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John S. Oyer, "They Harry the Good People Out of the Land:" Essays on the Persecution, Survival and Flourishing of Anabaptists and Mennonites. Edited by John D. Roth. Goshen, Ind.: Mennonite Historical Society, 2000. Pp. 331. ($11.95 -- paper)
Donald B. Kraybill and Linda Gehman Peachey, eds., Where was God on Sept. 11? Seeds of Faith and Hope. Scottdale: Herald Press, 2002. Pp. 214. ISBN 0-8361-9214-1
In 1991, in the immediate wake of the Persian Gulf War, Faith and Life Press rushed to press a book of seventeen Mennonite essays titled Weathering the Storm: Christian Pacifist Responses to War. The title implied a domestic storm, matching the "Desert Storm" military action in Iraq, that put pacifists on the defensive. How could pacifists explain themselves and survive in a war-making nation that gave almost ninety percent approval to President George Bush?
Just over a decade later, Herald Press has accelerated the publication of a book with responses to the "9-11" terrorist crisis and to America's war in Afghanistan. Again the pacifists have been marginalized. Another president Bush in the White House was catapulted into popularity by aggressive military action. Both Weathering the Storm and Where was God? represent cries of anguish and dismay, written in times of crisis. Both affirm strongly that there is a better way.
A comparison of the two books reveals the revolutionary impact of electronic communication. In 1991 the World Wide Web, MennoLink, and sophisticated search engines were not generally available. The essayists for Weathering the Storm were selected, commissioned, and put on short deadline. The editors of Where was God? used a very different method. They were able to scour the Internet (along with print sources) for pacifist responses to the terrorist crisis, and to make selections from a vast outpouring of written material. They chose sixty-nine separate pieces, many of them excerpts and revisions of writings that originally appeared in cyberspace.
As a collection of fragments, many of them produced in haste, the new book shares the character of electronic communication. And it prompts the question of how the experience of war has been changed for that portion of the pacifist community who write for, and lurk at, electronic discussion groups. It appears that the amount of writing and reading about the crisis events has substantially increased. Even so, most Mennonites are more oriented to print and to television than to email discussions. For them, the book Where was God? can serve as a kind of bridge.
These books of 1991 and 2002 both offer concluding sections of questions for discussion and reflection, suggesting they are intended for sharing in Sunday School classes or small groups. The longer essays in Weathering the Storm allowed the authors to develop a thesis and were more conducive to group discussion. The Where was God excerpts read something like a scrapbook--provocative and often intriguing, but not well developed. They are, say the editors, "entries in a journal of faith." Included are sermon excerpts that leave the reader wondering how the excerpt fit into the crafted design of the whole sermon.
The question of theodicy posed in the title of Where was God? is addressed in the first of seven sections of the book, "Faith Amid the Terror?" The section has brief reflections by writers of different denominational affiliation: Mennonite, Baptist, Church of the Brethren, and Episcopalian. The statements are winsome affirmations of faith in God in the face of a single event rather than of our broader vulnerability in a nuclear-armed and terrorist-threatened world. The following sections are titled, "Jesus and the Way of Peace," "Revenge, Justice, or Forgiveness?" "Will Violence Bring Peace?" "Voices from Our Global Family," "Citizens of Two Kingdoms," and "Another Way of Responding." The contributions from overseas are especially welcome at a time of official unilateralist nationalism. Included in the final section is an essay by John Paul Lederach, "The Challenge of Terror," which is probably the most widely distributed and reprinted writing by a Mennonite in response to 9-11.
The format of Where was God? allowed for a multiplicity of voices--Mennonite and non-Mennonite, men and women, Americans and Christians from other countries, academics, church leaders, and lay persons. Weathering the Storm lacked this diversity. Most of its writers were members of the General Conference Mennonite Church.
Fast track publishing allows for exceptional timeliness and relevance. But there are also drawbacks and hazards. Neither of these books has an index. The copy of Where was God? first available for this review was missing the final twenty-five pages. One hopes that such printing and binding problems were not widespread.
In general these two books reveal that Mennonites in response to crises of warfare exhibit laudable creativity, insight, and faithfulness to a tradition of peace. The nature of warfare has changed since the unlimited total warfare of the two great world wars of the twentieth century. Today Christian pacifists face a nation which is taking a role as international police power, which makes war without asking citizens for the personal sacrifice of military conscription or money, and which counts on the enthusiastic verbal endorsement by patriotic citizens. The challenges to Christian pacifist faith may be more subtle, but they are as daunting in this new context as they were in the era of total war. We do need to nurture the "seeds of faith and hope" lifted up in these books.
James C. Juhnke
The Missing Peace, a one-volume survey of U.S. history from Native American origins through the end of the Cold War, offers an ambitious reinterpretation of both familiar and lesser-known events in the nation's past. Juhnke and Hunter prompt readers to consider the legacies of violent historical events and institutions--wars and slavery, for example--as well as the alternatives proposed by peaceminded leaders along the way. Is it conceivable that the birth and development of the nation from the 1770s onward could have occurred without war? In the nineteenth century, might it have been possible for the nation to abolish slavery and ensure African-Americans' freedom and rights without the fighting of the Civil War? Throughout the work, the authors reexamine assumptions about the inevitability of violence. They suggest interpretations that both unmask legacies of violence and highlight the contributions of historical figures who sought reconciliation and justice through nonviolent means.
One of the authors' intriguing phrases is that "peace broke out." During a 1968 reenactment of the Washita massacre in Oklahoma Territory a hundred years earlier, Cheyenne descendants of those killed in the massacre reconciled with the descendants of Custer's Seventh Cavalry. Peace broke out when a Cheyenne peace chief placed a blanket over the shoulders of the leader of the military re-enactment, leading to a symbolic exchange of gifts that signified reconciliation over the century-old legacy of senseless killing. Another of Juhnke and Hunter's examples, drawn from early national history, asserts that "peace broke out" between adversaries France and the United States in 1799. In that episode, President John Adams, supported by army commander George Washington, took steps to avoid a seemingly inevitable war with France over naval hostilities and expansionist rivalry. Readers of American history are accustomed to hearing about the outbreak of war, but rarely if ever about an outbreak of peace. This book attempts to shift the readers' acceptance of sanctioned violence toward an alternative vision of the past.
This is a conceptually ambitious work. The authors acknowledge that they have been "relentlessly revisionist" in covering events from the colonial period through the late twentieth century (p. 7). Their thesis may surprise and vex readers accustomed to accepting certain notions about American history; most notably, that the nation's wars have been inevitable. The authors offer a conceptual approach that pricks reader consciousness in three ways. First, they critique the repeated use of violence by asserting its legacies of escalating violence. Second, they frame historical events in terms of how well those events measured up to goals of reconciliation and justice (rather than self-willed triumph). And third, they highlight the historical experiences of people who worked for nonviolent alternatives. In short, the authors assert, "we want to rethink the notion of 'success' and reclaim the hidden heritage of a 'nonviolent America'" (p. 13).
Most of the book's thirteen chapters follow a chronological narrative of the nation's founding, development, and gradual shifting of position in world affairs. But as the authors interpret and analyze event after event with their three-pronged approach of exposing legacies of violence, highlighting struggles for justice, and introducing peacemakers, they make the further argument that the teaching of history has usually been inadequate. In the book's preface, the authors ask whether American history "really is only carnage and inhumanity--or is this a problem with the way in which history is taught and sold?" (p. 10). The authors come down firmly on the side of the latter, saying that their purpose "is to begin the process of emancipating U.S. history from the tyranny of our violent imaginations . . . [through which] the linkage of violence and freedom in U.S. experience has grown into a powerful national myth" (pp. 11-12).
Thus, the book is provocative at several levels, for it requires readers to test preconceived ideas about various subjects against the authors' interpretations of those events. Simultaneously, readers are drawn to consider the ways in which they themselves have long absorbed American history--in classrooms, as readers, and as participant-citizens--in the vein of what Juhnke and Hunter are calling national mythology.
All of this is to say that the book, fascinating as it is, does not make for comfortable reading. The authors assert that they are offering a new perspective that rejects the grand triumphalism of traditional historical narrative, and so they are. They also argue that their interpretive lens offers a more cohesive vision of the United States' past than does radical New Leftist scholarship, which often fails to move beyond critique. Juhnke and Hunter claim to offer "a perspective of constructive nonviolence as an alternative to triumphalist nationalism and destructive cultural criticism, both of which often assume that violence is redemptive" (p. 270). Despite this analytic ideal, however, the book's authors are much closer ideologically to Howard Zinn and other radical critics of American culture than to sentimentalistic purveyors of the past.
Among the strengths of this book is its accessibility to general readers ready to consider the book's interpretive challenge. The Missing Peace is geared toward college-level and general audiences, with discussion-oriented questions woven throughout the text. For example, in considering Native American history: who contributed more to the survival of this minority culture over centuries of encounters with whites--Indian warriors, or peacemakers and prophets? Or, in studying the history of the Revolutionary War: how does the rising tide of mob violence help to explain links between war, freedom, and democracy? With regard to the abolitionist movement, did nonviolent attempts to oppose slavery really fail?
The authors' forays into the realm of speculative history, in which they offer "what if" scenarios as alternatives to the past, open up imaginative thinking. And yet, at times they seem to meander into wishful thinking. In these instances, the possibilities with which they present us do not adequately satisfy our desire to make sense of the past. For example, in a chapter dealing with the first half of the nineteenth century, the authors rightly describe the war against Mexico in 1846-47 as a particularly grievous example of aggressive national expansion. As they point out, some Americans at the time regarded the war an outgrowth of the ideals of manifest destiny. But for today's students of nineteenth-century America, the United States' invasion of Mexico is difficult to justify. In comparison with the American Revolution and the Civil War, the war against Mexico seems a greedy and shameful conquest. Is such an assessment realistic and warranted? It probably is. But the authors of The Missing Peace, aiming to offer an alternative vision to 1840s-style American militarism, go on to suggest that we "imagine that a separate nation might have come into existence on the west coast, and that the Republic of Texas and a Republic of California might have joined with the United States in a confederation less addicted to violence and expansionism than was the American nation" (pp. 73-74). Most readers will be hard-pressed to imagine such a scenario, for it seems to offer more of a whimsical vision than a usable one.
And yet, on balance, the many merits of The Missing Peace include its realism. Who can argue with the notion that violence permeated twentieth-century American life and that public and private fascination with violent images continue to influence our collective memory? Why is it that so many Americans can only conceive of fighting violence by responding with more violence? And how do we draw out the strands of our cultural, national, and religious heritage that symbolize resistance to violence and the affirmation of human worth? The Missing Peace addresses these questions head-on and gives us authentic images of people who have long yearned for peace.
Rachel Waltner Goossen
Last year many commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of PAX. PAX was a Mennonite service venture from 1951 to 1976 that provided many with splendid opportunities to contribute to God's Kingdom. Not much has been written about PAX. In fact, much more could and should be written about various Mennonite service ventures before, during, and after World War II. In 1969 Uri Bender wrote a PAX story entitled Soldiers of Compassion, but not much has been written after that date. Bender's book can still be read with great profit. It contains much anecdotal but also very useful statistical information. However, it is not complete and contains a number of errors and strange omissions. For instance, Bender does not include the first twenty PAXmen who went in 1951 unless they decided to stay beyond one year of service. They are sometimes referred to as the "lost Paxmen." Fortunately, Redekop does not omit them.
Redekop's work is not anecdotal but consists of a brief history of PAX. It discusses the origins of PAX which grew out of post-World War II Mennonite relief experiences such as Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). In fact, Redekop who served with MVS in Europe was one of the first to suggest PAX. Soon after PAX was launched, the Selective Service allowed young men to fulfill their military obligation by "doing PAX." Many eagerly seized this opportunity, and in the course of time some 1100 men served. Yet, PAX also accepted non-draftees. Among them were many Canadians. It would be interesting to know what motivated them.
As Redekop pointed out, PAX started in Germany where PAXmen helped build refugee homes, but in a short period of time expanded its scope to other parts of Europe such as Austria, France, and Greece, and to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Next, the author discusses briefly major PAX projects such as the road building in Peru and Paraguay, PAX's organizational structure, and its impact on MCC and the church and participants. Not all PAX projects required considerable physical labor or mechanical skills but consisted of providing relief to those in need.
The author views PAX as a very positive experience for all those who were in some way involved with this service venture. This reviewer would wholeheartedly agree. Almost all former PAXmen with whom he has communicated considered PAX as one of their most important, life-changing experiences. Yet, he has also heard a few discordant notes.
Redekop does not tell us much about individual PAX experiences. Bender's book provides that element. Nor does he tell us much about the "support system" which consisted of many matrons and others who looked after the physical and spiritual welfare of the men. PAX consisted of much more than 1100 PAXmen. We would also like to know more about PAX's administrative structure, its impact on MCC and local churches. For instance, it would be interesting to determine how many ex-PAXers later served their local churches, with MCC or other Mennonite organizations. In fact, a "complete," more inclusive history of PAX still has to be written.
Yet, this is a very useful, brief survey of and introduction to the life and work of PAX. Today MCC offers many service opportunities, but many ex-PAXers might feel nothing can ever compare with their experiences! We can be very thankful for those who had the vision to launch such a unique program.
Gerlof D. Homan
Malcolm and Esther Wenger arrived as missionaries in Busby, Montana, in 1944, sixty years after the reservation to confine the Northern Cheyenne had been formed. They were eager to teach, but found they were ill-prepared and had much to learn, as they worked in the area for the next 22 years. This book is a chronicle of what they learned from a variety of Northern Cheyenne people whose stories they share, what they learned of the traditions of the Cheyenne people and also of the lives they led on the reservation. From their daughter Ann, who absorbed the experience of "being brown," come the poems in this memoir, interspersed among the chapters of her father's prose. The poems introduce the visual detail and provide the emotional impact of the experience of being a white girl among the Cheyenne.
Malcolm Wenger's observations come often from distinct characters: Stands in Timber's knowledge of buffalo hunting helps Wenger to understand the definition of manhood for the Northern Cheyenne and why they so often (and still do) go directly into military service as scouts; Pastor Little Bear meets an angel which helps Wenger to understand the role of God's guides toward salvation. There are certainly little victories--like keeping the young boy who vandalized their home, taking asthma pills--keeping this child out of reform school, as he stayed with them a month. Many of the stories point to themes one could expect, having read the literature of a popular writer like Louise Erdrich who depicts reservation life: boarding school, the role of the car in Cheyenne life, fry-bread and feasting, the ravages of alcohol, the traditional chastity of Cheyenne girls under the protection of their mothers. But Malcolm Wenger's slant is always from the viewpoint of a Christian missionary eager to be of service to the Cheyenne people, wishing to offer Christian hope and the love of Christ, but ever aware of the paradoxical act of offering this white Jesus who is the religious model of a conquering people. Thus, some expected images take on new meaning: the fire which ravages the dry Montana prairie lands seems to Wenger to symbolize the searing desecration of native church leadership which he longs to see. He is convicted too, by his own personal attributes, nurtured in the culture of his youth, which often do not serve well the culture in which he is sent to live; for example, his Mennonite ways of careful thriftiness seem simply penurious among the generous Cheyenne people. His tone is generally that of a discouraged worker and seeker.
Healing the Wounds is ultimately, however, a confessional--from Malcolm Wenger, the missionary, for his mistakes, and certainly for the errors inherent in a project of Christianization for which he too often feels that he was "offering Cheyennes the 'living water' in a white man's cup" (38). Whether he is re-examining the missionary position on peyote, the sad tale of Twenty Stands whose attempts at Christianity become "a hollow promise turned to ashes" or the difficulties of explaining "sin"--for which the Cheyenne people have no word--he is constantly aware of the sins of the conquering white culture, the awkwardness in bringing a faith which results in the loss of Cheyenne traditional customs, for example of burial, or the commitment of a man and woman similar to marriage. From the poet Ann Wenger, too, come confessions--primarily, her announcement of a sexual assault ("The Dark One Comes"), undisclosed for many years, and its damaging repercussions--but also, the confessions of the young girl's steady unblinking eyes, observing the debris of pain around her. Gratefully, the poems probe somewhat more deeply into the interior self, the emotional self of one who experienced life among the Cheyenne people, adding a needed dimension to the stories which too often only skim the surface, provide the bare bones of a human life, sketch-like, when a reader longs for deeper portraits; these are used, rather, to point to issues, most often alcohol or church leadership.
The last chapters describe how old wounds are healed with love, both human and divine, seen best, perhaps, in Ann's last poem, "Joy Is Tan":
This work is a culminating one-volume synthesis of Leo Driedger's career-long work on the sociology of North American Mennonites, with particular attention to those in Canada. The book has an autobiographical flavor to it, in that Driedger writes as a professional sociologist and Mennonite who is very conscious of where he comes from and concerned with the direction of Mennonitism in North America. There is a tone in some of this writing that suggests that Mennonites, as Driedger himself, might be in a state of shock at how drastically Mennonites have changed in the course of the 20th century. In his preface Driedger ponders what his grandmother would think of him as an urban professional writing on a computer, but still a devout Mennonite. He thinks she would recognize only the latter aspect of him. Much of the rest she would find completely unfamiliar. This autobiographical vignette locates the book's investigation of transformations in Mennonite society. But the book puts a sociological disciplinary mold onto this story so that the narrative flows along--not too smoothly--with the jargon of 20th century sociology and media criticism. Thus, Driedger and his grandmother represent the transformation of Mennonites from "traditional" to "modern," and now most recently, to "postmodern." This trilogy of concepts, the modernist optic, more or less a product of 18th century Enlightenment, is supposed to clarify who Mennonites are, what they have become, and the extent to which they still possess the uniqueness of their spiritual heritage and ideology. The sociological and media optics are rounded out with the popularizing phrases of the "global village" of Marshall McLuhan. Charts and summaries abbreviate this story with rates of rural to urban migration, professions assumed, incomes, education, and family habits of Mennonites.
The book is made up of three parts, each with several chapters. Part I examines the information revolution and how professionalization and individualism have shaped Mennonite life in North America. Part II examines symbolic extensions of cultural change, media shifts, and changes from extended families to nuclear and lone-parent families. Here the "sacred village" of Mennonite tradition is contrasted to McLuhan's "global village." Part III explores "reconstruction" in the midst of post-modern diversity. Here we find a look at what is happening to Mennonite youth, the changing face of Mennonite institutions of higher education (where Driedger finds "educational Monastery" fused with market-driven educational production), the changing place of Mennonite women in society, and the transformation of the Mennonite peace ethic. Each chapter of these three parts of the book tackles a dimension or arena of the change from traditional to modern and postmodern. Driedger's sources for this synthetic book on Mennonites are drawn from the range of his own work, often conducted in collaboration with other Mennonite scholars such as Howard Kauffman, Leland Harder, Abe Bergen, Don Kraybill, Dorothy Nickel Friesen, and others.
I find the chapter on the "sacred village to global village" in Part II most interesting. I asked myself why this chapter was the most attractive to me. It is a detailed account of Driedger's paternal grandfather and his family in a Saskatchewan Old Colony community just after the turn of the century. This family was well to do and supported the church with its wealth, its intellectual energy, and its membership. And yet, the church and the community reacted negatively to this energetic family by rejecting them. The head of the family, Driedger's grandfather, was formally excommunicated by the church, and informally shunned, by boycotting the family business. Not many years later most of the Old Colony Mennonites in this community emigrated to Mexico, and the Driedgers left behind mostly joined more progressive Mennonite churches, or left the church altogether. This chapter was drawn from Driedger's M. A. thesis at the University of Chicago, so it probably went through revisions. But what drew me to it was the lucid writing style, the dramatic power of the story, and probably because it best expresses the roots and branches of Leo Driedger's character. Of course, as an anthropologist, I must confess that this chapter looks the most like "ethnography," or "thick description," vivid accounts of real people in their historical and social context, in their own words and images if at all possible, without the crutches of objective verbal abstractions.
This chapter, standing in such sharp contrast in its style to many of the other chapters, seems to me to clarify a number of dimensions of Driedger's sociology, and his passion for the sociology of Mennonites. He appears almost driven to adopt the latest jargon, to put his interpretation of his own people and faith into the language of one of the most secular disciplines in the academy. At the same time he is passionate about his continuing participation in the Mennonite church and its myriad social networks and institutions. The reader who ponders these dimensions of Driedger's work and life may ask if he is still trying to prove to the Old Colony elders who excommunicated his grandfather, and the neighbors who shunned the family and boycotted their store, that one can simultaneously be progressive and be Mennonite Christian. I wish I had known this about Leo Driedger back in the 1960s when we were fellow students at Bethel College, headed for graduate study at the University of Chicago. I leave for another time the topic of the consequences of religious and social rejection in the Mennonite world upon those so excommunicated, as well as their descendants.
But the main paradigm in which Driedger's Mennonites in the Global Village is couched is, as already noted, modernization theory, and to be nit-picky, also "neo-modernization" theory. Granted, this was the dominant social science theory of the last half of the twentieth century. All aspects of Driedger's Mennonite sociology--the community, the media revolution, the impact of individualism, education, women's roles, the most visible Mennonite teaching about war and peace--have been subjected to the analytical rigors of modernization theory, often with statistical demonstrations of hypotheses. In Driedger's account, Mennonites of North America have by and large moved through the modernist framework, and are now postmodern. What does this mean, or how can it be really proven or tested? Does it really fit?
As a Mennonite and an academic professional, with ample connections in the broader Mennonite world, and with an on-going interest in many of the intricacies of the Mennonite world, and I might add as a "practicing Mennonite," I find such a formulaic interpretation rather limiting. There seems to be little place in this picture of Mennonites in North America for the unique and peculiar tensions and combinations of institutions one really finds across the landscape--denominationally, culturally, technologically, and economically. Does this model of analysis allow for the community affirming Mennonite and Anabaptist branches--e.g., the increasingly numerous and varied groups across North America such as the Amish, Old Colony, Chortitza, and Bergthalers, the Hutterites--who embrace electronic technology for some purposes, but seemingly effectively resist its individualizing impact? Does the model of modernization or modernity really explain Mennonites' passion for higher education, psychiatric care, global service, the study of foreign languages, and collective congregation? Evidence that it does not is that Driedger repeatedly encounters paradoxes and contradictions that are exceptions to the rule of the theories he employs. Thus, in the chapter on education, he wonders why the Dutch-Prussian Mennonites of Kansas have not all moved to Wichita, the dominant metropolitan area, given that they embrace higher education. If they are modern, they should be urban, right? But perhaps the fruits of industrial and electronic technology and the blessings of rich land and moderate climate mitigate against this lock-step movement of social forces. In the chapter on the transformations of pacifism, increased education results in greater emphasis on the teachings of pacifism as well as, paradoxically, a decline in resistance to abortion. I suggest that the straitjacket of modernization theory--putting all human manifestations into the categories of "traditional," "modern," and "postmodern"--hinders a profound analysis of the Mennonite community in the twentieth and twenty-first century world.
Still, despite these drawbacks, this book is a monument to Leo Driedger's passion to be Mennonite and to be an academic scholar of Mennonites, his own people. If you wish to read one volume of Canada's leading Mennonite sociologist, this is the book that should be on your shelf.
John M. Janzen
John S. Oyer, "They Harry the Good People Out of the Land": Essays on the Persecution, Survival and Flourishing of Anabaptists and Mennonites. Edited by John D. Roth. Goshen, Ind.: Mennonite Historical Society, 2000. Pp. 331. ($11.95 -- paper)
Can a collection of essays on historical themes be charming? This one charmed me. The late professor John Oyer will be a familiar name to those who read in the areas of Mennonite or Anabaptist history. He was a regular contributor to Mennonite Quarterly Review, of which he was editor from 1966 to 1992. His earlier book, Lutheran Reformers Against Anabaptists (1964) is well-known and respected. His more recent book, Mirror of the Martyrs (1990), a collaboration with Robert Kreider, has been received widely, as has the exhibit on Anabaptist and Mennonite martyrs that they produced and that the book accompanied.
This book is not a "history" of Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, Reformers, or others. It is an eclectic collection of fourteen essays and addresses written by a careful historian who was generous toward his enemies and objective about the merits and faults of his friends. Readers not familiar with Anabaptist, Mennonite, or Amish history generally may wish to consult one of the standard historical accounts, among which Arnold Snyder's book probably ranks as the best general introduction from a specifically Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective and the monumental work of George H. Williams as the most thorough.
John Roth, editor of this posthumous collection, sets the volume up well in a four-page Foreword. His biographical and bibliographical information is helpful, and his promise holds true: "scholars of the radical reformation will discover here new insights into the nature of Anabaptist leadership, congregational life, hymnody and recantations; other historians will appreciate his thoughts on the historical transition from Anabaptism to Mennonitism, his careful study of Amish theology, and his memories of CPS work in Poughkeepsie, New York" (p. xii).
Professor James Stayer, himself an important historian of the Anabaptists and Mennonites, provides an Introduction that is a useful synopsis of the contents and the context of these essays. Indeed, his introduction could easily serve as a review in and of itself. If Stayer's own work is an indication, he would no doubt have historiographical quibbles with Professor Oyer here and there, but Professor Stayer does not take advantage of his Introduction to point these out, as many writers might. He is to be commended for resisting this temptation--if there was one--and for using his historiographic and substantive expertise instead to highlight for the reader how, in comparison to other possibilities, Oyer approaches his subject matter, how this approach is illustrated in Oyer's treatment of the materials, and how Oyer thereby opens up new perspectives for the reader concerning what was occurring, say, among the Anabaptists in southern Germany in the sixteenth century, the Dutch Mennonites in the seventeenth, or the American Amish in the twentieth. Professor Stayer's introduction is most helpful in every respect.
The presence of college professors and professional historians may dissuade the lay reader from picking up this book. It shouldn't. Even at his most technical, which occurs seldom, Professor Oyer has a highly accessible style that always clarifies, never obfuscates. If these essays are any indication, he must have been a very effective classroom teacher. The range of topics, moreover, will include something for nearly everyone. Alongside the 130-page essay, "The Anabaptists in Esslingen: A Viable Congregation under Periodic Siege," which itself spans a wide variety of topics and which could stand as a book alone, there are essays on Amish "Religious Thought and Practice," on the experience of being a CO in New York State during the Second World War, on how Anabaptists responded to persecution, on anti-Anabaptist writings and hymns, two essays on Jan Luyken (a talented Dutch Mennonite engraver of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries who is best remembered for his illustrations in Tieleman van Braght's Martyrs' Mirror), an essay on Menno Simons, and yet others. Two essays, including the more personal "Why I am a Mennonite," have been previously published: the rest appear in this volume for the first time, but the majority were presented in the form of public speeches and addresses during the last decade of Oyer's life. Professor Oyer, the editor tells us, reviewed the essays for the purposes of a published collection before he died, and the editor has intelligently arranged them into five sections.
Three features of Oyer's work displayed in these essays particularly stand out to this reviewer as noteworthy and praiseworthy. First is the attention to detail. This attention is not the smallish, archival and nearly bureaucratic nitpicking one sometimes finds in specialized monographs and essays, the point of which seems simply to be a combing of minutiae for the sake of finding something new or previously unknown, no matter how trivial. Rather, Oyer is a careful historian whose precision translates not into small change, but into enlightening insights for his readers. These insights are the result not merely of a fine mind, which Oyer displays, but also of an ability to present complex and contentious material accessibly by dividing it into clear categories for the reader to understand. Accusations of reformers against the Anabaptists, for example, are classified into several kinds based on subject matter and target, while Amish theology, which can only be discovered implicitly, is clarified by considering how Amish regard and use Scripture, what they say about salvation, the place of Jesus Christ in their understanding, and their stated beliefs about the church, the Holy Spirit, and non-resistance, along with their treatment of so-called "heresy." Similar classification schemes occur in the essay on Bernese Mennonites and on anti-Anabaptist hymnology. This kind of classificatory analysis, not to be taken for granted, helps the reader to see both the forest and the trees at the same time. Oyer's classificatory approach does not lay too heavy an interpretive grid on the materials at hand. Certainly, his "open-source" way of treating the evidence gives the reader an opportunity to ponder alternative ways of reading Oyer's findings. While some readers may wish for more theoretical analysis, those thus inclined will not find, I think, that the materials have been covered up in such a way as to prevent them from performing themselves what they might find lacking.
Second there is Oyer's fair-mindedness. Consider, for example, his brief review of the Reformers' condemnations of Anabaptists. Whereas he rightly finds much to fault in the Reformers' accusations, he also points out that they were not all entirely mistaken. For example: "There is some degree of truth, or so it seems to me, in Luther's charge against the Anabaptists of excessive subjectivity. Mennonites indeed have demonstrated an excess of subjectivity in their numerous and continual divisions, a subjectivity expressed in interpreting Scripture individualistically and on many different issues. When I first studied Luther and the Anabaptists, I thought he was completely erroneous in making this charge. Living subsequently through Mennonite divisions, and studying some other divisions, convince me that his charge had substance" (p. 11). Similar kinds of comments grace many of these essays, revealing a scholar who loves his subject-matter not because it serves as a tool for self-identity formation, but because in it we read a story of God at work with His people, in their weakness, selfishness, and intemperance, as well as their patience and faithfulness.
This passage also reveals another of the positive features of the present collection: Oyer's personable approach. Professor Oyer combines close historical study of published texts and neglected archives with a reservoir of personal experience and personal sympathy toward the human objects of his study that adds a layer of interpretive insight to his work that is especially attractive. Consider as another example this disclaimer, which introduces an informative essay on Amish theology: "There is something foolish, even arrogant, in a Mennonite writing about Amish theology. . . . Can any Mennonite find out what it is? Can a non-Amish person have sufficient empathy to understand and describe it?" (p. 111). With this beginning, Oyer takes us through a delightful consideration of how to think about and understand Amish religious thought and practice. Does he pull it off completely? Not being Amish, I can't be sure, but I can be sure that I at least seem to understand a good deal more about what Amish people are doing in communal worship and everyday life than I did twenty-two pages earlier. Or consider his essay on "Why I am a Mennonite." It becomes clear on the final page of that essay that what the reader suspects from reading among the other the essays is true: being a historian in the way that Oyer was a historian was, for him, part and parcel of being a Mennonite.
So, why "charming?" Clarity, care and a fine mind, sympathy, fair-mindedness, and grace. In a collection of historical essays, one could hardly ask for more.
The natural world is in big trouble. Human activities over the past century or two have wrought some catastrophic environmental problems. These include global change (e.g., global warming, pollution, thinning of the ozone layer), unsustainable use of resources (e.g., water, soil, energy), and the loss of biodiversity (as irreplaceable genes, species, and ecosystems). Earth's restoration to health will require a monumental effort on our part, if such a recovery is even possible.
How did we let things get this bad? For one, an unrelenting push for economic growth, assisted by great technological prowess, has exacted some staggering costs to the environment. Our traditional North American folk heroes were those who cut down forests, plowed up prairies, killed off "varmints," and dammed big rivers. Earth's native places and wild creatures have been powerless in the face of this onslaught, quietly blipping out of existence without fanfare or even much notice on our part. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have reached a point where humanity may have indeed wrested the last bit of wildness from Nature.
Surprisingly, until very recently Christians have largely stood by silently as the Earth has suffered. Moreover, this wanton destruction seemed to be supported by a Biblical mandate to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1:28). As a result, the mainstream environmental movement has come to regard Christianity as mostly hostile toward the environment. Whence this estrangement between the Judeo-Christian world view and modern environmentalism?
With the rise of monotheism, the one God in heaven replaced a multitude of gods dwelling in the rocks, trees, and animals, and natural things began to lose their sacredness. Roderick Nash, in Wilderness and the American Mind, points out that as Christianity spread, wild lands were cast as unholy places. Christians judged their work to be successful when they cleared away the wild forests where the pagans held their rites. Later, with the development of rationalism and modern technology, the natural world's sole purpose for existence became to serve human "progress." The dominion passage of Genesis seemed to give humanity license to do as it saw fit with Nature--the absolute right to use what we want and destroy anything in our way.
In 1967, UCLA professor Lynn White published a now famous piece in Science magazine entitled, "The historical roots of our ecologic crisis." White's essay was a stirring indictment against our Christian heritage. "By destroying pagan animism," he wrote, "Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. The faith that set human beings above the beasts and the flowers of the fields also set in motion two millennia of environmental degradation. Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt."
A careful examination of the Bible, however, suggests that God in fact cares deeply about Creation. For example, at the end of the Flood account, God makes a covenant with Noah, the Earth, and "all living creatures of every kind" (Genesis 9:12-17). In Leviticus 25:23, God states to His people, "The land belongs to me, for you are only strangers and guests." In Psalm 104:24, the writer declares, "How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Ezekiel 34:18 calls us to enjoy, but without destroying, Creation's fruitfulness.
Dominion as outright oppression is neither advocated nor condoned by the scriptures. First, Genesis 1:28 gives the blessing and mandate to people before the Fall. Second, if this passage is understood in the context of the rest of the Bible, one could conclude that dominion means responsible stewardship, not ownership, and certainly not domination. For Christians, the model for dominion is Jesus Christ.
Christian tradition holds up the natural world as a medium that reveals God's attributes (e.g., Romans 1:20). The mystics, Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, and Hildegard of Bingen, extolled the integrity of God expressed in the Creation. Jesus and the prophets spent much time in the wilderness because they understood that Nature holds an unadulterated quality in which the presence of God can be experienced.
Mending the rift between Christianity and the environmental movement began about ten years ago when Pope John Paul II issued a resounding call to heal the Earth in his 1990 World Day of Peace message, entitled "The ecological crisis: A common responsibility." More recently, Ron Sider, Cal DeWitt, Tony Campolo, and others have called upon evangelical Christians to turn attentive ears to the pleas to save God's Creation out of a deep love for the Author of life. Care for Creation is becoming an important element of religious life for many Christian denominations which are working to create their own doctrinal statements on environmental stewardship.
It is fitting, then, that this new collection of Anabaptist/Mennonite perspectives, Creation and the Environment, has appeared to inform and encourage us. The fourteen contributors were drawn from the fields of anthropology, biology, economics, farming, history, ministry, social sciences, sociology, and theology. Some of the chapters that appear in the book were generated for a "Creation Summit" organized in 1995 by the joint Mennonite Church-General Conference Mennonite Church's Environmental Task Force. The book is divided into four parts: "Human Activities & Their Alteration of the Creation," "Anabaptist/Mennonite Life & the Environment," "Anabaptists' Theological & Historical Orientation," and "The Challenge to Take Care of the Earth."
In his introduction, Calvin Redekop, professor emeritus of Sociology from Conrad Grebel College, identifies some unifying themes for the various contributions to follow. One theme is the Judeo-Christian worldview that humans have been given the responsibility to keep the garden. Our record regarding the tending of Creation is dismal, however, a conclusion that prompted the development of this book. Most of the contributors also share the conviction that the Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective offers some important, perhaps unique, insights for achieving environmental health.
In the opening chapter, "Economics, Development, and Creation," Jim and Karen Klassen Harder provide an excellent introduction to the relationships between economic systems and the health of the environment. They dispel three common cultural myths: that growth equals development, that resource use can grow indefinitely without limits, and that economic growth solves poverty. Concluding that we can no longer continue in ignorance of what we are doing to the environment and to future generations, they end with a proposal for a new economic/environmental ethic.
Next, Kenton Brubaker notes that the impact of scientific discovery and technology on the natural world has been immense, in most cases leading to surges in the growth of the human population. He discusses the need to reign in the proliferation of environment-damaging technologies. In a similar vein, Carl Keener and Calvin Redekop acknowledge that the size of the human population is currently one of the most obvious forces affecting Nature, but it is an issue little discussed in the Church. They recognize that a huge challenge before us is to create a balance between human population density and the sustainability of the environment.
David Kline, an Amish farmer and writer, in his chapter "God's Spirit and a Theology for Living," offers an old German prayer as a source for such a theology: "…and help us be gentle with your creatures and handiwork so that we may abide in your eternal salvation and continue to be held in the hollow of your hand." Kline contends that today's Anabaptists are having a hard time finding a theology for living because they have become alienated from the land to which their forebears felt closely connected. He includes some noteworthy principles. First, we ought to conduct our daily lives as if Jesus were returning today, but care for the land as if He were not coming back for 1000 years. Or, the land ought to be treated with such care that parents can face future generations without shame.
In contrast, Michael Yoder and Mel Schmidt are somewhat skeptical regarding the Anabaptist heritage for taking care of the land. Yoder, for example, contends that there are no hard data to show that Mennonites are more environmentally conscious than other groups. Schmidt goes on to complain that there is no identifiable institutional presence by Mennonites in the sustainable agriculture movement. Although Schmidt cites a few examples in which individuals and Mennonite organizations united with environmental groups to address specific causes (e.g., the proposed Fort Riley, Kansas, expansion), by and large Mennonites are not standing with other churches in pressing for environmental legislation. Mennonites have high credibility and integrity, however, which would give them a powerful voice in the environmental movement.
The rest of the chapters turn theological. Ted Hiebert explores the relevance of the Biblical creation story to the paradox of human existence in the biosphere. He identifies three common interpretations of the garden story by scholars: the Apostle Paul's largely spiritual interpretation, that of the Priestly writer of Genesis 1-2:3 (emphasizing order and authority over Creation), and that of the Yahwist writer of Genesis 2:4-25 (Eden as a farm, Adam as its farmer). It is this Yahwist interpretation that Hiebert claims speaks best to the current environmental crisis. There is a relationship between the morality of the farmer and the productivity of the soil. We alone among God's creatures have the power to alter Nature for our own ends, even to the point of destroying our very means of provision. But, since humans and all other life are "made of the same stuff," what we do to the environment we end up doing to ourselves. Hence, there is an awesome need to care for the Earth responsibly.
Dorothy Jean Weaver next searches the New Testament for a faith response to environmental issues. An important idea here is that Christ came to redeem not only humanity, but also the rest of Creation. It is appropriate for His followers, then, to be in the restoration business in the broadest sense.
Walter Klaassen's chapter provides an interesting counterpoint to David Kline's romantic agrarianism. He states that Mennonites need to abjure any notions that somehow care of the land was part of their ethnicity or that they have been better than others in caring for the Earth. Klassen contends it was basic survival, not love of the land, that produced the agricultural expertise and care for which Mennonites became famous. Modern Mennonites of all stripes have become enthusiastic participants in technological hubris and consumerism. Any consciousness among Mennonites about the need to care for Creation has come by and large from other traditions. Thomas Finger also develops this theme. Although Anabaptists' existence over the centuries was closely intertwined with the natural world, they have always been intensely practical. As a result, almost no doctrine of Creation has arisen from them.
Themes introduced by Klaassen and Finger are echoed by Heather Ann Ackley Bean, who states that the Anabaptist record on the environment is ambiguous. Historically, Anabaptists neglected environmental issues not only in their theology but also in everyday practice. A theology of Creation was impeded by an understanding of the created world as the realm of Satan separate from God. Today's prosperity and overconsumption contradict the traditional values of simplicity and nonviolence.
Sandwiched between these chapters is a nice gem by Lawrence Hart that offers several Native American perspectives on the Earth. These emphasize peoplehood, closeness to the land, and the sacredness of land. The earth is a gift from God and should be treated accordingly. Hart states that there is nothing incompatible between this land ethic and an Anabaptist doctrine of the Creation.
Calvin Redekop wraps up with a summary, "The environmental challenge before us." Finally, two appendices, "A Letter to Congress" and "Stewards in God's Creation," close the book.
In his Science essay, Lynn White went on to say, "We shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that Nature has no reason for existence save to serve man. Both our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward Nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious."
At the dawn of the new millennium, humankind faces unprecedented challenges regarding the global environment. The choices we make will determine what kind of world will be enjoyed by our descendants. We must (as did Noah) protect wild species whose interactions with each other, and with the land and water, form the fabric of the biosphere. Living in our artificial environments, however, many of us have become alienated from God's Creation. Christians have remained silent for so many years that we have defaulted to others, allowing the healing of the earth to become the province of activists largely outside the Church. It is long past time for the people of God to assume their rightful place as advocates for the Earth and its nonhuman inhabitants. Not only is there a place for people of faith in the environmental movement, but it is part of the Anabaptist calling to speak up on behalf of the powerless. My hope is that this book can serve to goad us and guide us toward that goal.
Jon K. Piper
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