It is without question that the influence of religious groups in America is on the wane. As I have said hundreds of times I don't mourn this or even think it is a bad thing. I have come to realize that politically conservative religious moralism has about as much to do with the Kingdom as politically liberal secular libertinism. No need to hash that out again but it is the reality we are living with, as is the question of how much we have blurred the line between the two. As the weeks roll by post-election, the handwringing and garment rending shows little sign of abating anytime soon.
It can be seductively easy to think of the American religious landscape as if it is the sum total of the Christian experience when in fact we are just a short, albeit significant, dot on the map. The history of the church didn't leap from 1st century Jerusalem to 18th century America after all! For much of the 2000 years that have elapsed since the cross, the Roman Catholic church has wielded enormous power of secular affairs, from the crowning of kings to the possession of land to the starting of wars. Even after the Reformation we still see "the church" wielding enormous influence, including here in America where religious divisions led to many of the political boundaries we take for granted today. As Americans values changed, perhaps corresponding with our increasing affluence and comfort, the religious institutions of our land have lost ground which has i turn led to some strange bedfellows.
Going back perhaps to the election of Reagan we have seen former enemies joining together in a bid to cling to political power and influence. Protestants and Catholics alike have become united for the sake of politics in a way that we never saw even a hint of for the sake of the Kingdom. This was "successful" for a time thanks to the efforts of groups like Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the manifesto known as the Manhattan Declaration. For a short while it seemed that a coalition of evangelicals and Roman Catholics would prove to be a powerful voting block for some time to come, culminating in the election of George W. Bush who was one of the, probably the, most vocal Presidents about his faith in recent memory. How quickly that has collapsed. In spite of spirited attempts to raise the (rather ironic) specter of religious persecution over the Obamacare birth control mandate, Barack Obama won the presidency for a second time. Less convincingly to be sure but without a doubt he won. This has left religious conservatives scrambling.
So what does this have to do with Anabaptists?
Just this, keeping in mind that I am speaking more of the early Anabaptist than their modern descendants who seem to be split in two on opposite sides of the same myopic hermeneutic. The Anabaptists never had to learn to minister and evangelize after losing their influence and power because they never had any to begin with. From the outset they were hunted and persecuted and hated. Yet they still reached many, many people for Christ and provided a powerful witness that deeply impacts many of us today, a witness that is far more valuable for us than the great theologians of the Reformation era or more modern church leaders in America safely writing book after book from the safe cocoon of a pastoral office or a seminary campus. We can learn much from those who reached the lost with the Gospel in spite of government persecution.
In these days which seem so dark for so many Christians (for all the wrong reasons I might add), it is well worth our time to spend our efforts looking to how our brothers of ages passed ministered amidst opposition rather than pining for a golden age that never really existed. The Anabaptists provide us with a witness and example, one tempered by the fire of persecution and watered with the blood of matrydom, that Christians feeling adrift and powerless would be wise to study.