IN THIS ISSUE
When future historians write the history of the Mennonite church in the twentieth century one theme will undoubtedly loom large: in the relatively short space of a century, the composition of the denomination has shifted from a largely Germanic sub-culture rooted in Europe and North America to a global fellowship, the majority of whose members are scattered throughout several dozen countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Today, some 60% of the world’s 1.2 million Mennonites live in the southern hemisphere. No institution better symbolizes this dramatic transformation than the Mennonite World Conference (MWC). From its very humble origins in 1925-when 15 delegates from five countries met in Basel, Switzerland-MWC has survived two world wars, a host of intramural theological suspicions, overwhelming logistical challenges and a perennially strapped budget to become one of the most dynamic and visible institutions in the contemporary Mennonite world. In the summer of 2003 several thousand Mennonites from around the world will gather in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for MWC’s fourteenth assembly. In this issue’s opening essay, John A. Lapp and Ed van Straten collaborated to write the first extensive survey of MWC’s rich history. Their work is not only informative but also will establish a baseline for future scholarship.
In a recent MQR article (April 2002) Walter Sawatsky suggested that the twentieth-century motif of suffering in the Russian Mennonite experience provides the newly emerging Mennonite churches in the southern hemisphere with a more compelling framework for Anabaptist identity than the standard themes of H. S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision. Harry Loewen, Professor Emeritus of Mennonite History and Studies at the University of Winnipeg, extends that conversation, focusing especially on the “Great Terror” that Mennonites in the Soviet Union experienced during the Stalinist purges of 1930s and 1940s. At the heart of his essay is the ancient question of theodicy: how, in the midst of horrific violence, can a people sustain a sense of God’s purpose, presence and providence in the world?
In a somewhat related vein, theologian Christopher Marshall suggests that the long legacy of violence within the western tradition may be linked to the substitionary view of the atonement in which God demands retributive justice for human sins and ultimately sanctions the violence of Christ’s death on the cross. Marshall pursues his argument in conversation with J. Denny Weaver’s recent book, The Nonviolent Atonement. He agrees with Weaver’s basic argument that a more appropriate view of the atonement must be rooted in the nonviolence of Jesus, but suggests that the biblical witness of the New Testament does not support Weaver’s conclusion that God did not will Jesus’ death on the cross or that the cross is inessential to salvation.
Ted Koontz, Professor of Ethics and Peace Studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, explores the practical application of Marshall’s arguments by revisiting contemporary arguments regarding the nature of the Anabaptist-Mennonite peace witness. Writing against the backdrop of a potential U.S.-led war against Iraq, Koontz argues that Christians who speak out against war should do so primarily in the idiom of their “first language,” namely, the language of faith. Although Koontz does not reject the cultivation of a “second language” for peacemaking-one rooted in humanitarian arguments and framed in the political science discourse of policies, strategies and consequences-the first language of faith is a more authentic witness to the gospel of peace, even if it seems vulnerable and even if its logic will not be immediately understood by those in power.
Few groups have committed themselves more completely to incorporating the “first language” of faith into their daily life than the Old Order Amish. Although their way of life remains something of a mystery to outsiders, it certainly has captured the attention of tourists-each year between 2 and 3 million visitors travel to northern Indiana, drawn in large part by the heavy concentrations of Amish found in the region. In his essay on Amish tourism in the Elkhart-LaGrange county area, however, sociologist Thomas Meyers suggests that the reasons behind these visits are more complex than they may initially appear. Based on an extensive survey carried out in the summer of 2000 by three Goshen College students, Meyers concludes that the great majority of visitors come to the area more as consumers, eager to buy Amish-related products, than they do as pilgrims seeking insight into an alternative way of life.
Finally, in our annual “The Mennonite Year in Review” Robert Rhodes, assistant editor of The Mennonite Weekly Review, reflects on the six years he and his family spent living in a Hutterite colony and their recent transition to life among the Mennonites. His essay on Christian community is both poetic and personal.
We trust that our readers will find ample material in this issue for reflection and conversation.
– John D. Roth, editor
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review