Today I write from the library at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN. I am here with fellow pastors, theologians, professors, students and denominational leaders trying to define an Anabaptist Christian. It turns out this is not altogether possible because there are many Anabaptist movements springing up all over the place, each with their own uniqueness. One could say there has never even been such a thing as An Anabaptist. From the very beginning in the 16th century, Anabaptism has never been a monolith. The same could be said about the Mennonite Church, which of course traces its roots to the 16th century Anabaptist movement(s). MCUSA is not a monolith. MC Canada isn’t either.
As theologian Drew Hart said this morning, there are different convictions and centers within each of these movements and expressions of Anabaptism. When pressed to be a little more specific, Hart highlighted the importance of discipleship (following Jesus) and community. He, being the social activist that he is, said that another dimension of Anabaptism that has been there from the very start is a “minority mentality.” Early Anabaptists critiqued social orders that were oppressive and that put people into harmful hierarchical categories.
Of course now many Mennonites living in North America don’t necessarily have this “minority mentality” and instead are often part of dominant culture. Has this new found privilege caused some of us to turn our backs to the most vulnerable? Have some Mennonites turned away from Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming “good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”? (Luke 4:18) And will we recover once again what many 16th Anabaptists recovered? That is, will Mennonites follow Jesus in life, participating in his ministry to those oppressed, believing Jesus to be present with us in this work?
Notice that in defining Anabaptism Hart does not focus on potlucks, or four-part harmony singing, or certain foods, or certain names or family lineage. Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but let’s not forget that the heart of Anabaptism traces back further than the 16th century and all the way to the heart and life and death and resurrection of Jesus and the ministry that Jesus seemed to put his heart into. Are we, he asked, willing to join this Jesus in questioning systems of domination and privilege today? And as others have asked this week, will we wrap our work in prayer, asking that the Holy Spirit inspire us to be such a Jesus-shaped people? Will we pray and work toward becoming people who are willing to put our time, resources and talents toward building a more just social order? If so, maybe we are one of the many Anabaptists today.
I hope this is a conversation we can continue to have at Rainbow. How do we define our Mennonite/Anabaptist identity? And using Hart’s definition, would people look at Rainbow and see these Anabaptist convictions at work?
I encourage people to get familiarized with Drew Hart’s reflections by reading his blog found here.
Finally, a picture of two more Mennonites/Anabaptists.
Sophie Lapp (left) was a recent Mennonite Voluntary Service worker and Abby Banning (right) grew up at Rainbow. They are both living in Goshen, IN. I met them at Goshen College Mennonite Church during a lecture by Greg Boyd.