N.T. Wright recently had a Q and A session on his Facebook page, and he responded to this question:
What would Paul say to a Christian serving in the military?
Wright’s response can best be summarized by these two statements:
This is again straight Romans 13: God wants there to be human authorities, but they are answerable to him.
It is therefore appropriate in principle for a Christian to serve in such a force [the state], basically an extension of police work.
(You can read the full response here.)
In reaction to this, Kurt Willems wrote a response showing where he disagrees. Kurt, in classical Anabaptist fashion, believes that Christians should be nonviolent, but that the state still serves a purpose. There is a separation of church and state, and the state is a necessary evil. (more…)
January 24, 2014
Anabaptism, neo-Anabaptism, Nonviolence, The Bible, Theology
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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 post was originally posted at http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/28/unkingdombookreview/)
Mark Van Steenwyk has written a thoughtful reflection on the significance of Jesus and his in-breaking Kingdom as an alternative way of being in our society that is marred by evil forces, social structures, death-dealing oppression, and coercive violence. the UNkingdom of God is a subversive and anti-imperial vision for a repentant life concretely following after Jesus, that doesn’t attempt domestication or try to mince words. The book reflects the radicalism of an Anabaptist vision, as well as a liberative and prophetic witness that takes seriously the abandoning of empire while walking humbly in the footsteps and Way of Jesus.
One of the most important things about the UNkingdom of God is the way that he exposes how America and Christianity have merged so profoundly, being so deeply intertwined, that it has merely become an imperial puppet and tool. This is primarily done through personal stories as he retells his own story of being indoctrinated with American Christianity, awaking from it, and then ultimately repenting from it. It is primarily his own lived experience being told, often humorously, that I believe will resonate with many that consider themselves Christian while also a part of the dominant culture. For example he begins in the introduction explaining his infatuation with America and its ‘Dream’, and how he responded when he heard the song “God Bless the USA” as he watched fireworks in the sky. He explains:
At this point, I could no longer sing along. With tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat, I broke down weeping. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. I wept as the song played out, and I continued to weep as the fireworks began to fill the night sky. It was like a mystical experience.
Clearly, Mark Van Steenwyk understands what it is like to be enthralled with America and American Christianity. However, he didn’t remain there. The goal of the book is to call people to repentance. And this is the particular strength of this book. I am not sure I have read a book that has so clearly and powerfully called people to repentance in a way that resonates with the way that Jesus did so. We are challenged to repent of our Christianity and how we have been unwilling to experience God because we have him figured out already. He names the issue. It is that “We think we are open to learning the way of Jesus, but our cup is already full of our own ideas.” It is something that we are not conscious of, therefore, we go on engaging scripture and sermons as though we are growing in Christ, when in reality our cups are already full, so everything else just spills out. Steenwyk reminds us that “We need to empty our cups. We need to repent of the myths that crowd our imaginations. We need to repent of our Christianity.” Ultimately, Steenwyk describes that we need to even release and let go of our image and understanding of Jesus before we can truly “be the love of Christ in our world.”
August 28, 2013
activism, Anabaptism, Community, empire, Ethics, Faith, liberation theology, patriotism, Race, Theology
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This post was originally featured on The Jesus Event, and is part of a series entitled “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of the author’s favorite writers, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey.
Below is an interview with The Jesus Event’s Tyler Tully and the Femonite’s Hannah Heinzekehr
Tyler- There are a lot of misconceptions out there about being a Mennonite and being raised as a Mennonite. You seemed to have been raised by parents who made room for good theological frameworks. How would you explain what it is like being raised as a Mennonite?
Hannah- Well, for me, being raised as a Mennonite didn’t mean looking “outwardly different” at all. For me, what it meant to grow up Mennonite was that there was always an emphasis on Jesus’ story and what that meant for how we lived. And some of the ways that this got expressed were through baptism later in life — baptism occurred when you were old enough to make a conscious choice that you have to make on your own to follow Jesus. It also included an emphasis on peace and nonviolence as part of the way that we were meant to live in the world. For my family, being Mennonite also meant being pacifist and resisting violence in all its many forms. This doesn’t mean that we are passive — I think we also strongly believed that we were meant to protest against injustice in the world — but we weren’t going to use violence to do this work. And the third thing that I often think of is that being Mennonite, for my family, meant being part of a church community that was active in each other’s lives and not just on Sundays.
I think there was a strong emphasis on communal decision making and being willing to give and receive counsel to one another.
August 10, 2013
Anabaptism, Biographical, Blog, children, Church, Discipleship, Family, Mennonite Church USA, Theology, Writing, Young Folks
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When my Christian faith first began to radicalize, I became very interested in the Franciscan tradition. The advocacy for radical discipleship, peace, and social and environmental justice that is associated with the ministry of Francis of Assisi naturally appealed to me. At first, I did as many do, and associated the Franciscan tradition with Roman Catholicism, but as I studied more, I found that the Franciscan movement is actually surprisingly diverse.
Back when Francis first started out, there were already a few different sects that identified with his movement, and some were so radical that they were even expelled as heretics. To be honest, I am surprised that Francis was not expelled as a heretic, like so many similar figures were. Even today, there are multiple Franciscan orders in the Roman Catholic Church, and there are numerous Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, and ecumenical Franciscan orders. When I first started investigating the Franciscan tradition, and considered joining it, it was the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans that appealed to me. I actually planned on joining this order. I had spoken with one of their members about it, and even had the application ready to send in, but other events in my life caused me to put that on hold. I started to study other radical traditions, such as the Anabaptists, instead.
May 20, 2013
Anabaptism, Church, Contemplation, Discipleship, Emerging Church, New Monasticism, Roman Catholic, Theology
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As Anabaptism emerged in 1525, opponents of this new movement described those who became a part of this movement as “radicals.” They even described it as “the Radical Reformation.” Why did they describe this movement as “radical”?
In one way it seems fitting. The early Anabaptists did not seek to reform the church but to restore it to the way of Jesus—the way in which the community of Jesus was gathered and was taught. This way meant taking the teachings and life of Jesus seriously; to live according to his example. For example, given that Jesus was the Prince of Peace, it was a call for his followers to live by this same peace. When Jesus taught to love one’s enemies, it was a call to not seek ways of killing someone. Jesus, the kingdom that he inaugurated, and his invitation to participate in this kingdom is radical. Therefore to live by his example would be very radical!
There were several particular reasons why the Anabaptists were described as “radicals” in the 16th century. One reason was that to follow in the ways of Jesus required one to live according to his example. Menno Simons wrote in 1539 that “Whosoever boasts that he is a Christian, the same must walk as Christ walked.” A follower would need to make a voluntary decision to follow the way of Jesus. Second, was the conviction that to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, meant also being people of peace. This meant practicing nonviolence even if confronted by violence. “Pacifism” is the word used to describe this path of discipleship. They believed that God’s shalom (peace) would not come through violence. Third, the ways of Jesus, his kingdom, and thus the ways of the community—the church—seeking to be faithful to Jesus and the kingdom would lead to practices that would conflict with the principalities and powers. The focus of these principalities and powers was not, and would not be, the pursuit of the kingdom of God. This becomes apparent in that “the powers” normally use a top-down, authoritarian form of ruler-ship and power, whereas the Anabaptist understanding of church assumes a bottom-up, servant attitude towards the other. Also, the state could not depend on these radicals to participate in the call to war and killing. This was revolutionary. The call of the disciple of Jesus was to follow his will even if that put them into conflict with the will and desire of the state.
May 7, 2013
Anabaptism, Discipleship, Ethics, Peace & Peacemaking, Power, Theology
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I was not raised in the Christian religion. Like many from the First World, I was raised in a Christian culture, but I was not raised in the church or with a knowledge of the Christian religion. I spent most of my childhood as an agnostic with some Buddhist flavor, and when I was exposed to the Bible, it was through a children’s storybook. As a result, I associated the Bible with fairy tales. This would eventually come to change as I felt the desire to actually study religion. Part of it due to my brother’s influence.
My brother was like me. He was not raised in Christianity, but later converted to it as a teenager. He originally came to Christ through the Pentecostals, then he became an Evangelical. It was when he was attending an Evangelical Free church that I first came to truly appreciate Christianity again. It was also during this time that I got my first Bible, which was the New Living Translation. I did not believe in Christianity during this time, but it was something interesting to study and do on the weekends.
One thing that I learned from Evangelical Protestantism was that everything is personal and private. We are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We are supposed to personally convert to Christianity, and salvation was all about personal redemption from sin and death. Even the Bible was to be read and interpreted privately. Even in economics, Evangelicals tend to stress capitalism and enterprise over community and charity. Then, I began to study Catholic theology, and I started to use a New American Bible.
May 3, 2013
Anabaptism, Church, Community, Emerging Church, Interpretation, Roman Catholic, The Bible, Theology, Tradition
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When God tells us to love everybody, even those who don’t love us back (Matt. 5:44/Luke 6:27-28), isn’t this an imitation of the way God loves?
When God tells us to be generous and give to everyone (Matt. 5:42/Luke 6:30), isn’t this a reflection of God’s universal generosity?
When God tells us to be merciful and compassionate (Matt. 5:48/Luke 6:36), aren’t we following the example of God’s compassion and mercy?
When God tells us to be nonviolent in the face of violence (Matt. 5:39-40/Luke 6:29), isn’t it because God is the ultimate pacifist? (more…)
September 18, 2012
Anabaptism, Ethics, Evangelism, Fair, God, Love, Nonviolence, Social justice, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance
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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.
July 7, 2012
activism, Advice, Anabaptism, antiracism, Awesome Stuff, Bias, Bigotry, Change, Church, City, Civilization, Community, culture, Current Events, Dumb Stuff., Education, Emerging Church, Ethics, Evangelism, Exclusion, extinction, Faith, Foreign Policy, Global Church, God, Group Identity, Hate, Indigenous, Interfaith, Interpretation, Judaism, Leadership, liberation theology, Love, Media, Mennonite Church USA, Mental health, Nonviolence, philosophy, Polarization, Polemics, Politics, Sex, Social justice, Spiritual Life, Tactics, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Travel
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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.
March 28, 2012
Anabaptism, Awesome Stuff, Change, Church, City, Dumb Stuff., End Times, Evangelism, Exclusion, God, Group Identity, Interfaith, Judaism, Love, Mennonite Church USA, Nonviolence, Peace & Peacemaking, Polemics, Pornography, poverty, Sex, Social justice, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Urban Ministry, Wealth
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“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)
February 6, 2012
Anabaptism, Awesome Stuff, City, Civilization, Dumb Stuff., End Times, Ethics, Evangelism, God, History, Interpretation, Judaism, liberation theology, Love, Mennonite Church USA, Sex, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Urban Ministry
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Warning: This blog post contains some graphic images.
MLK day is day when we appropiately focus a lot on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christianity and the prophetic witness of the movement he led against racism and white supremacy.
We sometimes forget that most of the white people who Dr. King challenged were Christians. I think it is as important for me as a white person to understand the faith of the segregationists as it is to understand Dr. King’s faith. This is one way I can do my work and understand whiteness in the work of anti-racism.
Let’s start by taking one step back and looking at slaveholder Christianity. Specifically, the faith of white Christians who owned African-American slaves here in the United States. (more…)
January 15, 2012
Church, Privilege, Race, Theology
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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…)
August 22, 2011
Anabaptism, Biographical, Change, Church, City, Civilization, Consumerism, culture, Current Events, Economics, Education, Ethics, Evangelism, Exclusion, God, Group Identity, History, Interfaith, Love, Mennonite Church USA, Mental health, Nonviolence, philosophy, Polarization, poverty, Power, Privilege, Race, Schism, Sex, Spiritual Life, Stewardship, Stories, The Bible, Theology, Tolerance, Tradition, Urban Ministry, Wealth
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Three weeks ago I was at Freakstock, the annual Festival of Jesus Freaks, a German protestant church made up primarily by punks, hippies and other subcultural types. It was a great experience and I’m a bit sad I didn’t go there before. It is exactly this community of alternative and happy Christians my age I’ve been looking for. All the other people I could relate to were either my parents’ generation, non-Christian, or people who lived elsewhere – like the readers of YAR.
August 22, 2011
Awesome Stuff, Church, Economics, Food, Global Church, God, Stories, Theology
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One thing that I find so inspiring in South Africa are the countless people who do and participate in miraculous activities day-in-and-day-out as they strive to make their community better. In working for the Anabaptist Network in South Africa, my wife and I have the honour of meeting different people all around the country and listen to the different ways these people, these normal people, do extraordinary things; often risking their own comfort, their own well-being, and their own security in order to help others. They demonstrate day-in-and-day-out an alternative way of being; a way of being that seeks the well-fair of someone else over their own; a way of being that serves others rather than themselves; a way of being that strives towards peace and justice, not just for themselves but for everyone. It is a different way of living.
Why do I say that this is a different way to live or a different way of being? I say this partly because we are regularly encouraged to focus on ourselves, our own well being, and our own happiness, rather than on someone else. We see this regularly portrayed in T.V. commercials where happiness and success is depicted as getting the keys to the car we always wanted, growing one’s business in order to afford the luxurious life, where bigger is better, where success means power, where power means influence, and where influence means progress. The focus tends to be on the self: securing one’s own success, power, and influence.
Throughout the Bible, however, we find God embodying and asking us to embody a different method, one that challenges the assumption that success, influence, and power is gained by focusing on oneself. In fact, God’s method often turns these assumptions upside-down.
July 27, 2011
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