Pacific Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist liberal arts college in Angwin, Calif., produced an original play about early Anabaptist leaders in the fall semester.
The Radicals was written by assistant professor of history Laura Wibberding and produced in collaboration with the college’s History Department and Pacific Union College Preparatory School.
The Anabaptists’ role in the Reformation was arguably more impactful to the heritage of the Seventh-day Adventist Church than even Martin Luther.
The play features a conversation between Menno Simons and a young female named Rachel. Their conversation frames each of the play’s episodes.
The first scenes focus on Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock. Their study of the Bible led them to strong convictions about church reform. Later scenes show how these men and their wives went on to baptize each other and preach. Along with other Anabaptists like Michael Sattler and Margret Hottinger, they were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured.
“The radical ideas the Anabaptists were promoting — believers baptism, separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, social equality — don’t seem radical to us today,” Wibberding said. “They embraced them, not as a way out of the endless religious wars of their time, but because of their reading of the Bible.”
All of these ideas are part of the Seventh-day Adventist heritage, along with the role of women. Like the Anabaptists, early Adventist women evangelized and led instead of assuming only traditional roles.
Greg Schneider, professor emeritus of psychology, who played Simons in the production, agrees on the importance of the Anabaptist movement.
“The profound respect for individual conscience, the insistence on a religion that shapes the whole of life and sets believers apart from the world’s powers and authorities, the hunger for authenticity and perfection in the service of God’s kingdom — all these things are themes found repeatedly in many American religions,” he said. “Adventism not least.”
In one scene, authorities arrest Anna Manz, mother of Felix Manz, and interrogate her for names of Anabaptist pastors. This was one of Schneider’s favorite parts. Anna says the group in her home is “just some women.” The magistrates never figure out that the women were, in fact, the preachers.
The idea for the play originated several years ago during a Bible costume party Wibberding’s church held in place of Halloween.
“I thought, ‘Why not do Reformation Day?’ ” she said. She began to create Sabbath programs every year to share stories of the Reformation.
“At first, it was just church participants in costumes telling a little history. Next, I took the sermon time to tell about history but broke it up with short skits,” she said. “Eventually, I replaced the narrator with a conversation between two people, and it became a full drama.”
The Radicals was performed at PUC Church on Sabbath, Nov. 5. Most actors were PUC Prep students, plus a few PUC professors and students.
Prior to acting in the play, not many of the students knew much about this period of church history.
PUC Prep senior Lawren Slack played Rachel.
“I have so much respect for their bravery,” she said. “It took guts to be faithful in such dangerous times. But it’s in the raging fire that God appears, right? Rachel realized that at the end of the play.”
The Anabaptists were witnesses to the truth God speaks through the Bible. They were witnesses to the truth that the Christian life is a choice and, as Simons says in the play, “no one can force you to make it.”
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