The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through Elkhart, Indiana and Holland, Michigan

Hope College

During the Q&A session at Taylor University on Tuesday night someone asked me if my work at a college with Anabaptist roots (Messiah College) influenced what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpIt was a great question–one that I have thought a lot about.  Historian Jared Burkholder made the same observation a few months ago.

This question was on my mind again on Wednesday afternoon when I spoke to a group of faculty, students, and staff at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana.  During the conversation following my talk, I realized that a lot of my thinking about religion, politics, justice, and public life is very compatible with the views of my Mennonite brothers and sisters, especially when it comes to the Christian nationalism that drives so many white evangelicals.  I felt at home at AMBS.  At the same time, I also realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity.  After talking to folks at AMBS, I realized that I need to go back and re-read Burkholder and David Cramer’s book The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptists.

Fea at AMBS

Thanks to Janna Hunter-Bowman for the invitation and thanks to everyone who came out for the talk, including David Cramer and AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk.

After the AMBS visit I drove up to Holland, Michigan for an evening talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  We had a great turnout and one of the more engaging Q&A sessions of the tour.  Thanks to Jeanne Pettit of the Hope history department for the invitation.  It was also great to see my old friend and Hope historian Fred Johnson and meet so many Hope professors, including Lynn Japinga, Aaron Franzen, Wayne Tan, Mark Baer (who is leading a church reading group on Believe Me), Janis Gibbs, Steven Bouma-Prediger, David Ryden, and Virginia Beard.

I tweeted about my favorite moment of the night:

On to Calvin College for the meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. See you there.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Coming to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana

AMBS

I will be talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart on October 3, 2018.  The event is part of the AMBS Noon Lunch Forum and will take place in the Lambright Dining Hall at noon.

The event is open to the public, but the organizers ask that you RSVP if you wish to enjoy the meal ($6.50) that will be served during the talk.  If you are coming for lunch please send an e-mail by Monday to lkvandrick(at)ambs(dot)edu

Some Context on the Fresno Pacific University Dust-Up

Fresno Pacific

Last week we did a post on Fresno Pacific University‘s decision to demote its seminary president and fire three faculty members.  Read it here (along with a good comment from “Jason”).

Over at Mennonite World Review, Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz (aka “The Pietist Schoolman”) provides some additional context.   Here is a taste:

The seminary website says that this particular master’s program “includes instruction from strategic, global Anabaptist leaders and is grounded in the Anabaptist tradition,” and its students come from MB, Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. But Huber noted that the program was launched two years ago “to be uniquely evangelical and Anabaptist,” with some pastor-professors straddling those two worlds.

For example, Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in the Minnesota Twin Cities, featured prominently in the 2012 book, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism. As I noted in a 2013 post, editors Jared Burkholder and David Cramer included Boyd among a “growing number of evangelical leaders [to] have found in Anabaptism a robust alternative to the program of political involvement employed by the leaders of the Religious Right within their midst.”

Boyd’s critique of Christian nationalism, influenced by Anabaptist scholars like John Howard Yoder, was noted as a potential source of tension with the FPU administration and MB denominational leaders. (And he complained to MWR that the lack of conversation with him surrounding the decisions was “just not very Anabaptist.”) But as far as I can tell from the MWR story, another theological dispute seems to have been more important — one that has echoes in my own institution’s history.

Most commonly known as open theism, Boyd defined his “open view of the future” in an interview with Rachel Held Evans as

the view that the future is partly comprised of possibilities and is therefore known by God as partly comprised of possibilities… the open view of the future holds that God chose to create a cosmos that is populated with free agents… While God can decide to pre-settle whatever aspects of the future he wishes, to the degree that he has given agents freedom, God has chosen to leave the future open, as a domain of possibilities, for agents to resolve with their free choices. This view obviously conflicts with the understanding of the future that has been espoused by classical theologians, for the traditional view is that God foreknows from all eternity the future exclusively as a domain of exhaustively definite facts.

Read Gehrz’s entire piece here.

Mennonites, Israel, and Palestine

West Bank

Lisa Schirch is a Mennonite who runs the Tokyo-based Toda Peace Institute and serves as a senior policy advisor at the Alliance for Peacebuilding in Washington D.C.   Over at The Mennonite, Schirch has written a very interesting piece about Mennonites and Israel.  Historically, Mennonites have supported Palestinian rights and have criticized Israel as an “abusive colonial power.”  Schirch, however, calls her fellow Mennonites to task for taking such a narrow position.  Here is a taste:

Many Israelis and Palestinians are eager for outsiders to demonize the other side. Mainstream media and Christian Zionists often portray Israeli policies as unquestionably noble. News media project images of Palestinians as terrorists and often fail to provide any history to help understand Palestinian grievances.

Mennonites have done important work to support Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, many Mennonites have significant gaps in how they understand Israel, Jews and Judaism. Too often Mennonite advocacy for Palestinian rights carries antisemitic tones that portray Israel as simply an abusive colonial power. Portraying Jews as only voluntary colonialists delegitimizes the millions of Jews who came to Israel as refugees fleeing persecution. In most Mennonite churches I have observed, little to nothing is taught on Mennonite roles in the Holocaust and antisemitism, how Jews understand Israel, or on Judaism or Jesus as a Jewish rabbi.

The 2017 MC USA Resolution on Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine identified important steps in addressing Mennonite participation in a long history of antisemitism and in seeking justice for Palestinians. This more balanced approach recognizes the truth and trauma in both Palestinian and Jewish narratives and writes Mennonites into the story of Israel and Palestine.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Do You Have This Sign on Your Lawn? If So, Thank a Messiah College History Major

 

Back in December 2016, NPR ran a story on this popular sign.  Perhaps you have one in your neighborhood.  Or maybe you have one on your lawn.

The words first appeared on a black and white sign outside the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  It looked like this:

Bucher sign

NPR reports:

Pastor Matthew Bucher was definitely not setting out to start a nationwide phenomenon. His sign went up last year after he was “pretty disappointed” with the rhetoric of the primary debates, especially as directed toward people who weren’t born in the U.S.

“The church is located in the northeast part of Harrisonburg, which has a long tradition of being the African-American part of the city,” he says. “But in the past 20 years it’s also become home to a lot of people from Central America, the Middle East and around the world.”

“That’s why we did it in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish,” he explains. “Because those are the three most common languages spoken in our neighborhood.”

Spanish-speaking church members wrote one translation. Bucher wrote the other with the help of friends in Egypt, where he spent time working with the Mennonite Central Committee. A member of the congregation painted their sign by hand. “It was a collaborative effort,” Bucher says.

A few months later, a group of local Mennonite pastors was trying to find a way to “say something positive,” says Nick Meyer, a pastor at Early Church in Harrisonburg.

So they decided to take the sign’s message and spread it more broadly. A friend of Meyer’s, Alex Gore, turned the trilingual message into a simple, colorful yard sign, and they printed up 200. The pastors distributed them, encouraging church members to pair the sign with concrete acts of outreach to their neighbors.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that Pastor Matt Bucher is a 2006 graduate of Messiah College.  And to make this story even better, he was a HISTORY MAJOR.  I remember Matt well and we have stayed in touch over the years, although I had no idea he had created this sign until one of his classmates recently told me about this NPR story during our history department homecoming alumni reception last week.

Some of you may also remember that Matt was featured in our “So What Can You Do With a History Major” series.  And here’s another fun fact: Matt was in the same graduating history class as The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling.

Can Progressive Evangelicals Claim the “Anabaptist” Label?

mennonite

Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church: Goessel, Kansas (Wikipedia)

Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University has written a very interesting piece explaining the difference between progressive evangelicalism and Anabaptism.   The election of Donald Trump has led many progressive Christians to claim the Anabaptist mantle But as Beck explains, this progressive approach to politics does not always conform to Anabaptist political teaching.

Here is a taste of Beck’s piece at Mennonite World Review:

The story starts in 2003, with George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Many progressive Christians mobilized against that war. At the time, social media was just exploding. Blogging was in its Golden Age. Twitter would show up in 2006, just in time for the 2007-2008 Presidential campaign where we debated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, torture and Guantanamo Bay.

As these debates raged on social media, Anabaptist theology, with its criticisms of nationalism and war, became a powerful theological tool in the hands of progressive Christians to level indictments at the Bush administration.

In addition, emergent and post-evangelical expressions of Christianity were going strong. Many disaffected and disillusioned evangelicals were looking around for theological positions that critiqued how evangelicalism had been co-opted by politics. With its strong criticisms of Constantinianism, Anabaptist theology also fit that bill.

And so it was during these years that many progressive Christians, in using Anabaptist theology so effectively to critique the Bush administration and the politicization of evangelicalism, convinced themselves that they were Anabaptists.

But they weren’t Anabaptists, not really.

Why weren’t progressives Anabaptists? Two reasons.

First, there’s more to Anabaptist theology than its peace witness. Anabaptist theology also espouses a robust ecclesiology, the church as the locus of life and political witness. This aspect of Anabaptist theology doesn’t sit well with many progressive Christians, who would rather work as political activists than invest in the daily life of a local church. To be sure, many post-evangelical progressive Christians harbor nostalgia for the local church, memories of hymn sings, youth camps, vacation Bible school and pot luck casseroles. But at the end of the day, progressive Christians tend to think calling Congress, community organizing and marching in protests are the best ways to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Second, the robust ecclesiology of Anabaptist thought and practice works with a strong church-vs.-world distinction. This contrast has been famously captured by Stanley Hauerwas: “The first task of the church is not to make the world more just but to make the world the world.” In Anabaptist thought the church is set apart from the world, its goal to be a witness to the Powers by making a stark contrast between the kingdom of God and Babylon.

Read the entire piece here.

Do Mennonite Young People Have Ethics or Faith?

Goshen College: A Mennonite college

Interesting question posed by Richard Kauffman, book review editor of The Christian Century and a practicing Mennonite.

He writes:

Recently a Bible professor at one of our Mennonite colleges said to me that when her Mennonite students talk about faith, it is all about ethics. It’s not about God or worship, but rather what we do, especially work for peace and justice. I’m afraid that these students may have learned their Mennonite lessons all too well.
Stanley Hauerwas has convinced me that many contemporary Christians are Kantians, whether they know it or not. This would include at least some Mennonites. Immanuel Kant wanted to be rid of religious myths (biblical narratives?) and replace them with universal moral principles (peace and justice?). He replaced theology with ethics. Which of course brings us back to our Mennonite college professor’s students for whom faith is about ethics, especially a concern for peace and justice — what I have come to call P&Jism.
Read the rest of Kauffman’s piece at Mennonite World Review here.

I know (and have known) a lot of Mennonite (and Anabaptist) young people whose faith does include spirituality and worship.  I also know (and have known) some Mennonite (and Anabaptist) young people (and adults) who define their faith solely in terms of ethics.

Thanks to Kauffman for giving some definition to some of my scattered thoughts on this topic.

Quote of the Day

I’m not a Mennonite, but I resonate with this:

It’s interesting being a Mennonite and an academic. Sometimes I find my Anabaptist-Mennonite sensibilities grating against the norms of academia: my “priesthood of all believers” mentality against intellectual elitism, my discipleship/faith-without-works-is-dead mentality against the divorcing of theory from practice, and especially, my appreciation for the “plain sense” and the poetry of Scripture (in the vernacular!) against the inaccessibility of academic language.

From Susan Guenther Louwen, a in a Mennonite World Review article, “Being a Mennonite Academic.”

HT: Devin Manzullo-Thomas

The Mixed Legacy of John Howard Yoder

Yoder

I just ran across Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times article about Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, a man who has inspired thousands of Christian pacifists with his book The Politics of Jesus.  It seems Yoder had a problem with groping and making inappropriate contact with women during much of his teaching career.

Here is a taste of Oppenheimer’s piece:

Mr. Yoder’s scholarly pre-eminence keeps growing, and with it the ambivalence that Mennonites and other Christians feel toward him. In August, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, which has about 100,000 members, announced the formation of a “discernment group” to guide a process to “contribute to healing for victims” of Mr. Yoder’s abuse.
In 1992, after eight women pressured the church to take action, Mr. Yoder’s ministerial credentials were suspended and he was ordered into church-supervised rehabilitation. It soon emerged that Mr. Yoder’s 1984 departure from what is now called Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in Elkhart, Ind., had also been precipitated by allegations against him. He left for Notre Dame, where administrators were not told what had happened at his last job.
But Mr. Yoder emerged as a hero of repentance. His accusers never spoke publicly, and their anonymity made it easier for some to wish away their allegations. And in December 1997, after about 30 meetings for supervision and counseling, Mr. Yoder and his wife were welcomed back to worship at Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart. To cap a perfect narrative of redemption, he died at 70 at the end of that month.\

Oppenheimer adds:

Mr. Yoder’s memory also presents a theological quandary. Mennonites tend to consider behavior more important than belief. For them, to study a man’s writings while ignoring his life is especially un-Mennonite.

Election Day Communion

Now this is a good idea.  Christian churches–they all appear to Mennonite so far, but I hope others will join them–are going to hold a communion service on November 6, 2012, the evening of the 2012 presidential election. 

Here is the announcement, taken from the website of Election Day Communion: November 6, 2012, A Day to Remember:

Choose Wisely.

On November 6, 2012,
Election Day,
we will exercise our right to choose.

Some of us will choose to vote for Barack Obama as President of the United States.
Some of us will choose to vote for Mitt Romney as President of the United States.
Some us us will choose to vote for another candidate as President of the United States.
Some of us will choose not to vote.

During the day of November 6, 2012,
we will make different choices,
using different reasons,
hoping for different results.

But on the evening of November 6,
while our nation turns its attention
to the outcome of the presidential election,
let’s again choose differently –
together.

Let’s choose to meet
at the same table,
with the same host,
to remember the same things:
  • to remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change – ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus;
  • to remember that, through the Holy Spirit, this power dwells within otherwise ordinary people who as one body continue the mission of Jesus:  preaching good news to the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-21).
  • to remember that freedom — true freedom — is given by God and is indeed not free; it comes with a cost and it looks like a cross;
  • to remember our sin and need to repent;
  • to remember that the only Christian nation in this world is the Church, the holy nation that crosses all human-made boundaries and borders;
  • to remember that our passions are best placed within the passion of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2);
  • to remember that we are not to conform to the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2);
  • to remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness;
  • and to re-member the body of Christ as the body of Christ, confessing the ways in which partisan politics has separated us from God and each other.

Go to the website for more information about how to join the movement.

HT: Matt Bucher on Facebook