I never liked Anabaptism. In fact, I actively looked for examples of Mennonites that broke away from traditional stances like nonviolence. As a high school student, I can remember taking pride in the church my Grandpa grew up in because a bulletin from the 40’s revealed over twenty young men away fighting in WWII. As a college student (especially during the first couple of years) a serious moment for my friends and I was when we drove past a US flag. Each time we’d salute it in unison and then put our finger on our check symbolizing a prideful tear falling. Until the earlier part of my mid twenties, any Anabaptist theological positions having to do with nonviolence or nationalism made me cringe. Ironically, it was Anabaptism (amongst other things) that drew me into the Brethren in Christ Church in my late twenties.
I’ve often said that I grew up Mennonite but not Anabaptist. None of the churches that I was part of throughout childhood (and into much of young adulthood) embraced an Anabaptist ethic, especially when it comes to refusing violence like Jesus taught us and proclaiming him to be the only King worthy of our allegiance. I was embarrassed of those elements of my “radical” roots, and I wasn’t alone.
Then, I started reading books in college that hinted toward Anabaptist convictions, naming them in a positive light. By the time I entered Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary in 2007, I was already convinced that I could never join the military because I couldn’t trust an earthly authority to command me to kill – but I was still no pacifist. The biblical text seemed to point toward nonviolence but it all seemed too irrational to me: Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant that!
The summer following my first year of seminary a tour bus powered by used cooking grease showed up in Fresno. Two guys, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw jumped out and gave a presentation about their book Jesus for President. The passion with which they spoke and the articulate biblical arguments they presented finally convinced me to let go of my fears and embrace nonviolence as normative for Christian discipleship.
I now could, as Greg Boyd (another key influence) has often reminded me, get all of my value, worth, and security from the revolutionary enemy-loving God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ! This not only inspired a fresh wind of the Spirit in my own faith journey, but also spurred me on in my calling as an eventual church planter to proclaim this truth with boldness and humility. This “tipping point” in my theological/spiritual journey is why I write about this theme as often as I do and with the passion that I do.
For those who hold to some version of “nonviolence:” What caused you to embrace this conviction?
For those who wish they could adopt “nonviolence,” but still struggle: What is the “tipping point” that you are waiting for? What questions are still hard for you (specifically those dealing with the New Testament and the early church)?
For those interested in a Biblical Theology of nonviolence, see my series: Nonviolence 101.