Friday, July 16, 2010

Is There a Distinctively Anabaptist Witness?

The Anabaptists like to think of themselves as a "Third Way" neither Protestant or Roman Catholic. Many Anabaptists also view their distinctive "peace witness" as neither left or right and disdain to be lumped in with either liberal Protestantism or conservative Evangelicalism. But if we focus on the middle-class, college-educated, urban Mennonites in North America for a moment, do they really offer a distinctively Anabaptist witness?

It would seem that they do not because all they talk about is a kind of pacifism that they want nations like America and Israel to adopt. They condemn all war, but they condemn war by America and Israel disproportionately while remaining silent on human rights abuses, oppression of women and violent acts of terror committed by Muslims and any other non-Western group against Western targets. In this they simply echo the Western Left, with its tacit alliance with first Communist and, after the end of the Cold War, the Muslim enemies of the West.

Most of the Mennonites I am talking about do not self-identify with Evangelicalism, although a branch of the movement, the Mennonite Brethren, do so. The mainstream of the Mennonite denominations, however, identifies more with liberal Protestantism, (which, ironically, is the religion of the establishment elite), but maintain the pretense of offering a distinctively Anabaptist witness.

The Amish and many conservative Mennonite groups do have a distinctively Anabaptist witness. They are a true "Third Way" because they actually withdraw from the power structures of society and strive to influence no one - preferring to strive for Christian perfection as a separate society.

But the middle-class, college-educated, increasingly urbanized Mennonites who write books, run the Mennonite Central Committee and teach in the colleges and seminaries have less and less of a distinctively Anabaptist witness as the years pass. They are increasingly difficult to see as being significantly different from liberal Protestantism. Maybe the 16th century Anabaptists simply were liberal Protestants several centuries ahead of their time. That is a depressing thought, but one that most contemporary Mennonites seem determined to make plausible.

1 comment:

Michael Krahn said...

"Maybe the 16th century Anabaptists simply were liberal Protestants several centuries ahead of their time."

As a pastor in an Anabaptist church (even though I am more Reformed than Anabaptist - long story) I can tell you that this is what my observations have led me to believe.

Some of those things that today's Anabaptists hold out as distinctive WERE distinctive during the Reformation, but most of those things are no longer distinctive... with the possible exception of pacifism.

I could say a lot more... but sermon prep awaits.

BTW - I'm just west of you near London.