In the wake of this summer’s Mennonite Church USA convention and the pending departure of Lancaster Conference, I am reflecting on the role of “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) in our institutions. This recent essay by John Rempel inspired me to look specifically at a blind spot common among the the “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) of our institutions. For those of you who haven’t read it, this quote summarizes Rempel’s thesis well:
Each type of church brings different gifts to the table. Moderates bring the willingness and capacity for meaningful compromise. Liberals bring the capacity to live with ambiguity and with matters that are presently incapable of solution. Conservatives bring a deep trust in the Bible and the Holy Spirit as sources of clear positions in matters of faith and life.
I resonate with Rempel’s 1 Corinthians 12 inspired vision of the different gifts of the body of Christ that he outlines. However, Rempel’s paradigm, focused around liberals, moderates and conservatives, misses a whole swath of our community and Anabaptist tradition.
To understand more about this missing community, I turn to the model of four streams of Anabaptism that Rodney Sawatsky outlined in 1992. In summary, he traces four contemporary streams of Anabaptism back to our 15th century origins: Separationist, Establishment, Reformist and Transformationist. I will focus in this article on the transformationist, but you can see Sawatsky’s table with all four in my 2007 blog post. These streams do not map perfectly onto Rempel’s model of liberals, moderates and conservatives, but however you slice the cantaloupe, the transformationist stream is glaringly absent.
16th century German historiographer and reporter Sebastian Franck (1499-1543) wrote concerning the Anabaptists in his work Chronik (III, fol. 188):
The course of the Anabaptist was so swift, that their doctrines soon overspread the whole land and they obtained much following, baptized thousands and drew many good hearts to them; for they taught, as it seemed, naught but love, faith and endurance, showing themselves in much
tribulation patient and humble. They brake bread with one another as a sign of the oneness and love, helped one another as a sign of oneness and love, helped one another truly with precept, lending, borrowing, giving; taught that all things should be in common and called each other ‘Brother.’ They increased so suddenly that the world did fear a tumult for reason of them. Though of this, as I hear, they have in all places been found innocent. They are persecuted in many parts with great tyranny, cast into bonds and tormented, with burning, with sword, with fire, with water, and with much imprisonment, so that in few years in many places a multitude of them have been undone, as is reported to the number of two thousand, who in divers places have been killed….they suffer as martyrs with patience and steadfastness (Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, 28).
Joyce and Nelson Johnson have lead the Beloved Community Center for over 20 years based on the vision and mode of Dr. Martin Luther King and inextricably rooted in the Greensboro, North Carolina. When I visited their community for in June 2011 I sat in on their “Wednesday table” where BCC staff and interns sit down with supporters and fellow organizers from the community to talk about what’s going on. I also joined one of the Bible studies and worship services that are a foundation of the centre’s life and work.
Their organizing work includes police accountability, economic justice, environmental justice, and community organizing. They see themselves as a “levelling place” for people from different racial and economic groups around the city of which 30% is African-American, 40% is white, and 30% is other (Latino, Asian and others). They were also instrumental in organizing the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked deeply into the November 3, 1979 Greensboro Massacre. Five members in an anti-Klan protest were killed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. Nelson Johnson was one of the leaders of the march and his 2011 account of the event includes footage from the massacre itself taken by news crews at the time.
The Carnival de Resistance flows out of the prophetic vision of Tevyn East and Jay Beck in conversation with many scholars, activists, and artists. In its residency form, it involves week-long convergences complete with nightly performances, a bicycle powered sound system, and a carnival midway. Sarah Thompson, Christian Peacemaker Teams executive director and CdR member, describes how the experience impacted her:
MENNONITE CHURCH USA CHURCHWIDE STATEMENT ON LGBTQ COMMUNITIES, DIVERSITY, POWER, OPPRESSION & PRIVILEGE*
Mennonite Church USA has roots in seventeenth-century churches planted by what today we might call “radicals” and “social justice activists” from Europe. Our church continues to grow and be enlivened by people who join us from many countries, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, as well as other diversities and differences. As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these seekers of church community in our congregations and communities, especially as our government fails to serve all but a privileged few, with harsh laws frequently punishing difference. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of peace and justice in this country and in this world relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability status, citizen status, religious identity as well as other statuses.
We reject our country’s mistreatment of people, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of all our community members regardless of any status.(more…)
This multi-part post is the second in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.
In this prefatory portion as a substitute for addressing each notable member of the group that is presently known as the Swiss Brethren, I will address the assembly as a whole for to do otherwise would exhaust the allotted time for this entire series of presentations. Each of those member were vivid distinctive characters that laid the foundation of a movement that no only altered the Ecclesiastical world but ironically impacted the country that epitomizes the empire they challenged via their indefatigable ministry.
In the beginning during their tenure in Zollikon and St. Gallen they went by the designation “Brothers in Christ”, it was not until later they became known as the “Swiss Brethren”. Their antagonists “both Protestant and Roman Catholic, used the label Anabaptist (“rebaptized”) for the radical reformers because they baptized adults who had already been baptized as infants” (Kraybill 10).However, as mentioned formerly from “the beginning in Zollikon and St Gallen they referred to themselves as “brothers in Christ.” Later, from some time in the 1540s, they were called the “Swiss Brethren,” the name being coined by two other Anabaptist groups that wanted to maintain an identity distinct from them – the Hutterites and the Marpeck brotherhood” (Ibid.).
History acknowledges the Brothers in Christ (hereafter Swiss Brethren) as the principal Anabaptists that engaged in the first disciples’ baptism of the movement “in Zurich in January 1525 in an effort to create immediately a complete, uncompromising and uncompromised reformed Church” (Stayer 95). The small group consisted of Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel, and George Blaurock among other like-minded believers. They severed ties from the Magisterial Reformer Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli for the reason that they felt reforms was not progressing in an expeditious fashion.
Let’s be reasonable here. He should have proposed his prophetic action in consultation with the religious leadership far in advance of the Passover feasts. This would have reduced so much stress for the Pharisees and scribes.
He shouldn’t have made his case using sacred scriptures. Too risky, too radical, too much playing his religion card like he knew it all. Why did he have to bring Isaiah or Jeremiah into this, crazy activists claiming God’s house for foreigners, eunuchs and the like! One issue at a time now! How dare he come to the temple with an agenda!
He certainly should have worked within the structures to ensure no one would be offended, no one would risk the chance at dialogue due to untimely, unvetted mention of certain outcasts. Didn’t he know that if you want to include these people, you have to exclude those people.
He should have toned it down at least a little, no name-calling nor blocking pedestrian traffic in the temple. And what’s with the whip of cords!?
The original Anabaptists’ intention was to attend to their Lord and their God’s will in a manner that was satisfying. However, there was an accompanying goal that is seamlessly interconnected with the initial one. This objective was to reconstitute the ekklesia in the pattern of the archetypical first century apostolic assembly. To reconstitute something is “to constitute again or anew; especially…to restore to a former condition” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. According to The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology the Anabaptists “saw the church as “fallen” and therefore beyond mere reform, and called for its reconstitution along New Testament lines” (70).
Roger Olson goes into greater detail regarding this objective in The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform when he explains that the Anabaptists were more protestant than Protestants in the sense that the Anabaptists:
“protested what they saw as halfway measures taken by Luther and the other magisterial Reformers in purifying the church of Roman Catholic elements. Their ideal was to restore the New Testament church as a persecuted remnant as it was in the Roman Empire before Constantine. To them, the magisterial Reformers were all stuck in Constantinianism and Augustinianism. These were the two main diseases of medieval Christianity that the radical Reformers wished to eradicate from their own independent and autonomous congregations, if not from Christianity itself” (415).
The Protestant Reformers desired to reform the Church, according to the above-mentioned dictionary to reform means “to put or change into an improved form or condition”. It also means, “to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses” and finally “to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action”.
I am a fan of Greg Boyd’s books and sermons; I really appreciate his stand against Christendom or Constantinianism. Moreover, I value how he is one of the godfathers of contemporary Open Theism since I am an Open Theist as well. However, I recently heard a sermon entitled “We The Church” where his reasoning falls noticeably short. It appears that he forgoes thinking and looking at the matter all the way through because his criticism of others in this area could very well apply to himself. Let me explain the matter fully before continuing with the main point that I want to make.
In the sermon, he relates to his listeners how Woodland Hills Church identifies itself with Anabaptism. He provides a short history lesson on Anabaptistica and he focuses on the nature of the universal Ekklesia from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Eventually he addresses how post-first century Christianity in due course allowed the world to squeeze it “into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips). Resulting in the aligned Constantinian Ekklesia to become analogs of Roman and Grecian worshippers of pagan gods even adopting elaborate temples to worship their god, in other words they started to build elaborate cathedrals. Boyd goes on to admit that the Anabaptists met in homes to worship and that they viewed “the people as the Church” or God’s temple in place of a building in the same fashion as the first-century Christians (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Now we come to the problem, Woodland Hills is a 2,500-member church; technically this church would be qualified as a megachurch. A 2,000 + capacity facility hardly qualifies as someone’s living room. A megachurch is not someone’s home; it is a few marble statues or one ostentatious mural away from being called a cathedral. Just because you are not a member of some form of the Catholic Church that does not give you, a free pass if you know the truth of the matter.
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.
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…)
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…)
Several months ago I drafted a post on Occupy Wall Street suggesting that people interested in thinking through issues of race and gender (re)turn to Adrienne Rich as a wise source. We so often forget those who have gone before us, outside a fairly limited range, and I thought posting a few quotations from one of Rich’s essays might provoke thought and also encourage folks to dig out college anthologies, hunt down books in the library, or do a little web-searching.
I didn’t post the little piece because I wanted it to be Just Right. Then I got busy.
And now Adrienne Rich has died, and I am reminded again of how much she has to teach us.
As the new millennium dawns, anabaptists do a new thing in the city: Build a communal neighborhood populated by tens of thousands of simple-living sectarians.
The project is initiated by the Bruderhof and some Old Order Amish, partly for practical reasons: (1) the Amish and Bruderhof population explosions, making it necessary to continually branch out and establish new settlements; and (2) the shortage of affordable farmland, making it difficult to maintain a rural way of life.
More importantly, the initiative stems from a “quickening” amongst these plain people, who realize they’ve lost their ancestral impulse for going into the marketplaces & street corners, inviting others to become co-workers in God’s kingdom. They also realize geographical isolation no longer protects them against worldly influences. So they branch out to the Bronx, where they can influence the world instead.
The Sermon on the Mount is defined as the 40+ sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. About half of those sayings are considered by scholars to be non-authentic (meaning they were likely created by the early church rather than originating with Jesus). Non-authentic sayings are not included here. Most Sermon sayings have parallels in other gospels (Mark, Luke & Thomas). Sometimes the parallels are in simpler form, and thus probably closer to what Jesus actually said. Listed below are 21 of the most authentic Sermon sayings, along with Torah passages that Jesus probably had in mind when formulating them. Similar sayings from other traditions are offered as well.
Luke 6:20: “Congratulations, you poor! God’s kingdom belongs to you.”
Matthew 5:3: “Congratulations to the poor in spirit! Heaven’s domain belongs to them.”
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…)