Risking introspection

May 13, 2024 | Editorial | Volume 28 Issue 7
Will Braun |
Dirk Willms rescues his enemy. Holland, 1569. Engraving by Jan Luyken in Martyr’s Mirror. File from Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

I recently met someone who is new to Anabaptism after decades in other churches. He was unrestrained and exuberant about the distinctive gifts that Anabaptist churches can offer young people in our society.


I could have spoken with him for hours about Anabaptist values.


At the same time, some discussions of Anabaptist identity feel tired and self-absorbed. With that risk in mind, this issue of the magazine explores the essence of Anabaptism (pages 9, 12-19). We do so with one hope and five caveats.


The hope is that discussion of our identity can strengthen our witness in the world, as opposed to just making us feel good about ourselves.


Caveat 1: There’s no one answer. We’re presenting many perspectives. This is in keeping with Anabaptist notions of the priesthood of all believers.


For the most part, we have sought the particular views of people who were not born into Anabaptist churches.


Caveat 2: Our particular brand of Mennonites are not the centre of the Anabaptist universe. “Canadian Mennonite” and “Mennonite Church Canada” are presumptuous names to the extent they imply we are the publication for Mennonites in Canada or the conference of Mennonites or Anabaptists in Canada. 


I’m curious how the Amish, Hutterites and other Anabaptist groups would define the core of Anabaptism.


Caveat 3: Surnames pose a challenge. For those of us with genetic ties to early generations of Anabaptists—and surnames to prove it—it can be a challenge to truly see more recent adopters of Anabaptism as something other than a different class of Anabaptists. May God help us.


I suggest that surname Mennonites need to rigorously examine our history, repent of that which requires repentance, and claim that which we discern to be of God. Let us hold tightly to the good with one hand and use the other hand to reach out with profound openness to the broad, beautiful Anabaptist world. If the legacies we inherit turn our hearts toward others, they are a gift. If they narrow our hearts, they become a curse.


Caveat 4: Anabaptism is one of many traditions within the Church. If we look at our strengths, we must also ask what we lack. What can we learn from others?


As one example, I believe the monastic, contemplative and mystic strains of Catholicism and the Eastern church can complement our practicality.


Caveat 5: Beware of self-aggrandizement. I recall my mom saying, “Guard your strengths.” Emphasis on peace can become destructive avoidance of critical underlying questions. Simplicity can become stinginess.


Community cohesion can become closedness. A penchant for practical service can sideline the work of inner transformation.


These caveats stated, our hope, again, is that exploration of the essence of Anabaptism can help us live out our calling to bring love to the world.


We intend to revisit the question of Anabaptist values next year—the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism—with insights from around the globe, from a range of Anabaptist traditions and from some Anabaptist-adjacent thinkers. 

Dirk Willms rescues his enemy. Holland, 1569. Engraving by Jan Luyken in Martyr’s Mirror. File from Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

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