An Anabaptist Vision for the 21st Century—Some Propositions

[What follows are statements meant to foster conversation about applying ideals from the Anabaptist tradition to contemporary life.  These are not in any way meant to be litmus tests or boundary markers.  This document was generated through discussion on the MennoNeighbors listserve in June/July 2005 – drafted and revised by Ted Grimsrud in dialogue with many other listserve participants.  These propositions – always subject to further revision – are offered to the wider Mennonite community as an effort to facilitate dialogue and discernment, recognizing that as Anabaptist Christians we have the responsibility continually to be applying our faith convictions to an ever-changing world. – 7/2/05]

I. God

1. God is a God of persevering love who creates and sustains life.

2. The life and teaching of Jesus witness to this creative love in profound and definitive ways.

3. The Spirit of God continues the creative and life-sustaining expression of this love.

4. All true expressions of God’s involvement in the world are consistent with kind of persevering love shown by Jesus.

5. The basic rule for human life is found in the command to love God and neighbor.

6. All human beings may rest in our identity as beloved children of God, trusting in God’s love as creation’s ultimate reality.

7. God’s love reaches to the ends of the earth – no creature exists outside of this love.

II. Discipleship

8. Authentic Christian faith finds expression through commitment to Jesus’ way of persevering love.

9. Just as Jesus’ life of welcoming love put him in opposition with the Powers-that-be, so will those who follow him find themselves in parallel positions.

10. The path of discipleship is meant to be one of joy; we follow Jesus in response to divine love for us, not as a burden born out of fear and anxiety.

11. Jesus risked identifying with people who were considered to be “unclean;” followers who “take up their cross” will choose to do likewise.

12. Jesus’ message of simplicity and care for others especially challenges his North American followers to resist the world’s widening gap between rich and poor.

13. Jesus’ presence as prophetic witness and compassionate companion continues through the immanence of the Spirit of God.

III. Spirit

14. The Spirit of God has and does breathe life into the created world – where there is life there is Spirit.

15. The Spirit goes between God’s creatures to foster interrelatedness and mutuality.

16. The Spirit manifests itself as presence and accompaniment for those who seek to live merciful and loving lives.

17. The nurturing, relationship-empowering, compassionate presence of the Spirit reflects the fullness of God’s character.

18. The Spirit of God is present in all faiths insofar as they serve mercy and healing justice.

IV. Bible

19. The Bible tells the story of God’s seeking to heal the world’s brokenness through God’s creating communities that know and witness to God’s love.

20. The story of God’s healing work finds profound expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; hence, Jesus becomes the lens through which his followers read the entire Bible.

21. The Bible most centrally gives a gentle invitation to join in the healing story that it tells, more than authoritarian rules meant to be imposed coercively.

22. The core message of the Bible may be seen most of all as a coherent story (though with many diverse elements), not as isolated words or verses.

23. The Bible is to be used carefully and tentatively, with the recognition that all that human beings say about the Bible’s message are human interpretations.

24. The Bible witnesses to the on-going revelation of God’s healing work, a revelation that continues, in harmony with the message of Jesus, through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

25. Any interpretation of the Bible that underwrites harming others should be seriously questioned.

26. The Bible’s content reflects God’s attentiveness to vulnerable and marginalized people; followers of Jesus today should continue to read the Bible with this always in mind.

V. Peace

27. Followers of Jesus are called to imitate his way – loving enemies, welcoming outcasts, offering mercy, seeking to heal not punish evildoers.

28. Pacifism leads to love as the most important human value; no other value has enough importance to negate the call to love all people.

29. Our world today is profoundly shaped by the belief that salvation is achievable through the violence of human against human, making violence a major rival to God being ultimate, even for religious people.

30. Jesus’ message of involved, suffering love has found expressions in forms of active nonviolence that effect social transformation.

31. Since violence is learned behavior (not innate), people of faith will support peaceable rather than punitive strategies for resolving conflicts and responding to wrong-doing.

VI. Community

32. God has established communities of faith whose vocation is to witness to God’s love; they do not exist primarily for their own sake.

33. To be communities that witness to God’s love, present-day Christian congregations must manifest that love in all internal and external practices.

34. The locus of discernment for faith communities may be found in local congregations through face-to-face fellowship, mutual encouragement, and practical commitment to love.

35. Structures beyond the local congregation should exist primarily to serve the vitality of the witness of local congregations, not as entities in and of themselves.

36. Recognizing the value of associations of congregations that provide opportunity for ministry beyond the local congregation and the inevitability of differences among congregations, we affirm a polity that requires all to value diversity by not allowing for the removal of dissenting congregations.

37. Documents such as Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective are to be valued as guides for belief and practice, not as tools for enforcing boundary lines.

VII. Welcome

38. Throughout, the Bible highlights the importance of hospitality as a necessary earmark of authentic communities of God’s people.

39. The biblical portrayal of hospitality emphasizes that faith communities provide welcome for vulnerable and marginalized people.

40. “Vulnerable and marginalized” people today include those whose affectional orientation links them with people of their own sex and who consequently face hostility and even violence within society and religious groups.

41. The clarity of the Bible’s witness to the call to hospitality stands in contrast with its brief, ambiguous allusions to same-sex relationships, providing clear direction for a welcoming stance among communities of faith, even as they continue to discern the richness and complexity of sexuality in the modern world.

42. Congregations and conferences promote inhospitality when they act quickly to disfellowship congregations who tolerate same-sex relationships or when they target the “sin” of same-sex intimacy for special mention and disciplinary action.

VIII. Interfaith

43. That the one God (named variously) is the God of all peoples in reinforced in Scripture.

44. Jesus modeled openness and respect toward diverse people who understood God and religiosity much differently from him; a strength of God’s creative design is that differences need not be feared.

45. Christians historically have justified violence against people of other faiths, countering the message of Jesus.

46. Followers of Jesus find a great deal of common ground with people of other faiths, people who as a consequence of their convictions also affirm the call to love God and neighbor.

47. To relate openly with people of other faiths leads to growth in one’s own understanding and appreciation of one’s faith convictions.

48. The way of Jesus is truthful and open to ways of God’s wisdom in the world; followers of Jesus find new clarity about truth through relationships with and knowledge of people of other faiths.

IX. Creation

49. The Bible teaches that God created what is to express God’s goodness; God continually sustains life and seeks to bring healing to brokenness.

50. The love of God may be witnessed in varied ways throughout creation among the various animate and inanimate parts of the world.

51. The biblical teaching of God as creator does not stand in tension with evolutionary scientific understandings except when those understandings project onto creation meaninglessness and impersonality (a projection not inherent to evolutionary thought).

52. God does not relate with creation coercively or possessively; but endows creation, especially human beings, with a great deal of freedom and purpose.

53. In relation to the rest of creation, human beings share dominion with God (that is, joint responsible care for life); to dominate and exploit the physical world is to sin against the Creator.

54. Current dynamics in the global economy that further enrich the powerful at the expense of ecological destruction violate God’s will for creation.

X. Empire

55. From Egypt in the Exodus story to Rome in the Book of Revelation, the Bible portrays people of faith as continually under the threat of imperial domination.

56. The response of Empire to Jesus – death-dealing violence – reflects the idolatrous nature of centralized political power which resists God’s love that is made known in genuine justice.

57. Citizens of the United States face profound temptations to “bow down before the Beast,” to give the nation-state the kind of loyalty due only to the universal God Christians known best through Jesus.

58. Linked with the power politics of Empire, the economics of consumption and exploitation of nature and workers threatens to separate people of faith from God.

59. To follow the Lamb in witnessing boldly to the ways of love and healing justice remains the calling of people of peace in Empire.

60. Followers of Jesus recognize that their loyalty to his way of shalom takes priority over national citizenship.

XI. Seeking Truth

61. Christians confess that God’s truth has been revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – we know this truth by following in Jesus’ radical way.

62. Truth defines a process more than a static end point; truthful ends are approached through truthful means – characterized always by nonviolence.

63. The moral relativism of contemporary American power politics, that turns ideals such as peace and freedom into rhetorical slogans meant simply to buttress status quo domination, contradicts Jesus’ truthful message of love that even is due enemies.

64. Communities of faith live truthfully as they foster open conversation and discernment processes that respect differences, as they attend to minority voices.

65. To openly express our differences and honestly deal with conflicts prompts growth toward the truth.

66. Truth cannot be separated from the earthen vessels who embody the Spirit of God – this means both that truth is relational and that truth is perspectival.

67. Because we all may know the truth only imperfectly, we can never have the certainty that could justify using violence against others.

One thought on “An Anabaptist Vision for the 21st Century—Some Propositions

  1. Pingback: How Mennonite Church USA might survive: A fantasy | Thinking Pacifism

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