The Naked Anabaptist

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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.



Filed under A Story Doula Kind of Story, Pathways to Whole, The Giant

2 responses to “The Naked Anabaptist

  1. I’m so jazzed you’re reading this, Paulette. Murray’s doctoral work on the method of biblical interpretation of 16th century Anabaptists has a permanent place on my shelf, and I’ve used it in a number of papers. His “outsider” status combined with his deep resonance with the tradition (and his smarts!) make him an excellent contemporary voice for those inside and out of the Anabaptist tradition. There does seem to be a recent surge of interest in Anabaptism, so this book is timely.

    My tradition, the Church of the Brethren, has deep Anabaptist roots, but in many ways has lost sight of them over the past century (though not completely). I haven’t read this book yet, but have been trying to get people in my rural home congregation in Iowa to read it, seeing if something sparks in their collective historical consciousness, something Mennonites seem to have kept closer in their hearts, minds, and faith practices.

  2. Thanks, Brian – I think it’s a brilliant move for Murray to distinguish Anabaptist values from Mennonite religion. It makes for a clearer understanding both of the historical intent of the movent AND this modern surge of interest which seems (at times) to leave young Mennonites scratching their heads in confusion.

    I hope you read this soon! (you have nothing ELSE to do!) There is such interest – many people left comments on the FB page. I think Bill Goldberg’s presentation at the faculty/staff conference – and now this book – provide us a great platform from which to dive into some new thinking. Cool!

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