April 2001 Roth

Family, Community and Discipleship in the

Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition


Any attempt to survey Anabaptist-Mennonite ideals, attitudes and practices regarding the family will inevitably confront some formidable challenges. Anabaptist-Mennonite communities have taken root across the span of nearly five centuries within a rich variety of political, economic and cultural contexts. Generalizations drawn from the Dutch-Prussian-Russian stream of Mennonites will not necessarily hold for all Swiss-South German Mennonite groups, and family attitudes and practices in both of these traditions may well be far removed from those found among the Hutterites or the Amish. Equally challenging is the persistent tension in Anabaptist-Mennonite history between family ideals as expressed in theological and communal norms on the one hand, and the complex “messiness” of lived reality on the other. Should a survey of the Anabaptist-Mennonite family focus primarily on normative standards, or should it offer a descriptive narrative of actual practice? Such dilemmas, of course, are inescapable to the writing of any history. But because so much of human experience unfolds within familial relationships, and because Anabaptists and Mennonites have frequently understood these relationships within theological categories, the stakes seem especially high.

What follows in this introduction to this special issue is not a definitive overview of Anabaptist-Mennonite understandings of the family. Necessarily selective, it draws on three archetypal stories within the Mennonite tradition to highlight several dominant themes that have endured through the centuries across a variety of groups. In these themes, the reader may hear echoes of the wide range of perspectives given voice at the interdisciplinary conference on “Mennonites and the Family: Vision and Reality” held at Goshen College, October 14-16, 1999. The essays that follow the introduction offer a sampling of the rich variety of scholarship and debate that unfolded at that gathering.


In the fall of 1538 Dutch authorities arrested a young woman who had been overheard singing an Anabaptist hymn in the marketplace of Rotterdam. In short order city officials brought Anneken Jans, a widowed mother of a 15-month old infant boy, to trial and, on January 24, 1539, executed her by drowning because of the threat she and her heretical faith posed to the social order of the city. The story of Annekan Jans has been preserved in the text of the Martyrs’ Mirror, along with the stories of hundreds of other Anabaptist martyrs.[1] But it is the visual image created by the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan Luyken that remains indelibly imprinted in the mind of the reader. As with so many other martyr stories, Luyken captured a moment of supreme pathos in the execution of Anneken Jans by depicting her as a bereaved mother, holding out her young son along with a purse of money, to anyone in the crowd who would promise to care for him. In the image, a baker steps forward-over the protests of his wife, who was undoubtedly thinking of the couple’s own six children still at home-and receives Isaiah, the orphaned little boy, to raise as his own child.

In a letter written to Isaiah immediately prior to her death, Jans offered him words of admonition. “My son,” she wrote, echoing the deepest hopes of all Christian parents:

“hear the instructions of your mother; open your ears to hear the words of my mouth. . . . My child, do not regard the great number, nor walk in their ways . . . But where you hear of a poor, simple, cast-off little flock, which is despised and rejected by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ; from there do not depart.”[2]

As contemporary readers of the Martyrs’ Mirror hear these words and gaze upon Luyken’s etching, it is not clear which is the most painful part of the story: the physical death by forced drowning or the emotional anguish of giving over one’s infant child to the hands of a stranger. The anguish becomes even more
[insert picture of Anneken Jan’s here]
complex when we learn that Isaiah did not heed his mother’s words, but joined the state church and became a mayor of the city of Rotterdam.[3]

The story of Anneken Jans from the Martyrs’ Mirror-like so many other stories from this remarkable compendium-captures one of the most foundational teachings of the Anabaptist movement: the call to follow Christ is absolute and total. The commitment to Christian discipleship, made in the perspective of eternity, necessarily relativizes all other earthly commitments-including those elemental bonds of biology and blood, emotion and memory, which bind the individual to a family.

Jans was not alone in her conviction that allegiance to Christ preceded allegiances to family. Indeed, numerous letters in the Martyrs’ Mirror give voice to the emotional agony and pain of parents facing their impending death and struggling to reconcile their faith with permanent separation from their children and spouses.[4]

Those modern readers who are tempted to dismiss such attitudes as irresponsible delusions or eccentric sixteenth-century pathologies would do well to recall the many teachings of Jesus that make it clear that loyalty to the Kingdom must transcend allegiance to the family. Consider, for example, Jesus’ words to his disciples: “If anyone comes to me and hates not his father and mother and wife and children and brother and sister, yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). When one of Jesus’ followers wanted to return home to attend the funeral of his father, Jesus retorted: “Let the dead bury the dead” (Mt. 8:22). And a few chapters later, when his mother and brother sent word that they were eagerly waiting to see him, Jesus brushed them off, telling his disciples that they-not his earthly relations-were his true family (Mt. 12:48-50). Clearly the Apostle Paul-along with many of the early church fathers-regarded marriage as something “second best,” a potential distraction from our love and service to God.[5]

The Christian tradition, of course, has found many creative ways to soften the sharp language of Jesus and Paul: Jesus was speaking figuratively; or Jesus was underscoring his special status as the son of God; or Paul was living in the expectation of Christ’s imminent return. But the Anabaptists believed that Christian faith should take on a concrete, social form. They tended to read Scripture in a very direct and literal way as a blueprint for the way Christians should actually live. Indeed, Annekan Jans and hundreds of others were killed precisely because they insisted that traditional assumptions regarding economics and politics and ethics and family life were not somehow written into the code of nature itself but could be refashioned in ways that would better reflect New Testament teachings and the example of Christ.

Historically, the Hutterites were the most radical in their challenge to prevailing assumptions about economics and the family. Though they never denounced marriage, the Hutterites did teach that all possessions should be shared, that children should be educated communally, and that their primary earthly allegiance was to the community as a whole, not to their biological kin.[6] In some cases, the Hutterites defended marital separation and even divorce-especially if the believer was married to a non-Anabaptist-on the grounds that marriage to a non-believer was not a true marriage in the eyes of God.[7]

To be sure, not all Anabaptists took this critique of the traditional family as far as the Hutterites; but nearly every Anabaptist-Mennonite group embraced a perspective on the family that placed these human relationships under a prior and higher loyalty to Christ and the authority of the gathered church. In practical terms, this meant that one’s baptismal vow was not just an individual confession of faith before God, but also a public commitment to give and receive counsel within the congregation in regard to the details of daily living, including aspects of family life. Many of the Gemeindeordnungen (the discipline or regulations) of Swiss and South German congregations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, stipulated that Mennonites could marry only “within the church.” Those who took Lutheran or Reformed or Catholic spouses were subject to church discipline: either their spouses became members of the church or the newly established family was effectively excluded from the worshipping community.[8]

The church also took an active role in the spiritual instruction of young people, and it regulated the sexual morality of individuals and families through the discipline of public censure and confession. The Ordnungen that survive from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suggest that Mennonite congregations regarded the economic affairs of its members as matters of general concern. Not only did every congregation have a deacon to oversee the distribution of alms, but congregations also claimed the right to approve business loans and to impose restrictions on certain kinds of commercial activities such as loaning out money for interest or buying goods cheaply with the intent to resell them for profit.

In these and other ways the church in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition blurred the boundaries between private and public; in more modern language-popularized in recent literature by people like Stanley Hauerwas and Rodney Clapp-the church is understood to be the “first family.”[9]

The message of Annekan Jans for the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition is clear: the church-not the biological family-is the primary point of reference for social, religious, ethical and economic identity. Our allegiance to Christ and the gathered body of believers takes priority over the claims of blood or kinship.


Yet almost as soon as the point is made about the primacy of the church over the biological family, one must also acknowledge a persistent paradox: virtually all of the groups related to the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition have come to regard family ties as being at the very center of individual identity and spiritual formation.

For many-if not most-Mennonites, the experience of church is virtually inseparable from the context of the family. The stubborn popularity of the so-called “Mennonite game”-in which strangers happily trace their genealogy back several generations in search of common kinship ties-demonstrates that the fabric of the Mennonite community is woven through with ties of marriage and kinship. To define the church as the “first family” might make good theological sense; but from the sixteenth century to the present most Mennonites have been deeply shaped and nurtured in family contexts that are considerably more complicated than the story of Anneken Jans might suggest.

In part, this powerful sense of family identity emerged historically as a consequence of persecution. Many Anabaptists in the second and third generation who were forced to endure a host of economic and legal restrictions or to flee their homelands as refugees, fell back on the support of kinship and family networks as a matter of practical necessity. This was especially true in the Palatinate or the Alsace where clusters of Mennonites families, almost always inter-related, found a measure of toleration by settling on widely-scattered estates. In this context-geographically isolated, forbidden by law from proselytizing, separated from the surrounding culture-Mennonites discovered that the bonds of church community overlapped to a considerable degree with the ties of family kinship.

Nowhere were these ties of kinship more important than in the story of emigration from Europe to North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To be sure, the newly arrived emigrants often received aid from local congregations in Pennsylvania or Virginia or the western states and provinces where they settled. But even more crucial in these stories was the direct assistance-the economic and social safety net-provided by family members and kinship groups who were already established.

In none of these circumstances did Mennonites understand family ties to be inherently in tension with their loyalty to the congregation. Rather, the bonds of kinship were simply woven organically into the overlapping claims of authority represented by the church. So, the story of Anneken Jans notwithstanding, it would be wrong to suggest that the primary theme within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition is that families are to be regarded as a potential obstacle to faith, a burden for Christian disciples or a threat to the integrity of the gathered church.

Which leads to a second family story-a story which, like that of Anneken Jans, is familiar to many Mennonites since it has been told and retold at numerous family reunions and is frequently cited in children’s literature and Sunday School curricula. The story is rich in Biblical overtones. It begins, like Abraham of the Old Testament, with a patriarch who has left behind the familiar comforts of hearth and homeland and, with his wife and family, has embarked on a risk-filled journey. Like the Children of Israel, the family settled in a new land, a promised land, where they hoped to start afresh and to re-establish a community that would find favor with God.

In September of 1736 Jacob Hostetler left the Palatinate in Germany and emigrated to Pennsylvania. By 1748 he and his wife and children had settled in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where they built a cabin, planted an orchard and hoped to prosper. But the land that he and others had settled had been taken from the native peoples (a frequently hidden sub-text of Mennonite migration). One moonless night in the fall of 1757 Delaware Indians from the region surrounded the Hostetler cabin, intending to do harm. The oldest son, hearing voices, opened the door and was met by a gun shot, wounding him in the leg. Immediately, the boys grabbed their hunting rifles from the mantle and took aim at the shadowy figures outside. But just as they were about to pull the trigger, Jakob grabbed the guns and said-or so claims the oral tradition-“It is not right to take another person’s life, even to save your own!”[10]

The tradition recounts numerous other fascinating details to the story that unfolded. After the Indians set fire to the cabin, the Hostetler family, huddled in the basement, saved themselves from burning by dousing the flames with cider they had in storage. When morning came, they assumed that their attackers had left; but just as they were crawling out of the basement window, a young warrior spied them, raised the alarm and the Indians returned. The mother, a daughter and one of the sons were killed immediately, while Jacob Hostetler and two of his remaining children-Joseph and Christian-were taken prisoner. As they parted from each other, according to the story, Jacob admonished the boys “not to forget the Lord’s Prayer . . . even if you should forget your German language.”[11]

Adding to the poignancy and enduring power of the story is the account of their subsequent experience in captivity. According to unsubstantiated oral tradition, the captured Hostetler boys quickly adapted to their new culture and Joseph even was formally adopted by the Indians. His white blood was ceremonially “washed out,” he was redressed in Indian clothing and proclaimed by the tribe-in language that sounds suspiciously biblical-to be “flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.”[12] Christian, too, was apparently adopted-in his case, by an older Indian man whom he came to love. After the old man’s death Christian chose a younger Indian as his new brother.

But, crucially, throughout these events, family memories and the bonds of blood were not to be forgotten. In a daring move, Jacob (the father) eventually escaped his captors and, following some harrowing adventures, was restored to his community.[13] In one dramatic account, Christian suddenly appeared at the home of his Mennonite relatives dressed as an Indian. Unrecognized, he announced in broken, scarcely recalled German, “Ich bin der Christ” (my name is Christian), whereupon he was tearfully embraced by his family.[14] Joseph, the second son, was finally released by treaty in 1764 or 1765. But only after “long hesitation” did he decide to leave the Indian “customs and manner of living”; and he maintained close ties of friendship with the Delaware Indians for the rest of his life.[15]

The story of the so-called “Hostetler Massacre” is retold so frequently by contemporary Mennonites in part because it brings a powerful element of color and drama to Mennonite history. But the real appeal of the story likely has to do with its theme of family: the account of several tragic and violent deaths; the ancient trope of family members separated and then united again; and, of course, the larger context of the thousands of people whose grandparents are listed in the massive Hostetler genealogy of 1912, where the story is recorded, and who thus find themselves connected to this story by virtue of being lineal descendants of Jacob Hostetler.[16]

This is indeed a story about family. But its celebration of the centrality of the family is much more complex than may appear at first glance in that it affirms family loyalties without allowing the institution of the family to become an idol or an end unto itself.

One of the most enduring images of the story is that of Jacob restraining his sons as they reached for their long rifles to shoot the intruders. In that moment some of the deepest Anabaptist-Mennonite affirmations about Christian pacifism and nonresistant love take on concrete and specific form. Here the story serves as a reminder that the most profound lessons of Christian faith in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition are not taught or learned primarily in catechism class on Sunday morning-important though that may be. Rather, Christ’s teachings are made real most concretely in the acts of Christian discipleship that are woven into the fabric of daily life. And the most decisive and consistent context for such teaching is the family.

So the story affirms the family as a crucial setting for modeling and instruction in the Christian faith. But significantly this affirmation is subsumed by the even clearer lesson that allegiance to Christ’s way of nonviolent love is prior to the natural impulse to defend the family. The heart of the story, after all, is Jacob’s rejection of his sons’ natural impulse to protect themselves and their family.

Or consider Jacob’s parting words to his sons as they were led off into captivity. In the face of impending exile, big questions suddenly loom large for him, as they did for the children of Israel in Babylon: What will be the anchor of your identity? How will refugees torn loose from their families and culture remember “who they are”? It is significant that in this anguished moment of truth, Jacob admonished his children that even if they forget their mother tongue they should nonetheless remember the Lord’s Prayer-a prayer undoubtedly repeated around the family table as a daily ritual or habit. The memory Jacob hopes they will retain as they move into the unknown is not something rooted primarily in cultural or family identity, but in a spiritual legacy-a prayer indelibly engrained into their memories by sheer repetition and the sense of the sacred that it likely had in their home.

The details regarding the boys’ adoption are also relevant to the complex view of family embedded into the story. At one level, of course, the story is about re-uniting the Hostetler family, who will go on to propagate a very prolific line of Mennonites. But even though we know the outcome in advance, details of the account seem to explicitly suggest that the boys’ return to the Mennonite community and their family of origin was not inevitable. They had, after all, been adopted into new families and new communities-communities that are generally portrayed as humane and decent despite the atrocities that carried out against several family members. When Christian does return, his biological family does not recognize him and his fractured German is scarcely adequate to communicate with them. Joseph, the story tells us, took years to undo his Indian identity, and he kept some of their customs for the rest of his life. So in the end, Christian and Joseph’s return to their families required a conscious decision on their part. To be sure, they had been deeply shaped by the language and perspectives and habits of their family upbringing. But in the end, their family identity-like that of the Anabaptist voluntary believer-became a genuine choice, a commitment to a tradition and a past and an identity shaped by the awareness of other possibilities.

There is one final theme worth highlighting in this story. As already noted, the fullest account of the incident has been preserved in the foreword of a family history-an enormous compilation of the descendants of Jacob’s children that stretches across some 250 years. The story is thus “encased,” as it were, in the history of a particular family lineage. Contemporary Mennonites tend to be deeply ambivalent about the value of genealogy. On the one hand, family histories are probably the fastest growing Mennonite literary genre. The number of Amish and Mennonite surnames entered into various internet data bases now reach into the 100,000s, with more appearing every day. Yet hovering all around this genealogical activity is a clear sense of anxiety and even guilt. By its very nature, family history is an exclusive exercise-if you are not related by blood or marriage you do not belong. Bloodlines, we rightly tell ourselves, should not be confused with faith commitments. And as the Mennonite church becomes more culturally diverse, genealogies seem to reinforce an ethnic-maybe even racist-definition of Mennonite identity that is at odds with teachings on believers’ baptism.

Such critiques need to be taken seriously. But at the same time, Mennonites should be cautious about dismissing this interest in genealogy as mere idolatry or smug exclusivism. It can become that, of course; but in a culture where individuals are increasingly isolated and cut off from a sense of connection to the past, a sense of identity rooted in family history can serve as a crucial source of ballast and stability. Genealogies remind us that we are heirs to a historical and spiritual legacy that is bigger than ourselves. Genealogies offer not only stories of heroism-like that of Jacob Hostetler modeling nonresistance to his children-but also accounts of people who are not perfect, whose lives are flawed. They are a source of both inspiration and humility. Moreover, included in every genealogy is a record of the new names that have been grafted unto the family tree, serving as a reminder that family branches often extend far and wide. These branches, if pursued, will surely link the researcher to still other family names, other traditions, other faiths. The point is not to make the family into an idol, but to celebrate the sense of wholeness and connectedness, the nurture and care and genuine belonging, that Anabaptist-Mennonites have experienced in their heritage of strong families.

So even as the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition has affirmed the church as its “first family,” it has also regarded the biological family to be an important training ground for Christian discipleship, and it has recognized that in its family networks-and the grafting of new names into the stories of the ancestors-it does indeed have a “goodly heritage.”


A third, final, theme in this survey of Anabaptist-Mennonite understandings of the family introduces yet another level of complexity by calling attention to the various ways in which Anabaptist-Mennonite families have been a source of human brokenness and pain. Here I am reminded of yet another story from the recent Mennonite past.

When I was no more than eight or nine years old, my mother pulled a book off the shelf, published by the Mennonite Publishing House, and began reading through it, chapter by chapter. The book was already nearly twenty years old and had taken the Mennonite reading audience by storm, first in serialized form, then in its initial hardback appearance in 1948.[17] The odd thing about the reading of this book, however, was that by about the fourth or fifth chapter, I clearly recall that my siblings and I begged her to stop: the emotional pitch of the novel was too painful for us to hear.

Christmas Carol Kauffman’s Light from Heaven tells the story of Annie Armstrong, a Mennonite women whose husband Bennet physically and psychologically abused her and her children, all the while maintaining the public appearance of an upstanding and honorable man in the church. In the private world of the family, Bennet ruled with a kind of “reign of terror.” At Christmas time he took a sadistic pleasure in wrapping coal and straw in brown paper as gifts for the children; Annie watches in silent horror as he mercilessly beats four-year old Joseph; Bennet is obsessed with money but he keeps Annie and the children in virtual poverty; he continually threatens the family with violence if they would ever dare to speak publicly about his actions.

Throughout the novel, Annie suffers in virtual silence. “We’ve tried all our lives to shield Father,” she confides at one point to her sister.[18] But that silence-that shielding of family honor and the fear of public shame-combined with Bennet’s regular church attendance conspired to hide the true anguish and pain that defined the Armstrong family.

To be sure, Light from Heaven was a fictional portrayal of a rather extreme instance of psychological and physical abuse in a Mennonite family. As sociologists Howard Kauffman and Tom Meyers suggest elsewhere in this issue, such abuse, though certainly not unknown in Mennonite households, is thankfully comparatively rare. But readers who did not experience such trauma in their upbringing would do well to consider a deeper point in the story. Annie Armstrong’s story is more than a morality lesson about abuse; it is also a painful reminder that Mennonite families-despite all their professed ideals-have never been immune from the brokenness and pain of the surrounding culture. Indeed, in terms of the most basic patterns and structures of North American family life, contemporary Mennonites are frequently unable to offer a significant alternative to the assumptions evident in the broader society.

Consider, in the first place, the degree to which Mennonite families-like those of the broader culture-are profoundly shaped by the economic realities of our culture. As Mennonites have moved off the farms into the suburbs, as they have entered universities and plunged into the professions, family patterns and assumptions are increasingly shaped by the logic of modern capitalism and the individual decisions that drive our career advancement. Modern capitalistic economies, for example, require family units that are mobile, that can be quickly uprooted and then replanted as the laws of supply and demand dictate. This means that career-oriented Mennonites are weakly connected to their extended families of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins; and their roots in local communities likely to be shallow. Similarly, the logic of consumer capitalism assumes that “quality of life” is to be understood in the economic language of higher salaries, steady promotions and secure retirement portfolios rather than the language of family relationships or churchly commitments that lead one to turn down a promotion if it adversely affects time available for family or to reject a job relocation if there is no congregation in the area that embraces Anabaptist-Mennonite understandings of the gospel. The power of the market has encouraged Mennonite families to define themselves primary as units of production and consumption rather than settings for the nurture of Christian habits and moral character. Drinking deeply from the fonts of modern mass media, many children in Mennonite families are shaped at least as much by the values of MTV as they are by their local MYF.

Closely connected to the destabilizing impact that economic forces have had on the family is an increasingly pervasive attitude toward human relationships that regards the sentiments of romantic love as the primary foundation for marriage, with sexual desire at its center. The Bible, of course, celebrates human love as a virtue, and it recognizes sensuality as a good thing, blessed by God. But there is a powerful impulse within contemporary culture to reduce our humanity to our bodies, to our physical impulses. At the heart of much of the popular culture of television, advertisements and the movie industry is a deep confusion of sexual desire with the deep and natural craving for human intimacy. Such a culture can offer precious few resources to sustain commitments that are no longer animated by romantic sentiments. Thus, marriages that no longer feed our constant hunger for something new can easily be discarded; if prior commitments force us to postpone desire or threaten to leave our impulses unfulfilled, they can be disregarded with impunity. The rising divorce rates within Mennonite congregations reflect, at least in part, these cultural assumptions that commitments are not binding if they thwart our natural impulse toward self-fulfillment.

Yet another way in which contemporary Mennonites reflect the perspectives assumptions of the surrounding culture is the assumption that the family is a private institution into which no one else-including the church-has any business intruding. A sharp division between public and private spheres has long been an essential feature of modernity, and it is not an unequivocal evil. After all, families should be places of trust and intimacy, and some matters should not be revealed casually in public settings. But there is also a danger in placing such a high value on privacy that it becomes virtually impossible for the church to speak prophetically or specifically to issues pertaining to the family. Part of this is complicated by our own high ideals and a deep sense of family pride and honor: to publicly acknowledge any kind of tension or conflict in our families becomes a matter of guilt, a scarlet letter of shame. And so, like Bennet and Annie, many Mennonites find themselves leading double lives, keeping the simmering tensions or antagonisms well hidden from the congregation until they suddenly boil over at a point of crisis.

If Anneken Jans calls us to recognize the church as our “first” and primary family, and if the Jacob Hostetler story celebrates the enduring power of families in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition to nurture and sustain faith, then Light from Heaven offers a reminder that Mennonite families have not escaped the fallenness of the world. To the extent that Mennonite families are defined by economic priorities, founded on the illusions of romantic love and guarded by the barriers of privacy, they mirror the broader culture and offer little by way of “good news” to the brokenness and alienation that defines our society.


The essays that follow in this issue of the MQR engage various aspects of this complex legacy and give greater nuance and precision to the three themes outlined above. In the opening article, Lisa Sowle Cahill offers an overview of the social context of the family in the Old and New Testaments and the early church. Her essay is followed by Keith Graber Miller’s summary of Menno Simons’ theological understanding of children and the role parents and the Christian community have in nurturing children toward voluntary commitments of faith and discipleship. Sociologists Howard Kauffman and Tom Meyers follow with a survey of contemporary Mennonite family life, comparing the behavioral ideals expressed in denominational statements with actual practice, noting several significant changes over time. Elizabeth Goering and Andrea Krause call attention to a painful dilemma within the Mennonite church: the strong focus on families within many congregations has often pushed single people to the margins. Their essay identifies the ways this pattern frequently occurs and offers a series of suggestions that churches could pursue in integrating singles more effectively into congregational life. Karen Johnson-Weiner follows with an analysis of women’s roles within Old Order Amish, Beachy Amish and Fellowship churches, giving particular attention to their distinctive patterns of relating to the society around them and their various understandings of divine hierarchy and the church as the body of Christ. In her analysis, the more economic and religious contact these communities have with the surrounding culture, the less likely it is that women will have a voice in community decision-making. Finally, Lucille Marr continues the theme of gender roles by exploring the family relationships of four leaders of the Conference of Historic Peace Churches in Ontario. Her study demonstrates the crucial-albeit, often hidden-part that wives played in the public peacemaking work of their husbands and the theological perspectives these women developed that helped to minimize the personal costs entailed by their husbands’ extended absences from the home.

As the debate over “family values” continues to play itself out in the public arena, it is our hope that the essays gathered together in this special issue of the MQR will provide a foundation for a more nuanced and informed contribution to that broader conversation.

[1]. Thielman J. van Braght, The Bloody Theater or Martyrs’ Mirror, trans. Joseph F. Sohm, 10th ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975), 453-54.
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[2]. Ibid., 453, 454. The story is also told in more detail in John Oyer and Robert Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1990), 38-39.
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[3]. Oyer and Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs, 39.
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[4]. “I dared not set my affection too much [upon you],” wrote Jan Wouterss to his daughter in 1572, “in order that when I should have to part from her . . . the bitter parting would not overcome me.”-van Braght, Martyrs Mirror, 912.
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[5]. Cf. I Cor. 7:9.
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[6]. John A. Hostetler, Hutterite Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1974), 201-33.
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[7]. See, for example, Robert Friedman, “Marriage, Hutterite Practices,” ME 3:510-11; and J. C. Wenger, trans. and ed., “Concerning Divorce: A Swiss Brethren Tract on the Primacy of Loyalty to Christ and the Right to Divorce and Remarriage,” MQR 21 (April 1947), 114-19.
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[8]. “Marriage,” ME 3:503-04.
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[9]. See, for example, Rodney Clapp, Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Traditional and Modern Options (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 67-89 and Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 155-74.
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[10]. The story is recounted in full in Harvey Hostetler, Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler (Elgin, IL: Harvey Hostetler, 1912), 26-45.
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[11]. Ibid., 33.
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[12]. Ibid., 35.
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[13]. Ibid., 37-40.
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[14]. Ibid., 37.
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[15]. Ibid., 45.
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[16]. The Hostetler family association continues to be very active, holding regular reunions and publishing a quarterly newsletter, which contains frequent references to this story.-Hochstetler-Hostetler-Hochstedler Family Newsletter 1 (April 1988), 5; 5 (June 1992), 9; 9 (June 1997), 1, 6-7.
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[17]. Christmas Carol Kauffman, Light from Heaven (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1948). Eventually, the book went through four additional reprintings and sold more than 15,000 copies before Moody Press bought the publication rights and began to issue it in paperback. It is still in print today. For a thoughtful analysis of the novel, see Phoebe Wiley, “Silence in Light from Heaven: A Social Commentary,” MQR 72 (Oct. 1998), 565-76.
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[18]. Kauffman, Light from Heaven, 351.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
Family in the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition