IN THIS ISSUE
During the second half
of the twentieth century Mennonites found themselves pulled into a
nationwide debate about race relations and civil rights that vividly
reflected the turmoil of the period. David R. Swartz,
a graduate student in the history department at the University of
Notre Dame, opens this issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review
with a narrative survey of Mennonite attitudes toward race and the
civil rights movement in Mississippi. Various groups of Mennonites-representing
a broad variety of social contexts and theological perspectives-found
themselves in Mississippi during the tumultuous years of the 1960s
and 1970s. Some had moved to the area in the 1950s as part of a colonization
effort seeking cheaper farmland; some were there as missionaries;
some were working in short-term voluntary service assignments; and
still others were visitors mainly interested in supporting the civil
rights movement. As Swartz tells the story, attitudes and practices
ranged from a tacitly segregationist posture, not sharply distinguishable
from white neighbors, among Mennonites who established an agrarian
colony in Noxubee County, to the vigorous participation of some Mennonite
activists from the North in voter registration drives and the broader
protests against racial injustice. Between these two extremes, Swartz
identifies several additional moderate responses. This spectrum of
attitudes toward civic engagement, each fraught with internal tensions,
continues to find expression among contemporary Mennonites.
A century earlier Mennonites found themselves engaged in conversations of a somewhat different sort. In the late nineteenth century, several Quakers from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) embarked on a number of preaching tours among Mennonite congregations in the Lancaster and Franconia region. Edsel Burdge Jr. has pored through the diaries of several of these traveling ministers, and pieced together the fascinating story of this early ecumenical encounter. As they struggled with internal questions of continuity and change, the Quaker leaders were attracted to a shared religious sensibility they found in Mennonites, especially in regards to plainness, the peace position and piety.
In 1625 the Waterlander Mennonite preacher Pieter Pietersz published a small devotional booklet called The Way to the City of Peace. Though virtually unknown to an English-speaking readership, the book went through numerous printings and editions and became a beloved devotional text among Dutch Mennonites in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Way to the City of Peace offers a utopian vision of life in a city whose citizens fully submit to the rule of Christ. Yet this vision is also clearly intended to be a compelling and practical description of how God’s Kingdom might look if it were to become a reality. The essay, by Tom Harder, a Mennonite pastor from Wichita, Kansas, both introduces the text to an English-speaking readership and serves as a helpful reminder that not all spiritualist (or pietistic) literature is disconnected from a concern about social realities.
Picking up the themes of the opening essay, John Derksen revisits the question of Anabaptist attitudes toward civil government. Derkson, who teaches history at Menno Simons College, traces the careers of Jrg and Clemens Ziegler, two brothers who were actively involved in the radical reformation of Strasbourg. In pursuing a Gospel-based vision of a just and equal society, the Zeigler brothers employed creative methods of nonviolent political action, similar to those later practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. This strategy of an activist, oppositional, yet peaceful, political engagement, Derkson argues, has been overlooked in traditional typologies of Anabaptist practice.
Finally, William Keeney reminds MQR readers of the 500th birth anniversary of Dirk Philips. Often consigned to the shadows of his more famous colleague, Menno Simons, Dirk was an original thinker whose extensive theological writings have not yet been sufficiently appreciated by scholars. Keeney’s research note is a good reminder of the many topics in Anabaptist-Mennonite studies that await further research.
– John D. Roth, editor
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review