Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Hey! Over Here! Remember Us?!

It sometimes seems that based on the blogosphere, social media and bookstores that Anabaptism is a largely "progressive" or dare I say "liberal" movement. The perspective that is presented and the conversations being engaged seem somewhat narrowly focused especially on certain issues. The buzzwords, doctrinal positions that the contemporary Anabaptist writers take (and just as importantly
the positions that they oppose) and the non-Anabaptist writers that they reference all speak to an image that  is overwhelmingly "progressive" or at least superficially contrary to what is known in Anabaptism as "traditional" or "conservative". Many progressive writers with Anabaptist sympathies claim the mantle of Anabaptism for all sort of  positions that more traditional Anabaptists or the historical Anabaptists would find completely foreign. That doesn't mean that they are wrong to hold those positions or that the traditional/historical Anabaptists were always right but it does make for a pretty confusing dialogue, especially for "outsiders" like me. That is why, while I am not a giant fan of labels because I find that they tend to divide rather than clarify, I do think that the "neo-Anabaptist" label is a helpful one in distinguishing between traditional or historic Anabaptist groups and the neo-Anabaptists as a distinguishing mark.

It certainly seems that a lot of the neo-Anabaptist thinkers and writers come from outside of the traditional Anabaptist movements, tend to drive the conversation leftward and are a gateway to neo-Anabaptism for a lot of Christians. Perhaps the neo-Anabaptists were sent a Youtube link with a talk by Bruxy Cavey or they are reading Scot McKnight and he mentions Anabaptism, sparking their interest. What tends to be missing are a lot of references to historical Anabaptism.

Unlike some other contemporary streams within the church, primarily those coming from the magisterial Reformation, the neo-Anabaptist stream seems somewhat a-historical in the sense that their identity is distinct from, and in some ways a reaction against, the traditional, "historical" Anabaptist movement. For example, in the Reformed wing of the church especially the neo-Reformed or "young, restless and reformed" types are deeply connected with the historical roots and voraciously read and refer back to men like Calvin, the Puritans and guys like Whitfield. Neo-Anabaptists, even Mennonites, are more likely to quote Stuart Murray or Scot McKnight than Menno Simons or Balthasar Hubmaier.

My own experience in Anabaptism has been far more varied. While I appreciate my "leftward" Anabaptist brethren (recognizing how inadequate and loaded that sort of term is!) and have often been challenged by them on various issues via social media, my "real life" experience with Anabaptism has been far more traditional than progressive. Gender relations, issues of human sexuality, questions like a literal Adam and hell, these are issues that the Anabaptists I am familiar with are far more likely to hold to a conservative or fundamentalist line than the neo-Anabaptists.

I have said multiple times before that the division in Anabaptism over "conservative" versus "progressive" has left both sides poorer. There are a huge number of "conservative" Anabaptists that barely get mentioned among the neo-Anabaptist thinkers. For example, one of the largest of the "original" Anabaptist groups are the Amish and estimates peg their population at almost a quarter of a million. There are tens of thousands of Hutterites and Bruderhof in almost 500 colonies (I did find out just today that there are several Hutterite blogs out there, who knew?!). There are tens or hundreds of thousands of conservative Mennonites living in South America as well as Africa and Asia and and of course there are likewise tens of thousands of various conservative Mennonites in North America. Where we live there tends to be a variety of "conservative" Anabaptists with essentially no "progressive" or neo-Anabaptist groups that I am aware of, which leads to a strange dichotomy where "real life" Anabaptism looks one way and my online "virtual" Anabaptist circles look completely different and rarely overlap.

I assume a lot of this seems to be linked to many of the most conservative Anabaptist groups being leery of technology and not terribly interested in writing books (nor were the original Anabaptists who were more concerned about avoiding torture and murder from Catholic and Reformer alike). Likewise many new "converts" or at least sympathetically minded newer adherents that are more likely to be active on social media, blogs, Youtube, etc. tend to be leftward, drawn by the traditional peace church nature of Anabaptism and perhaps finding in Anabaptism what they want to see rather than what is there. In fairness, the more "traditional" Anabaptists I know fear the encroachment of "liberalism" more than almost anything else. I remember a friend responding to the question of which kind of Mennonite their church was with "the Biblical kind". It was partly tongue in cheek but he was also kind of serious, implying that non-"conservative" Anabaptist groups were unbiblical.

The Anabaptists were and are a pretty diverse group and have a lot to teach us on a lot of topics. Let's not make the mistake of pigeonholing them into a contemporary box and in doing so missing the rich history that they have along with the new applications to discover, even when their traditions or beliefs run counter to neo-Anabaptism or when some of the ideas of neo-Anabaptism don't sound "conservative" enough.


Robert Martin said...

Reposting here from another location.

While I hear what you're saying that we can't disconnect Anabaptism from it's historical contexts (and folks like McKnight, Fitch, and Murray actually do spend time connecting the history), I don't think we necessarily need to lump non-historical Anabaptists into the bucket of "left" or "liberal" or "progressive". Quite honestly, I've found that when I engage with the liberal/left folks I get called a right-winged fundamentalist... and when I engage with the conservative/right folks I get called an UnChristian relativist heathen.

Anabaptism has always been about seeking the righteous way of Jesus. What the "neo" folks have done is translated that "righteous way of Jesus" for contemporary society and culture, contextualizing "The way" while preserving the strong scriptural roots. Perhaps they don't go with the more conservative views of "inerrancy" of Scripture or the more literal Genesis readings, but they certainly place Jesus at the center and advocate both for a strong authority of Scripture and a high calling for all believers.

So, yeah... we remember the "conservative" Anabaptist groups (being only 2 generations off of horse-and-buggy Menno myself) but the Radical Reformation of the 16th century I feel has a lot to offer to current culture and society in the west and, in order to do so and actually be able to BE that benefit, needs to consider how to incarnate that radical faith in our neighborhoods and towns.

I'll also say that there are a bunch of folks who claim Anabaptism but do so either because it serves a political cause or because there is a particular facet that they can adopt within a pick-and-choose theology. But at the core of Anabaptist thought is not "baptism", but Jesus-shaped life. So, ultimately, you need to start with Jesus.

A way of thinking of it... if Jesus were to be incarnated today in 21st century USA/Canada, what would he "look" like? Back in 1st century Judea, he was a wandering rabbi and carpenter. My guess is that, around here, he'd be a blue-collar philosopher wandering the coffee-shops of the country, being where the people who need the Great Physician hang out, still living the sinless, righteous life, but I'm not entirely certain he would look particularly conservatively "churchy". Something about him disturbed the "churchy" folks of his day... I can only assume that he'd probably tick some of us off today, too.

Bean said...

The conservative Mennonites do not really have an online presence. I order a lot of stuff from Christian Light Publications, a publishing house out of Va run by Conservative Mennoites, they do have a website, (they have excellent books) and that seems to the exception to the norm. I do a mail order bible study with Lamp and Light out of NM, they really don't have an online presence. Rod and Staff publish books, tracts, and curriculum but do not have a website. Pathways, just up in LaGrange do not have a website, but are another Anabaptist publishing house.
I would agree that in this area of NE Indiana we have more conservative groups, although there are church's that dropped "Mennonite" from their name because they felt it would be off putting for potential parishioners, and then there are other Mennonite churches who appear to be extremely conservative and they have a simple church building. I find it interesting that they do not post on their sign a phone number, or worship times etc. making it seem that it is very much a private place of worship and drop in visitors are not encouraged??
Who knows. And then there have been divisions about whether women should be pastors, and there are a fair number of female Mennonite pastors.
There appear to be many flavors of Anabaptist. But for the most part the people are Godly, kind, generous - they really seem to get it that we are called to live for our Lord and Savior.


Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
I am not in favor of the way the Amish, and Hutterite colonies live. At times there is such inbreeding in these groups that the elders prostitute out women in the back of vans in parking lots to get new blood being born in these groups. Is this Christianity? Hardly. This is a physical worldly idea of holiness and righteousness that is deceiving and false.

These groups are cultish in my mind. They are controlling, as we see that all contact is usually cut off from any members who leave to live amongst 'sinners'. These groups are also many times abusive among the leadership. Absolute power absolutely corrupts. These groups have not shown us any better people coming out of them than any other organization.

What has happened however is the Hutterite groups here in Canada are many times very wealthy. And money talks. This is worldly and has nothing to do with Christ or spirituality. At least in my mind. We don't see this example of lifestyle exhibited in scripture other than the OT. However, a new and living way has been provided for us by Christ, and these groups continue to follow rules and laws.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
I just watched a movie on TV about the Warren Jeffs compound in Utah. There seems to be nothing spiritual or godly about this leadership group of men.

This is the problem with groups of these types and kinds. Abuse ends up abounding. Mostly, sexual, homosexual,paedofile, sexual assault against minors, child 'brides', forced marriages to men often 20 to 40 years older, continual pregnancy, one of many wives(poligamy).

What these groups do is put all the assets and wealth of the 'corporation'(which it truly is) into the legal hands of one man (the Prophet, President), or a small group of related men. This can be hundreds of millions of dollars. The people, I suppose, are to be 'grateful' that they have a place to stay and a bed to sleep in.

This is so far from godliness as to be ridiculous. This is total worldliness. They look good, they act good (when they are watched), they print up good sounding literature, but it's a snake pit.

We have the group Bountiful here in Canada. The older men in Bountiful (who held the power) would send the young men away to work in basic slave camps doing forestry work. these young men would earn about 200 dollars a month working hard in this 'work(slave) camp. Nothing godly or decent about this type of practice either. Eventually and young men who were a threat were excommunicated from the group. This is total abuse of power and emotional and mental abuse against these young men.

Do we really want to aspire as Believers to live and organize ourselves according to these 'groups' ways? Not me. My advice to anyone is to RUN,RUN. RUN for your lives.

Bean said...

WOW I am shocked by some of these comments. First of all the FDLS is not Anabaptist so to compare them to the Amish/Conservative Mennonite groups is like comparing mushrooms to peaches, so far apart that I wouldn't even consider it as apples to oranges. :)
Secondly, I have never heard of Amish prostituting out their "women" to bring in new blood, that sounds like urban myth to me, or maybe in this case "rural myth".
There are good and bad in any and all groups, no one has the perfect way.
I find the Anabapist teachings to be very in line with what the bible says, and I have learned much reading books written by very Godly conservative Mennonites.
I will note these CM authors do not publicize themselves, give all glory to God, and generally do NOT have a web presence, but they sure know how to spread the Gospel, and they are very effective.


Arthur Sido said...

Bean, I normally delete crazy comments like those but I let those stand. Obviously no one who is even remotely familiar with the Anabaptist groups would give those statements much credence. Sure there are some bad apples in every group but by and large the Amish and conservative Mennonites I know are great people.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
I admit that I know little about the Anabaptist groups that live seperately from the world (in their flesh). Groups that live in colonies, communes, etc.

These groups are OT followers in my mind. We don't see this example of separtion in the NT by the early believers or this type of separation from the world (as these Amish, Hutterite, groups practice it today). This is trying to follow God's word in the flesh and in our own strength and wisdom as mortal fallen beings.

God has not asked this kind of (communal living from us). Instead He has stated that we are the crop that has the 'wheat and tares' in it. We are side by side. And the scripture says that we live so close to one another that the angel is commanded to 'leave the crop until the harvest, lest the wheat be torn up with the tares in trying to weed the tares out of the crop of wheat".

The Bible says first the natural and then the spirtitual. We see the natural in the separation of God's people from the 'idol worshipping nations around them'. This is how to separate oneself in the natural by the flesh.

Then in the NT we see something different. God does not ask his people (the believers in Christ) to follow this example. Instead he says (Jesus) that a new covenant is now established. The old covenant has been fulfilled in Christ and has become obsolete so to speak. I think that Paul dicusses this situation in the book of Hebrews. At the death of Jesus the old covenant was done away with.

These groups who live and perpetuate the lifestyle of OT Israel are off the mark. They are trying to perpetuate and keep something going that God has changed. We are no longer under this system of physically separating ourselves from 'sinners' etc. We live right with them. This is far more Godly that what these groups such as the Hutterites and the Amish are doing. In my mind they have missed the mark in Christ.

Nobody disputes that these people can be nice and live lives considered 'free from sin'. But they are not doing this in the Spirit. Nor are they following the word of God in the way they interpret 'separation' from the world.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur,
here's a web information site that I found this morning on human inbreeding.

"Other groups that are associated with inbreeding because of religion and culture are the small Anabaptist populations in North America. These groups include the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites. These groups settled in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries in search of religious freedom. These populations have shown increases in consanguineous marriages over time, and the high was reached in the 1950's when some groups reached levels of consanguineous marriages as high as 85%. The reason for the high levels of inbreeding is not only due to religion; it can also be attributed to the small isolated farming communities in which these populations find themselves. These factors of religion and small communal societies lead to limited choices when searching for possible mates (Agarwala 2001)."

Indeed the Hutterite men did protitute their women in the back of vans in parking lots in the
1970's maybe late 1960's. There were no sperm donor clinics at that time like there are now. Hutterites have wealth now. Lots of it.

I believe the men were asking for 25 dollars or 50 dollars a pop to get in the back of the vans. This means adultery. The Bible has much to say about this.

We do not know what the bible says about sperm donors and insemination of females apart from sex. I would think that this would not be considered adultery, if the women were impregnated by a sperm donor. But I don't know.