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This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.
What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water.
Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.
Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”
And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.
This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.
In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.
Here’s what it looks like:
16th Century Corollary
Social/cultural non-conformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists
In the new issue of Mennonite Quarterly Review, five essays look at John Howard Yoder’s systematic project of sexual harassment and abuse of women. Unless otherwise noted, the articles named below are part of the issue.
Rachel Waltner Goossen’s essay “‘Defanging the Beast’: Mennonite Responses to John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse” is the most extensive of these pieces. It is the result of an in-depth year-long study using previously inaccessible files. Her piece makes clearer then ever institutional complicity with Yoder’s abuse, starting in the late 1970s through the four year attempt to rehabilitate him that ended in 1996:
“As Marlin Miller and other Mennonite leaders learned of Yoder’s behavior, the tendency to protect institutional interests—rather than seeking redress for women reporting sexual violation—was amplified because of Yoder’s status as the foremost Mennonite theologian and because he conceptualized his behavior as an experimental form of sexual ethics.”
I’ve argued previously that this complicity continued up through the summer of 2013. At the time I asked “How do we develop a theology of power that give us ears to hear the voices of those marginalized and eyes to see the way we participate in their marginalization?”
“What I want to know is, “ Mark asked pleadingly, “why has God forsaken us?”
Mark and his wife Diane, a homeless couple, has just been forced to move from the camp that they had peacefully dwelt in for years. They have nowhere to go. A summer storm blew through Portland the last couple days and because they had nowhere to legally set up their tent, they were soaked the other night, hiding for cover, and now they have no dry blankets or clothes.
They came into our church’s day shelter yesterday freezing. We were able to give them a warm meal and a change of clothes and some dry bedding… but Mark’s question lingered. He said, “I’ve been praying. I’ve been seeking God for help. Why won’t he help us?”
Honestly, I gave some pious answer about waiting and God’s timing isn’t our timing. But I wasn’t really being honest to him. I woke up at 6 this morning with his question haunting me. I couldn’t get any more sleep, so I want to be honest with you today:
The reason Mark isn’t being helped by God is because God has already given the power to help him to His people, the church, and the church isn’t interested. (more…)
It is my desire in the closing segments of my contribution to this series to address an issue that is controversial in nature. That subject being Christian separatism. When the average person that shows interests in Anabaptistica surveys the writings and beliefs of the Swiss Brethren they will pause at article IV of the Schleitheim Confession and immediately find some difference of opinion with it’s content. It reads:
We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.
To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.
Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.
From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.
Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil. (more…)
From its establishment, the Swiss Brethren separated themselves from Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their existential form of Christianity was something that the religious community as well as the general public could not fathom. While some aspects paralleled that of the Reformers concerning belief in other areas it was quite disturbing because of their otherness to outsiders.
The means in which they achieved their doctrinal and applied otherness was nothing new in and of itself. “They had come to their convictions like most other Protestants—through Scripture. Luther had taught that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves” (Shelley 248). They reasoned if Luther arrived at his biblical and theological conclusions through a search of scripture there was nothing preventing them from doing the same. They began to gather and probe the Bible thoroughly trying their best not to let preconceived notions prevent them from discovering what the genuine will of God was for not just them but for every believer.
When venturing on their journey through Sacred Scripture the Swiss Brethren “discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea” (Ibid. 248-9).
These men and women did not seek Reformation for the Anabaptists saw the futility in trying to reform something that was beyond correction or change.
Their goal was the “restitution” of apostolic Christianity, a return to churches of true believers. In the early church, they said, men and women who had experienced personal spiritual regeneration were the only fit subjects for baptism. The apostolic churches knew nothing of the practice of baptizing infants. That tradition was simply a convenient device for perpetuating Christendom, nominal but spiritually impotent society (Ibid. 249).
They considered the undisputable church was a community made of disciples that was pursuing holiness and embraced the reality that they were called out by God and set aside for His purpose. The Anabaptists desired to influence the world by their example of “radical discipleship” even if doing so meant martyrdom.
In due course, the group codified their beliefs in order to differentiate themselves from other groups that held to the Anabaptist designation. On February 24, 1527, a conference was held at Schleitheim (Switzerland) and the Swiss Anabaptists adopted unanimously what is known as the Schleitheim Articles or Confession. Originally, it was termed the Brüderlich Vereinigung etzlicher Kinder Gottes sieben Artikel betreffend when translated the Brotherly Union of a Number of Children of God Concerning Seven Articles with Michael Sattler presiding. These articles contained seven points that was eventually dispatched to the Swiss and South German Anabaptist collectives in the form of an epistle. The seven principles addressed the following topics: (more…)
Wanted: Stories of Women & Leadership in Mennonite Church USA (which I always think sounds like a sports team)
“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
A question for you: What are some of the things we do that we consider righteous things to do? Can you list them?
There are certainly things in this life that we consider to be righteous things to do. Worshiping, justice issues, caring for the poor, advocating for peace, morality and purity issues, ethics of life and nation, love of neighbor, etc., are all things that we consider righteous. I categorize them into three categories. (more…)
The short answer is “yes.” Unfortunately, that’s an answer to the wrong question. The real question for me as a pastor does not have to do with religious freedom but rather with religious coercion. In other words, the question is not, “Can I freely share my faith,” but rather, “Can I force others to share my faith?” As I said, the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the answer to the second is “no.” More importantly, considering that our schools and teachers are representatives of the federal government, the second question is not simply, “Can I force others to share my faith,” but rather, “Can the government force others to share my faith?”
In fact, these two questions are tied together, and the answer cannot be “yes” to both of them. If we live in a society where the answer to the second question is, “Yes, we can force others to have or express a particular faith,” then it is also true that, “No, we do not truly have the freedom to express our faith as we see fit.” (more…)
In light of the recent spate of articles quoting outraged clergy in Kenya and other African countries, Lin Garber collected these quote from US Christian leaders. We’re sharing them here as a guest post by Lin.
Just wanted to remind everyone that bigotry is not confined to the continent of Africa. I didn’t include URLs because I would rather not contribute to traffic counts on some sites.
“Isn’t it appalling that the United States of America would try to force the acceptance of homosexuality on other nations but at the same time we would not force them to take care of their religious minorities and they would permit discrimination and persecution of Christians?” – Pat Robertson
or someone named Janet Mefferd, described as a radio talk show host, acknowledges that
“in Nigeria not only is gay marriage a crime punishable by a fourteen year jail term but any person who registers, operates or participates in gay organizations faces a decade in jail.” Then she adds, “Alright [sic], but they’re not killing them, are they?” [Uh — dear Janet, yes they are, in some places.]
Living 10 years in Latin America, where one inevitably encounters poverty and is therefore affected by it, has shaped my life, my priorities, and my thinking.
What’s more, I was lucky enough not to live at arms length from those who were poor. Our family and the work of my parents had us building relationships with those who were poor. I got to listen to, had friendships with, and walked side-by-side with those who were struggling with poverty. These experiences and relationships have changed my life. Now, being formed by these relationships, I find myself continuing to walk with those who are poor. This has led me to work in prisons, homeless shelters, and in communities in South Africa where my hope is that I can be in solidarity with those whose lives are spent struggling against that which systemically causes, creates, or keeps people in poverty. This is, after all, a struggle for justice.
One reality, however, that continues to cause confusion, especially among Christians, is the question of whether the gospel message deals with economic or material realities. One verse that has caused much confusion is Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This verse begins one of the most powerful and revolutionary “sermons” or teachings ever articulated. (more…)
“As a church have we forgotten how to go to the lengths of cutting open a roof and lowering our disabled friend in through the ceiling just so they could meet Jesus?”
In church circles we often plaster phrases like “everyone is welcome” and “come as you are” across lawn marquees and in Sunday morning bulletins. But how often do we back that language up with authentic, Christlike inclusion?
More specifically, what are some ways we fail to remove barriers and obstacles to worship for our brothers and sisters who bring disabilities (or different cultural gender experiences, role, or sexual orientation) with them into the sanctuary on Sunday morning?
I’m guilty of a form of idolatry. It is really rather insidious. It has a guise of being in keeping with the Kingdom but it ends up taking away my time that I should be doing following Christ into the world. I listen to a whole different set of priests. I read a different set of scripture. There are even temples and altars where, if I wanted to, I could go worship. Through this idolatry, I claim that I can change the world for the better, that if I just figure out the right way to think, the right people to follow, the right ways to act, then the world will be redeemed. I spend hours at this, literally at times.
I don’t think I’m the only one. Thousands and millions of people in our country follow this idol. It consumes them. It causes marital strife. It breaks up the fellowship of believers. It causes divisions and factions, both within the church and without. Hateful things are said in the name of this idol because, just like with any religion, there are different ways of viewing the same thing and sometimes things are up to interpretation.
This idol is actually global. There are people all over the world consumed by this form of worship. Depending upon what nation you live in, there are different ways in which it is practiced. But, essentially, it all comes down to the same thing.
What idol am I talking about? One word: politics.
Think about it. How many times have you been lambasted for voting a particular way, or listening to a particular commentator, or reading a particular online blog, or any number of things? How many times have you been criticized at not being a “good person” or, for that matter even, a “good Christian” just because you support a particular party, platform, or candidate? This idol knows no political party. Democrat Christians yell at Republican Christians and vice versa. Progressives attack Conservatives. Left and Right. Blue and Red. We have become obsessed in our churches with aligning ourselves with a particular expression of politics to the point where politics is preached from the pulpit, it’s published in our church newsletters, it’s documented in our church publications, and it’s spoken about in the fellowship time on Sunday morning. And, again, no side is guiltless. I would not even say one particular side is any better or worse than another.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do believe that we have a responsibility to speak the gospel into our culture and that includes to speak the gospel to the people in our government. But when it becomes an all consuming passion of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, then it becomes an idol. We start categorizing each other by party. We start looking for ways of defending our position through Scripture and other teachings. It becomes a goal to prove that our way of looking at politics is somehow more Christian than another. We write letters to newspapers and Congressmen/women to try and convince them that our way is somehow more Christian than thier way and so on.
And the result? We look like a bunch of whining, argumentative, bigotted (both sides), unforgiving, petty, malicious, vicious, nasty people who will shoot down, knock down, run over, blast, insult, slander, and libel anyone who does not agree with us. And yes, Mennonites do this to. And Methodist. And Baptists. And Catholics. Need I go on?
Meanwhile, people go unfed. People go without sufficient clothing for the winter. People go without homes. People can’t afford to pay medical bills. People sit and cry in the dark because there is no one there to show them any semblance of love. People live in fear of their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, and wives. People live in the darkness of the depression because, to them, there is no hope. And we see this and we do our politics, claiming somehow that politics will solve these problems. We have plenty of food, LOTS of clothes, extra money to go on vacations, to movies, out to eat, etc. We spend our time watching football, baseball, soccor, playing video games. And we do our politics because that will fix it all. Guess what? It won’t. And it hasn’t yet, neither here in the US or anywhere else in the world. And that goes for right, left, conservative, liberal, etc. One group says more government will fix these problems. One group says less government will fix these problems. One says more laws to regulate things. One says less laws. One says more enforcement of laws. One says less enforcement. Well, they are all wrong because there is only ONE who can fix it all.
My home blog is not about politics and there’s a reason for that. We are not supposed to be about politics. We are supposed to be “boots on the ground” people. The politics of Jesus time did not allow for people to do the work of the Kingdom. Nor did the politics of Paul’s experiences. Or the politics of anyone in the first century or so of the church. In fact, the politics of the world didn’t really become a factor in allowing the Kingdom to move until Constantine and then, instead of the politics assisting in the Kingdom, the politics took over the Kingdom. Then we just got a NEW set of politics that either you followed the specific church of Constantine or you were not in “the Kingdom”. So, for over 2000 years, politics has been more a hindrance and enemy of the church than a helper.
And here we are, still trying to do things using the world’s system of politics, laws, government, etc, to try and shoe-horn the Kingdom into the world.
So, I’m calling it what it is. It is an idol. We have put up an idol of the world system of government, politics, etc, that somehow that human system is going to usher in the new Kingdom. To make our government equivalent to the Kingdom is to repeat the mistakes of centuries past where human government, under the guise of being “The Kingdom”, due to the corrupting nature of power and the propensity for humans in power to give in to that corruption, perform attrocities like the Crusades, slavery in the US south, the Inquisition, the oppression of the Native American nations both in North and South America (go watch the move “The Mission” sometime to see how church and politics did “kingdom” work), and countless other oppressive, selfish, and evil practices, all done in the name of Christ and the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is already here, among us. It is in our grasp. We hold it in our hearts because the Spirit that comes from God molds us into it. We are the Kingdom. The world can be influenced by us and we can have a voice in the “politics”… but what should rule our lives is not the desire to make over the world systems in Kingdom image, but to live like citizens of the Kingdom no matter what world system we find ourselves in. All the martyrs of the past knew this in their hearts. They lived in the Kingdom no matter what the politics. Some died in the Kingdom because of the politics. Some died in the Kingdom because the politics professed to BE the Kingdom and killed them for it. The Kingdom is here. We should live like it. Move ahead. Be the Kingdom.
And how will the Kingdom fix it all? Because lives change. Hearts change. People get redeemed and they look around and they see what God sees and how they are supposed to act and live and be and move. Changed lives see hungry people and buy them a hamburger. Changed lives see a man with no shoes, begging for money in the city and buy him a pair of shoes. Changed lives see the homeless and offer them the extra room in their house. Changed lives see the people struggling to make ends meet while the bills pile up and they quietly pay off the bills and remove that stress. Changed lives climb into the darkness with the lonely and scared and depressed and sit with them in the dark, holding them and giving them the comfort that comes from presence and love. Changed lives speak into the violence and fear in the family, showing love to those who need love and intervening where necessary, even giving up their own safty.
And how do lives change? By the Spirit. And how do we get the Spirit? Through Jesus. And how does that happen? People speak, people give witness, people are out there showing what Jesus can do by their actions. All those changed lives doing things? That’s Jesus. When the changed lives do things, people see Jesus, people want to know about this Jesus that gave them hope. And the people with the changed lives share Jesus.
All the kingdoms of this world will pass away, even the “mighty” USA, but God’s Kingdom will continue. I prefer to try and live for the permanent Kingdom rather than the temporary. And for those of you who will criticize that I’m calling for quietism be assured that I will still have my Kingdom views influence what I do in the world of politics, but no more will politics become equal to the Kingdom. Instead, I strive for the goal, I press on, I desire the greater gifts of love, faith and hope. I allow my life to change and, as it changes, I get up, get out, and do what changed lives do. Go, into all the world, and make disciples.
The idol of politics is no more.
I just got back from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our church took a group of 10 high schoolers on a week and a half long service trip. Our primary work was on the Samuelito Daycare building, a project of the Mennonite Churches in Bolivia. Our church here in Harper, Ks has had a relationship with the Bolivian Mennonites for going on 20 years. For a fairly typical rural Mennonite church, it’s a partnership that is pretty special and really quite amazing.
One thing to know about our group is that the majority of the kids that we took aren’t particularly involved in church. Also, most of them haven’t really been out of the state or even our county, let alone to another country. That to say that this trip was the first profound experience of the working of God on a global scale for most of our kids. As with most service trips, yes we did do some amount of good work on the building project. However, we certainly received more than we gave and were changed in some profound ways.
As part of our reporting back to the congregation, I offered the sermon below. Hopefully it’s a helpful reflection. It’s specific to this trip and to Bolivia, but I think it really should to many cross-cultural situations.
Oh, yeah and it’s cross posted here.
I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School. As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes. And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw. When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground. Yep, another hole in the ground.” What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film. (more…)
I 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?