When Hyejung Jessie Yum first encountered Mennonites, she found value and inspiration in the writings of the 16th-century Anabaptists and adopted them as her faith ancestors. At the same time, she sensed some unspoken rules that seemed to make some groups of Anabaptists “more authentic” than others.
“At first, I thought it was only my feelings,” she says. “I am very visible as an Asian Mennonite, but as I did more research, I found others, even those in the white racial group, who felt the same way. I heard someone say, ‘I only feel half Mennonite.’ We cannot value only one kind of history.”
MennoMedia’s Anabaptism at 500 project seeks to recognize the many streams of early Anabaptists as well as the diversity flowing onward from the 16th century.
Yum believes it is time to recognize the changing context and to re-situate Mennonites in a multicultural context. She attends Danforth Mennonite Church in Toronto, and is co-founder of Sowing for Peace, an intercultural peace ministry that researches the tension between a cultural identity and a faith identity for Anabaptists. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, and she participated in the Anabaptism at 500 Bible conference held in Chicago in August.
Yum says that when European Anabaptists migrated to North America, they were no longer the persecuted minority, but they continued to reproduce that persecuted identity. This affected their interpretation of Mennonite theology. She says that the social position of European Mennonites has shifted from a religious and ethnic minority to racially and religiously privileged white Christians who are complicit in white Christian colonialism.
Yum believes that the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism is an occasion to celebrate Anabaptist faith instead of focusing on a narrow European culture. The commemoration is an opportunity to renew and continue the Anabaptist faith today.
She says, “I was inspired by the radical faith of early Anabaptists, but I don’t want us to be stuck in the 16th century. . . . Why do we ignore the continuing stories? Anabaptism now has a culturally diverse body. Anabaptist history in North America should also include the inspiring stories of Latino and Black Mennonites in the civil rights movement and the migrant workers movement. Those were inspiring stories for me because that was the first moment that I could feel I could breathe.”
She says that when she read Felipe Hinojosa’s writings on Latino Mennonites, she gained the courage to develop her own theology from an Asian migrant perspective.
Yum hopes that the Anabaptist Bible will intentionally include underrepresented groups.
“If immigrant Mennonite groups participate in the Anabaptist Bible project, and their interpretation (of a passage) is included in the sidebar of an Anabaptist Bible, that means a lot. Usually, European Mennonites are the authoritative ones. Now it’s time to change that. If our people’s interpretation is included in this Bible, it will shape our Anabaptist identity in a new way in the 21st century.”