The group studied its holy texts, grew incensed with a corrupt and wayward government, armed itself and took control of an institution it was convinced rightfully belonged to them. They felt they were simply doing their duty, and some were willing to fight until their last breath.
It happened in the 16th century and in the 21st.
In 2016 it was a band of rancher militiamen who grew angry over jail sentences imposed for burning federal land and took over an Oregon wildlife reserve for most of January.
In 1534 it was a group of violent and misguided Anabaptists who thought the return of Christ was nigh and forcefully took control of Münster, Germany.
Both collectives considered themselves noble victims of their dogged pursuit of pure belief, inspired by persecution through either land ownership disputes or suppression of freedom of religion. Both garnered some support but felt mostly misunderstood by the masses content to idly let things stay the way they were.
Persecution is especially attractive to Anabaptists and other Bible-living folk: “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well” (Phil. 1:29).
Both groups had a singular focus on their own message. Absent other viewpoints, the obsession snowballed. This was ironically possible both in the early, relatively glacial days of the printed word and with today’s instant and global communication capabilities.
Both fell prey to the allure of grandiose delusions, whether by directing pamphlets from a throne set up in the Münster market square or sending out social media posts from around a campfire at Camp Malheur outside Burns, Ore. Ammon Bundy and his fellow ranchers used Facebook and Twitter to stoke support from across the U.S. Jan van Geelen traveled throughout the Netherlands garnering support for the Münsterites and tried to create other Dutch “Zions” in Amsterdam and Bolsward.
The rebellious Anabaptists of Münster had twisted theology and were wrong. The Oregon militia — white Christian patriots who would likely be considered terrorists if they belonged to any other race or faith — were also wrong.
Still, each can hold claim to kernels of inspiration for Christians seeking to be countercultural today.
One Oregon activist died in gunfire at a police checkpoint after evading a traffic stop and lowering his raised hands to reach for a gun. He previously spoke of being prepared to resist police and had no intention of “being caged.”
Over the years, handfuls of Mennonites have proven their depth of belief through unarmed intervention in violent conflicts or civil disobedience stances. What would happen if they weren’t in the minority and more were ready to act out in radical, but peaceful, ways for what they believe?