Wednesday, May 18, 2011
A Radical Network
What the gospel needs most is not intellectual brokers or cultural diplomats but rather saints who have taken up the way of the cross and in whose lives the gospel is visible, palpable, and true.
Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom
Here in Orange County, CA, we continue to have conversations with many Christians and non-Christians who deeply lament the same thing: Christianity in North America has been co-opted by a “civil religion” that equates belief in God with the fate of America. On top of that, the tenets of this “accomodated Christianity” (a "Christendom" or "Constantinian" worldview) are largely ordered around personal piety (namely "family values") and future salvation (heaven as a disembodied wonderland . . . only if the rapture does not happen before then).
But deep down, people sense that this is a far cry from the radical vision of God's reign inaugurated by the Jesus Christ portrayed in the Gospels. As someone who did not grow up in an Anabaptist community, I found during my time at seminary that Anabaptists — from the 16th to yesterday — have been the Christian tradition that best subverts this counterfeit Christianity defined by “civil religion,” “personal piety” and a “guarantee of future salvation when I die.”
At their best, the Anabaptists have consistently refused to find God in the centers of power and privilege, worked tirelessly for peace and justice (at structural and philanthropic levels), and have equated salvation with the risky adventure of following the way of Jesus now — and into eternity. But out here in this desert of “accomodated Christianity” called Orange County, virtually no one knows what an Anabaptist is. Where can we go to connect to the Anabaptist movement?
This week, we follow the lead of our brothers and sisters of the Radical Reformation by launching the Anabaptist Network of North America, or ANNA. It is a place where Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, Urban Radicals and Naked Anabaptists can go to find all those who have affinities with those daring disciples in the 16th century who courageously rebaptized each other in adulthood. The levees are breaking from Schleitheim to Seal Beach. Anglicans, Catholics and Wesleyans are coming out of the Anabaptist closet by clicking on to ANNA and joining the conversation.
ANNA provides a point of entry for jaded and lamenting Christians who seek to identify, belong and commit to a wider movement alternative to “accomodated Christianity.” ANNA also facilitates partnerships among local worshipping communities by sharing resources and collaborating in the heavy lifting of God's reign: the hard and holy work of releasing peace on earth. Lastly, ANNA provides a brainstorming session for North American Anabaptists (like our global counterparts) who, over time, solidify core convictions that we commit to embodying on this accomodated continent.
ANNA does not replace local groups or national denominations, but instead provides a place where communities, individuals and families can find other local Anabaptist communities to join or partner with. Networks can only work if hubs are healthy. And hubs become more effective when the network carries more missional energy, vitality and creativity from all corners of North America.
We see ANNA as a crucial component of President of Eastern Mennonite College Myron Augsburger’s vision of “a fellowship of shalom rather than a structural organization.” Unlike Augsburger, we prefer “network” over “alliance” because we think “network” conveys a more hopeful 21st-century symbol of connecting rather than the 20th-century “us-versus-them” warrior connotations of an “alliance.” After all, networks are high-speed, non-hierarchal and give equal dignity to both the individual and the larger tradition.
One of the most powerful aspects of ANNA is its potential to facilitate a dialogue — online and face-to-face — among suburban, rural, inner-city and immigrant Anabaptist communities. The reign of God is multi-colored, multi-gendered, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural. If we are really going to take seriously Martin Luther King Jr.’s lamentation that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o' clock on Sunday morning,” then we can utilize the gift of our multi-dimensional tradition better by being networked.
North American Anabaptist witness can be tremendously enhanced with an easily navigated network that features Al Taylor in Harlem, Joanna Harader in Kansas, Shane Claiborne in Philly, Hyun Hur in Los Angeles, Isaac Villegas in Chapel Hill, Jason Evans in San Diego and Sarah Thompson in Elkhart (and so many more!). What we are longing for is to swim in a blessed heterogeneity (“from every tongue and tribe and nation”) right here in North American Anabaptism. The Network is not just a symbolic work, but a real-life, roll up our sleeves, dynamic project that energizes, inspires and equips us all for the work of ministry. The network will be defined by how well we can see each other and put our faith in action together. Ideas are welcome for how to continue to incarnate the network within our daily lives and communities.
More than 100 years ago, the philosopher of religion Ernst Troelsch labeled the Anabaptists as “sectarians,” a minority report of Christians who shunned culture and migrated to their countercultural enclaves. Indeed, over the past 500 years, some of our communities have had that tendency. ANNA will give us cultural space to come out of our caves and meet one another for mutual encouragement and creative collaboration (“to spur one another on in love and good deeds”) as we work tirelessly to embody a vision of God's reign that subverts accomodated North American Christianity. The Network is just a click away. Will you join us?
Epilogue: You might be an Anabaptist if...
1. You love the Jesus of the Gospels but you are skeptical of the way Christianity to portrayed by the North American Church.
2. You are convinced that real Christianity would never justify war and violence.
3. You are compelled by a more simple lifestyle that resists consumerism and materialism.
4. You are tired of folks talking about their pastor like everyone else talks about celebrities.
5. You believe that God privileges the poor and most vulnerable members of society and calls us to do the same.
6. You are uncomfortable celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden and/or think it is creepy to pledge allegiance to the flag while proclaiming "one nation under God."
7. You think that real faith in God is not just "belief," but a lifestyle of risk, adventure and mystery.