In Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (1993), Donald Kraybill of Elizabethtown, ON, and Leo Dreidger of Winnipeg, MB, aptly named their chapter on the 1950s as Ferment in the Fifties.
For the EMB, the 1950s was a decade of irony. On the one hand, the EMB were positioning themselves for closer formal cooperation with the Allianz Mennonites of the Chaco and the Evangelical Mennonite Church, fka the Egly Amish, with whom Bishops Aron Wall and Isaac Peters had been in such close fellowship. Informally, the door had been carefully left open for closer cooperation with independent Mennonite congregations and the formerly Anabaptist affiliated Missionary Church Association who had under the leadership of Joseph E. Ramseyer split off from the Egly Amish in 1898 over the issue of baptism by immersion.
The door was possibly even a bit more open towards increased cooperation with the Mennonite Brethren – both in Latin America and in the local ministerial associations. While disagreements were sparking up between the EMB and the MB regarding the Allianz conference in Alberta, and on the mission fields of China and Chaco, relations between the EMB and the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, who joined with the MB in 1960, had always been closer and more cooperative. By the 1960s, acceptance of intermarriage between the two conferences and a general trend among the EMB to prefer immersion to the traditional Mennonite baptism of Isaac Peters and the Petersgemeinde by pouring or by sprinkling, eliminated most none social and non-economic disagreements between the two churches. On the other hand, relations with the larger General Conference of the Russländer Mennonites and the Mennonite-Amish and Old Mennonite Churches in the United States were growing increasingly cold and dysfunctional. While many local communities were split between the Grace Bible Institute and the MB Tabor College, national if not international inter-Mennonite relations were becoming clearly split between the Grace Philosophy School and the Goshen Philosophy School.
At this point, things become a bit dicey. One might easily read sermons and writings by the Evangelical Mennonites or the Grace Philosophers and those of the Traditional Mennonites or the Goshen Philosophy and believe that they are talking about the same thing. In truth, the 1950s might best be remembered as the decade that the united Mennonite dialogue ended and the diaspora split along geographic lines – with Ontario, Chicago, Indiana, Michigan and all points east more or less supporting the Goshen dialogue of Kraybill, Yoder, Bender and other Goshen College instructors and alumni, and the northern divide of Nebraska, southern Illinois, the northern and western states and the larger Mennonite population of western Canada supporting a more Grace-oriented dialogue – not incompatible with the positions that would be taken by the alumni and staff of Tabor and Tabor Canada, and in more or less full agreement with the Mennonite-oriented students and staff at various Bible institutes including Grace, Biola, Briercrest, Prairie and the grandfather of them all – Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Supporting this growing divide was the experience of the various mission boards and organizations. The EMB were becoming increasingly successful and supportive of pan-Evangelical mission boards such as TEAM and GMU in Europe, Asia and especially in Latin America. At the same time, wars, revolutions, anti-colonialism and inter-Mennonite competition for new congregations slowly wore away even the most successful inter-Mennonite missions around the world. Inter-Mennonite cooperation ceased in India under post-colonialist pressures in Dhamatur, India. World War II, disagreements with the Mennonite Brethren and the gradual Communist victory swallowed up the inter-Mennonite missions of China – truly tragic for the sacrifices and horrors endured by the Mennonite missionaries during World War II in order to preserve the fellowship and missionary witness in that nation. Perhaps the most successful inter-Mennonite effort was that of the Congo Inland Mission, first established by Alma Döring and the well-known missionary sisters from the Brüderthaler churches. An anti-colonial revolution seized control of Leopoldville in 1959, spelling the near ending of the North American missionary witness in the Congo. As resources and personnel were switched from these closing fields of historic Mennonite affiliation, they were redirected by Mennonite evangelicals towards the growing and increasingly successful pan-Evangelical missions of GMU, TEAM, New Tribes and SEND. Nor were they the only Evangelical Mennonites to place resources and personnel with these non-Anabaptist missionary endeavors.
The problem became more important when considering future Evangelical support of traditional Mennonite or Anabaptist schools and the great inter-ethnic/religious establishment that had to date been one of the most successful examples of international cooperation and outreach – the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Writing at the time of this increasingly apparent split, Paul Kraybill’s essay in the Mennonite Quarterly Review serves as a virtual blueprint to the divide of faith amongst the New World’s Mennonites and Amish regarding salvation, missions and the basic understanding of the church itself.
Allowing the more academic-oriented “new” Mennonites speak for themselves, we find a lot of confidence, a lot of intelligence, a lot of vision and a noted fear of loss of spirit:
The 1950s stirred a new ferment in Mennonite thinking. The winds of modernization were already unraveling Mennonite plausibility structures as the new decade opened. Changes in North American society, growing theological challenges, and rising prosperity were revamping the Mennonite posture in the larger world. The forces of modernization were shaking rural Mennonite communities with greater intensity.
The end of World War II brought American Mennonites home from Civilian Public Service Camps and military service with new ideas and exposure to other ways of life. … Those who remained at home were also changing. A [Mennonite Church] church leader in 1951 said, “The Mennonite Church is becoming highly trained in education, in business and in the professions. … We are world travelers now, with a world (and all too often a worldly) knowledge, as well as a world vision. Our prosperity borders on the phenomenal in many instances. …” A new generation of Mennonite scholars, trained in prestigious universities in Europe and North America, was struggling to translate the heritage of nonresistance into the context of modern life within the shadows of the recent war.
A host of social and technological changes were sweeping Mennonites out of their rural isolation. They were listening to radios and reading popular magazines. A few were watching television. Jet travel, faster cars, improved roadways, and a wide array of new consumer products were nudging Mennonites into the modern fray. The consolidation of public high schools, well underway in the early fifties, exposed many Mennonite youth to the values of democracy and scientific thinking, (Dreidger and Kraybill, p 83-4).
At this point, we need to address what would become known as the Evangelical assimilation issue – the charge and fear that Anabaptists were being assimilated into losing their unique identity and becoming Americanized Evangelicals. This fear was seemingly shared by many Mennonites on both the traditional and the Pietist-Evangelical historic divides amongst both the American Swiss Mennonite-Amish and the Russländer. A more terrible and more confusingly unclear divide could not be imagined for the close-knit ethno-religion.
The Mennonite Church conference of 1951 was more or less throwing down the gauntlet to the Pietists and Evangelicals who were already trained in and sympathetic to the Fundamentalist-oriented Evangelicalism of the greater North American public. The Fundamentalists were by decree suspicious of “Modernity”, “Tradition” and secularization. Here was a MC pastor openly admitting that his church was not only guilty of these heresies – but openly embraced these false theologies as the future of his church. On the other hand, a rather unfair criticism of the Mennonite evangelicals as being anti-Pacifist, anti-intellectual, and anti-Mennonite was also taking place. One must re-emphasize to the reader that at this time, both Evangelical and Traditional Mennonites considered themselves to be consistently within the larger Mennonite tradition and ethno-religious fellowship or identity. The Pietist – Discipleship divide that many have identified as originating during this period could more accurately be seen as having occurred in the early 19th Century in Russia between the Grossegemeinde and the various splinter groups including the Allianz, Mennonite Brethren, Kleine Gemeinde, Krimmer and other smaller Mennonite groups. Lacking the political necessity (and Imperial command of the Tsar) to bury the hatchet and get along, the Pietist-Discipleship split had been more enduring amongst United States’ Anabaptists but was still very old news. For the most part, the two groups had learned to live with each other’s differences and to get along as a unified greater fellowship (if a slightly disgruntled one). The sudden anti-Evangelicalism of the 1950s to the present was hardly a modern phenomenon nor was either Evangelicalization or assimilation a foregone conclusion. It is possible, as we will see, that the heart of the disagreement lay over a struggle for political and financial control over shared resources and the political and academic ambitions of certain Mennonite individuals.
An area of special pique to the author is the charge that Pacifism was rejected by the Mennonite evangelicals. This is simply not the case. As we will discover through an examination of Paul Kraybill’s article and later through the sermons and conferences of the United Mennonite Conference, both Evangelical and Traditionalist Mennonites had maintained a clear perspective and concept of Pacifism and both strove to preserve and teach Pacifism in their respective churches. What had ceased to exist was a shared concept of Pacifism.
Moreover, there is a very simple explanation for the division of spirit in the areas of service, pacifism and historicism is first off, the growing ties between the Evangelical Mennonites and their non-Mennonite North American Evangelical fellowships accompanied by increasing alienation from United States’ Mennonite-Amish structures and intellectualisms, and a sort of cultural or intellectual inferiority complex that had seemingly taken hold of those who would later form the foundation of the Goshen School of Anabaptism. Guy Hershberger, John Howard Yoder, Harold Bender, J. Lawrence Burkholder and Gordon Kaufman would controversially, if ably, found a new sort of Anabaptism that sought to both justify it as a legitimate historical and theological church and to provide it with an intellectually acceptable and respectable pedigree and intellectual vision for the future.
In short, what I am referring to as the Goshen School, found itself struggling to defend Mennonite culture, theology and philosophy to non-Anabaptists – many of whom were Protestant-oriented Liberal scholars – namely Ernst Troeltsch, Max Weber and both C. Henry Niebuhr and his brother Reinhold Niebuhr. Dreidger and Kraybill indicate that in 1953, Burkholder was preoccupied with responding to the liberal-orientation of Reinhold Niebuhr and published a paper with a section entitled in response to R. Niebuhr, “Is the Nonresistant Christian a Parasite?” (88). They quote Burkholder:
I was disappointed upon finding that my experience of moral ambiguity met virtually no approving, let alone sympathetic responses from Mennonites in the 1950s – except from students. At that time Mennonite scholars were busy articulating a sectarian ethic for the Mennonite community. Social idealism seldom reached beyond church sponsored relief work. Furthermore, justice was given no place within the Mennonite glossary. Non-violent resistance was considered “unbiblical.” Hence I was reproved and the typed thesis, having been rejected for publication, turned brown in the dusty shelves of the libraries (93).
Reflecting on his encounter with the Goshen patriarchs, Burkholder said, “Hershberger wanted to absolutize nonresistance as if we could always live by agape. I was committed to radical Christianity but I couldn’t do it in the complexity of political situations. Jesus didn’t administer anything, not even a family. (93)
… no one can be actively responsible for all of society’s problems. Social responsibility does, however, imply a general attitude of identification with the world. The social responsibility person believes that he is a participant in the human struggle for truth and justice as these values are manifested in the social and political realms. He identifies himself with the stream of secular history and feels obligated to the world. The problems of the world are at least in a general way his problems… (95)
Burkholder acknowledges that moral dilemmas often require compromise… (95-6)
Gordon Kaufman is also quoted as radically revamping the relationship between traditional Mennonite (or Christian) morality, New Testament scriptural authority and the position of the Church in the Modern world:
For Kaufman, Christian responsibility has three dimensions. First is the missionary task of preaching the gospel. Second, Christians should seek to love and understand their neighbors (society) with integrity. Christians cannot impose a Christian ethic on a society that does not claim one. Third, Christians should encourage neighbors and nations to act consistently with the nation’s ideals, even if the national behavior violates Christian norms… (98)
The Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition has always tried to interpret love in the radical sense of the New Testament, but in this tendency to withdraw from participation in the power struggles of the world it has badly compromised itself. …
The crucial question, then, is not whether as Christians we have some sort of responsibility for the social and political orders in which we live, but rather, what is the nature of that responsibility, and how must it express itself, (99).
At the same time, Bender was intent on performing a mission similar to the original task of Menno Simons contra charges by Martin Luther and Georg Hansen to the prince of Prussia – that the Mennonites were in fact the historic church of the New Testament and were a peaceful orthodox group rather than extreme or radical social and theological revolutionaries. While such criticisms might be met with a roll of the eyes in the early 21st Century, Bender and school were writing at a time when socialism, radicalism and communism were easily and often equated – with severe negative political consequences – especially in the 1950s. Also, trapped between potential intellectual charges of historical radicalism in the past and of not having done enough to fight that ultimate evil known as the Third Reich, the Mennonites, Brethren and fellow Anabaptists did have some political explaining to do – both to meet unspoken charges and to forestall a future loss of hard-gained legal rights in the New World. Again, the vision between the Evangelical Mennonites and the neo-Traditional Mennonites became one of priorities. Where the Evangelicals met the challenge by expounding upon their Americanized Evangelical theology and missions fervor, Bender et al took the traditional route of “re”-writing Anabaptist history to include only those personalities, movements and branches that conformed to the liberal-dominated Protestant intellectualism of Elmhurst, Princeton and Harvard. Like Burkholder, Bender would later come to dominate teaching and thought at the influential Indiana campus.
The Winona Lake Conference of 1950 sought to bring the Mennonites from all branches, affiliations and conferences in North American together to discuss peace, non-resistance and the Mennonite response to the challenge of Modernity:
Beyond the press of urbanization and industrialization, the nonresistant tradition faced ideological threats from liberal Protestantism. Throughout the fifties the rising generation of Mennonite scholars wrestled with Reinhold Niebuhr’s (1937:1391) challenge that Mennonites were irresponsible “parasites on the sins of others.” They also cringed when mainstream social ethicists called nonresistance a “strategy of withdrawal.”
The plausibility of biblical nonresistance was crumbling as younger scholars – conversant with modern ethical and theological thought – sought to fashion a new theology of peacemaking for Mennonites in the modern world. Mennonites were shifting their focus from their ethnic community to civic responsibilities in the larger society as they became more urban, educated, and mobile. (84)
The result of the conference was a relatively carefully worded A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment (9-12 Nov 1950, Winona Lake, Indiana). A few of the men on the drafting committee were Mennonites with whom the Brüderthaler had worked in Canada – especially Alberta, and with whom the Brüderthaler would be able to express commonality of faith. The document seems to accomplish two things – re-affirm the carefully worded agreement between Evangelical Mennonite perspectives and that of traditional Mennonites while acknowledging the new and non-discriminatory development role the MCC would henceforth facilitate on the part of active believers. Pertinent to the following discussion regarding Paul Kraybill are sections II and the preamble of section III of this document:
1. It is our faith that one is our Master, even Christ, to whom alone supreme loyalty and obedience is due, who is our only Saviour and Lord.
2. It is our faith that by the renewing grace of God which makes us new creatures in Christ, and alone thereby, we can through the power of the indwelling Spirit live the life of holy obedience and discipleship to which all the sons of God are called, for His grace does forgive and heal the penitent sinner and brings us to a new life of fellowship with Him and with one another.
3. It is our faith that redeeming love is at the heart of the Gospel, coming from God and into us to constrain us to love Him and our neighbor, and that such love must henceforth be at the centre of every thought and act.
4. It is our faith that Christ has established in His church a universal community and brotherhood within which the fullness of Christ's reign must be practiced, into which the redeemed must be brought, and from which must go out into all human society the saving and healing ministry of the Gospel.
5. It is our faith that the life of love and peace is God's plan for the individual and the race, and that therefore discipleship means the abandonment of hatred, strife and violence in all human relations, both individual and social.
These declarations of faith give no blueprint for peace nor do they assume that human endeavor alone can bring about a warless world within history, for only when men come under the Lordship of Christ can they make peace and fulfill the prayer of our Lord, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven." They do, however, require certain attitudes, duties and ministries of us, to which we do here by God's grace declare our adherence and our determination to undertake in His name.
Tellingly, the 1950 and 1951 Annual Conference Reports do not mention EMB participation in the Winona Lake Conference. Loosely structured as a fellowship rather than a centralized sect, the EMB were notoriously absent or disorganized in their larger group participation. Yet, later statements through the various unity conferences with the EMC focused strongly on the challenges of Modernism and the “liberal” universities – a debate more in line with the Fundamentalist intellectual challenges of the 1920s and the Reagan Evangelical’s anti-Evolution movements of the 1980s and 90s. While the failure of the Winona Lake Conference is never directly referred to – its presence is felt in the almost manic desire by the Evangelical Mennonites to found their own school and seminary and by their increasingly alienated status within the greater Anabaptist fraternity – culminating in the 1986 vote to end Mennonite conference identity and affiliation for the EMB and the 2003 vote along similar lines changing the EMC to the newly coined Fellowship of Evangelical Churches or FEC.
Nor was the new social activism embraced by the MCC sufficient for the liberals. Fall-out from the conference and the challenges led by Burkholder are manifest in Paul Kraybill’s article The Relationship of the Mennonite Central Committee Relief and Service Program and Mennonite Missions (1957). Engaged administratively on the missions board for the Conservative Mennonites, Paul Kraybill traces the developing split.
Kraybill starts off from the traditional, shared Anabaptist vision, “The Anabaptists were very clear in their conviction that they were only stewards of their worldly possessions and that if there was need they would devote all they owned to the service of their brethren,” (Kraybill, p 60). He indicates that like the early church of the New Testament, some sort of “sharing” and “brotherhood” was practiced by the Anabaptists from the earliest times to the present.
The next step in his development was the creation of the Mennonite mission to India. The Mennonite mission to India was established in 1899 “prompted by the desire to minister to extensive famine needs,” (Kraybill, p 60). This is the same mission joined by the first Brüderthaler missionaries in 1905. (this is not documented) For Kraybill’s purposes, this early effort presaged the establishment of the MCC as an inter-Mennonite relief service in 1920 – in response to the Russian Famine or Holodomor in Ukraine. World War II greatly increased the need and scope of MCC relief efforts while engendering community wide debates as to the meaning, purpose and practice of separation, non-resistance and pacifism in the greater Mennonite diaspora. Kraybill writes, “World War I and the depression of the early 1930’s had done much to crush the influence of the liberal “social gospel” movement. Emergency relief was considered completely valid, not as social action, but as a compelling expression of Christian love, the positive aspect of nonresistance, an alternative to war. It was deemed imperative as one of the requirements of obedience to the will and spirit of Christ. It was a means of witness which helped to interpret the Gospel to those who were disillusioned and distressed by war and calamity. It prepared the way for mission and evangelistic outreach when the emergency had passed,” (p 60). At this point, Kraybill is indicating the uniform, shared quiet witness to open the way of Salvation that was common to almost all Anabaptists at the time – the Evangelicals, the Traditionalists – even the Hutterian Brethren (may need to footnote this), “Thus at the end of the first twenty-five years of inter-Mennonite relief work a satisfying concept of relief work had been established that was clearly within the tradition of New Testament Christianity and Anabaptist discipleship,” (Kraybill, p 61) – emphasis mine).
The preceding paragraph is very important and ought to be reviewed first in its entirety, yet it is not the best organized chronologically. Kraybill begins, “At about this same time [World War II] Mennonite research was beginning to give body to the concept of discipleship as believed and practiced by the Anabaptists,” (p 61). In the footnotes, he is referring to H. S. Bender’s “The Anabaptist Vision” from the Mennonite Quarterly Review dated April 1944 – one of Burkholder’s circle and a future pillar of the Goshen School. The troublesomely unclear use of a pronoun then separates the Evangelical understanding of Anabaptism from the anti-Pietist traditionalists (note that the American Mennonite-Amish, like the Grossegemeinde of Russia, were anti-Pietist – seeing it as a danger and competitor to the continued traditional existence of the socially-minded gemeinde). If Kraybill is referring to the “new researchers” then he is in agreement with the Evangelicals and presumably, closer to the original “Goshen guardians” that had originally frustrated and held Bender, Kaufman and Burkholder in check. If he is using the word “they” to refer to Anabaptists – he, like Bender, Yoder, Burkholder, Kaufman and other non-Evangelical Mennonites, is already rewriting Anabaptist history and thought by narrowing down the definition of “Mennonite” to the point that only those who buy into the new social gospel can be considered true Mennonites. This is a definition that would have been vigorously opposed by Evangelical Mennonites including the EMB, the Allianz, the EMC and the majority of Mennonite Brethren at that time (see the Unity Conferences, the explorations of Allianz-EMB theology and church organization, and Steve Estes’ histories of the EMC). The reason that this pronoun is so important is that it is an early reflection of the clear split and theological breakdown between the Evangelicals and the traditionalists – a break that would not be able to be bridged without one side or the other giving up the essence of their faith. Conforming to the new history that validated the recent thinking of the Grossegemeinde in Russia and the Mennonite-Amish in Indiana-Pennsylvania, Kraybill claims, “They [emphasis mine] considered the essence of Christianity to be the transformation of life through discipleship and following Christ in contrast to the Reformers’ emphasis on the experience of justification by faith,” (p 61). One can almost hear Mary Ann Wall exclaiming that “well, then Menno Simons must have been a Reformer – and I’ll stick with him,” (fictitious quote to convey the spirit of earlier conversations with Wall regarding Evangelicalism amongst the Mennonites). Kraybill continues, “Instead of a primary concern for personal salvation, there was rather a definite commitment to discipleship and obedience, and outward expression of an inward experience. The church was a brotherhood rather than an institution or a vehicle solely for personal piety or the preaching of the Word,” (Kraybill, p 61). A better stage for Loyal Bartel’s and Bill Regehr’s later claims (as representatives of the late Grace School of thought) could not have been set for charges by the Evangelicals that the Mennonite faith had degenerated into a world of traditions, ethnicity and works. For the Evangelicals, the church is in fact expressly set up to embody and execute the Great Commission or the saving of souls. The Great Commission is explicit and was repeated by Christ both before his death on the cross and after his resurrection. As a precaution – the Biblical authors were moved to include the Great Commission twice – in both Mark ( ) and Luke ( ). Presumably, it is the same in Luther’s German Bible as it is in the English King James’ Version.
But then we come to the confusion – Kraybill closes that very important paragraph with a longer section that both the Evangelical Mennonites and the Traditionalists would and could agree with (though we are now noting that they might be interpreting the same words in very different ways) – “… The Anabaptists were pessimistic about the socio-political order and considered it relatively evil. Their “kingdom theology” and the concept of “two worlds” led to the conclusion that the only way in which the social and political pattern could be altered was through the establishing of a new Christian social order in the form of the church and bringing more and more men to a new life of discipleship in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For them the New Testament was not a blueprint for the renovation of society but rather the ethic for a redeemed life. The tension between the world with its system and habits and the disciple with his commitment to a higher allegiance would inevitably lead to suffering, and this was accepted as a logical and certain result for those who shared in such a fellowship,” (Kraybill, p 61). Assuming that Kraybill is writing a paragraph that he feels is consistent – then the Evangelicals would see a clear inconsistency between a church existing for purposes other than bringing men to Salvation and the need to bring men to that point of response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The rest of the article focuses on the struggle within the traditionalist conferences to both remain true to the Anabaptist heritage while responding to both the new legal and political requirements of an earthly church with social or temporal responsibilities and the “integrity” challenge that so disturbed them as if acceptance by the Niebuhr’s, Troeltsch and the Protestant establishment of North America and Europe were a higher priority than remaining true to the Evangelical faith that had at such great a cost been passed down to them generation by generation for over four centuries. By this time, Burkholder was in control of Goshen College and eastern USA Mennonite culture had clearly capitulated to the Liberal or neo-traditionalists. Interestingly, the much feared Pietism that Wüst had introduced to the Russländer of Molotschna had originally developed amongst the early Lutherans (17th Century) as a corrective to the same tendencies now demonstrated by the new Mennonites.
Note that there is a need to create a word that describes this liberal tendency amongst the Anglo-American Mennonites from the Evangelical Mennonite perspective. The Liberal Mennonites have not provided such a term – possibly to avoid the appearance of having broken with traditional Anabaptist values. Neo-Traditional is not the best term – it seemingly implies a return to tradition, not the reworking of that tradition and those values to justify a new Liberal perspective.
Kraybill then goes on to explore the logical consequences of this split – first amongst the truly traditional Anglo-American Mennonite-Amish and then between the Evangelical Mennonites and the Liberal Traditionalists. His section titled “The Relation of Relief and Witness” might best be read in conjunction with the theory of the missionary station in relation to the church presented by H.C. Bartel (see Annual Report 1952). In order to follow Kraybill’s argument, it is essential to remember that like Burkholder, Kaufman, Bender and others, Kraybill has accepted the premise that the world and the place of the Mennonites within that world was significantly changed by the advent of Modernism and as a consequence of World War II.
This time, Kraybill starts out the section reiterating those aspects of faith, missions and service that continued to unite the disparate experiences of the larger Mennonite and Amish community – the first four paragraphs of this section contain a series “we believe” statements that were issued by a Liberal American Mennonite and yet could have been repeated by any contemporaneous member of the EMB fellowship:
We continue to believe that sharing of material goods with those in need cannot be neglected by those who would live the life of a disciple. … We deeply believe in the significance of the cross in the life of the believer and that this means that our lives must be sacrificed in the service of others. We reject the assumption that service is a sacrament and that thereby men automatically become recipients of grace. We do not believe that by suffering we can redeem men, but we can by our deeds of service symbolize in a realistic and compelling fashion our testimony that the conflicts and frustrations of men are basically spiritual and can be healed. [Note: This is an excellent example of using words that reflect a point of common agreement that be interpreted in two widely divergent ways – that the conflicts of men are basically spiritual and can be healed is a shared belief between the Evangelicals and the Liberal neo-traditionalists, it is the method of healing that is disagreed upon strongly – whether the meeting of that need physically within the church and nurturing the healing within the congregation or whether a spiritual wound and need can only be met and healed by the saving Grace of Christ would be the point of contention.]
We believe that a disturbed and confused world needs concrete evidence that the love of Christ is effective and meaningful and that we must witness against the evil that surrounds us. We believe that we can best prove our sincerity and genuine concern by acts of love “in the name of Christ.” We reject the principles of purely social action and assert that our calling is to lead men to redemption and into the brotherhood of the church. We are pessimistic about man and society but insist that we think in terms of building the society of the redeemed rather than attempting to deal with the corporate evil that plagues the socio-political world.
We have admitted the validity of relief as a witness in and of itself, but this raises some very searching questions. Is it right to serve if we can’t witness? Is it sufficient to serve without witnessing even though we could witness? What prevents our service from becoming pure humanitarianism? Is long range rehabilitation just as legitimate as emergency relief? If we profess that service is a witness – what do we expect to result from that witness? What is the relation of witness and service, of word and deed?
We deeply believe in witness and accept the basic assumption that the primary purpose of the church is to extend the kingdom. It is manifest that our service points men to God, but are we not guilty of a dangerous omission if we point but do not lead? The basic command to witness was the command to use the Word, to preach. Service elaborates and interprets the theme of redemption but of itself is incomplete and inadequate. A deed of love may reconstitute a man physically, resolve his tensions and even prick his spirit. That man, however, becomes only a more respectable sinner if the Word does not accompany the deed. The Word without the deed is often barren and fruitless, but the deed without the Word is potentially dangerous. Unless the Word and the deed co-exist, the recipient is defrauded and the possibility of redemption is frustrated, (Kraybill, p 63-64).
Building upon the previous “note,” one again becomes confused with the conclusion of Kraybill’s credo – an Evangelical Mennonite will clearly read his use of the term ”Word” to refer to the Gospel of Salvation and Grace as embodied by the “Word” referring to the soteriological embodiment of Salvation in the physical and spiritual Christ – whom the Apostle John clearly refers to as “the Word”. One really wishes that Kraybill would have gone on to define what he means by “Word” – if he is consistent with the previous section – then Kraybill seems to be cunningly using the term “Word” to refer to discipleship within the church, not the Gospel or Christ’s salvatory action. Even more confusingly, Kraybill concludes this section and devotes the entirety of his third and final section examining the role between the church conferences and groups such as the MCC. That a struggle has begun between the evangelical Mennonites and the liberal Anabaptists for the soul, organization, mission and resources of the MCC. Kraybill’s conclusions are that there is a rational and necessary connection between the service work of the MCC and both the soteriological work of the church (whether in Evangelism or Discipleship) and in the growth of the supporting congregations of the member conferences. In other words, to which workers would go the spoils?
In the context of the historic Brüderthaler and the EMB, one must remember that the Unity Conferences between the EMB and the EMC were clearly and consciously faithful and open supporters of the MCC and its mission at this time. Furthermore, the correspondence between John R. Dick, Edgar Stoewsz and Sam Schmidt clearly indicate that the EMB was firm and resolute in its support of the MCC. The correct question at this point – the 1950s -- is “which MCC does one support?”
A very pertinent question at this point is how is it that the evangelical Mennonites were not wise to these things. The answer is simple and two-fold. First, while the Brüderthaler EMB were very active both in contributing to and supporting MCC relief work – even sending its young men to the peace camps and abroad to minister in the European missions stations ministering to Russländer and Prussian Mennonite refugees in West Germany, the EMB were not really that active, involved or interested in the day to day administration of the MCC in Pennsylvania – a point both Kraybill and Stoewsz would seek to address. Secondly, both the Russländer and the Canadian Mennonites have traditionally been more amendable to seeing the term “Mennonite” as an ethnic rather than a religious term. This perspective is considerably different than the American Mennonite-Amish who are seemingly reticent to see their culture as an outgrowth of ethnic rather than religious values. The EMB were both Russländer and increasingly dominated by Canadian Mennonite identities. Furthermore, the evangelical Mennonites could readily cooperate with what they would see increasingly as a shared ethnic organization such as the MCC in as much as they indeed felt that they had a responsibility to care for their own family and ethnic members (der Unza) – such was the original intent and purpose of the MCC from 1920 to 1950, and knew the value of the MCC. The MCC was the umbrella organization under which Mennonite men of all stripes and persuasions would live out their nonresistant pacifist ideals, many missions workers, evangelists and humanitarians – evangelical and non-evangelical – received excellent training and experience through the MCC service programs, and finally, the MCC outreach did provide a real and effective outreach to non-Christians – the lost to whom the evangelicals felt compelled to reach with the Gospel with Christ – by any means, no matter the cost.
With no further evidence other than the coincidence of timing, one cannot but note Rev. E.G. Steiner’s emphatic refutation of much of the Burkholder and company’s liberal manifestos at the 1951 Unity Conference held at Grace Bible College in Omaha, Nebraska. Steiner’s presentation “What is Our Position on Peace and Non-Resistance” to the united evangelical Mennonites might be summarized under two general headings – that the Evangelical Mennonite’s focus is on Fundamentalism (Evangelicalism) and not on ethnic Anabaptism, yet as Evangelical Anabaptists, they shared certain common understandings with the historic Anabaptist churches and faithful Mennonites. Fundamentally speaking, Steiner stressed three points – that peace cannot be established in the World by the Church, that Peace will only be established at the Millennial Reign (Kingdom) of Christ, and less explicitly, that Peace is seemingly an interior condition that has outward ramifications or signs rather than an exterior accomplishment or work (Matt 19:34, Matt 24, I Thes. 5:3). At the same time, Steiner includes five areas in which the Evangelical Mennonites agree on Pacifism and Non-resistance with their traditional brethren – 1/ regardless of being an interior or exterior condition, the process for experiencing peace is the same with similar impact on the individual, similar impact on the church and similar impact on the World; 2/ a reaffirmation that Christians are called to be peacemakers to live peaceably (I Thes 5:13, Matt 5:9); 3/ The Believer’s Church is separated from the World; 4/ there is a relative ambiguity regarding practical day-to-day church and state relations but there is to be a separation between church and state; and finally, 5/ We are called to be law-abiding citizens yet cannot support war.
I feel that we are witnessing the transition of communal Continental-Russian Anabaptism (Schleithiem, Molotschna) to individualized Pietistic (Evangelical) Anabaptism. Without appropriate devotional and educational support, this would easily morph into an Evangelical non-Anabaptist Pietist response to these passages. Spirituality and Discipleship was communal – the Pietist reforms of Gnadenfelde changed this to an interior, individualized process in the context of the greater church. In 1950s, we are seeing the interiorizing of the Pacifist or Non-Resistance principle on the part of evangelical Mennonites -- the impact is interior not exterior, the exterior goal in non-achievable until it is instituted personally by Christ. Perhaps less evident at this point in the 1950s is that if faith and pacifism become totally interiorized, then they truly become matters of individual conscience. Without the ethnic value system and ethnic communal structure to support and recommend pacifism and non-resistance, there is neither impetus to accept these values nor any real cost for not accepting or implementing these values in one’s interior and exterior lives. By the time the Vietnam War confronts young Mennonite men in the United States, the value, truth and significance of these traditional religious values will be lost against social, political and economic pressures to conform to the Anglo-American culture and to support both the United States war effort and the values of the new union between populist Christian religion, conservative social idealists and international capitalism. Interestingly, however, whether internalized or external, Steiner’s expository vision of Mennonite pacifism, while diametrically opposed to the understanding of Bender, Burkholder, Kaufman and the liberals, nevertheless conforms nicely to the values expressed in the 1950 Winona Lake Declaration.
Presumably, Kraybill’s article reflects more than his own personal reflections but rather his personal reflections on the processes, challenges and conversations held by, about and within the greater MCC organization and family. If Edgar Stoewsz can verify this – was he a participant in any conversations with Kraybill? How much did these same conversations and perspectives affect or instigate the efforts of Stoews and Sam Schmidt to jump-start the EMB’s institutional involvement in the administration of the MCC and in the shaping of MCC communal values?
What is clear is that President Dr. John R. Dick, Stoewsz and Schmidt were all committed at this time to further and increased involvement by the fellowship in the MCC (see correspondence).
Again, Paul Kraybill seems a bit inconsistent between his Evangelical and Liberal tendencies but he does correctly identify the problem that many Mennonites of all stripes were having with the MCC, “It is a basic assumption that every believer is a witness and that this witness logically results in conversion and admission into the brotherhood. All of our members in their home church relationships are able to this. It is a bit ironical that in a program of definite witness value this is impossible. … As noted previously… this witness is not complete unless it results in church building, which is manifestly impossible in a united service program. It is this frustration that not only affects the worker in his service but threatens to influence the future of our church and throw the focus onto social service instead of evangelism. … After a man has accepted the Word, the disciple is then responsible to bring that man into the brotherhood so that he can share to the fullest this experience of redemption,” (Kraybill, p 64-65). Again, most evangelicals and most traditional Mennonites would respond to his words with a hearty “Amen!” yet the problem is that pesky little word “Brotherhood”. Kraybill is wanting to bring the new converts into the gemeinde whereas the Evangelicals would be responding that it is the spiritual kingdom that matters – Christ’s dominion rather than that of the local elders or bishop.
In fact, we might be discovering three different sides to the debate – the liberal Romantic Anabaptists or Goshen School, the Evangelical Anabaptists or Grace School and the traditional Mennonite-Amish of rural America. All three had cooperated in the past, were cooperating at present (less convincingly) and could cooperate in the future – if the three branches could remain united. Therein lies the problem.
The elders and representatives who met at Winona Lake did a good job re-establishing common ground between the various Anabaptist factions in North America. Yet, there were valid gripes on all sides. If the MCC was to continue to operate effectively and united into the future, it was going to require effective relationship maintenance between the constituent bodies.
In 1955, the MCC was still busy tending to the needs of Mennonites around the world. By this time the term Mennonite had grown to include the fruits of the many Mennonite missions stations around the world – the Russländer and Prussian refugees in West Germany, the Russländer stranded in the Russian Far East, the Congo and African stations, the Indian conference and the still new colonies in Mexico and South America. “There is a very significant role for MCC in continuing to serve the churches as a representative body. We believe that this is the only practical way to maintain a mobile and effective emergency relief organization. Likewise it represents the only way for a realistic partnership in serving our Mennonite brethren in other countries who cannot be considered the exclusive responsibility of any one Mennonite group,” (Kraybill, p 65).
The second major unified program of the MCC was maintaining the alternative service camps and lobby in Washington (and to a lesser extent Ottawa and at the nascent United Nations in New York). The lessons of the Russländer in Ukraine and of the older generation during World War I still reminded the constituent bodies that they were unlikely to succeed in preserving their rights and non-resistance stance alone.
Ignoring the newly debated role of the MCC as a preventative or justice institute as presented by Burkholder, the next task presented to the diaspora body is to help coordinate efforts and distribute resources amongst the world-wide Mennonite missions stations and foreign conferences. “It is our understanding that by and large relief projects should develop into mission projects,” (Kraybill, 66).
Despite the feeling by many that the MCC was favouring one set of Mennonite ideals over those of another, the MCC board was probably feeling pressured by all sides. If Kraybill was speaking as a participant in these deliberations, his words continue to bear great weight:
The relationship between MCC and its constituent bodies needs to be such that this will truly be a partnership in which the two complement each other and neither trespasses on, duplicates or contradicts the other. The MCC actually is nothing more or less than a representative body making possible a medium for jointly carrying out projects that the individual bodies cannot or do not wish to do separately, (Kraybill, 65).
We do not believe that MCC wants to do anything but what the churches want it to do. However, the constituent bodies must accept responsibility for staying close to MCC so that effective representation and communication will be possible. Perhaps the patter of representation needs to be strengthened. … (Kraybill, 65).
MCC should not exist and expand in spite of the churches, but neither should the churches bypass and evade their responsibility to help formulate and guide policy and practice, (Kraybill, 66).
Complaining that the use of advisory bodies and workshops has “… provided a realistic means of advice and representation in some cases, but in others it has amounted to little more than reporting,” he concludes that, “The churches will need to be more clear in defining the role they want MCC to assume for them and then wholeheartedly support MCC in carrying out that assignment,” (Kraybill, p 66).
At the time, each individual conference had an officially delegated MCC contact – a position that Sam Schmidt was to hold for many years. When MCC-USA and MCC-Canada split their boards, the EMB maintained two positions – a national from each nation. Yet, while the church was busily and constantly trading pastoral staff, visiting new and potential membership congregations and maintaining its own regiment of conferences and workshops, finding money to send official delegates to the various MCC meetings was a perpetual problem. Much of the EMB correspondence with their unofficial representative to the board involved pleas for traveling funds or reimbursements for those who would attend the advisory and board meetings. Good naturedly, Edgar Stoewsz often volunteered to fill in for the absent conference representatives – though the utility of Stoewsz’ representation could be questioned in as much as he was also forced to “represent” several other smaller groups of Mennonites who found themselves in a similar financial predicament. To his credit, Stoewsz seems to have represented the EMB interests satisfactorily and well – at least according to the notes of thanks from Sam Schmidt and J. R. Dick. In 1950, with Dick’s support, Stoewsz and Schmidt put a lot of effort into discovering a way to solidify if not reform the role of the MCC and their commitment to pacifism and non-resistance into the EMB conference structure.
Under Dick, there was a brief renaissance of the Mennonite heritage amongst the Brüderthaler, including attendance and representation at the Mennonite World Conference. But, this renewed interest in the greater Mennonite diaspora and the role of the Brüderthaler within that heritage would find it difficult to compete with an increased focus on the increasingly active Evangelical scene in North America. With the retirement of Schmidt, formal ties between the EMB and the diaspora’s major bodies would fall into gradual abeyance, becoming more and more a matter for individual Brüderthaler to maintain for themselves or within their congregations while the conference itself moved beyond what many felt to be the false temptation of ethnicity a tradition.