This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

No ‘naked Anabaptists’

I appreciate Joe Miller’s effort in cross-cultural learning (“U.K. Reveals Anabaptism Without Baggage,” Sept. 12). I think he is a bit naive to believe he discovered in England a “naked Anabaptism.” More likely he was meeting Anabaptists clothed in the garb of post-Christendom British people seeking to be faithful to Christ within their cultural context. It is one of our human conceits to imagine we can distill a set of beliefs and values from the flawed culture in which we find them and come out with a pure product. Sixteenth-century Anabaptists tried and failed to create the pure New Testament church, and likely we will fail in such endeavors as well.

I’m uneasy with Miller’s announced intention to move his congregation away from a Pennsylvania Dutch culture. If he succeeds, we will have another congregation exhibiting the values of some version of American culture and seeking to be faithful to Christ in that context. There’s nothing wrong with this. But what’s wrong with being a congregation with a Pennsylvania Dutch culture as an alternative to the dominant American culture?

I value every cultural expression of Christian faith, including the new but hardly naked Anabaptists in the United Kingdom, and particularly those that express the values and heritages of minority, traditional cultures — Native-, African-, Hispanic- and Asian-American churches, and yes, Pennsylvania Dutch churches. It’s what makes the global mosaic of Christian faith so rich — people of every nation and tribe and people and language.

Ours is an incarnational faith. It does not exist except as it is embodied in the lives of men and women and the cultures in which they live. There is no such thing as a naked Anabaptist or a naked Christian.

I’d prefer that my primary culture be the local, ethnic congregation that mediated Christian faith to me. I’m all for genuine multiculturalism that respects the unique heritage of every local culture. We need to do a better job of welcoming people of other cultures, but it is the imperialism of the dominant American culture that would require us to give up our own cultural heritage to do that.

S. Roy Kaufman
Freeman, S.D.

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