“The Bible through Anabaptist Eyes: Christ at the Center,” a seminar on biblical interpretation, will be held on Saturday, April 18 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pennsylvania.
The event features three Anabaptist scholars, who will be giving presentations and leading discussion around the following questions: How does Anabaptist theology and biblical interpretation speak to the challenges proclaiming the gospel in the 21st century? Where do we Anabaptists find ourselves in the midst of rapid change, theological shifts, and increasing interaction with other faith traditions?
This free training will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is open to members and attendees of Franconia Conference congregations. Credentialed leaders are especially encouraged to participate. Registration is required and available on the conference website.
Laura Brenneman, who will present an Anabaptist overview of the Bible. She teaches at Eastern Mennonite University and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, as well as the University of Illinois, including a program in a men’s prison.
Dennis Edwards, who will speak on Anabaptism and the New Testament. He serves as senior pastor with the Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Terry Brensinger, who will address Anabaptism and the Old Testament. He is vice president of Fresno Pacific University, dean of the Biblical Seminary and professor of pastoral ministries.
byPhyllis Pellman Good, for Mennonite World Conference
Whether you’re planning to attend the next Mennonite World Conference assembly, or just want to learn more about Anabaptists around the world, Mennonite World Conference staff have book recommendations for you.
“We should be well-informed hosts,” says Richard Thomas, who chairs the advisory council for the assembly. “Most of us probably can’t become fluent in Indonesian or Amharic or French between now and next July. But we can certainly learn more about our sister churches around the world.”
Five-volume global history series available
Mennonite World Conference recently commissioned a five-volume global history series, with one volume for each continent where Anabaptists live. The books are written by people from those continents and reflect the perspectives and experiences of the local churches. The series includes:Testing Faith and Tradition (Europe volume), Mission and Migration (Latin America volume), Anabaptist Songs in African Hearts (Africa volume), Churches Engage Asian Traditions (Asia volume), and Seeking Places of Peace (North America volume).
“I’m reading these books as one way to get myself ready for Pennsylvania 2015. I want to have a deeper understanding of how my sisters and brothers have found and sustained their faith,” said Thomas. “Many of them have survived wars and hunger and immense political pressure. Many have Muslim neighbors. I have so much to learn from them–and the histories tell those stories.”
Book about shared convictions
Thomas said he is also reading What We Believe Together: Exploring the “Shared Convictions” of Anabaptist-Related Churches, by Alfred Neufeld. The book is based on the Mennonite World Conference statement “Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists,” and includes stories from around the world and questions for discussion.
I am concerned that many Anabaptists have unconsciously and unknowingly adopted a model for social action and ethics that is problematic because it cooperates with our racialized and unjust society. Therefore, I figured I would offer an “in house” discussion on the subject. This all flows out of listening to the language and comments of my brothers and sisters (though mostly brothers) as they talk about engaging society (or not) in relation to various social issues we are confronted with in the U.S.
More specifically, I have observed many talk about desiring to remain “local”, “contextual”, “on the ground”, and “ecclesially” oriented when it comes to dealing with social realities. Let me be clear, I believe it is essential that we are rooted and grounded in local communities. When I hear these terms being used, it is often done so in great contrast to the Christendom logics for social engagement that is so common in American Christianity. Many seem to only imagine their social options for responding to injustice as being limited to the so-called democratic electoral process. More specifically, every four years, Christians pop blood vessels and gain grey hairs stressing over who the next president will be. This is the only active engagement that they will have socially, so I guess their limited options impose on them a certain manner of stress that cannot be released through daily resistance and activism. So, I am in agreement that our Christian imagination should not merely be defined by citizenship and the options given to the “good citizen.” However, there are also some serious consequences for swinging the pendulum all the way in the other direction, and again, they have racial implications, as well as others.
The first thing we must remember is that we live in a racialized society. By that I mean that race shapes our society’s movements and organization. Basically, race manages us socially and geographically. Unconsciously, most people are “patterned” by race in various ways. Most people go to a church where the majority of people are of the same race. Most people live in a neighborhood where most people are of the same race. Most people attend a school where the majority of people are of the same race. Most of the people that we call to actually chat with are of the same race. Most people regularly invite only people of the same race over to their homes for dinner. Based on race, we often have a sense that we “belong” in certain spaces and not in other spaces. In a sense, race has a sophisticated way of managing us and segregating us, despite that it is not legal segregation. This is no surprise, given that we are working with 400 years of deeply racialized laws and practices in this land. Those types of responses, if not intentionally resisted, will be unconscious and inevitable practices in our society.
If we take seriously the depth of our racialized society, and how it impacts our lives (which I have only unveiled a tiny fraction of), then we must consider the racial outcomes that flow from limiting and only concerning ourselves with “local” & “contextual” realms. For example, lots of research has been done exposing national racial issues that demand massive response.
A perfect example is Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow. She exposed the national crises and confirmed with data what African American communities have been experiencing and prophetically speaking out against since post-civil rights era. Her simple point is that at every stage of “law and order” from policing, stops, arrests, trials, sentencing, and even after release back into society, the process is racially biased against Black people. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to order it and read it carefully (book discussion groups are being formed right now–contact Samantha Lioi for more information).
Anyway, if you live in a primarily white, suburban, middle class neighborhood that is not vulnerable to these practices and instead actually look to the police and judicial system, expecting it to provide protection and law and order, then what are the implications of deciding to limit your social engagement to your local situation?
You see, by looking down and limiting your social engagement, you create for yourself an artificial social vacuum. It is as though your community and social life has nothing to do with what goes on regionally, nationally, or globally. That isn’t so. The reality is that our way of life always has direct implications beyond our local contexts, because we are interconnected much more than we realize. Only from a vantage point of privilege and comfort, blinded by the logics of dominant culture, can someone think that an ecclesial ethic is sufficient on its own, when it has not taken seriously its own social location and complicity in social systems. This is precisely why historic Anabaptist streams have a complicated history as it relates to slavery and racism in America. On one hand, most Anabaptists did not participate in slavery, unlike almost every other Christian tradition and denomination. On the other hand, unlike the Quakers, many of whom eventually became great abolitionists, Mennonites did very little to actively confront and challenge slavery and later racist manifestations like Jim Crow, Lynching, the convict leasing system, etc. So, it definitely is important to have a formational community that produces people that can resist participating in things like slavery. But it is also important to produce people that are willing to head towards Jerusalem and accept the consequences that come from confronting a social order that does not align with God’s Kingdom.
In 1963, Martin Luther King decided to protest in Birmingham, which was not his actual residency or home. In the process, he was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement over Easter weekend (which is probably the most faithful observance of that weekend that I have ever seen). However, some moderate yet influential white ministers, who were supposed to be “for” integration, critiqued King and the movement while he was sitting in jail. One of the big critiques was that the civil rights movement was moving too fast and was being provoked by “outside agitators.” They argued that it needed to be dealt with by local Birmingham citizens, not outsiders. Dr. King in contrast, understood the danger of limiting one’s social responsibility merely to one’s own local context. Here is just a small portion of his response, in his now famous, Letter from Birmingham Jail:
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.
So, in wrapping up, I hope to stretch the focus from merely being ecclesial ethics and local concerns. We do not want to fall back into Christendom logic, where the only options are from the top down, but nor can we disconnect what goes on in Nazareth from what goes on in Jerusalem and Rome. I encourage us all to continue to practice an ecclesial ethic that is simultaneously a socially located and marginalized ethic. I’m not sure the Church collectively can truly follow Jesus faithfully in the world if it isn’t exploring the world from the vantage point of being in solidarity with the crucified among us. And if one suffers, we all suffer, therefore, as King argues, we are no longer outsiders because everyone’s suffering pertains to us.
by Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation
I still remember the words of my tour guide in St. John Lateran in Rome. She referred to our group’s Protestants with loving disdain. She announced, “For the Protestants here, I want you to remember that this was your ‘Vatican’ — the center of the Western church for centuries before you splintered away. Your faith has come to you through this space.”
I sought to find my own story in the midst of the grand, bright cathedral on Rome’s east side, close to the city wall. In my six months living in Rome, this worship space became significant as I worked to reconcile myself with the “catholicity” of my faith.
Walter Klassen’s book Anabaptism: Neither Protestant nor Catholic was published a year after I was born. His phrasing shaped many of the ways we Anabaptists have understood ourselves within the Christian story — as belonging to neither tradition. Upon reflection later in life, Klassen suggested the book might have been better titled with “both/and” rather than “neither/nor.”
I’d say it is clear that Anabaptists have been Protestants, but we have yet to live into what might be possible if we take our catholicity seriously.
In these days of Mennonite Church USA turmoil, what does it mean to embrace the best of catholicity?
Anabaptists are more than local, temporal communities. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that to flourish in a global era, organizations will need to embrace both their local and global nature. In the church, this suggests both the local and the catholic (global) are essential for identity and decision-making.
While many of us are biased appropriately toward our localities, we cannot ignore our catholicity, our togetherness. Privileging local discernment alone can ignore both the possibility and responsibility of living within and incarnating God’s shalom intended for all of the world.
Localities can be just as toxic, menacing and oppressive as distant and hierarchal systems that don’t understand the local or respect the relational context — where we sit face to face, see eye to eye, in relationship with one another.
Neither our locality nor our temporality alone will effectively shape our discernment and trajectory in a global age. Our faith and movement is undeniably interconnected (even though at times we wish it weren’t) and providential (part of the holy intention of the Spirit to cultivate a peoplehood beyond racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, national boundedness).
Localities can become self-referential and ignore the voice of the other. Our willingness to tell the story of a God who loved the world so much must be tied to a willingness to do likewise across the chasms of difference of experience and interpretation.
Our lifetimes will be filled with relentless questions and complexities presented by the gospel and our cultural contexts. Though it may be easier to disintegrate into 100 million blooming localities, I wonder if the time and the Spirit might not require more of us. I can’t shake the idea that Jesus’ final prayers for us included a plea for “oneness.” I hear this as an invitation to catholicity — a community that goes beyond the local, into the holy intention of mutuality.
Withdrawing into familiar localities is the invitation of the spirit of our age but not the invitation of the Spirit of our Lord. The Spirit and the Word require much more of us.
Drew Hart’s journey has pulled him into uncharted territory. His theological work is an encounter at the borderlines between black liberation theology and Anabaptism.
Rarely linked in academic circles, Hart argues that the shared pursuit of justice equips these two traditions to be complimentary conversation partners. Although, Hart emphatically adds, “Anabaptism needs black theology more than black theology needs Anabaptism.”
The origins of black theology can be traced back to the publication of James Cone’s Black Theology & Black Power in 1969. Black theology is a multidimensional approach to theological reflection. Born out of the ongoing experience of oppression endured by the African-American community in the United States, black theology draws from Christianity, the Civil Rights movement, and Black Power. Like feminist, womanist, or Latin American liberation theology, black theology communicates that God is partial to the struggle of those who are the most invisible and least powerful in our culture and society.
The tone of black theology is overwhelmingly constructive. The hope of black theology is not only the radical liberation of the African-American community from racial prejudice, but the emergence of a renewed society, one that provides equal power to all.
Hart’s own engagement with black theology began during his undergraduate studies in Biblical Studies at Messiah College. His discovery of Anabaptism came at the tail-end of his Masters of Divinity work at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pa. Now, as a doctoral candidate at Lutheran Theology Seminary in Philadelphia, Hart is focused on creating scholarship that furthers the conversation between the two traditions that have shaped his faith story.
Hart’s desire to draw resonances between black theology and Anabaptism is as promising as it is timely. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, many Christians concerned about racial justice sought to lament the ruling. Hart has used his vibrant theology blog as a medium to analyze the verdict’s social and political implications in light of Christ’s resurrection and subsequent defeat of the powers of violence. On his blog, Hart writes, “God invites us to be part of his Resurrection world that overcomes the violence and oppression of this current world and to participate in the world to come, where the vulnerability of young men like Trayvon (and our loved ones) will no longer happen.”
As an associate pastor at Lansdale’s Montco Bible Fellowship and a developing teacher, Hart is passionate about helping Christians of all colors follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Indeed, the sub-title of Hart’s blog, “Taking Jesus Seriously,” always means paying attention to – and having the eyes to see – how social power is unjustly determined by race and class dynamics in our present context.
This challenge is especially hard for white Christians, who often take for granted being in positions of social dominance.
“Dominance is a blinder,” says Hart, and the possibility of overcoming racial injustice involves allowing those in positions of social prestige to be haunted by an uncomfortable challenge: “Can we, despite all of our instincts, truly and fully trust the experience of the other?” This question is, for Hart, a question that Anabaptists are uniquely suited to ask as underdogs in the history of the church. Intentionally working to process our social locations through stories and experiences told by the “least of these,” according to Hart, is something Anabaptists have always attempted to do, albeit imperfectly.
As a leader in both the church and academy, Hart is driven by a vision of justice. It is a vision, though, that is energized by a prayerful patience that God’s solidarity with the oppressed and the biblical promise of a reconciled world will overcome injustice. For Hart, the church is “called out” to be an agent of God’s healing so that the watching world might “catch a glimpse of Jesus’ life.” The church’s public witness is most powerful when it engages in, Hart says, “concrete acts of wrestling with a society in relationship to what it might become” rather than accepting what it may be in the present.
In order for the church to bear witness to God’s dream of a just world, the continual work of overcoming internal divisions and tensions is critical. The church worships each and every Sunday under the gaze of a watching world, a world that is increasingly longing for an encounter with the reconciled people of God. With a pastoral spirit and a vibrant theological vision, Drew Hart is a leader who will continue to help us discern how to embody justice in our communities.