October 2002 In This Issue


Outsiders observing the Amish through the prism of tourist literature or other forms of popular media often have the impression that the Amish live in a world of few meaningful choices-that the weight of tradition or the pressures to conform to community standards leave no room for individual decision-making. Yet as anthropologists Lawrence Greksa and Jill Korbin demonstrate in the opening essay of this issue, such assumptions are simply not true. Greksa and Korbin focus their study on two key decisions in the life of every Old Order Amish person: whether or not to join the church and whether to remain in the community of their birth or to migrate to a new settlement. In addition, they asked how the recent occupational shift among the Amish from farming to wage labor might be affecting the outcome of these decisions. The results of their study, based largely on data gleaned from the 1993 Amish directory for Geauga settlement in northeastern Ohio, may surprise readers. Despite increasing contact with non-Amish society, a growing percentage of Amish young people are choosing to remain within the group. This finding, and many others detailed in their research, suggests that the core values of Old Order communities are remaining strong even in the face of changing external environments.

Karl Koop, associate professor of historical theology at Canadian Mennonite University, challenges another assumption that has taken root in popular understandings of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists: namely, that the Anabaptist commitment to an egalitarian community made them inherently suspicious of strong pastoral leadership. Koop acknowledges a strong element of anti-clericalism among the Rhenish Anabaptists he has studied, but he suggests that this group did not reject the clerical office out of hand. Instead, their interest-like that of Menno Simons-was to reform the clerical office while retaining a strong role for pastoral leadership. Koop’s findings will enliven ongoing conversations about leadership and authority in the church.

In the spring of 2001 the north German congregation of Hamburg-Altona celebrated its 400th anniversary with a series of commemorative events. Historian Hans-Jrgen Goertz opened the festivities with a lecture that surveyed the central themes in the life of this venerable congregation. We are delighted to offer a translated and revised version of that presentation in this issue of MQR. Goertz highlights the ironies-if not outright contradictions-that have dominated the congregation’s history over the past four centuries. In his telling of the story, Mennonites first came to these north German port cities in search of a tolerant place of refuge where they could freely exercise their distinctive forms of faith and practice. The practice of this faith-with its emphasis on a strict morality, mutual aid and congregational discipline-helped Mennonites quickly become successful artisans and merchants. But with their wealth and a growing cultural respectability, Mennonites also became increasingly confused or perplexed (Goertz uses the German word Ratlos) about their theological identity. Yet this persistent confusion, Goertz insists, with all of its internal contradictions, should be understood not as a compromise of some normative standard of Anabaptism, but as a creative response to the dynamic political and cultural context within which Mennonites were living.

Discerning just how the faithful church should relate appropriately to the surrounding political culture is also the subject of John Perry’s essay on the oath-taking and the pledge of allegiance. Recent court rulings on the pledge, combined with the outpouring of patriotic sentiment in the aftermath of the events of September 11, have once again raised questions for contemporary Anabaptist-Mennonites about the symbols of national allegiance that are deeply embedded within American culture. In his article Perry compares two very different instances of oath refusal-Karl Barth’s refusal of Hitler’s loyalty oath in 1934 and the ongoing Mennonite debate over the pledge of allegiance-and argues that both followed a similar logic resting heavily on a principled, yet vague, boundary between church and state. A better approach to these questions, Perry suggests, would focus on the “liturgical” element of oaths and pledges: what is important here is less a careful interpretation of the exact wording of an oath or pledge than the practice of the ritual itself in which loyalty to the nation is inculcated. If Mennonites would develop a practice of respectful oath refusal on these grounds, they would become a people more capable of refusing oaths when the explicit conflicts with conscience are even clearer.

Few Anabaptist-Mennonite groups have faced a more dramatic or challenging context for defining a distinctive religious and cultural identity than the Mennonite colonies in South America, especially those in Paraguay. The complex story of Mennonite immigration to Paraguay, and the flourishing of their communities during the course of the twentieth century, is known only in vague outlines to most Mennonites in North America, in part because the works of that saga’s most able chronicler, Peter P. Klassen, have not yet been translated into English. In this issue, Gerhard Reimer offers an extended review of the broad corpus of Klassen’s writings. With it, we hope readers will gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating corner of the global Mennonite church.

– John D. Roth, Editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review