IN THIS ISSUE
Few issues have polarized American culture more deeply-and with it, the bonds of fellowship within the Christian community-than that of abortion. From the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 to the most recent Supreme Court appointment, the public debate over abortion has been an explosive marker within the broader “culture war,” claiming a visibility and significance that frequently goes far beyond the specific issues associated with the practice itself. At first glance, one might assume that a peace church tradition would be unanimous in its position on the issue. Yet even though the Mennonite Church has frequently and publicly defended the sanctity of life in matters related to personal and military violence, it has been far more hesitant to engage the public debate regarding abortion. For some, this hesitance is closely linked to an affirmation of individual rights-specifically, the rights of women to make choices regarding their bodies. But others have expressed reservations about the intrusion of state control in matters of individual conscience. In the summer of 2003 delegates to the Mennonite Church USA church assembly in Atlanta debated a churchwide statement on abortion. Although the statement clearly advocated a consistent ethic in favor of life, it also cautioned against lobbying for laws that would restrict abortion or make it illegal. The assembly eventually affirmed the document. However, the statement has continued to spark considerable discussion, less on the question of abortion itself than on the role of government legislation in enforcing ethical practices.
This issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review offers readers two essays on this contested subject. Darrin Snyder Belousek, a Mennonite philosopher, opens the issue with a “critical-constructive” response to the 2003 MC USA statement on abortion. Belousek argues that the document is not sufficiently rigorous in linking ethical reasoning and public witness about abortion to the church’s other statements defending the sanctity of life.
Joseph J. Kotva Jr., director of the Anabaptist Center for Healthcare Ethics, shares many of Belousek’s ethical arguments, framing a strong case against abortion based on virtue ethics and a consideration of those practices that encourage the church to become the kind of community that God intends for it to be. But Kotva goes on to argue strongly against Mennonite support of legislative action that would make abortion illegal. On this point he and Belousek come to dramatically different conclusions. My hope is that the arguments presented here will contribute to greater clarity and precision in our ongoing conversation on this contested topic. At the same time, I do not assume that these perspectives are the last word in the matter. I would especially welcome additional contributions to MQR from women on this, and related, topics.
During the past seventy years, the communitarian society known as the “Bruderhof” has had a fascinating and complex relationship with the Hutterites, ranging from mutual support, to organizational integration, to sharp antagonisms. Born four centuries apart in very different contexts-the Hutterites as a branch of sixteenth-century Anabaptism; the Bruderhof out of the German Youth Movement of the 1930s-the two groups have struggled to bring cultural and organizational differences in line with their shared theological convictions. Rod Janzen, professor of history at Fresno Pacific University, traces the rich history of this relationship. Although the groups have functioned independently since 1995, Janzen concludes that their intense interactions over the past decades have transformed both groups.
This issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review should lay to rest any notion that the peace commitments of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition have somehow made their members immune to conflict. Such is emphatically not the case. But I also hope that readers hear within the clash of perspectives a deep desire to discern the will of God and to follow in the path of Jesus.
– John D. Roth, editor