Sooo, here’s a question. Why would a cranky, cynical, seemingly secular urbanite like me delve into a serious journey examining spirituality and faith? Well, in the past few years I’ve been hanging out with Anabaptists – first as an M.A. student in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and now as digital media faculty with EMU’s Visual and Communication Arts Program.
These folks are radical. They throw down for justice. They don’t fly a flag because they won’t commit to the State (only to God). Anabaptists are profoundly non-violent and I am discovering how this plays out in interactions all over the community. I am pushed and pulled (non-violently!) by this set of practices and am in a process of discovery with (among so many others) a formidable Mennonite mentor named Beryl.
Apparently, I am not the only non-Mennonite exploring the modern implications of this 500-year-old faith whose followers consider themselves (and often actively place themselves) on the fringe of society. The first reading assignment Beryl and I will explore together will be the recent book intriguingly titled “The Naked Anabaptist” – written by an Anabaptist “outsider” named Stuart Murray. I’ll get back to this topic throughout the semester as Beryl, other EMU colleagues and I compare notes.
In the meantime, here is an excerpt from an interview with Murray. His quote that Anabaptism “is a way of following Jesus that challenges, disturbs, and inspires” rings true.
Why do you think there is growing interest in Anabaptism in Great Britain and other countries in Europe?
Europe has become very secular. The old links between the church and the state—what used to be called “Christendom”—are disappearing. Today we are living in a post-Christendom era, when the church is no longer at the center of societal life. Since the early Anabaptists also lived at the margins of society, their experiences and perspectives are attractive to many people who are looking for ways to live faithfully as follows of Jesus today.
What are the bare essentials of Anabaptism for you?
For me, there are seven essentials, or core convictions. First and foremost is belief in Jesus; he is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. The second is seeing Jesus as the focal point of God’s revelation. The third is being free from the state and all that Christendom implied.
Fourth, Anabaptists are committed to finding ways to be good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted. Fifth, Anabaptist churches are called to be communities of discipleship and mission, friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. Sixth, spirituality and economics are interconnected for Anabaptists—something that is very important in our individualist and consumerist culture.
Finally, for Anabaptists peace is central to the gospel. It is not the center of the gospel—Jesus is the center of it all. It is as followers of Jesus that we are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives to violence in our world—not peace for its own sake.