I realized that this feeds right into the insider problem of the Mennonite church. (more…)
September 6, 2011
Meta (YAR), Sexism
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