Chapter 2: Beliefs and Practices of MWC Churches
By Conrad Kanagy
In addition to gathering basic demographic information, the Global Anabaptist Profile also asked respondents questions about both their personal and congregational beliefs and practices. Some of these questions emerged out of the MWC “Shared Convictions;” others were developed in collaboration among the Research Associates from the various conferences.
Importance of being born again
When asked about the importance of being “saved” or “born again,” 94 percent of all Global Anabaptist Profile respondents agreed that it is very important. Across the continents, responses to this question varied by only ten percentage points—from 96 percent in Latin America to 86 percent in Europe.
Belief that Jesus is the only way to God
Differences between North/South and among the continents were more pronounced on this question than on the previous one. Whereas 91 percent of all Global Anabaptist Profile participants believe that “Jesus is the only way to God and that those without faith in Jesus will not be saved,” the number is considerably higher in the Global South (93%) than it is in the Global North (80%). Within the Global North, 74 percent of Europeans and 82 percent of North Americans agreed with this statement compared with 92 percent of respondents in Latin America and 94 percent in both Africa and Asia. We noted some differences among denominational affiliation on the question: Brethren in Christ (88%); Mennonites (91%); and Mennonite Brethren (94%).
Belief that Christians and others worship the same God
Nearly three-fourths (73%) of Global Anabaptist Profile respondents do not believe that Christians and those of other religions worship the same God; 16 percent do believe this and 11 percent are not sure. Continental differences were less substantial on this question than on some others—79 percent in the Global South and 71 percent of those in the Global North reject the idea. Several Research Associates noted in the 2015 consultation that some respondents expressed uncertainty about the nature of the questions (e.g., “as a monotheistic faith, Christians must answer ‘yes’ to this question, even if people of other faiths are confused about the nature of the one true God”). Those in Latin America were most likely to affirm the statement that “Christians and people of other religions do not worship the same God” (80%), while only 67 percent of those in Asia believed the statement to be true.
Fewer Mennonites (62%) accept the argument that “Christians and people of other religions do not worship the same God” than either Mennonite Brethren (86%) or Brethren in Christ (86%).
Respondents were asked to identify any of the following words that closely described their religious beliefs: Anabaptist; Pentecostal/Charismatic; Mennonite; and Evangelical. A slight majority noted Evangelical (51%), followed by Mennonite (47%) and Anabaptist (30%). Only 10% chose Pentecostal/ Charismatic.
Again, there were important differences on this question between North and South: 52 percent of those in the Global North identify as Anabaptist as compared to 26 percent of church members in the Global South, while respondents in the Global South were more likely to identify as Mennonite (50%). Those in the North are slightly more likely to identify as Evangelical (56%) than those in the South (50%). There are also North/South differences in identifying as Charismatic/Pentecostal—10% in the South and 6% in the North.
North Americans were far more likely than those from other continents to identify as Anabaptist (58%). Africans were more likely than members of other continents to identify as Pentecostal/Charismatic (17%). Europeans (62%), Asians (60%), and Africans (55%) were more likely than North Americans (31%) or Latin Americans (31%) to identify as Mennonite. And nearly four-fifths of Latin Americans identify as Evangelical—far more than other continents. This may be because the Spanish word for non-Catholic Christians is evangélico or evangelical.
Summarizing by continent, Africans identified themselves most frequently as Mennonite (55%) followed by nearly equal percentages for Anabaptist (38%) and Evangelical (33%). Asians were most likely to identify as Mennonite (60%) and Evangelical (43%). Latin Americans identified largely as Evangelical (79%). North Americans identified as Anabaptist (58%) and Evangelical (61%). Europeans preferred Mennonite (61%) and then Evangelical (47%) and then Anabaptist (41%).
When considering the three different affiliations, Brethren in Christ showed the greatest degree of difference from the other two affiliations. Brethren in Christ were much more likely to identify as Anabaptist (66%) than were the Mennonite Brethren (26%) or Mennonites (25%). Brethren in Christ members also had a stronger preference for Evangelical (65%), followed by Mennonites (56%) and then Mennonite Brethren (38%). Brethren in Christ members were far less likely to identify themselves as Mennonite (16%) as compared with the Mennonite Brethren (61%) and Mennonites (50%).
When considering the unique differences across the three affiliations, Brethren in Christ tend to see themselves as Anabaptist and Evangelical, Mennonite Brethren as Mennonite, and Mennonites as Evangelical and Mennonite.
Communion and membership
When asked who should be able to take communion, 46 percent said anyone who has received Jesus as their Savior and Lord; 26 percent replied that anyone baptized as an adult should be able to do so; 10 percent said only members of my congregation; 8 percent said only Mennonites or Anabaptists; 5 percent indicated anyone who was baptized including as an infant; and another 5 percent said communion should be open to anyone regardless of their religion.
There were interesting hemisphere differences for this question, with Global Northerners more likely to affirm communion for anyone (8%) as compared to Global Southerners (4%). Those in the Global South were more likely to prefer a closed communion—open only to congregational members, Mennonites or Anabaptists, or those baptized as adults. Fifty-two percent in the Global South affirmed this more exclusive posture, compared to just 5 percent of those in the Global North.
These findings reflect what we have consistently seen as a difference between the Global North and Global South in the Global Anabaptist Profile. Those in the North tend to reflect a more open and inclusive position relative to those of other faiths and the broader culture, while those in the Global South show greater clarity in articulating Christian distinctiveness and a willingness to draw clear lines between themselves and the cultures around them.
Beliefs about the Bible
In a section regarding views of the Bible, participants in the Global Anabaptist Profile were asked identify the description that most closely matched with their own understanding from the following alternatives:
- The Bible is the inspired Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
- The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but needs to be interpreted in context.
- The Bible is an ancient book of stories, history, and moral guidelines recorded by humans.
- The Bible has no relevance for today.
- The Bible tells us about experiences people have with God.
MWC members in the Global South were most likely to affirm that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is to be taken literally (55%). Only 20 percent of Mennonites in Europe and North America identified with this view of the Bible; they were much more likely (74%) to say that the Bible “is the inspired Word of God, but needs to be interpreted in context.” Just 31 percent of Global Southerners took this position. Fourteen percent of respondents from the Global North selected one of the three other options—“the Bible is an ancient book”; “has no relevance”; or “tells about experiences people have with God.” This compares to 6 percent of members from Asia, Africa, and Latin America who chose one of these three alternatives.
Sixty percent of African respondents believe that the Bible “is inspired and must be taken literally,” while just 23 percent believe the Bible “needs to be interpreted within context.” Asians were similar to Africans in their responses, with 55 percent believing that the Bible needs to be taken literally and 27 percent that the Bible needs to be interpreted within context. Latin Americans were about evenly split with 49 percent saying that the Bible needs to be taken literally and 44 percent that it needs to be interpreted within context.
By contrast, 78 percent of North Americans and 59 percent of Europeans believe the Bible needs to be interpreted in context. Europeans were more likely than any other continent to choose one of the three latter alternatives—that the Bible is an ancient book, has no relevance, or tells about experiences people have with God (17%).
Mennonite Brethren were more likely than the Brethren in Christ or Mennonites to say that the Bible needs to be taken literally, while Brethren in Christ were the most likely to believe that the Bible needs to be interpreted within context.
Respondents were also asked which Testament—Old or New—was most relevant to them. Here again, the survey revealed important differences between the Global South and Global North. Two-thirds (66%) of the respondents in Asia, Africa, and Latin America answered that “both are equally relevant” compared to less than one-half (49%) of respondents in the Global North. Half of Europeans and North Americans identified the New Testament as most relevant as compared to just 28 percent of those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In the Global South, 6 percent identified the Old Testament as most relevant compared to less than 0.5 percent of those in the Global North.
The survey showed relatively little variation among continents of the Global South, with 68 percent of Africans identifying both Testaments as relevant compared to 61 percent of Asians and 69 percent of Latin Americans. Latin Americans were most likely to affirm the Old Testament as most relevant (7%), compared to 5 percent of Asians and 6 percent of Africans.
These findings suggest that there is a much higher view of the relevance of the Old Testament in the Global South than in the Global North, a finding that is consistent with previous research on North/South differences in views of the Bible. (See Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, 2006.)
When asked which part of the New Testament has influenced them the most, those in the Global North were more likely to say “the Gospels” (32%) than those in the Global South (26%), while those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were more likely to identify the book of Acts (8%) than were those in North America and Europe (2%).
Beliefs and experience of the Holy Spirit
The Global Anabaptist Profile asked two questions about beliefs and experience regarding the Holy Spirit. The first focused on how the Holy Spirit works and revealed interesting differences between North and South. Forty percent of respondents in the Global South affirmed the statement that “the Spirit speaks directly to individuals in a personal way” as compared to 28 percent of those in the Global North. On the other hand, those in the Global North were more likely to affirm that “The Spirit speaks to individuals directly, and also through the church” (65%), compared to those in the Global South (40%). In other words, those in the Global North lean more toward community discernment of the Spirit’s direction than do those in the Global South, while those in the South express more openness to personal direction from the Holy Spirit than do those in the North.
Churches varied by continent in how they responded to this question:
- In Africa, respondents were nearly equally split between those who said the Holy Spirit speaks directly to individuals through a personal way (38%) and those who said the Spirit speaks directly to an individual and through the church (34%).
- Asian members were more likely than those of any other continent (49%) to say that the Holy Spirit speaks directly to individuals, followed by 30 percent who said that the Spirit speaks through both the individual and the church.
- A majority of respondents in Latin America (55%) said that the Holy Spirit speaks to the individual and the church, followed by 33 percent who responded directly to the individual.
- Europeans (60%) and North Americans (67%) were more likely than those of other continents to say that the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals and through the church and then secondarily directly to the individual (28% in North America and 30% in Europe).
When asked how they experienced the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, 22 percent of global respondents reported that they have never experienced any of the gifts described. Nearly three in five (59%) of all North American respondents reported not having experienced these gifts. This compares with 57 percent of Europeans who had not experienced these gifts, followed by 21 percent of Latin Americans, 16 percent of Africans, and 13 percent of Asians. In other words, Asians and Africans have the highest levels of experience with the charismatic gifts, followed closely by Latin Americans.
Again, the experience of the charismatic gifts is a major point of distinction between churches in the Global South and the Global North.
- Twenty-eight percent of all Global Anabaptist Profile respondents—32 percent in the Global South and 6 percent in the Global North—have been delivered from demonic oppression or have cast out demons themselves. Africans (41%) are most likely to have experience with demonic oppression, followed by Asia (37%), Latin America (18%), North America (7%), and Europe (2%).
- Fourteen percent of church members taking the survey have spoken in tongues, with some difference between hemispheres (11% in the North and 14% in the South). Africans and Latin Americans most frequently reported that they had spoken in tongues (both at 17%), followed closely by North Americans (11%), Asians (10%), and Europeans (7%).
- Fourteen percent have shared prophetic words, with those in North and Latin America (18%) most likely to do so, followed by Africa (14%), Asia (8%) and Europe (8%).
- Finally, 41 percent of all respondents reported having had a miraculous experience of some kind, such as healing from an illness or injury—44 percent in the Global South and 27 percent in the Global North. Latin Americans were most likely to claim these experiences (53%), with respondents from the remaining four continents ranging from 24-41 percent.
One of the defining differences between MWC members in the Global North and the Global South is their experience of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, with Europeans and North Americans much less likely to identify with these experiences. Of these gifts, the greatest difference across hemispheres is the experience of overcoming demonic oppression—a reality much more common among Anabaptists especially in Africa and Asia, but also in Latin America. These kinds of distinctions in theology and practice have nothing to do with regional population growth or decline, but rather with worldviews and perspectives shaped in very different social, cultural, and historical contexts. Pentecostalism is the most rapidly growing expression of Christianity in the world, and Anabaptists are not foreigners to this reality.
Obligatory military requirements vary widely among MWC-member churches. The survey asked respondents how they would react “if the government required you to serve in the military,” providing several alternatives. Among all the respondents, 62 percent reported that they would reject any kind of military service (with strong affirmation for the option of alternative service), 24 percent would choose non-combatant military service, and 14 percent would choose military service.
Interestingly, there was no difference between South and North on this question, with 62 percent of MWC members in both hemispheres rejecting all forms of military service.
When comparing responses from the different continents, 91 percent of Europeans would reject any form of military service, compared to 76 percent of Africans, 62 percent of Latin Americans, 55 percent of North Americans, and 52 percent of Asians.
In the North, North Americans were most likely to say they would choose regular or non-combatant military service (45%), while the Europeans were the least likely (8%). Among churches of the Global South, Asians were most likely to choose regular or non-combatant military service (49%), with Africans being the least likely (24%) and Latin Americans between the two (38%).
Among the three denominational affiliations, Mennonites are most likely to choose regular or non-combatant military service (43%) followed by Brethren in Christ (36%) and by Mennonite Brethren (31%).
Overall, 27 percent of respondents agree that it is okay to fight in a war, but the percentage who accept war is higher in the Global North (36%) than in the Global South (25%). Asians (44%) are most likely to say that fighting in a war is okay, followed by 41 percent of North Americans, 15 percent of Latin Americans, and 12 percent of both Africans and Europeans. Interestingly, there was almost no difference between affiliations on this question.
These findings make it clear that continent and hemisphere do not predict who among Anabaptists in MWC will be more disposed to participating in war and who is more likely to reject it. Global Southerners are less likely to say that war is okay than those in the Global North; North Americans are more open to military service than are Africans or Latin Americans. In listening to our Research Associates, it is clear that a conference’s history and experience with war helps to shape whether a conference is likely to accept or reject participation in state violence.
When asked whether Christians should participate in politics, 47 percent agree that they should. Europeans (78%) and North Americans (82%) are much more likely than respondents in Asia (55%), Africa (27%), and Latin America (33%) to endorse political engagement.
Participation in public protests
Thirty-four percent of respondents believe that it is okay for Christians to participate in public protest movements, but support for this activity varies greatly by continent as well as by cultural and political contexts. North Americans (68%) and Europeans (70%) are much more likely than respondents from any other continent to support public protest movements—Asia (34%); Africa (24%), and Latin America (23%).
Within continents there was some variation on the question of public protests. In Latin America, for example, the Enlhet Mennonite Brethren of Paraguay were least likely to favor public protests (5%) followed closely by Mennonites in Nicaragua (6%). On the other hand, 48 percent of Brazilians support public protests.
In Africa, no member of the South African church favored public protests compared with 34 percent of Zimbabwean Mennonites who expressed support.
In Asia, responses to this question ranged from 17 percent of Philippine Mennonites in favor of public protests to 38 percent of Indonesian Mennonites.
In acknowledging their experiences with persecution, 17 percent of respondents said that persecution was “often” the case, with the highest percentages coming from church members in Africa (36%). In Latin America, 17 percent have often experienced persecution. These numbers were considerably smaller in Asia (9%), North America (2%), and Europe (1%).
Churches where members are most likely to often experience persecution are:
- 73% of members in the Communauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo
- 41% of members in Communauté Mennonite au Congo
- 25% of members in BIC Mpingo Wa Abale Mwa Kristu of Malawi
- 24% of members in the Integrated Mennonite Churches of the Philippines
- 24% of members in the Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia
- 21% of members in the Meserete Kristos Church of Ethiopia
- 23% of members in the Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Argentina
Respondents were given a list of questions having to do with certain kinds of behaviors that some may favor and others reject. The responses indicated wide variance regarding some behaviors, but also fairly strong agreement on others.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents believe that divorce is never acceptable, but continental differences on this question were significant. The strongest opposition to divorce came from Asia (90%), with Africa (84%), Latin America (60%), Europe (15%) and North America (12%) following. North/South differences were profound: 79 percent in the South believing that divorce is never acceptable as compared to 13 percent in the North.
Ninety-one percent of MWC church members believe that premarital sexual activity is never acceptable (93% in the Global South and 82% in the Global North), with continental differences ranging from Asia (95%) to Europe (68%). Rejection of premarital sexual activity among other continents registered at 93 percent of Africans, 91 percent of Latin Americans, and 85 percent of North Americans.
When asked about homosexual relationships, 95 percent of the Global Anabaptist Profile sample always opposes such relationships (98 percent in the Global South compared to 82 percent in the Global North). Asian, Latin American, and African respondents expressed the strongest opposition (97-98%), followed by North Americans (83%) and Europeans (78%).
Eighty-eight percent said bribery is never acceptable. This figure was lowest among Asian respondents (76%). Members of the remaining continents were somewhat stronger in their opposition to bribery: North Americans (87%), Europeans (93%), Latin Americans (95%) and Africans (96%).
Research Associates in the Global South were very interested in how their members felt about being present at ancestral worship. The survey suggests that 90 percent reject this practice overall, with more than 90 percent of Mennonites in the Global South doing so. The groups least likely to reject the practice were those who almost certainly have never experienced it—North Americans (69%) and Europeans (84%).
The survey showed similar results on another question proposed by Research Associates from the Global South: offering food to idols. Africans were most likely to say that this practice is never acceptable (96%), followed by Latin Americans (94%), Asians (75%), Europeans (61%), and North Americans (59%). Again, groups in those continents with the least exposure to this practice were the most accepting of the practice.
Global Anabaptist Profile Research Associates selected the specific behaviors to include in this portion of the survey. In nearly every case—with the exception of marriage to a non-Christian; premarital sex; use of bribes; and littering—the differences between South and North on these questions were fairly dramatic. In our conversations at the July 2015 Global Anabaptist Profile consultation, participants acknowledged these differences and expressed some concern about what it meant for our churches be at variance on certain of these behaviors. Most of these differences—which likely reflect differences in education, social and cultural contexts, and theological worldviews—were shared across denominational affiliations in the Global South. Mennonite World Conference will need to be attentive to these differences across regions and conferences.
Blessings of Christians
“Does the Bible promise that followers of Christ will be more blessed and have better health than non-Christians?” Overwhelmingly, Mennonites in the Global South were more likely to respond positively to this statement (68%) than were those in Europe and North America (7%). The strongest affirmation came from Africa (70%) and Asia (69%), with Latin America not far behind (65%).
It is possible that church members in the Global North are reacting against the “health and wealth” prosperity gospel so prominent among TV evangelists; whereas such messages seem less troubling among members in the Global South? Or is it possible that conversion experiences in the Global South have a more dramatic economic and social effect than those in the Global North—resulting in greater stability in the home and the broader community? Or has the upward mobility of the Global North led to a greater self-reliance and a decreased recognition of God’s providence in caring for one’s personal needs? Whatever the case, it remains interesting that in those regions with the greatest poverty, God is much more likely to seen as the source of one’s blessings.
Evangelism and outreach
The Global Anabaptist Profile also included a set of questions intended to measure the evangelism and outreach efforts of MWC church members. When asked how often they speak of their faith to people outside their church and family, 51 percent of African and Latin American respondents replied “at least weekly,” followed by 39 percent of Asians, 23 percent of North Americans, and 13 percent of Europeans. Forty-six percent of those in the Global South speak of their faith “at least weekly” as compared to 22 percent of those in the North.
When asked how often they help their congregations in serving their local communities, those in the Global South were nearly twice as likely (34%) to do so “on a weekly basis” as those in North America and Europe (16%). Forty-seven percent of Africans responded that they served their local community weekly or more, followed by 30 percent of Asians, 27 percent of Latin Americans, 16 percent of North Americans, and 17 percent of Europeans.
When asked about inviting non-Christian friends to church, 51 percent of African respondents replied that they did so “at least weekly,” as compared to 33 percent of Asians, 26 percent of Latin Americans, 11 percent of Europeans, and 9 percent of North Americans. Overall, 36 percent of church members in Africa, Asia and Latin America invite guests to church on a regular basis, compared to 4 percent of those in North America and Europe.
What percentage of household income do MWC members give to church and charitable causes? Among all respondents 55 percent reported giving 10 percent of their income or more (22% report giving more than 10%). Seventy-seven percent of North American members reported giving 10 percent or more of their income, as compared to 62 percent of Europeans, 57 percent of Africans, 53 percent of Latin Americans, and 48 percent of Asian respondents.
Socioeconomic status did not appear to have a substantive impact on the percentage of income one gives to the church and charitable causes. Of those in the lowest 50 percent of their country in terms of wealth and income, 54 percent report giving 10% or more. Of those in the highest 50% of their country, 57 percent give 10 percent or more of their household income.
Roles of women
On the question of whether or not their congregation allowed men and women to have equal ministry roles, 78 percent of all respondents stated that men and women could have equal ministry roles (80% in the Global South; 65% in the Global North). Africans (87%) were most likely to agree that this was the case, followed by those in Latin America (77%), Asia (76%), North America (69%) and Europe (46%).
At the same time, only 64 percent of those surveyed said that it was acceptable for women to preach, with 74 percent of North Americans embracing the preaching of women, 73 percent of Latin Americans, 65 percent of Africans, 55 percent of Asians, and 49 percent of Europeans. (The low figures among Europeans here were influenced by differences between the European groups participating in the survey. A full one hundred percent of the AMG affirmed women in pastoral leadership whereas only 29 percent of the AMBD responded positively.)
In other words, there is some inconsistency between what respondents say that their congregation allows in terms of equal opportunities for men and women and the fact that fewer respondents say that they personally find these roles acceptable for women.
Awareness of MWC
Those in the Global South are less aware of Mennonite World Conference, with 55 percent expressing awareness as compared to 75 percent of Global North respondents. By continent, 65 percent of Africans are aware of MWC, 54 percent of Asians, 49 percent of Latin Americans, 72 percent of North Americans, and 88 percent of Europeans. There were substantial differences by denominational affiliation on this question, with 76 percent of Mennonite Brethren aware of MWC, 66 percent of Brethren in Christ, and 46 percent of Mennonites. Conferences that were least likely to have heard of MWC included Meserete Kristos Church in Ethiopia (15%), Organización Cristiana Amor Viviente of Honduras (24%), and Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa of Indonesia (31%). Conferences with the highest levels of awareness of MWC are Grace Community Church in South Africa (100%), Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden in Deutschland (99%), the Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches in India (88%), and Vereinigung der Mennoniten Brüder Gemeinden Paraguays (87%).