Mennonite Church USA

The evil, rotten core of US war and empire and why it should make us all angry as hell

Geleyn Corneliss being tortured while his torturers played cards illustration from Martyrs Mirror modified by Third Way Cafe

A page from the Martyr’s mirror depicting Geleyn Corneliss, who was hung by his thumb while his torturers played cards. Modified illustration from Third Way Cafe

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Yesterday, March 6, 2013, we in the US learned in The Guardian that our government put torture and death at the center of our policy in Iraq. According to the article, Jim Steele, who was heavily involved in the El Salvadoran death squads, was called in to replicate the model in Iraq in 2004 with millions of dollars at his disposal. This strategy, known as the “Salvador Option” was apparently known and discussed at the highest levels of the US government and supervised closely by General David Petraeus. These actions are consistent with US policy since the end of World War II: torture and mass murder in support of US economic interests.

This is no aberration: it is the norm for empire. Nevertheless, many will hem and haw, rationalize and suggest this is still a few bad apples, albeit 4 star general apples. Tragically, most in the United States will simply ignore it. But what about us, as Mennonites: as Anabaptist Christians? What will we do?

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Legacy Mennonites and Anabaptist Camp Followers: a conversation

cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The other day I had a good conversation with Mark Van Steenwyk, a writer and activist who lives in the Mennonite Worker community in Minneapolis, Minn. The conversation brought me back to concept of Anabaptist camp followers (ACF’s) that I first dealt with in December 2009, in Levi Miller, peace and justice and the Mennonite chattering class, a response to a piece by former Mennonite publish Levi Miller that took a jaded look at “peacenjustice” as a fading marketing ploy and coined the phrase Anabaptist camp followers. In the last paragraph of my article, I offered a challenge to Mennonites to welcome this generation’s ACF’s:

Today, we are seeing a new wave of “Anabaptist camp followers.” As with the earlier wave, many of them come from evangelical backgrounds looking for the missing peace and justice. I’ve heard many first and second hand stories of young evangelicals walking into Mennonite churches longing for the whole gospel only to find a church doing its best to blend in with all the other Christian churches in town. Will we once again blame them as naive idealists and turn our back on them as we focus on keeping those inside the fold happy?

Since then, the importance of ACF’s has become even clearer to me. I was part of the conversation that led to Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship, which is a conversation between ACF’s who have been drawn to the Mennonite church over the past 50 years and cradle Mennonites drawn to radical discipleship. From California to Georgia, the book looks at the seeds that have grown when ACFs have interacted with the Mennonite church. (more…)

So I Finally Read The Naked Anabaptist

I have been identifying with the Anabaptist tradition of Christianity for a few months now, though I have been interested in it for much longer. When I first began to associate with Anabaptism, it was largely superficial, so I have been hesitant to identify with Anabaptism. Recently, however, I have been actually going in-depth into Anabaptist theology. I have mostly been reading about Menno Simons and Hans Denck, but three days ago I finally got a copy of Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist.

Typically, whenever I read a book, I will read it in sections rather than in one single attempt — for some reason I will get bored and have to regain my interest — but this was not the case for The Naked Anabaptist. I only got this book three days ago and I consumed it in only a couple of hours worth of reading. I found it to be one of those books that just keeps your attention (Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation also had this effect on me). (more…)

Somewhat YOUNG, (Neo) ANABAPTIST and Definitely RADICAL

Greetings

I am a new contributor here and I thought I would take this time to introduce myself and provide a little background information regarding myself and my journey towards Anabaptism.

I have questioned things all of my life, because of my inquisitive nature especially in the area of Christianity and religion I became an atheist at an early age. The reason for this was that I scrutinized the actions of my family. I saw how their behavior was not consistent with the Missionary Baptist faith they professed. During my late teens, I experienced some mood-associated disturbances that eventually led me down the path of faith.

While on this trek, I stopped off for the night at many spiritual inns as it where, I encountered numerous faiths and many Christian related groups.  I learned a lot in the process, at one particular spot I was introduced to the Swiss Brethren/Anabaptists. Even though it was a brief encounter, there was something about the ancient group that fascinated me.

Soon after I attempted to look more into these Anabaptists but all I could find at the most was short remarks about them in Church History texts (blink and you’ll miss it). This earnestly irritated me so I went and checked the internet and I found a plethora of information. Shortly after I began to attend Bible College at a school intimately associated with a renowned Southern Conservative evangelical theological seminary.

In the beginning, everything was fine, things even got to the point where I was receiving all sorts of assurances that I would obtain an adjunct position once I entered graduate school. However, at this time I was also delving deeper into the Anabaptist belief system, which led me to question publicly in class certain things I was taught there at the College. As a result, my “friends list” of professors became shorter and shorter. The final straw for them was when I completed my studies and started applying for graduate schools. All the professors that continued to associate with me desired for me to attend the seminary that the College was associated with but by this time, I was too far-gone. I chose a Quaker Divinity School in the area since it was the closest to an Anabaptist institution I could find.

All the promises of a teaching position went out of the window. According to some, they could not have me because those “heretics that only got baptism right” too heavily influenced me. My thinking was “okay well now I know where I belong”. I then looked into the Mennonite Church since they were supposed to be the descendants of the original Anabaptists but what I saw was completely different from the group I read about in practice and doctrine. This was a good thing because I really did not intend to join a Protestant mainline Church because that is what the present-day Mennonite Church resembles to me, at least the ones I have seen.

Presently I am 34 and trying to figure it all out, I am endeavoring to get to the “root” (radix) of Christianity.  I hold to the core convictions of Anabaptism (I know this is heavily debated but at least the ones I see as the central ones). Along the way, I have embraced theologies and practices that I think complements or improve upon those principles and teachings of my spiritual predecessors. These teachings have labeled me as an outcast as well but so be it. Since I do not have any links to the Mennonite Church through blood or even membership, I feel that I am a Neo-Anabaptist and I take it as a privilege that I have the ability to contribute to this fine group.

Principles of Anabaptism

As you all know from an earlier post that I made, I am a recently converted Anabaptist. I still do not have a church yet, but I am searching. For now, I see myself as an Anabaptist seeker or an “Anarcho-Anabaptist”. Despite my lack of a specific Anabaptist tradition, there is still the larger tradition of Anabaptism that I most certainly identify with. Of course, there is a lot of diversity within that tradition — liberals, conservatives, radicals, and even fundamentalists. All of the branches of Christianity seem to be also present in Anabaptist Christianity. Even with all these different shades of interpretation, there are some common principles that make one an Anabaptist.

Two examples of Anabaptist principles were shared by Kurt Willems for Patheos, and I wanted to share them here as well. I think that these two lists make a perfect summary of Anabaptist Christianity, and can help those who find this site understand our stance. In fact, there was recently a comment on this site that said the Young Anabaptist Radicals was “anti-Anabaptist”. It was a very strange comment, and seemed to limit Anabaptism to a very small category of beliefs. So, sharing these principles may help people understand just how broad the tradition we claim is, while also giving them an introduction to it.

Core Convictions of the Anabaptist Network

1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him. (more…)

The GC/MC dance of authority and autonomy: An interview with Lin Garber

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled (with different introduction)

Dancing at Living Water

Over the years here on YAR, discussions about the differences between the approach of the (Old) Mennonite Conference (MC) and General Conference (GC) have cropped up now and again. This comment from AlanS from 2010 is probably one of the most insightful. For non-Mennonites or those who have joined in the last 12 years, these reference are mysterious. Nevertheless, for those of of us working for change in the Mennonite church, understanding these differences are critical. To that end, here is my interview with Lin Garber, the convener of Mennoneighbors and a writer and editor. Lin graduated from Goshen College in 1957 and is a member of The Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

Tim: Lin, in a comment on The Mennonite website* you discussed the differering approaches of General Conference (GC) and the “Old” Mennonite Church (MC) to Section III (“Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership”) of Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA (2001). For those who have never heard of the terms GC and MC, can you briefly explain some of the history?

Lin: Today’s Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) took their present forms around 2000 in what was termed a “transformation” (as opposed to discarded language like merger and integration). What had been the Mennonite Church, often informally and unofficially referred to as the “Old” Mennonites (MC), stemmed largely from 18th-century immigrants to North America with Swiss and south German origins. It had conferences in both the United States and Canada, a few of which had congregations on both sides of the border, but the bulk of its membership was in the United States.

What had been the General Conference Mennonite Church came out of a movement within the “Old” Mennonites of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1847 that in 1860 organized as the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. A main stated goal of the group was to unite all Mennonites into one body. It grew slowly over the next dozen years as a few congregations decided to join it, but starting in 1874 its membership exploded with the influx of immigrants from central Europe and especially from southern Russia, mostly the Ukraine. The bulk of these immigrants were of Dutch-Prussian (i.e., north German) descent, and those cultural influences came to dominate. At the time of the “transformation” around 2000, the membership of the GC was roughly balanced between the United States and Canada, with the United States having a slight edge.

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John Chinaman

Reading old Newspapers can often be an exciting experience.  Especially in small town newspapers many editors were quite blunt and do the point.  Sometimes this makes for rather humorous descriptions of the rough and tumble life of early white frontier settlers.  Other times, their bluntness cut straight to the heart of an issue, convicting not only the readers of old but those who still gaze upon the articles today.  Recently I found such an article.

On May 18, 1888 the Harper Daily Sentinel in Harper, Ks published an op-ed piece about one of the Asian workmen who had left Harper to go back home.  While the wording grates on modern sensibilities, especially in the final sentence, the point comes across loud and clear.

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Save Buddhism from Christian Missionaries: A Manifesto

Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are some of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus. But those concepts didn’t originate with Jesus.

He found them tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the Torah. Almost every saying in the Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. The genius of Jesus was the way in which he put his own “spin” on the Scriptures, highlighting and elevating the positive aspects of God’s personality, while ignoring and rejecting the negative aspects.

The ideals of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity weren’t the unique property of the Judaic tradition, however. They could also be found earlier, and further east, in what is now India, Nepal, Bhutan. In the Fifth Century before Jesus, a man named Gotoma developed a body of teachings based on what are called “The Four Immeasurables”: (more…)

Final Judgment: A Parable

On the great day of judgment, all of humanity was gathered in a celestial banquet hall. It was a huge space, with a massive round table in the middle. The table was so big that it accommodated what seemed to be hundreds of thousands of people, probably more. As one looked to the left or the right, there were people as far as the eye could see. Yet somehow, by some supernatural optical phenomenon, one had no trouble seeing clearly everyone seated directly across the table. In a position of prominence was the Almighty herself, who interestingly had an appearance not unlike the way God was portrayed in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” yet whose Voice was unmistakably feminine. After a while, some grumbling was to be heard, as people began to take notice of who was present. Finally, a lone voice cried out, a voice with a thick Brooklyn accent, saying, “Hey God, I’m happy to be here, of course, but I see my old neighbor Moshe sitting over there and I know that rotten sonofabitch rascal ought to be in the other place. What gives?” (more…)

Mennonite justification for removing prayer from public schools

Some people find it odd that I am both a pastor and against having mandatory prayer in the public school system. After all, didn’t Jesus say things like, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” and “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory”? Aren’t we called to boldly proclaim the Gospel in every area of our life?

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…)

A study in Tweaking: Steve Jobs, Vincent Harding and Mennonites

DSC_0276

This month Malcom Gladwell had an article in the New Yorker looking at the legacy of Steve Jobs. His central thesis is that Jobs’ gift was not originality, but rather tweaking: the ability to take the inventions of others and refine and improve them dramatically. Gladwell points out that the iPod came out 5 years after the first digital music players and the iPhone more than a decade after the first smart phones hit the market.

Gladwell is building on the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr who used this lens to look at the industrial revolution in Britain. For example, they point out the importance of the many engineers who improved on Samuel Crompton’s original invention of the spinning mule. These “tweakers” dramatically improving its productivity through minor changes.

Likewise, Gladwell says, “Jobs’ sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it.” Gladwell makes his point with many episodes from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs. Job’s particular way of tweaking made him very difficult to get along with, even as he was dying of cancer:

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated… Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

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Widening the Circle Book Discussion and Signing

YAR contributors ST and TimN have chapters in the new book, Widening the Circle: Experiments in Christian Discipleship edited by Joanna Shenk, also a YAR writer. If you are near Goshen, Indiana, we’d love to have you join Joanna, Tim and other chapter authors for discussion and a book signing on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm at Waterford Mennonite Church, 65975 State Road 15.

If you’re on Facebook, you can sign up here. At the event Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor at Goshen College, will give input about her chapter which explores issues of racial diversity and Mennonite identity. Andre Gingerich Stoner, staff with Mennonite Church USA, will share about his experience at the Sojourners community in DC in the 80s and how that has continued to shape his vocation. James Nelson Gingerich, medical doctor in Goshen, will share about the founding and ongoing work of Maple City Health Care Center as the organization has chosen to be mission driven rather than survival driven. (more…)

Manifesto of the Marginal Mennonite Society

We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.

We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)

We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.

We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.

We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”

We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.

We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment. (more…)

Fierce and Fabulous

Who knew queer anabaptists had such great stories. When I was sitting on the South Shore Line on my way to the BMC retreat I had no idea what to expect from the weekend.

“The BMC”, as it is commonly called, is short for The Brethren Council on Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Interests. I know the name is long and very forgettable but the people who are part of the BMC definitely aren’t . This year the BMC celebrated 35 years of fierceness and fabulousness. That’s nine years longer than I’ve been alive. Some of the people I met this weekend were advocating for LGBT inclusion before I knew I was gay and even before I was born. For over three decades these people’s voices have been silenced by both Mennonite and Brethren denominations and yet they keep working, keep advocating, and most surprisingly they keep laughing.

The laughing part is what most surprised me; these people have some painful stories to tell but they also have some absolutely hysterical ones. Everyone had stories to tell and so many of these stories resulted in hearty laughter. Whether it’s an awkward coming out story or taking a family picture in plain drag, these queer folk have some amazing stories. (more…)

becoming Mennonite

Last year I had an opportunity to visit eight Mennonite communities in the United States. I talk about it as my get-to-know-the-family tour (I haven’t been a Mennonite for very long). I am discovering that we are quite a diverse denomination. I ended up writing a series of reflections for The Mennonite Weekly Review about my experiences in these different congregations (see the column, Life of the Body).

I ended the column with a summary reflection about what it means to think of Anabaptism as a living tradition in which we can participate by being part of the Mennonite church (among other Anabaptist denominational bodies):

An Anabaptist vision that is simply an essence distilled from various histories turns our tradition into a corpse. Anabaptism as a system of principles ends up killing the past. Once we have a system, we no longer let the twists and turns of our present life give us new ears to hear what we may have missed before. Within a living tradition, old voices are made new as we let our ever-changing world open us to displays of faithfulness from different times and places. Anabaptism comes alive when we locate ourselves within cultures of worship that become spaces where stories can echo back and forth through the ages. (“Faith that lives“–not my chosen title)

Anyhow, that’s were I’ve ended up, at least for now. If you are interested in further thoughts in this direction, I put together a booklet of my reflections. It’s available at the website of the church I’m a part of: CHMF, Mennonites. But I’ll also post it here, if you’re interested:

Isaac Villegas, Life in the Body (2011). (click to download the whole booklet in pdf form)

Below are some passages from the booklet, if you want to get a taste of it to make sure its worth your while. (more…)