YODER, Kan. — Beachy Amish Mennonite ministers adopted the group’s first statement of faith at their national meetings April 9-11.
Outgoing bishops committee chair David Yoder of Partridge said the multiyear drafting process was initiated to define what the Beachy Amish believe.
“A number of years ago, there was a conservative element that began asking questions: ‘Are others in our constituency no longer doing our practices? Do they belong in the constituency?’ ” he said. “We’ve taken a journey to find who we really are. We’re asking what defines us, what makes us significantly different from other conservative Anabaptist groups.”
The one-page document passed with 98 percent support.
Yoder described the action as official, though “we barely had a quorum of ministers there.”
“Barring serious objection from people, the fact that it had the support of 98 percent present gave us an indication of what would happen across the spectrum of ministers, so we feel fairly certain this will stand,” he said.
The statement gives an overview of Old and New Testament interpretation and understanding of the intent of Scripture. It defines marriage as between one man and one woman, dissolved only by death. God established roles for men and women, giving men the responsibility of leadership.
“This order is symbolized by the short hair and uncovered heads of men, and the long hair and covered heads of women,” the statement says.
It proclaims nonresistance in the name of deference to the kingdom of God and calls members to “honor civil authorities, pay taxes, pray for our rulers, live obediently and peaceably and abstain from political involvement.”
Yoder said the statement is not exhaustive. The relatively concise document attempts to balance a strong Beachy tradition of congregational autonomy with “responsibility to each other.”
Some topics, such as political involvement, were left vague to allow for multiple interpretations. For example, Yoder said township boards in sparsely populated regions might necessitate political participation for upkeep of roads, so it does not specify a ban on voting. Media use, including radio and Internet, is not mentioned and left up to each congregation.
“The challenge then is to maintain the respect for each other when we disagree that still leaves us with a cohesive body of ministers that can work with bigger projects — that we’re willing to serve each other and bless each other,” Yoder said. “I don’t think there is one model that fits everyone, but this works for us.”
Holding onto heritage
The annual meeting, held at the Yoder campus of Journey Mennonite Church, drew about 340 people. It featured messages on topics such as sound doctrine, leadership and congregational relations.
Speaking on “Balancing Evangelization and Preservation” April 9, Laban Kaufman of Middlefield, Ohio, said a tension exists when reaching out to the surrounding world without compromising biblical values.
“It is a subject that, if we’re being honest, it’s not our greatest strength as conservative Anabaptist people,” he said, noting few in attendance have much contact with people such as drug dealers or prostitutes in urban settings.
Kaufman said if the goal of outreach is to bring nonbelievers into Beachy churches and have them appreciate such a lifestyle, concerns will mount that conservative values not be abandoned.
He suggested Beachy preservation — maintaining distinctive beliefs that include male leadership and head coverings for women — may stand for what the group is willing to lose for Christ. This has potential to open the door to hypocrisy.
“I actually like my comfortable life,” he said. “When I reach outside of that, the world is a mess. And I don’t like messes.”
Kaufman said Beachy Amish shouldn’t apologize for their heritage, but they should understand its shortcomings with a sense of brokenness and humility, holding to grace and understanding that there are followers of God who don’t look like them but have an important role.
“I believe there is a divine master plan going on,” he said. “And I think it’s part of God’s master plan that nobody has it all figured out.”
Many presentations focused on sound practices for effective ministers — a topic of interest for a body that selects self-supporting ministers by lot.
“We do not have the luxury of spending large blocks of time like a salaried minister,” said Elmer Glick of Slanesville, W.Va., who encouraged his listeners to begin their preparations early, taking advantage of not preaching every week to get a head start.
Glick also suggested taking a cue from fellow farmers and carpenters. Their faith allows them to take pride in the work they do.
“We may not prepare as much as we could because we don’t want to appear prideful,” he said.
Marcus Kauffman of Chesapeake, Va., agreed that sermon preparation has not been a focal point, but God expects ministers to refine the raw materials they have been given.
“I would say God has given you opportunities to develop, refine and perfect,” he said. “It’s your responsibility. We can’t sit back and expect God to develop them.”
Such efforts, however, should always be focused on glorifying God.
“Our motive is not that I bring a wow-factor to these people,” he said, “but can I bring a wow-factor to Jesus?”
Next year’s meetings are scheduled for April 7-9 at Fair Haven Church in Goshen, Ind.