This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mennonite Southern Baptists? Not Yet.

Fäaseene fann en Fäauadeel*

James Craig Anderson  (1962 - 2011)
     It is with wry bemusement that after so many years of having to defend Anabaptism against its critics amongst the Fundamentalists and Baptist Evangelicals (the Anglo-Americans), we are now being courted by both the Religious Left and the Fundamentalist Right to coopt that very heritage which only decades ago was too odious and too theologically suspect for true “Christians” to accept.
    Knowing and admitting my subsequent cultural bias against the Southern Baptist model of church governance, their creedal approach to faith, and a compromising history of controversial racial understandings, I am never-the-less attempting to give Rick Warren, for instance, a relatively fair hearing.  What I have found is that Baylor and its former seminary, South West Baptist Seminary (Rick Warren’s alma mater) are not so different in the general composition and make-up of their student bodies from many comparable Mennonite schools – the demographics of both groupings generally reflecting those of the surrounding communities with about 20-year time lag (understandable given the differing needs of different generations of immigrant families for educational resources).  The major difference being in the focus on religious fundamentals in the former and concepts of service and justice in the latter.
    On the other hand, the technically independent Bob Jones University seems to fulfill most of the more negative impressions to which I had ascribed to the wider Southern Baptist conference.  So maybe I have been guilty of judging congregations and conferences more by the company they keep than by their own individual beliefs and actions.  Good enough.  Rick Warren might be legit.  Bob Jones might not speak for the Southern Baptists.
    Warren’s outreach to the Anabaptists brings up a couple of questions – why us?  Why not someone else?  These are not the same questions.  
2011 Student Body Compositions of Mennonite and Evangelical Schools
    Because of the Mennonite’s difficult heritage of having to survive persecution, constant attempts by governments and dominant churches to eradicate this unique faith through assimilation (aka resource re-appropriation, or even steeplejacking), and a heritage built on the concept of separation, alarm bells tend to go off in our heads when someone wants to be our friend – What do they really want?  Is this legitimate?  Why now and not before?  Can we survive this friendship or cultural alliance?  These are simply not questions that occur to the general Anglo-American Fundamentalist.
    Too often, as we found in 20th Century Prussia and Ukraine, later in Chaco and more recently in the United States, such alliances are offered or even assumed based not on whom we are, but rather on what others want us to be – often not a very positive association and usually rather compromising (are we Europe’s 20th Century, mostly naïve ideological mules?  (To clarify, in this sense, a mule is a generally unsuspecting tourist or person who is slipped something in his or her baggage to smuggle across a border by a criminal.  The criminal counts on the mule’s innocence and lack of awareness to help them, and the smuggled item, pass the border without difficulty.) 
    To put it nicely, a recent biography of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche indicated that she seemingly sought out Mennonite girls as appropriate back-up brides for her, um, er, special “Germanic” community in Paraguay.  Obviously, she did not understand that Mennonites are not of German heritage and our traditional ethnic homogeneity was forced upon us as the result of centuries of persecution by the Germans, amongst others, and was thus an historical accident rather than a cultural goal.  Just because we “spoke” German did not mean that we were interested in her German ideology.  We had left Germany as religious refugees over a century earlier – we were actually booted.  Not a good match.
    Similarly, Karl Rove was famous for attempting to make Republican inroads to the Amish and traditional Mennonite communities in support of Bush’s cultural agenda and war in Iraq.  Just as Förster-Nietzsche mistook a common language for a common cultural affinity, Rove hopefully mistook a common religious tradition for a common social value-system (though I am not familiar enough to know the degree of his success or failure).  The “War President” and pacifist Mennonite-Amish?  Not a good match.
    So now we have Rick Warren … ho-hum.  Understandably, both John Roth of Goshen College and John Rempel of Elkhart’s Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary were appreciative of Warren’s outreach to the Mennonites – and of his commitment to discipleship, while struggling to plumb the depth of Warren’s understanding of the totality of the Anabaptist theological experience (see Sheldon Good, below).
    Interestingly, recent events in Jackson, Mississippi, indicate a potential path for both sides to become more familiar with each other – namely by including other Baptist groups in the conversation – say for instance, the American Baptist Conference and the Missionary Baptists of the United States South.
First Hyde Park M. B. Church, Jackson, Mississippi -- a good match.
    Recent actions by a Missionary Baptist family in Jackson, Mississippi, have generally commended that conference to me as potentially embodying the true spirit of Anabaptism.
     On 26 June 2011, James Craig Anderson was beaten and murdered by three white kids.  The rural kids targeted Anderson for his race and all three kids were charged with racially-motivated (hate crimes) murder.  Regrettably, it is not because he was the victim of a hate crime that Anderson’s case stands out.  Rather, it is for the reaction of his family who has asked the Prosecuting Attorney to not seek the death penalty, which they feel is against their religion and detrimental  to their ethnic identity.  Portions of their letter have been released via the press:
    “We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder…
    … Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well…
   … We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites … Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales.  But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.
   … Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man.  They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief.  But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another…”
    The actions of the Anderson family indicate a faith, spirit and applied Christianity that seemingly share the goals of many Anabaptist congregations – though we can only recognize the strength and spiritual courage of this family in being able to follow through with the convictions of their faith and community under such circumstances.
    The Missionary Baptists (MB for short) first caught my attention when I wondered about the MB Church seen from the Interstate – for a moment, I was quite fascinated in that I did not know the MB had fostered a growing congregation in Chicago.  While these proved to be a different brand of MB (which Mennonites often understand as Mennonite Brethren), I am glad to further make their acquaintance.
     The Missionary Baptists are an early 19th Century division from the United States Baptist church which separated into an anti-missionary (Primitive) conference and a missionary conference.  More exactly, similar to the Mennonites, a split occurred within American Baptist fellowships regarding the appropriateness and utility of have a missions board – the MB supporting one (like the Mennonite Brethren) and the Primitive Baptists believing that the local congregations should support the missionary directly (similar to the Brüderthaler or EMB).
    While the Missionary Baptists are purported to be very independent and apparently do not seek out relations with other Christian groups, I would tend to be much more interested in developing a closer understanding with a group that produces Christians such as the Anderson family appear to be, rather than those I associate with groups such as Bob Jones University.
    We apparently share a commitment to peace and conflict resolution, a missionary zeal, the adult baptism and a credible, Biblically-based Christian discipleship.  We also seem to share a potential religious experience based in having survived persecution and oppression – though one must immediately admit that the experience of the average Mennonite individual today is relatively easy comparatively.  We even seem to share a difficult tendency to separate unto ourselves. 
    Back to the questions about Warren’s outreach to the Mennonites – why is he not seeking instead to first repair breaches within the Baptist community – reconciliation and the forgiveness and atoning for past wrongs would be a powerful witness to groups such as the Anabaptists.  Participation in a multi-lateral general Baptist and Evangelical conversation might be more beneficial to the Mennonite conferences than a bi-lateral dialogue with too many frayed strands.
    While nothing could compensate for the loss of Craig Anderson to his family, their spiritual stance indicates that a general dialogue between the Missionary Baptists, the Southern Baptists and Mennonites together might produce enough similarities and common understandings to build a future of dialogue and potential cooperation rather than an appropriation of another’s past or a future continuing historical divisions – a dialogue of respect and mutual support if not outright cooperation.  Three can often dialogue and converse where two find might find old divisions too much to overcome.
    If the Southern Baptists could demonstrate that they are willing to distance themselves from lingering questions regarding their controversial historic positions regarding race – to the point of rebuilding relationships with primarily African-American non-Southern Baptist congregations – many of us Anabaptists would be much more willing to overlook disagreements regarding Church governance, missionary support, American politics and general lifestyle issues.  But, if recent polling performed amongst Republican Evangelicals in Mississippi and Alabama is any indicator, the Southern Baptists might be reaching out to Mennonites when they ought to be reaching out to their fellow Baptists (only 51% were able to state that inter-racial marriage should be legal).  Mennonite tradition mandates that two Christians must first mend relations with the brothers and sisters they have offended before the communion (fellowship) can be extended.
All images courtesy of Southern Baptist-affiliated blogs  (C) to bloggers.

*Just to confirm, “Fäaseene fann en Fäauadeel” are the Plautdietsche terms for “Beware (or wary) of the prejudice”  just in case I accidently said something I did not intend, I wish to clarify my actual intention – again, I do not speak our folk tongue but would like to see more people interact with it – so mistakes will be made but they will be made in good faith.

Sources (all downloaded 25 March 2012):
The Homogeneous Unit Principle and Racial Segregation in Baptist Churches
Slain Victim's Family Ask for No Death Penalty

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