No different from the world?

Urged by 6 denominations, MCC calls for Anabaptists to resist polarization

Participants from MCC constituent churches gather in New York City for an early morning prayer walk during a peace camp led by Jessica Stoltzfus Buller in July 2018 (before the COVID-19 pandemic). MCC photo/Alicia Thomas

At the request of leaders from six denominations, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. has issued a call for Anabaptists to set an example of unity in a time of “enormous division and upheaval.”

“Too often, our churches do not look different from the world around them — quick to judge and divide, slow to draw together and model unity across ideological diversity,” the statement says.

The leaders who asked MCC U.S. staff to write the message were from the Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches, Brethren in Christ U.S., CMC (Conservative Mennonite Conference), LMC: a Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches, Mennonite Church USA and the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

The statement, released Oct. 27, was written by Ann Graber Hershberger, MCC U.S. executive director, and Jessica Stoltzfus Buller, peace education coordinator.

The document emerged from an Oct. 14 meeting suggested by LMC moderator Keith Weaver. The gathering helped the leaders “feel a bit less alone amid all the division,” Buller said by email.

MCC historically has helped Anabaptist denominations stay in conversation with each other, Buller said. This bridging role includes facilitating dialogue among leaders and strengthening Anabaptist identity. 

“In the midst of such turmoil, people long for a message of healing and reconciliation,” Buller said. “The Anabaptist faith offers a theology of active peacemaking that requires our engagement with those we disagree with.” 

Weaver hopes the statement can support pastors who are caught in the middle of ideologically and politically divided congregations.

“Congregations are experiencing polarization, and it is taking a toll on our pastors,” he said in a phone interview. “If we could offer a word from a larger Anabaptist perspective, it would be a way of helping our pastors navigate these challenging times.”

The statement cites the 16th-­century Anabaptists as inspiration to put Christ’s call first in church members’ lives today.

It quotes the Schleitheim Confession, in which the early Anabaptists “reject[ed] . . . the sword as their protection, declaring it was ‘outside the perfection of Christ.’ ” 

The statement quotes Jeremy Miller, president of Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, who wrote in the CMC online magazine Beacon that amid growing polarization “the country and the church need people of deep character, authentic faith and a deep reservoir of courage” who practice and embody the kingdom of God. 

It cites James 1:19 to suggest “it is a spiritual practice to put on compassion when we don’t agree with one another, to listen more and speak less.” 

The statement concludes by suggesting three steps for “reorienting ourselves toward compassion and away from judgment”: 

  • Restate our primary commitment to God above earthly kingdoms. 
  • Follow Jesus, practicing reconciliation, humility, nonviolence, unity and peace. 
  • Ask for the Spirit’s guidance in our interactions within our families, churches, society and world. 

Read the entire statement below.

 

MCC statement: Oct. 27, 2020

The leaders of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.’ supporting denominations – Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches, Brethren in Christ U.S., CMC (Conservative Mennonite Conference), LMC – a fellowship of anabaptist churches, Mennonite Church USA and U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches – together requested that MCC U.S. staff prepare this message. We pray for the witness of the church in the U.S. at this tumultuous time.

Nearly 500 years ago, the Anabaptist tradition was born of a small group of believers whose commitment to following Jesus showed an alternative path to the widespread Christian practices of the day, which were bound up in politics and power.

For this group, following Jesus meant orienting their lives around Christ’s call – not as second, third or fourth priority, but as primary. As articulated in their Schleitheim Confession, this included rejection of the sword as their protection, declaring it was “outside the perfection of Christ.”

Their faithful witness inspires Anabaptists in this time of enormous division and upheaval in the United States. Jeremy Miller, president of Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, wrote recently in the CMC (Conservative Mennonite Church) Beacon that amid growing polarization, “the country and the church need people of deep character, authentic faith, and a deep reservoir of courage” who orient themselves first and foremost to practicing and embodying the Kingdom of God. 

As Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S., a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches that is engaged in relief, development and peacebuilding work, we offer this encouragement to the church: to restate and reflect our primary commitment to Christ and Christ’s reconciling ministry (2 Corinthians 5:18). We do so in consultation with leaders of Anabaptist denominations that support our ministry.

Too often, our churches do not look different from the world around them – quick to judge and divide, slow to draw together and model unity across ideological diversity. When we do this, we betray our calling to the reconciling ministry of Christ. 

The Bible shows a different way. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people and creates a community that values every language and experience. In Colossians 3, Paul outlines the characteristics of life in Christ: compassion, gentleness, humility, kindness, patience, forgiveness, love, unity and peace. These must be evident in how we relate to one another in every situation. 

At a practical level, this means learning how to talk together. Healthy dialogue skills help us engage in ways that reflect God in us. It is a spiritual practice to put on compassion when we don’t agree with one another, to listen more and speak less (James 1:19). 

As we engage in the spiritual work of reorienting ourselves toward compassion and away from judgement, MCC U.S. invites Anabaptist churches to: 

  • Restate our primary commitment to God above earthly kingdoms. 
  • Follow Jesus, practicing reconciliation, humility, nonviolence, unity and peace. 
  • Ask for the Spirit’s guidance in our interactions within our families, churches, society and world. 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14, NRSV)

 

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. Read More

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