Mixed Congregations

Do any of you radical anabaptists have non-radicals in your home congregation? I attend a Mennonite Church that has a large number of James Dobson fans in the congregation and another large number of people who do not want to offend any of these folks for fear of conflict and/or losing valuable members of the congregation. A friend of mine who is very peace and social justice oriented is very frustrated by the lack of support in this congregation and even some outright hostility towards peace issues being brought up in church.

We have ceased being a peace church in order to appease veterans and their spouses in the congregation. Some Mennonite women it seems have married non-Mennonite men who have military backgrounds and feel that bringing up peace issues is disrespectful to the sacrifice they made for their country. The women fear that if peace issues are brought up, their husbands will either want to attend a different church or just not attend church, so they don’t really want any peace issues brought up in church.

How do other congregations deal with this? I have suggested that the church bring in someone from the outside to help resolve these issues and to help the church unite but I don’t think the church elders are interested in stirring up controversy and will probably just continue as they have been- sort of ignoring the issue and avoiding dealing with it too directly. The church is sort of struggling- not really growing, and most of the congregation is older now.

I am very curious about how others have dealt with these issues, either as a congregation or individually. I think this must be a common issue among Anabaptist groups. Have people left for other denominations, such as the Quakers or Unitarians to find a more peace and justice-oriented group, and felt at home there? Have people attempted to deal with the issue within the congregation by some sort of mediated exchanges and dialogue among the various viewpoints? Please comment. Thank you.

Comments (11)

  1. Skylark

    A person isn’t a radical if they have a military background? That’s not what you said directly, but I had to laugh at the association. Radical comes in many forms.

    My church has/had ex-military people, too. I didn’t hear anyone back down from their beliefs that war and violence are bad things, but I also never heard anyone bashing soldiers. A family who was a part of my church for four-five years was united through military service. The dad was in the Marines(?) in the Philippines when he met the mom. She had three daughters with a husband who had abandoned her. They married and had a son. He came back to the U.S. to work on getting the four immigration papers. Eventually, they all came to the U.S. My church supported them through this, and I never heard a word of “You shouldn’t have been in the military” directed toward the dad. He knew where most of us stood. We didn’t have to remind him.

  2. MennoD

    Since when did Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock define the radical movement they began soley with words “peace and justice”? What does a “mixed congregation” mean?

  3. TimN

    MennoD, you’re right that Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock did not soley define their radicalism on peace and justice, but challenging the government and treasonous love of enemies were a big part of what made the state angry at them.

    Take a look at the charges read against Michael Sattler and 13 other Anabaptists:

    Clerk: The charges against Mr Sattler are (1) that he and his adherents acted contrary to the decree of the emperor; (2) that he taught, maintained and believed that the body and blood of Christ were not present in his sacrament; (3) that he taught and believed that infant baptism was not promotive of salvation; (4) that they rejected the sacrament of unction; (5) that they despised and reviled the Mother of God, and condemned the saints; (6) that he declared that men should not swear before a magistrate; (7) that he has commenced a new and unheard of custom in regard to the Lord’s Supper, placing the bread and wine on a plate, eating and drinking the same; (8) that contrary to the rule he has married a wife; (9) that he said that if the Turks invaded the country, we ought not to resist them, and if he approved of war he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the Turks.

    Source: AT 16: Michael Sattler: An Early Swiss Anabaptist Martyr

    While some of the points in the charges are standard tenants of protestant faith today, if we imagine someone on trial for similar charges today they might include defying the Patriot act and saying that if they approved of war they would fight on the side of Al Queda.

    My point is that the early Anabaptists were rocking the boat and it sounds like the people in Ron’s church are quite afraid of anything that might make them uncomfortable. Including any mention of peace. I don’t think they would have been comfortable around George Blaurock:

    On January 29, 1535, only four days after the baptism of the Thomann household [8] , George Blaurock went to the Zollikon church. That Sunday Nicolas Billeter was preaching. As Nicolas went towards the pulpit George Blaurock stood and loudly asked what Nicolas was going to do. Nicolas replied, “I am going to preach the Word of God.” Blaurock then boomed, “Not you, but I have been sent to preach!” (Moore 74) Confused, Billeter said that he had been appointed by the Zurich authorities to preach that day. Enraged at this foolish response, Blaurock launched into his sermon. Nicolas mounted the pulpit and said that it was rude to cause disorder in the church and that if any person thought that Nicolas erred that they could discuss it with him in his house. Blaurock then bellowed, “It is written, my house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves!” Blaurock then struck a bench with a stick he was carrying to symbolize the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. At this time the deputy magistrate who was in the congregation ordered Blaurock to stop the disturbance or Blaurock would be arrested (Moore 74).

    Source George Blaurock: Quite the Man by Isaac Beachy.

    Ron, I think the question you ask in this post is a key one for the Mennonite church. What happens when Mennonite congregations become embarrassed by parts of their own tradition?

    I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I think our goal should not be homogeneity, but rather openness to discussion. MennoD is right that “peace and justice” is not the only element in the Mennonite tradition. For some, the emphasis on service is a focus. For others, personal piety is key. These streams were all part of early Anabaptism as well.

    Ideally, I think a healthy church is one where we can bring together these different Anabaptist streams together and see them as parts of a tapestry that are stronger together. This has never been easy for Mennonites. We’ve always preferred to split off and start a new church. Or they avoid talking about their differences at all costs, which it sounds like is what is happening at Ron’s church.

  4. RonL (Post author)

    Thank you fellow YARs for making my point exactly by posting comments similar to some church members’ comments. This forum mirrors my church situation on the rare occasion when someone in the church ventures to mention the word “peace”. If someone mentions something about peace, others will misconstrue what he/she is saying, misquote him, and criticize and attack him for saying something he never said. Like my church, I do not feel this is not a safe forum for open dialogue.
    I did not say that “a person is not a radical if they come from a military background”. I did not say that, “You should not have been in the military”. I did not say that “Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock defined the radical movement they began sole[l]y with the words “peace and justice””. I did not say anything like those statements which were posted as if I did state them.
    Please read my post again. I described the situation in my home congregation and asked for help. I feel attacked for doing so and have been offered little help in dealing with the situation.
    By mixed congregation, I mean a group where people have very different ideas about what the gospel means, how to apply it, and the direction the church should take. In our congregation, peace seems to be a particular issue which we have disagreements about but haven’t really dealt with.
    Seeing beyond the misquotes however, I am interested in how you really feel about the situation since it seems that you have some strong feelings about this topic. MennoD and Skylark, can you please restate how you feel about this without misstating what I posted? I would like to understand what you are really thinking on this topic. Thanks.

  5. Skylark

    Ron, I didn’t mean to attack you. If I came across that way, I apologize. I said “this is not what you said directly” but I had read “a person isn’t radical if they have a military background” into your comments. I do think we need to be careful of assuming things about people that may not be true or a complete picture of who they are. Someone who held a military position as an 18-20 year old may have grown and matured into realizing you can’t “fix” a hostile culture just by having more guns than them. That person might not believe all violence is wrong, but s/he may be more committed than many of us so-called “peacemakers” to service work. I think it’s important to actually talk with people and find out what they think rather than projecting certain views onto them. That is what I meant by “Radical comes in many forms.”

    Now, as far as how Menno churches handle the diversity… Not talking about it isn’t good. I was saddened to read your account of quietly compromising your church’s peace stance. With whom have you spoken about this issue? Have you met with your pastors and been blown off? Have you tried to arrange an informal congregational meeting to begin talking about people’s views? Have you approached any of the military spouses and asked them to share their concerns with you? The only person you mentioned specifically that you talked to was your friend. I don’t know, from your post, how you know what the military spouses think. Could you share a little more? Thanks!

  6. Adam Penner

    Hey YAR…

    This issue is not only one for congregations… but entire denominations. My own, the Mennonite Brethren, has been thoroughly infused with fundamentalist evangelicalism to the point of almost completely ignorint its Anabaptist roots. What is most frustrating is that in a time in N.A. when emergent/missional/new monastic movements are adopting Anabaptist theology/ecclesiology in droves, we who have a heritage that should be informing our denominations and congregations are walking on egg-shells. Sorry for the rant, but as a young, passionate Anabaptist MB, I deal with this on a congregational and institutionalized level.

    My hope is that we, the younger generations of Anabaptists can reclaim our theological heritage. Many recent and upcoming graduates from my own denominational seminary (MBBS, Fresno, CA) are committed to doing so, but it will require courage and patience.


  7. db

    Ron said: “I attend a Mennonite Church that has a large number of James Dobson fans in the congregation and another large number of people who do not want to offend any of these folks for fear of conflict and/or losing valuable members of the congregation.”

    I can’t say that I’ve had an experience like this one, Ron, so I’m curious to know a little bit more about it. Hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that this happened overnight; that is, the church has progressed to this point. How long have you been at this church? Are the people that you describe as James Dobson fans identifying themselves as pacifists? Do the leaders of your church call themselves pacifists?

  8. RonL (Post author)

    Apology accepted. I am a little thin-skinned for these internet discussions.

    I have written a letter to the elders of the church about this issue. I don’t feel that I am in a position to moderate this discussion myself, so in the letter to the elders, I suggested bringing in someone from the outside with experience dealing with church conflict to facilitate the discussion.

    I understand the church’s hesitancy in confronting this directly since, if not done appropriately, it could just be making this worse. I have some experience/training in conflict resolution and I have found that the process is very important. Few people actually have experience with quality conflict resolution process, so in their experience arguing doesn’t lead to good results and they just avoid the conflict.

    I have spoken to people in the congregation who don’t share my views on the peace issue. I understand their views, as I posted above- that’s where I got the information from- their own mouths- not just my own assumptions. One spouse of a vet was very upset about peace being brought up in church because the Vietnam vets were spat upon when they returned from Vietnam by people advocating peace. Another person felt that conscientious objectors were like parasites, enjoying the freedoms that others (veterans) paid for by the sacrifice of their blood. So, I do understand their views somewhat. However, I don’t know if they really are ready to listen to others’ views without a proper process since they are still angry and holding resentments from years ago.

    I do agree that you should not just make assumptions about someone’s beliefs because of what they may have done in the past. I try not to do that. I also agree that ex-military people are sometimes the most critical of the military. For example, President Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex” to describe a system where war is encouraged by economic and political factors. I have known a lot of ex-military people in my life and realize that they have varying beliefs.

    I invite others to comment.

  9. RonL (Post author)

    Here is an example I found of an effective process- the New England town meeting:


  10. Nathan Eanes

    good discussion. I hope to have a better chance to comment later, but one thing I believe we need to be very wary of is what we might call the “devil’s compromise,” which I have seen in a local Christian school near where I used to live. This school was begun by Mennonites but is heavily populated these days by a good number of people who Ron described as “James Dobson” types (for lack of a better term). As you might imagine, there are major disagreements on social issues and doctrine, but unfortunately this particular school “resolves” these conflicts not by prayerfully and logically discussing their differences in an attempt to become closer, but rather by deciding that neither side will push the other’s “hot button” issues. The Mennonites will not push the “peace and justice” issue, and the others will not push to have the Pledge of Allegiance or American flags in the school. Thus the school is a void on these issues and effectively stands for nothing.

    I understand that there are times to “agree to disagree,” but in this instance it seems that both sides are accepting an empty compromise that guarantees that no one will ever have to be challenged by anything they don’t agree with.

  11. scott lyons

    Dear Brother, I would encourage you to remember that Jesus, too, often faced opposition. He did not grow angry, he did not call in someone from outside to resolve the conflict…He loved HIS enemies…He stuck to HIS message, despite how uncomfortable it made some people. And, despite the fact that they eventually nailed HIM to the Tree for HIS Message, yet HE did make HIS point! I am sure the Dobson crowd are a mighty wind, but they do not speak for the Most High. He speaks for HIMSELF and those who are faithful to HIS Word reveal so in theire lives. Remember, one does not get good fruit from a rotten tree, and a healthy tree will not give forth rotten fruit. Re-read James and the Prophets and remember the tongue! An unbridled horse! Stand strong and straight in HIS cause and HE will defend you. There are not two TRUTHS.

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