Grateful to Respondents for Bringing Bones to Life

Summaries, as I found when delineating five values in “Amid Complexities, Five Things Many Anabaptist-Mennonites Emphasize,” leave unsettling numbers of things unsaid. So I’m grateful for conversation partners’ responses; repeatedly you brought to life precisely the “bones” of those stripped-down values. Let me respond appreciatively in the order in which you each posted.

Robert Millet, there are variations in how we view and practice baptism, but yes to highlighting mature awareness of baptism’s meaning: “Latter-day Saints are also emphatic about who should be baptized—namely, only those who are accountable and mature enough to understand why they are being baptized and why the ordinance is performed in the specific manner. . . .”

You also wondered about “a Mennonite perspective toward holy scripture—that it is ‘without error in the original writings in all that they affirm.'” Some Mennonites do hold this view, which raises complexities you point to, including what we do about Scripture’s reliability without access to the original documents. I’d expect it’s no accident that the 1995 Confession of Faith affirmed by my Mennonite Church USA denomination speaks instead of a “fully reliable and trustworthy” Bible. This is my view.

Although I’d balance your “‘holy envy’ in how these Christians live out their faith” with awareness of Anabaptist-Mennonite shadows, your thoughts on war and the love and forgiveness the Amish exemplify are heartwarming.

Farris Blount III, you movingly put flesh on dry bones of my post. You observe that “Black churches have often been subjected to violence and forced to fight back just to survive. I wonder how we might consider the Anabaptist dedication to peace in light of the experiences of a Black Church tradition that is partially defined by the violence it has endured.”

On the one hand, 1500s Anabaptist-Mennonites had to discern how to live peace as other Christians drowned and burned them. On the other hand, and here I see a crucial difference, they didn’t face centuries of systemic racism and attendant violence. As you observe, “love and nonviolence were hallmarks of Black congregations and pastors who were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. To them, Jesus was love and nonviolence enfleshed and a model for how the Black Church could advocate for changes in discriminatory policies and practices.” You rightly underscore that

the Black Church has often had to contend with real violence that has harmed its members. White “Christians” would don the Ku Klux Klan uniform and terrorize African Americans, burning their churches and lynching Black Americans for no apparent reason other than hatred. The American enslavement of Black people was predicated on violence; Black slaves were raped, tortured, beaten, and killed all in the name of maintaining control of a system that saw them as the nonhuman other, often at the hands of self-professed Christian slaveowners. . . .

I’m reminded that Anabaptists have pondered how to establish a “community hermeneutic” in which Scripture, the Holy Spirit, the teachings of Jesus, and given contexts form crucibles within which communities discern what God is saying in this place and time. Your concerns delineate key factors in Black communities of discernment which in turn inform any of us. I want to honor your insightful naming of “the complicated relationship that Black communities have with violence” and the validity of such a question as “how can we expect someone to remain committed to nonviolence when history demonstrates that the most violent, often in the name of God, have been the most successful and prosperous?”

Sarah Lancaster, thank you for articulating United Methodist and Anabaptist-Mennonite points of overlap and occasional differences. When I was dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, the second-most important student cohort was UM. To help maintain our approval to teach UM students, it was my job to report to the UM University Senate how EMS connected with the “Social Principles.” If I were still dean, I’d look for ways to quote from your insights.

Christopher Geerz, you understandably wish I had said more about Pietistism and Anabaptism. I hinted at this in describing a pastor hungry for the living presence of Christ in a book he was reviewing, but much remains unexplored. Thanks for your critical yet affirming overview of the Anabaptist-Pietist dialectic and ways you see Dale Brown offering a path forward.

David Gushee, I resonate with your sadness regarding a “dizzying array of schisms and divisions” and their causes. I also would see little reason to challenge your Baptist affirmation of a “near-total convergence”!

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, you help us all simultaneously see areas of commonality and difference between the Reformed tradition and Anabaptism. Thank you for highlighting our mutual values and ways Reformed and Lutheran traditions have wrestled with persecution of Anabaptists.

You wonder if christocentrism sets the Hebrew Scriptures aside. “Isn’t a deeper engagement with the whole Word of God required?” Here is a downside of brief expression of values. I was raised in a “what Jesus teaches trumps everything else” context. However, once exposed to more scholarly biblical studies, I came see that all of Scriptures are to be engaged. Yes to your complexifications here.

Randall Balmer, your affirmations of “those countercultural Anabaptists” are welcome. And you rightly note this “underselling”:

Mr. King mentions the importance of pacifism, but I’m afraid he undersells the point. Yes, Anabaptists faced persecution and public opprobrium during World War I and the Vietnam War, but that persecution has a much longer history. . . . Hutterites, to take one example, fled to Russia and then to North America (especially Montana, the Dakotas and the Prairie Provinces) to escape military conscription, and Anabaptists faced double taxation, distraint of goods and vigilante violence because of their refusal to participate in eighteenth-century military conflicts, the Seven Years’ War and the Revolutionary War.

Mark Ellingsen, you pose great questions about whether Lutheran dialectical thought can be an appropriate gospel witness. You highlight the appeal to you and yours of a counter-cultural witness. And you persist in having fun by “confounding the world for Jesus’ sake.” Then you wrap up with this captivating question:

I need to clarify whether a Mennonite congregation would even consider a sinful sleaze like me as a member (for counter-cultural Christian though I try to be, I am still the same selfish, concupiscent being I’ve always been) and whether I would have to renounce my baptism in order to join.  If we can get around these issues, Mennonites and Lutherans could have a lot of fun following Jesus together.

I may fail my tradition by not delving into all the “legalities” adequately. But Mark, as one who has in prior responses highlighted Anabaptist-Mennonite struggles with faithfulness-turned-schismatic-legalism, whatever it takes, we need to have this fun!

Christina Wassell, valuable comments on baptism in Roman Catholic perspective: “Because Christ spoke so clearly on the need to be baptized as a part of the normal path of salvation (making room here for Baptism by desire or by blood) Holy Mother Church flings out her arms with this sacrament, in a sense, and accepts Christian Baptism broadly.” You mention Catholic acceptance of various forms of baptism versus the “believers church” approach you experienced when told at age nine “that now that I was old enough to choose faith for myself, it was best that I be baptized again.”

I won’t respond systematically to your excellent questions, including whether sin can erase the mark of baptism or Anabaptism can honor the baptism of your age-nine self. But the possibility of falling away from Christ is present in my tradition; that’s why at nine myself I was terrified I’d fall from Jesus into damnation. I draw comfort from the it’s-not-all-on-you Catholic extension of grace.

Your youthful baptism: By age eight my own daughter wanted to mark following Jesus with baptism. Not ideal from a classic Anabaptist perspective. But there was genuine hunger. Her pastor’s conclusion: She’d mature in understanding the import of her decision, but her clarity of conviction must be honored. After age-appropriate tutoring in the meaning of following Jesus, he baptized her. She follows on.

David Ford, you cite this 1995 Mennonite confession article: “We believe that God has created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and that God preserves and renews what has been made.  All creation has its source outside itself and belongs to the Creator.  The world has been created good because God is good and provides all that is needed for life.” You say that

this tremendously positive, Creation-affirming statement could well be the basis upon which Anabaptists and Mennonites might develop a sacramental understanding of the material world and all of Creation—a view that would be in accord with the sacramental understanding of all of the material realm that the Orthodox Church has always held from the very beginning.

You open my tradition to me in ways I hadn’t thought of!

J. Terry Todd, your hints at possible responses to your questions anticipate how I might answer. I concur: at least potentially for Mennonites resistance is witness. Another example: Herald Press has issued many editions of the More with Less Cookbook, by Doris Janzen. Long before climate change hit headlines, Janzen taught millions about eating that resists harming the planet.

I responded more fully on your post to your wondering about “spiritual and emotional violence at work among these peacemakers.” But I resonate, hence why most of my postings reference Mennonite shadows. I also resonate with your seeing overlaps between Mennonite and Pentecostal shadows and your take on schismatic splitting.

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