But Mark Tooley wonders in The American Spectator magazine whether Mennonites are taking over a big enough part of Christianity to be dangerous.
Tooley used a recent apology from Lutherans -- for violent persecution of 16th-century Anabaptists -- to emphasize a "neo-Anabaptist movement" that demands all Christians and society "bend to pacifism."
He says the views of neo-Anabaptist religious leaders such as Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis are "especially pervasive" and "permit a naughty sense of rebellion" -- evidence of how the Anabaptist message has mainstream appeal, especially its pacifism.
Tooley shows a somewhat accurate understanding of Anabaptistm, while at other times he's erroneous. As an Anabaptist, I want to speak of my heritage from my perspective.
Tooley is right:
- Anabaptism is no longer a small, persecuted minority. Yes, however, the global Anabaptist church is still comparatively small, at less than 2 million members compared to 70 million Lutherans around the world.
- Anabaptists are traditionally pacifists and separatists emphasized as "victim" and "outsider." Yes, and we as Anabaptists have not spent enough time reflecting on how we sometimes portray ourselves as self-righteous and arrogant Christians.
- Anabaptism is becoming mainstream. In some ways, yes, but we also don't fit the traditional Christian molds of mainstream or evangelical. I've been told by various religious leaders and Christian friends how Anabaptism's values of peace, justice and nonviolence are increasingly relevant in our world. I humbly acknowledge this and say, spread the Word!
- Anabaptists reject support for the "empire." While Anabaptist views of politics differ, a core value remains being "in the world but not of it," which especially applies to U.S. militarism. I'm comfortable with saying "God bless the world" but not "God bless America." I respect the government as described in Romans 13 but ultimately believe my highest loyalty remains with God.
Tooley is wrong:
- Neo-Anabaptists aggressively demand pacifism. The reality is that not even all Anabaptists embrace nonviolence, much less get the rest of the world to. Rather, Anabaptists try to align daily life as peaceful reconcilers of Jesus' "third way." We invite rather than coerce.
- Neo-Anabaptists are part of the Left. First, I'm not sure whether this means all Anabaptists are members of the so-called Left, or if just neo-Anabaptists are. Regardless, both interpretations are wrong. Whether it's the Christian Left or Secular Left, neither category fits.
- Neo-Anabaptists demand an expanded, coercive state. Anabaptists have traditionally forsworn national loyalties, as Tooley said. However, Anabaptists are deeply committed to social justice, since Jesus' mission was to preach good news to the poor. Anabaptists believe faith without works is dead and that the church is uniquely positioned to proclaim Jesus' healing and hope to the world.
This is my interpretation of Anabaptism. I don't know whether Tooley would call me a traditional Anabaptist or a neo-Anabaptist. But as a committed member of a 500-year-old movement that has spread to more than 80 countries, I wonder whether we can really dichotomize the old, the new and the emerging.
Ultimately, Tooley said, neo-Anabaptism is "especially pervasive at many evangelical schools, suburban megachurches, intellectual and hipster circles." (Wow, we're hip!) It's a "rising force," maybe poised for a takeover, he says.
I say, may the reign of God come on earth as it is in heaven.