Mennonite

When Community Requires Boundaries, Who Gets Left Out?

Amani Gardens. Image via Catherine Woodiwiss/Sojourners

The work of transformation — of land, or of legacy — is never complete. And for Western Christians, inheritors of a religion built and carried by ethnocentrism and economic exploitation, the work to detangle faith from the structures that continue to support it is an extra challenge. When survival of the church demands profit, what do you monetize? When community requires boundaries, whom do you leave out? 

New & Noteworthy

CHURCH MAKERS
In Accidental Theologians: Four Women Who Shaped Christianity, Elizabeth A. Dreyer delves into the theology of four female saints of the Catholic Church, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux, describing their impact on the church in their times and today. Franciscan Media

GLOBAL FEAST
The revised edition of Extending the Table cookbook (first released in 1991) includes new dishes, regional menus, and more photos, as well as prayers and stories. It is part of the World Community Cookbook series commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee, and royalties support MCC’s work. Herald Press

WORD TO DEED
With humor and blunt honesty, Eugene Cho, the founder of One Day’s Wages, aimed at alleviating extreme global poverty, writes about taking justice from buzzword to reality in Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? David C. Cook

JAILED CHILDREN
Drawing on more than 20 years of relationship with incarcerated children, award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein traces the history of juvenile incarceration and looks at current—and often abusive and counter-productive—conditions in Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison. The New Press

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In Memory of Dr. Vincent Harding, a 'Prophetic Voice for Justice and Vigorous Nonviolence'

Vincent Harding passed away on Monday. Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Sojourners

Dr. Vincent Harding, a theologian, historian, author, and civil right activist, died at 5:11 p.m. on Monday at the age of 82. Dr. Harding worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as friend, speechwriter, co-collaborator, and served as a mentor and advisor to many of the members of the Student Non-violent Coordination Committee.

Harding's social activism had deep spiritual roots in the Mennonite tradition and the Black church. Dr. Harding was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement as a participant, an historian, and social observer. He and his late wife Rosemarie were senior consultants to the "Eyes of the Prize" documentary film project.

Harding was a professor emeritus at the Iliff School of Theology and co-founder with his wife Rosemarie Freeney Harding of the Veterans of Hope Project, at the Center for the Study of Religion and Democratic Renewal at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is also the author of numerous books, including Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the MovementThere is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, and Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero. Harding wrote King's famous 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and a friend of Harding, released this statement in response to Harding's death:

This is a great loss for our movement and the world and for all of us here at Sojourners. Vincent loved and served us so often in our history. He was an elder and mentor to me and to many of us. I am so grateful for a life so well lived. Thanks be to God for Vincent Harding. We are poorer for his passing and richer for having known him.

The Price of Conscience

AS THE U.S. mobilized for World War I, a wave of patriotic fervor and xenophobia swept the country. Anything German was suspect, and those who were German-speaking and refused to fight against Germany were doubly suspect. Resentment and anger were directed at Anabaptist groups; several churches were burned and pastors beaten.

Inevitably, the demands of the state conflicted with the rights of conscience. Christian pacifists who only desired to be true to their beliefs by not serving in the military faced a militarized state that saw them as disloyal and disobedient. There was no legally recognized right to conscientious objection—if drafted, the only alternative for objectors was to go into the military and then refuse to participate.

Hutterite leaders had agreed that their young men would register, but if drafted and required to report for military service, their cooperation would end. They would refuse any orders making them complicit in war. Pacifists in Chains is the story of four young men—David, Michael, and Joseph Hofer, and Jacob Wipf—from the Hutterite colony in Alexandria, S.D., who faced that choice. Duane C.S. Stoltzfus, a professor at Goshen College in Indiana, was given access to previously unpublished letters from these men to their wives and families; the book is built around those letters.

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AUDIO: Carol Roth’s Work with Native Mennonites

For Native Mennonites on rural reservations—many of whom live without internet or telephones—communication with the conferences of the larger Mennonite church can be difficult. Carol Roth hopes to change this. As a staff leader for Native Mennonite Ministries, Carol works as a liaison between Native Mennonites and their conferences, offering them support, resources, and ministry.

As Carol shares in an interview (Sojourners, March 2014), her unique upbringing has allowed her to straddle the Mennonite and Choctaw traditions. Listen to Sojourners editorial assistant Rebecca Kraybill talk with Carol about her work and the vision she holds for Indigenous people in the church.
 

Music courtesy of Mennonite Church Canada, youtube.com/mennonitechurchca.

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Five Questions for Carol Roth

Carol Roth (Photo courtesy of Everett J. Thomas/The Mennonite)

Bio: Carol Roth [Choctaw] is staff leader for Native Mennonite Ministries, a group that does liaison work between Native Mennonites and the broader Mennonite church. 
Website: www.mennoniteusa.org/about/structure/related/

1. What are you most passionate about in your vocational role?
I’m passionate about working with the Native Mennonite people and helping them find a place in the Mennonite church. Unfortunately, some of the Native churches aren’t close to the Mennonite conferences, so you have to drive 800 miles to be connected to a conference, especially when you live on a reservation without internet or telephone. So my role is to connect the conference ministers and the conference with the Native churches and get them involved.

2. How did you come to straddle the Mennonite and Choctaw traditions?
When my twin sister and I were born [on a Choctaw reservation in Mississippi], my mom felt like she couldn’t give adequate care to two newborns. It happened that there were Mennonite missionaries who had moved nearby to help with the Choctaw group, and my parents asked if they could care for us for the winter. My parents realized how well they were taking care of us, so they asked if they could continue to care for us. My parents didn’t want them to adopt us, because they wanted us to keep our culture. So we grew up with the Mennonite missionaries, and then pretty much for all our lives attended one of the Choctaw churches.

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Malcolm Gladwell on His Return to Faith While Writing 'David and Goliath'

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 conference. Photo via RNS/courtesy Kris Krüg via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcolm Gladwell may not be known for writing on religion. His New York Times best-selling books “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink” and “What the Dog Saw” deal with the unexpected twists in social science research. But his newest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” also includes underlying faith-related themes, and not just in the title.

Gladwell said that while researching the book, he began rediscovering his own faith after having drifted away. Here, he speaks with RNS about his Mennonite family, how Jesus perfectly illustrates the point in his new book and how Gladwell’s return to faith changed the way he wrote the book. 

Unfinished Business

John Howard Yoder

JOHN HOWARD YODER, who died in 1997, was a theological educator, ethicist, historian, and biblical scholar. He is best known for his 1972 masterpiece The Politics of Jesus, his radical Christian pacifism, his influence on theological giants such as Stanley Hauerwas, and his advocacy of Anabaptist perspectives within the Mennonite community and beyond. Many testify that Yoder’s exposition of the gospel allowed them to grasp radically good news in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

There is a dark cloud over Yoder’s legacy, however, that refuses to dissipate. Survivors of Yoder’s sexual abuse and other advocates have renewed their calls for the Mennonite Church, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), to revisit unfinished business with his legacy.

On Aug. 19, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Ervin Stutzman, announced the formation of “a discernment group to guide a process that we hope will contribute to healing for victims of John Howard Yoder’s abuse as well as others deeply hurt by his harmful behavior. We hope this work will lead to church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well.”

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It's Hip to be Plain

ONE SUNDAY EVENING during high school, friends from my Mennonite church and I drove around Lancaster County, Pa., stealing mattresses. Bored by too many evenings of roller skating and Truth or Dare, we, like teenagers everywhere, landed on thievery as the solution to adolescent ennui. Having found out which of our friends were away from home, we showed up at their houses, told their parents about our prank, and swore them to secrecy. Then we clomped up narrow staircases to their sons’ and daughters’ bedrooms and wrestled mattresses back downstairs and onto the bed of a pickup truck. Just before our getaways, we left notes on our friends’ dressers, signed with what we thought was a most clever alias: “The Mennonite Mafia.”

We had no idea that 25 years later, Amish Mafia would be a blockbuster reality show, its first episode attracting 10 times more viewers than there are Amish people. Had you told us then that a bunch of Amish and Mennonite kids growing up a few miles away would someday parlay boredom-induced shenanigans into a hit cable TV series, I don’t know whether we would have been flattered or jealous. Kate Stoltzfus? Rebecca Byler? Lebanon Levi? People with names like these—our “plain-dressing” Amish neighbors and the more conservative Mennonite kids we went to school with—were the butt of our jokes, not the cynosures of popular culture.

Only a few decades after we and our families exited the conspicuous conservatism of plain Anabaptism, mass culture is flocking toward it. From Amish-themed reality TV shows to Christian romance novels with Amish characters and settings, the media have finally landed the lucrative Amish account, although the furniture industry and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise” got there first. Americans’ enthrallment with the Amish—and schadenfreude about their sometimes wayward youth—has rarely been more intense.

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We Must Protect Conscience from War

Conscientious objectors rally in Germany. Image via Getty Images.
Peace activists support Iraq war veteran and now conscientious objector Agustin Aguayo. Photo by Getty Images.

One of the U.S. Constitution's difficult balances is found in the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

What happens when those two values conflict?

That is the issue with the controversy over whether religiously-affiliated organizations should be required to offer free coverage for contraception in health insurance plans made available to employees. Those opposed — most notably Catholic organizations — claim that this requirement would violate their freedom of conscience. Those who support it claim that exempting religiously-affiliated organizations would establish a religion over the rights of individuals.

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