Missio Alliance: A Critique of Mennonite Fanaticism

If we only listen to the voices of those in positions of power, perhaps we have learned nothing from Christendom.

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Missio Alliance Gathering this past weekend in Carlisle, PA. The theme for the weekend was “Church and Post-Christian Culture: Christian Witness in the Way of Jesus,” which focused on the Anabaptist tradition and its potential in the 21st century church.

I had been anticipating this gathering for some time: who among us Anabaptists wouldn’t? The speakers included some of the most influential and prominent pastors in Anabaptist and Neo-Anabaptist circles.

Friday morning I gathered with approximately 400 like-minded individuals to hear from people like Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey, and Brian Zahnd. It was great to hear these gifted speakers share their journey to Anabaptism. If there is something that we Mennonites like, it is people from other faith traditions who are drawn to Anabaptist theology. We repeatedly heard why traditional Anabaptists need to be embracing their identity as such in a world that is rapidly moving away from a Christendom model where church and state are fused.

I found myself swept up in the excitement of the day, taking pictures of these celebrity pastors and posting them to Facebook. I received a large number of “likes” and comments on these pictures, hearing things like “Mennonites get to have all the fun.”

I was at home with my tribe. But something just didn’t feel right.

I have nothing but respect for the men mentioned above, and I greatly appreciate the work of Missio Alliance to bring together an assorted group of presenters. Sure, the diversity of the presenters was less than ideal, but I was glad to see that an effort had been made to include non-white and female speakers. My critique is not of the lecturers or organizers of the event. My critique is for those of us who call ourselves Anabaptists and yet so quickly fall into the trappings of the broader society.

The celebrity pastors that presented were surely what drew so many to this conference. I know that is why I attended. But as we were reminded in a breakout session with Drew Hart, Anabaptist theology has traditionally been done “from the margins.”

There is something quite problematic with gathering together to hear a celebrity pastor praise Anabaptism in the main sanctuary to 400 people only to be reminded moments later in a Sunday school room of our humble tradition as a peculiar people.

My early unsettled feelings were only made worse as the weekend progressed. Attendance dropped sharply as the presenters’ names became less well known. Without a doubt, this is something to lament. As the conference came to an end, by my estimate, only half of those who hours earlier had packed into the auditorium remained. What they missed was perhaps one of the most powerful messages of the entire weekend. Cherith Fee-Norlding took on the role of the prophet as she presented not only her affirmations for Anabaptism but also a series of helpful critiques.

As much as I loved hearing from the celebrity pastors, I soon realized that I was not being exposed to anything I hadn’t heard before. It was wonderful to simply be in the presence of highly educated and articulate individuals putting into words the feelings that I have been experiencing for so long. And indeed, they provided a fresh perspective and stories that will help to spread not only Anabaptism but also the kingdom of God. But it was those who spoke from the margins, the non-white, non-male voices and bodies that caused me to want to dig deeper and consider more thoroughly this movement and its future in the years to come.

If we only listen to the voices of those in positions of power, perhaps we have learned nothing from Christendom.

I’m just sorry that so many left before they had the chance to hear anew.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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5 Responses to Missio Alliance: A Critique of Mennonite Fanaticism

  1. Well received critique… as someone else mentioned that I talked to, the stuff that the “celebrities” said was stuff they always said. It was the “new” voices that gave the really good, meaty stuff.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on the “Church and Post-Christian Culture” Conference (Part 1) | The Search for Piety and Obedience

  3. dorothy gish says:

    There were at least a few of us who were unable to attend Saturday because of prior commitments. It wasw with regret that I left not only the conference but also the country.

    • Kevin Gasser says:

      Thanks for this reminder, Dorothy. Perhaps I assume too much in the post, but it is probably more than just a coincidence that the day when the best known speakers were presenting was also the day with the highest attendance…by far!

  4. markmcculley says:

    We can talk about being post-colonial or exile or the margins. Those are our words, but why do we refuse the word “sectarian”?

    when we deny that each atom of the bread
    contains God completely,
    the hirelings explain that it makes no difference
    what those sectarians think is happening

    because history tells us, the tradition,
    the story that works
    (not for the sectarians ,we killed them)
    that Christ is fully present in the bread

    the chaplains defend the narrative
    thank god this day for constantine
    and all those who make it possible for us to worship
    in liberty and peace

    grateful to those in the military
    the service men and women, the heroes,
    the killers who stand between us
    and the chaos of apocalypse and margins
    thankful we do not have to face revelations

    the soldiers are cheap, their lives also,
    they kill for us so that we don’t have to
    the hirelings cost more but they assure us

    this is not nostalgia for the liminal,
    the “sacraments”
    here where now is and no there or no then

    We have paid the hirelings to tell us about the one church
    for all times and all places,.
    to tell us that sectarians are atheists posing as protestants

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