Collection of five articles in a series: Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale Part 5, Part 4 , Part 3 , Part 2 , and Part 1


ABSTRACT

This  is the collection of five articles in a series: Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale Part 5, Part 4 , Part 3 , Part 2 , and Part 1 . In the first of these articles I outlined my general personal story of when I immersed myself in Mennonite communities in the USA, France and Germany. (Some communities were only a few generations from having been Amish.) The second article attempted to compare and contrast the practices of “shunning” between Amish and other christian traditions, including one non-Amish, non-Mennonite fellowship which I have belonged to over the past decade and a half . Next, in the third or preceding article, I looked at (and compared and contrasted) the Amish, Mennonite and other christian traditions that emphasize adult baptism. Again, in each of these narrations or essays, I share my personal stories. I will do so again today in this piece. The last of the 5 articles focuses on the simple living focus of life choices that Anabaptists and Omanis have preferred historically.

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite:  5 Part Tale

 Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite?  Part 1Part 2 ,  Part 3,  Part 4, and Part 5.

 

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?]

Posted on October 13, 2016by eslkevin

 

 

 

By Kevin Stoda, a believer with similar beliefs and practices to Mennonites and Amish world-wide     

 

I came across the first edition of Steven M. Nolte’s History of the Amish (1992) at a second-hand bookstore in Joplin during my last visit to Missouri.

 

I am thinking of writing up an article entitled “Almost Amish (Almost Mennonite)”.  As I was actually raised in a Catholic Church and as my mother is a United Methodist minister, just reading through Nolte’s book  I gain a lot of important insight into the the lives of my peers and my own formative college years at my alma mater, Bethel College (Kansas), a General Conference (founded) Mennonite [1]college– and into the subsequent two decades I experienced as I continued to attend Mennonite fellowships in France, Switzerland,  Germany and the USA, i.e. as the opportunity to attend such fellowships came to me.[2]

For example, for the first time,  I learnt in chapter 8 of Nolte’s original 1992 publication  that I had  been attending on an off throughout the 1980s the very last Amish congregation in Europe.

 

This Amish community had been located was  in Rhineland-Palatinate, near where I worked on several strawberry farms for six months in 1984 (the first year that I left the USA to work abroad).  I went to church on Sundays with the children and grandchildren of the members of this last Amish fellowship on the continent.

NOTE: Until  around 1937, the last two Amish churches in Europe were near  Ixheim, which after incorporation became the town of Zweibruecken, the Bundesland of Rhineland Palatinate and located just a few kilometers from Saarland and Alsace where other Amish communities had been active through the early part of the 20th century..  A quick review of the Online Mennonite Encyclopedia states, “This was the last Amish Mennonite congregation to merge with the South German Mennonite Conference.” If I had settled  more permanently near Zweibruecken or another Mennonite community in Germany or France in the 1980s when I lived, worked, and studied, I might have gotten babtized among them and joined their community.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as an adult, I was thrice close to getting babtized into a Mennonite fellowship as I lived in Kansas and attended fellowships in Newton, Kansas City, and Lawrence, Kansas

Hang with me!  I will explain how the Mennonite walk dove-tailed with and helped build my world view, even as I continued to travel and work around the  world, like a man without a country on earth or like a man in search of a good community to live and stay in….

I will try to blog more on this topic soon as I complete the book of Nolte’s and gain further insight into Amish and Mennonite history which I have happened into over these past 5 decades at a christian.

NOTES

 

[1] The General Conference Mennonite Church was a mainline association of Mennonite congregations based in North America from 1860 to 2002.[1]The conference was formed in 1860 when congregations in Iowa invited North American Mennonites to join together in order to pursue common goals such as higher education and mission work. The conference was especially attractive to recent Mennonite and Amish immigrants to North America and expanded considerably when thousands of Russian Mennonites arrived in North America starting in the 1870s. Conference offices were located in Winnipeg, Manitoba and North Newton, Kansas. The conference supported a seminary and several colleges. In the 1990s the conference had 64,431 members in 410 congregations in Canada, the United States and South America. After decades of cooperation with the Mennonite Church, the two groups reorganized into Mennonite Church Canada in 2000 and Mennonite Church USA in 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Conference_Mennonite_Church

 

[2]  Mennonite and Amish churches are really hard to find at times in most corners of the globe, even in North America and Europe.  For example, in Oman where I now live and work over the past 6 years, there is neither an Amish nor Mennonite fellowhsip closer that several thousand miles away.  When I last lived and worked in the state of Hesse in Germany prior to coming here, I had to travel several hours by slow train to fellowship with congregations I had gotten to know decades earlier in the Rhineland-Palatinate.

 

 

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?] Pt. 2

October 14, 2016

 

 

This is the second in a series of articles.  The first blog was published as Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?]

by Kevin  Stoda, a believer with similar beliefs and practices to Mennonites and Amish world-wide     

Among the many things that Amish have historically been noted for is that the community of Amish have practiced “shunning” within the fellowship.”Amish shunning is the use of social exclusion as method used to enforce Amish church rules.”  The concept for the practice comes from the scriptures.

I have witnessed both  ex-communication and shunning practice–even in non-Amish and non-Mennonite congregations around the world.  It should be noted, however, that shunning by Christians almost never applies to non-member of the fellowship or church concerned.  Why?  Well, in general, the first step would have to be ex-communication from the church.  Shunning would be only a second step.

Let me explain that the idea of shunning predates christianity and was practiced in the old testament. Matthew 5:23-25 describes some of the first steps which would proceed ex-communication or shunning from a community in the time of Jesus and before that.  In this scripture Jesus tells followers what they would do a long time before shunning or ex-communication would even be considered, “23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary … Do it while you are still together on the way…’”

Churches have historically usually never shunned anyone without going through a lenghty arduous process.

Of course in Amish and other church heritages, many exceptions–and often bad examples can be found. This is because “”worldly” institutionalism is at work. To combat trends leading to worldly ways, from the beginning  and starting in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Amish and many Mennonites scattered in small groups across the continent of Europe tried to avoid institutionalism by ususally allowing the  local churches extreme autonomy and by favoring groups of laymen as the leadership–while hired preaching or paid ministers was unheard of in those days.

Both the Amish and Mennonites in those early days often met in homes and had meals together afterward–fellowshipping with one another as much as they could.  I recall that even in the 1980s, while in my days living and studying at a Mennonite college in Kansas, I spent quite a bit of time attending “house churches”,  where I never once observed shunning in practice.

Jesus also stated in Matthew 15-17, “15 If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c]17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”  This verse, too, indicates that long before and entire church would be asked to recognize an ex-communication or shunning that many  procedures were put in place in most churches.  Only after the long number of procedures or  practices have been followed usually over many months would to institutional rules related to ex-communicating or  shunning be considered for implementation.

In short, first, one member of the congregation will approach the party that seems to be misbehaving according to the church “Ordnung”. [1] If no change is witnessed in the behavior over time, the next step follows.  In this next step, more community members come over to help with reconciliation quiet discussion of matters. Only when attempts to reconcile the growing schism between the practicioner of the extremely worldy-ways and the rest of the fellowship has clearly failed will any ex-communication or shunning be considered.

The authors of the Exploring Amish Country website explains:

Contrary to popular belief, Amish shunning does not end of all social interaction, but it does involve rituals that remind the wayward of their sin and seek to bring them back into fellowship.

Imagine that you have joined and then left the Amish Church and you have now been shunned.

When you are shunned:

According to this website, Amish Shunning is based on Biblical teaching. In his letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul writes:

“9 When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers [ie. baptized Amish members or outsiders] who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.

11 What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian [ie. baptized Amish] yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don’t even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-12 New Living Translation)

In summary, [t]herefore, non-members and outsiders are not candidates for Amish shunning. 

I had noted in yesterday’s blog article, Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?] , that I was thrice almost babtized as a Mennonite over the last decades of the turn of the century.  I was open to it because of exhaustive readings of the scriptures, especially, the Book of Acts, and because of my having had Mennonite roommates in college whom I attended church and fellowship with regularly on Sundays and whom I met sometimes in small group Bible studies, etc.

 

I was finally babtized as an adult in the Persian Gulf of Sharjah in the UAE 1999 after having studied the Bible for several years (on-and-off) with members of the mission oriented International Church of Christ (the ICOC).  Later, I discovered that this church–like the Amish[2] and some Mennonite[3] fellowships today– used shunning and excommunication to  maintain what was known as strict discipling or strict discipleship practices among its membership practices.  For this reason, the International Church of Christ (like its forebears, including the Amish[4] and older Mennonite fellowships)  was labled as misleading cult by media and former members.

The Doctrines of the ICOC could be summed up as follows:

  1. Believe in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God.
  2. Trinitarian, believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and the sacrificial atonement.
  3. Baptismal Regeneration
    1. Baptism is necessary for salvation
    2. Baptism in their church with a proper understanding that baptism saves.
  4. Heavy discipleship

The ICOC was also criticized for its emphasis on church authorities or chain of command. A well-published apologetics of this church notes in response to such a charge: “The ICOC concept of biblical authority is shared by most evangelical Christians.

Interestingly, in  the 1980s and 1990s, the ICOC was one of the fastest growing denominations in the world.  It was even described by  national magazines in the USA and Canada as the  Intenational Churches of Christ (ICOC) movement. For two decades, religious observers watched, what many simply thought of as an “offshoot sect of the mainline Churches of Christ”. It grew from only 30 original members in 1979 to hundreds of thousands of members in well over a hundred countries by 2000.

Some outsiders investigating the ICOC note that some of the issues with ICOC and its babtism doctrine were already manifest in practice in the older so-called mainline churches of Christ.  The authors or apologists wrote: “Perhaps no issue has separated Churches of Christ from other evangelical and Protestant denominations than that of baptism. Though they deny a sacramental understanding of baptism, the traditional Churches of Christ’s doctrine (and that of the ICOC) is that baptism by immersion, in addition to faith in Jesus Christ, is necessary for a person to be saved.

Such issues of babtism have always been present in the world and charges against the Amish, Mennonites, the Church of Christ, and finally the ICOC have  been the most debatable area for me over the decades.  However, the issue of shunning was not something that I have ever followed as an ICOC church member or as a christian.

How do you stand on the issue of shunning and how has your church stood (on-and-off throughout history)?

As I read  Steven Nolte’s book on the history of the Amish, I am seeing that history repeats itself quite a bit.  Perhaps that is biblical.  It doesn’t matter what kind of Christian you are, history and life repeats itself or old things manifest them as new.  This goes for trends and practices in faith and life as well in our living and work-a-day worlds.

Finally, I will note that I have seldom had trouble expressing my disagreement with leaders in any ICOC fellowship.[5]  For example, I wrote this open letter some years ago and shared my ideas for years before sharing: Dear Church of Christ, ICOC, Mennonites, and Conservative Evangelicals or Pentacostals–ROLE OF WOMEN IN FELLOWSHIP, CHURCH AND AS INDIVIDUALS.

Have you had trouble talking things over with leaders of your church?  If not, what is stopping you.  ARE YOU AFRAID TO BE SHUNNED?

 

NOTES

[1] “The Ordnung: The Ordnung is an oral tradition of rules and expectations that govern every aspect of Amish life, private, public and ceremonial. Rather than being a written set of rules that must be memorized, the Ordnung is taught by living it, much like children absorb and learn their native tongue by living it. It’s a code of conduct that evolved over decades, and it differs slightly from one Amish congregation to another.

[2] 5 Beliefs That Set the Amish Apart From Other Protestant Christians is an article that looks at some unwritten Ordnung or Dogma of the Amish.

[3] Some still question whether Mennonites are christians. ( The same has been stated of ICOC members over the decades, too. ) See:

4 Beliefs That Set Mennonites Apart From Other Christians ,

Brief Statement of Mennonite Doctrine – Anabaptists .

and

Who We Are – Mennonite Church USA

I should note here that the Mennonites originally from Holland and Northern Germany usuually never practiced shunning. This was done more by those annababtists in Switzerland, southern Germany, and Alsace/Lorraine.

Shunning was thus not practiced much by the Mennonites in North America (or Europe) after 1800.  Meanwhile, shunning has been practiced by the Amish in North America until the present time.

[4]  Some also still question whether Amish are christians.  the same has been stated of ICOC members over the decades, too.  See: Amish Faith and Their Beliefs – LancasterPA.com

and

Are the Amish Christians? What Do They Believe?

or

The Amish and Salvation – CARM

[5] It should be noted that not all ICOC congregations are huge mega-churches as has been portrayed in the news.  I was babtised into a fellowship in the UAE in 1999-2000, which had only enough members to meet in the front living room of one of the members 2-room apartment.  Later, for the 6 years I lived and worked in Kuwait, the fellowship remained that size of fellowship–able to meet in a large front room of an apartment in the south part of the city.

In other words, some people join the ICOC because it is small, family-like, encouraging, and members are often meeting for lunch in same apartment or house after the weekly service for fellowship food and coffee.   This compares to traditional Amish fellowships, especially as these smaller fellowships are led by lay-ministers.

 

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale, Pt. 3

October 15, 2016

 

 

This is the third in a series of articles.  The first blog was published as Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?] .  The second was Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? [Would that be an article of interest?] Pt. 2 .

by Kevin Stodaa believer with similar beliefs and practices to Mennonites and Amish world-wide     

I would suppose that less than 5 to 10% of the christian churches and fellowships in the world emphasize and believe in the need or practice of adult baptism.  In this context, the decision for an adult to make his or her own choice to be baptized publicly requires a fairly supportive community around them in the days and moments leading to the usually public act of baptism.  One has to study the scriptures many times in order to make such a choice.  The choice often–but not always–involves going against many church traditions–or it only the decision to ask for adult baptism only typically follows after lengthy discussions and interviews  about the historic practices of baptism.

Usually, a lot of soul-searching and prayer goes into the days, months or years leading up to the time an adult gets baptized. In short, it is seldom a whimsical event. Jesus, himself, was baptized as an adult.  His followers are baptized as adults to mark confession, reconciliation and a hoped for continued transformation of the individual–with the help of the community of believers one is living and worshiping with.

Some churches require full-immersion for baptism; others are baptized in rivers.  Still others simply get water sprinkled on their heads as is practiced in the great majority of child baptisms around the world–i.e. in those great majority of churches and fellowships which undertake infant baptism.

Both my parents, my father who was raised Roman Catholic, and my mother, who was a United Methodist minister for well over 2 full-decades, believed in the sufficiency of baptism as infants. However, by the time I was 18 years-old and ready to go off to college, I was ready to  make most choices in life based more upon what I myself read in the scriptures.

I should admit though I was young and somewhat rebellious to my parents and the world my forefathers had left me that I was into listening to and arguing with “educated authority”, and in my family, my mother–with both an MA in Evangelism and another MA in Theology–had to be my authority to turn to at key junctions in my life, i.e. when it came to decisions of faith and life.

This bowing to my mother’s (a Methodist minister’s) authority is something, which for years dominated my thinking for me. So, when I was 20-years old and my roommate at college, Eric Gale at Bethel College, chose to undergo baptism in the New Creation Mennonite fellowship in Newton, Kansas, I turned to my mother and asked her opinion.

I had been attending that fellowship for sometime.  The fellowship met in the basement of homes, where during the early 1980s the church was still fully part of an intentional community.   Eric Gale, my roommate,  discussed his reasons for being baptized.  by the way, he had grown up in a similar intentional community, known as Reba Place, in Evanston, Illinois.However, even though many of his peers decided to get baptized in their early teens, Eric determined to spend several  more years studying the matter before making a decision himself.

I believe that I was quite interested in being baptized at that time,i.e.  circa 1982. After studying the scriptures and discussing the matter with some other Mennonites on campus, I then asked my mother her opinion of “adult baptism”.  My mother stated that she saw it essentially as a “rebaptism”–for people like me who had been born as infants. She indicated that she herself had agreed to baptize adults on numerous occasions–in the church or in a lake, i.e. upon their request.  However, my mother, the minister, did not find adult baptism to be necessary for one already baptized as an infant.

With that thought from my own mother (i.e. with for more Bible study experience than I)  in mind, I put away the idea of baptism for nearly two decades.

It wasn’t until a year or more after my sister was baptized as an adult in the International Church of Christ in Los Angeles in 1998 and later that same summer my older brother was baptized in another ICOC fellowship in Oklahoma City  that I finally began to fully put aside the simple authority or words of my mother and once again began to consider what the scriptures said on baptism.  (That is, I was seeking my own understanding of scripture on this issue once again.)

My Bible studies over the next two years involved both Navigators and members of the ICOC communities on two continents as I continued to review and study scriptures and discuss  my eventual decision to be baptizes while I was working and teaching in the Middle East at the very end of the second millennia.

I was baptized or immersed in the cold sea of the Persian Gulf one March evening in 2000.  This came only after reading and discussing the Bible over many months with my ICOC disciplers[1], who lived in Dubai.

In this writing, I haven’t revealed really many details  about my nearly 20 year journey to be baptized as an adult.  Instead, I am simply sharing what common understandings about adult baptism are around the world.  In doing this, I now share from a church or fellowship, which I have never in my life attended a meeting. It is from an online source known as Crosswalk. (Later, I will return to the Amish and Mennonites & baptism, so the story comes full circle.)

Is It Important To Get Baptized As An Adult?

Dr. Roger Barrier of Crosswalk wrote the following to a young adult, named Britney, who was considering being baptized and who wished to more about why an adult would be baptized. Barrier wrote Britney the following explanation:

Baptism is like a wedding ring. We put on a wedding ring as a symbol of our commitment and devotion. In the same way baptism is a picture of devotion and commitment to Christ. A wedding ring reminds us and tells others that we belong to someone special. In the same way, baptism reminds us and others that we are devoted to Christ and belong to Him.

The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of our commitment to Christ. It is the first step of discipleship (Acts 8:26-39).

According to Romans 6:1-10, baptism pictures at least three things:

First, baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. As we stand in the water we are representing Christ on the cross. As we are dipped underwater we illustrate the burial of Christ. As we come out of the water we demonstrate the resurrection of Christ.

Second, baptism is a personal testimony to us of the washing away of our sins. As we go under the water we reconfirm that our sins are forgiven and as we come out of the water we are resurrected to live a new life in Christ.

Third, baptism represents our personal identification with Christ. Paul declared in Romans 6:3-4  “We were buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in a new life” as forgiven followers of Christ empowered by the Spirit of God.

Being sprinkled or having water poured over your head when you were an infant, or too young to understand, missed the point of baptism on all three levels.

Why? Because the Bible teaches that commitment to Christ always precedes baptism. In fact, baptism is your testimony of surrendering your life to Christ. The New Testament order is not be baptized and then receive Christ. It is always first you receive Christ and then you get baptized. If you were not aware of submitting to the Lordship of Christ then it is impossible to think of your baptism as a personal commitment to Christ.

It is now important to be baptized as an adult. I recommend that you proceed with Biblical baptism as soon as possible.

Remember, baptism never washes away sins; the blood of Jesus washes away sins.

Perhaps you are wondering where infant baptism originated. Let me give you a brief overview of the source and the evolution of infant baptism. In essence, infant baptism arose from the teachings of some early second and third century church fathers that baptism washed away sin. This meant that if you died without being baptized then you died with your sins unforgiven and thus went to Hell (or purgatory as that concept developed over time). With the high infant mortality rate in the early centuries, the concept of baptizing babies as soon as possible came into vogue. Since it is not necessarily good to push baby heads underwater, the idea of sprinkling took hold.

The Greek word for “baptism” is “βαπτιζω”. The English letters look like this: “baptidzo.” The word does not mean “sprinkle or “pour”. The Greek word “baptidzo” literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”. For example, when Odysseus was escaping from the Cyclops he took a stick and “baptized” the stick into the eye of the Cyclops. He did not sprinkle it in. He fully immersed it in.

The early translators of the Bible from Latin into English faced a problem with how to translate the Greek word, “baptidzo”. If they translated the word as “immerse” a firestorm would erupt because most of the church practiced sprinkling and not full immersion.

To understand the cultural and religious implication, think of the Anabaptists who were persecuted mercilessly (including death) for practicing baptism by immersion.

So, instead of translating the word, the early translators transliterated the word by simply taking the Greek letters and transposing them into English. The word “baptism” was not translated as “immersion,” it was transliterate as “baptize”. Crisis was averted and the early Bibles in English were less likely to be offensive to some and outright rejected by others.

You may find it interesting that early writings from some 2nd century Christian desert communities dealt with the practical issues of baptism. They taught that if not enough water existed for full immersion then pouring on the head was acceptable. If not enough water existed for pouring then sprinkling was acceptable. And, if water was in really short supply then sand may be used. This practice was expedient and probably necessary.

On the other hand, the Ethiopian eunuch surrendered his life to Christ as he was riding in the desert reading the scroll of Isaiah. He didn’t choose to be baptized by sand. He waited until he found a body of water large enough for immersion (Acts 8). There is no record that any babies or children were ever baptized in this manner. These were all adults.

Throughout the years of the Church, baptism by immersion has taken several forms. Some baptize by dipping three times in the “Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others use the Jewish model for baptizing Gentile converts into Judaism. The initiates wear white robes and are dipped three times forward and three times backward. The most common mode of baptism is once backward to portray the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

Well, Britney, I hope this sheds some light on the subject of baptism and I hope it is helpful to you in making up your mind regarding your own baptism. Again, from my understanding, baptism is the first test of obedience to Christ. Go get baptized. It will be a most meaningful and spiritual experience for you now as an adult.”

ANNABAPTISTS?

For non-Amish, non-Bretheran, or non-Mennonite readers I should add that “anabaptists are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the candidate confesses his or her faith in Christ, as opposed to being baptized as an infant. The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the movement.

As Dr. barrier noted above, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century, they experienced a great persecution in Europe for their beliefs and many emigrated to Russia and North America for this reason, i.e. to have more freedom to practice what they believed.  They were already in the late 1520s fully part of the radical reformation, which opposed domination of their lives by the larger continental churches and states. Only in the 1800s in North America did some Mennonites and Amish-Mennonite churches begin another missionary push of their faith into distant places, i.e. to Indonesia, Central America, and India for example.

In contrast to the Mennonites and what were known as the Amish-Mennonites, there were very few missionary pushes at all by the conservative Amish once they arrived in America.  This does not mean that other peoples of a variety of creeds and faiths haven’t joined the Amish over their for centuries in the New World.  It just means that the Amish focus on living out each day and have seen themselves as a light to the world.  People can come and join them but they do not involve themselves in the politics or movements of this world, like the ICOC push, stemming initially from Boston in the late 1980s to plant churches and baptize new believers in 100 countries in a ten year span.

Interestingly, since  the mid-20th century, the larger Mennonite fellowships of North American and Europe have, in their way, followed the ideas of the Amish and have to a great degree under-emphasized mission and calling others to a believers baptism. Sure, I recall the congregations in Newton and Lawrence giving the entire membership on a random Sunday morning to study the Bible and to be baptized–however, I never perceived it as a fully direct invitation to me. ( I saw myself as a visitor to the fellowships for the most part.  Only once, in February or March 1995–as I was preparing to graduate from the University of Kansas and look for work abroad once again–was I invited directly by a Mennonite to consider being baptized and becoming a full member in their community.[2]

In short, neither the Mennonites nor the Amish I have come to no over the decades seem to want to be seen by the world as “pushing their religion, their faith and practices” onto the others they live with in this world.  They seem to forget that Jesus told them (Mt. 28:16-20), “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  this is fascinating because even the Catholic church has begun to study the rite of initiation of adults into its churches as this new Millennia dawns.

In the next session, I will share a bit more about what does, in fact appeal to me about the Mennonites and Amish communities I have known.

 

NOTES

[1] It is true that many of the ICOC members and disciplers had not experienced a strong discipling community before becoming members of the ICOC.  I told them that I had known such communities over the years and recalled the 2 small Mennonite fellowships, like New Creation and Jubilee, which I had attended back in the Newton , Kansas area in the early 1980s. Later, in Lawrence, Kansas I attended a similar supportive fellowship and was almost baptized there in 1995. (I had also known good discipling outside the ICOC through members of the Navigators in both Germany and in Texas.)

[2] I have to admit that by 1995 it is probable that, after having attended Mennonite fellowships on-and-off for 15 years, I was already seen as a member by many in the Mennonite fellowships I attended, i.e. the members had simply forgotten that I had never  been baptized or that I had never been directly asked by any member to consider being baptized.

 

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale (Pt. 4)

October 22, 2016

 

by Kevin Stoda, Oman

Recently I began a series of articles entitled: Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite?  Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

In the first of these articles I  outlined my general personal story of when  I immersed myself in Mennonite communities in the USA, France and Germany.  (Some communities were only a few generations from having been Amish.) The second article attempted to compare and contrast the practices of “shunning” between Amish and other christian traditions, including one non-Amish, non-Mennonite fellowship which  I have belonged to over the past decade and a half . Next, in the third or preceding  article, I looked at (and compared and contrasted) the Amish, Mennonite and other christian traditions that emphasize adult baptism.  Again, in each of these narrations or essays, I share my personal stories.  I will do so again today in this piece.

In this article, I will look at the heritage of non-resistance and non-violence which have been manifested in both the Amish and Mennonite fellowships one can observe historically.  However, my own experiences lived out during my days at Bethel College in the early 1980s will be shared first.

Opposition to state control of beliefs and practices is certainly a facet of the traditions and experiences historically of Anabaptist peoples. It is likely why I was  almost subconsciously pulled to study and live in Mennonite communities after I left high school.

1980 was the year I graduated from high school and went off to Bethel College, KS.  I had known a few Mennonites and Quakers prior to going off to Bethel College, but I had  been somewhat afraid to discuss my views on the newly restarted Selective Service with anyone before I went to Bethel.  The selective service system was resurrected  under Jimmy Carter’s presidency at the dawn of that decade. It was clearly done in response to Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and after the taking of hostages in the USA Embassy in Iran, which began the same year.  (In short, a belief that the USA had been too weak to stop these things enveloped the American mindset throughout the l980 presidential campaign. )

In my article, How to Think and Survive in a Militarized US Society, I have previously, described in more detail how it was certainly beneficial  for my formation and education as young progressive christian adult to live in the Bethel Community from 1980 to 1985.  (This 5-year  period includes one year of experiential learning living and working on Mennonite family farms in rural France and rural Germany.  That experience was operated by Mennonite Communities in European countries and was part of a  program called Intermenno Trainee. )

At Bethel College in Kansas, I did not immediately join many of the war-resistant groups or support groups for resisters on campus.  Nor did I know what to think of an organization known as a The Peace Club at Bethel that first autumn. In my high school days, I had been a bit to shy or out of inner circles to be involved in clubs.  It would take a few years before I determined I could work and even help lead such organizations.

Meanwhile, like dozens and dozens of my peers at BC,  I too had quietly determined by autumn 1980 that I would not register for the selective service, i.e. register for a draft to go to war  any time soon.

Having come from the combined Catholic and United Methodist traditions of my two parents to attend Bethel College (a General Conference Mennonite related institution), I likely had too little education or  too little religious training in the thought and teaching of non-resistance in my own churches history. In short, I lacked personal experience with traditional Peace churches to fall back on religious beliefs as grounds to oppose a national draft, i.e. as many of those Mennonites around me were doing or considering doing in the coming months.

However, I should explain that as an 11  old, I had already begun to try and to act out the witnesses of non-violent resistance of my heroes, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, whose life stories I had come to know in my earliest days as a young reader and one who grew up in the Vietnam and post-Civil Rights era of the late 1960s and 1970s.  Combined with my readings on Pastor MLK was a growing personal relationship with Christ, which seemed to call me down a non-violent path.   For example, by the age of 12, I refused to fight my brother any more–no matter how much  he egged me on or even struck or attacked me.

In schools,  I refused to fight bullies–even though the PE coaches whom I knew fairly well had offered to get boxing gloves, so I could have-it-out with the bullies in a so-called fair fight.  I opposed these forms of fighting because my personal close relationship to Jesus and scriptures called me to side with non-violence as the option for best practices as a grown-up on planet Earth.  (I was spiritually called to see myself–along with others–just passing through this planet.)  This, combined with my long-term world-view that violence must turn to peacemaking, guided my initial decision to join many others in opposing the Selective Service requirement first under Carter–and then under Reagan.

At the same time that I was leaving high school and preparing to go off to college in early 1980,  many of my male (and female) Mennonite BC classmates and some of their female supporters had already become much better trained, more informed,  and more-educated on the Christian traditions and their own Church traditions in the areas of non-resistance or non-violence.  Moreover, I should add that many of my peers at BC actually had parents or grandparents who had served in hospitals or in foreign lands as Conscientious Objectors to War in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s when the draft in the USA for young males was in full-swing.

Besides my personal  aversion to allowing myself –i.e., “if I could avoid it”– to get intentionally involved in a physical fight to prove-I-was-right ( in school, in- or out-of-war), I arrived at BC with a philosophical and logistical argument against encouraging the government to think I would support a call to any war in my name simply at the drop of a hat.

In a series thought experiments and dreams, in which I observed that only after great reflection and detailed open discussion among soldiers,  could any particular war or battle in war  to be undertaken “as a Just War“.  I saw through such dreams and thought-experiment at that anti-group-think practices and careful thoughtful discussion were required to determine whether a war would be necessary or if a fight was  to be considered just before God or before man.

However, I also asked myself, “In the midst of war, who actually had time to  think through, talk through, and properly hold such a discussion if you are already being commanded to act by one’s platoon leader?”  In other words, I felt that just war theory in practice was generally unworkable for someone already enrolled in the military or invested in a military campaign. (Long before I ever heard the term embedded with troops, I knew that it would be impossible to get a fair perspective in the midst of a battle.)

Worse still, rarely–if ever–do most military lawyers follow the practices of allowing a soldier to truly follow his own conscience once his fellow troops were in battle.

Finally, by the end of 1980, I pushed such fancies (dreams or thought-experiments) out of my head and decided that the best thing was to simply commit myself as fully as possible to avoiding the wars in the first places, i.e. I determined that I was neither to be part- nor pawn of a chain-rattling-state trying outspend its adversary in war power games or antics of the 1980s.  In December 1980, I told my family what I planned to do, i.e. not to register for the selective service the following month.

Having already grown up in the nuclear age of America of the 1960s and 1970s, I truly believe that long before my first year  studying at BC that WE–humanity– would be extremely lucky to even survive the 1980s, i.e. with so much military overkill in terms of nuclear tonnage already on hand by 1979-1980, my last year in high school. (See the graph above on the overkill tonnage, which was part of the nuclear arms race between the USA and the Soviets.  Looking back at that time and the feelings many had in 1980, we were almost a no-hope generation in several ways.  We felt that the world would end before a few years passed due to pre-programmed Mutually Assured Destruction.)

I should also add that I had spent the last part of the Spring of my senior high school year working at a McDonald’s restaurant and living near an Air Force base.  There, I worked alongside managers who had served 20 years or more in the armed forces already and who were skeptical of the warring ways of governments. Along side these military retirees at that same McDonald’s were also sons of military families.  I observed through these interactions that the USA  militarization dating back to the childhood of my own father had created a dependency-cycle that America and Americans needed to become less addicted to. (Even some of the so-called “military brats” whom I worked with questioned the rationale of ever signing themselves up for continuing that cycle of military dependency, which they had known growing up so well–as they hopped with their families from base to base for the formative years of their own lives.)

Like many of those “military brats” whom I worked with that spring and summer of 1980 at McDonald’s before going off to Bethel College, I understood that the very  moment I signed my name on a single line, indicating that I would  accept a national call for war or war-readiness, I would quite likely not  be able to get out of going to the army, navy, marines or air force if the government so demanded it of me. This strong feeling crept into my mind as I acknowledge that I did not belong to a traditional Peace Church.  I would be on my own, religiously and philosophically in many ways. [1]

Meanwhile, even the so-called Peace Churches were observing, too, that the Carter administration in 1979-1981 had made no move to even try and calm the worries of my friends who were Mennonite or Quaker.  In other words, the selective service re-instituted  in that administration made no provision at all for conscientious objector status by any American.  Quite obviously, selective service’s slow start-up  was simply being used as a propaganda tool against the Soviet Union (or Iran).  At least. that is the way it appeared to many of my cohorts at BC and I.

This ignoring of the needs of Christians who have witnessed in their history a stron bent  against war  and serving in the military would quickly lead to a clash in the American society during first half of the 1980s between many Amish, Mennonite, Brethran, and Quaker Christian communities with the state (and government prosecutors) under both the Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations.[2]

HISTORIC PEACE CHURCHES

I should note that most histories of conscientious objection to war and the draft in the USA relate a summary similar to this: “The first recorded conscientious objectors in America were members of religious sects whose faith principles forbade them the use of arms in warfare. The Quakers arrived first in 1656, with the Mennonites (and related groups, the Amish and the Hutterites) coming first in 1683; the Brethren (sometimes called Dunkards, Tunkers, Dunkers) arrived first in 1719. Smaller sects — the Shakers, Christadelphians, Rogerenes — joined them soon after. But America was not necessarily a safe haven for pacifists. At times they were considered heretics whose freethinking would be subversive to law and order.

In short, by the time that the first Anabaptists and Quakers had arrived in the Americas in the 17th century, early “Adult Baptizers” of Central and Western Europe had already been persecuted on that continent for over 100 years.  This was due to their various  religious beliefs, including a promotion of the separation-of-church-and-state.  In addition, their historic witnesses also envelope the belief that a Christian could (and should) choose to refrain from participating in war. Moreover, where there is conflict, one should either turn the other cheek or take only action that works towards peace and non-violent resolutions to the conflict.

Anabaptists usually have based their beliefs of non-resistance and non-violence on the life of Jesus Christ. They have often cited Jesus’ suggestion that one should be prepared to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39 or even go an extra-mile when working out relationships before with one’s enemies (Mt. 5:41).

When they arrived on the American frontier, Amish and Mennonites were sometimes attacked by native Americans or were abused for their beliefs and practices of their faith and traditions  upon their arrivals in the new lands.  During the years before the Revolutionary War, Quakers and Mennonites did not join in when their neighbors fought the Indians and worked on their forts. Their steadfast adherence to their stance against taking up arms eventually won them exemption from militia duty, and communities were generally content to let them stand aside, in part because they were also hard working and good neighbors who fulfilled all other civic duties.

During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars when conscription of men was the practice of the day in America, it is claimed that only a few of the Amish and Mennonites “saw anything wrong with paying the fines for not mustering, nor did they speak out against military recruitment, though there were exceptions by some individuals. Mennonites and Dunkards were mostly farmers who were frequently called upon to supply horses and wagons for army transportation needs, to contribute food for the consumption of the troops, timber for construction purposes, and blankets and clothing to keep the soldiers warm in the winters. On the whole they complied willingly with these demands. It is possible that they felt that the use made of their goods was the responsibility solely of the authorities. It seems that the only tenet to which they consistently held fast was against being conscripted.

Such a description or criticism of the Mennonites and Amish in those early American wars is likely to come from those, like the Quakers and intellectuals, who spoke up against conscription at every turn.  These men, including the likes of Emerson, protested and wrote publicly in periodicals and newspapers calling for an end to conscription.  In contrast, if one reads Nolt’s History of the Amish, the reader will find that most Amish, Mennonite and Brethren communities in America were divided on the issues of war and peace, i.e.  what was the appropriate way to respond to the nation’s leadership at war as a christian?

Due to the level of abuse faced by conscientious-objectors  during the first world war in both the USA and in Canada,   committees of both Amish and Mennonites came into being in the late 1930s and 1940s to work out agreements with the federal governments in time for WWII and the subsequent the Cold War.[3]

In his History of the Amish, Steven Nolt describes some of the injustices carried out against COs  throughout WWI, for example, “the War Department’s Military Intelligience Division kept Mennonites and Amish under surveillance.”  This was partially due to the fact that so many spoke German or German dialects.  However, these groups were also seen as opponents of the war bond movement and against the war in general.  Finally, the state assumed that by bullying the COs in military camps they could put enough pressure on those seeking CO status and their families the CO would buckle and give up their scruples or principals on war and peace.

In Ft. Leavenworth and other prisons or military camps for COs, some 45 COs died during WWI. Some were not released until 1920.  (Others suffered in solitary confinement.  See such a cell for COs at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.) Luckily, the majority of Amish and Mennonites returned home after their times in the military camps–or when they had finished some sort of alternative duty.

In the next war, COs would  served all over North America in Public Service Camps and around the world with the Red Cross and other organizations and occasionally in army units.  Even after the war, young Mennonites and Amish took animals and equipment to Europe for five year period in order to help redevelop the destroyed agricultural sector of that continent.

In short, by WWII, the leadership of the Anabaptists and other Peace Churches in America and Canada were much more prepared and had successfully worked out many alternatives to going to military camps or prisons for their young members who wished to follow the path of conscientious objection.

There were forestry and hospital assignments in Canada.  In the USA, the Mennonites and Amish even ran some of their own alternative farms and work camps as well,  whereby COs were often able to live and work with like-minded men.  Nonetheless, there were still notable events, like the takeover of Mennonite and Amish farms in Kansas to build airports for the Navy, which led to bitterness and at times jailing of Amish and Mennonites over the next decades.

Starting from 1947 till 1973, conscription was continued again as the USA was involved in wars in Asia and one-crisis-after-another in Europe as part of the Cold War fight between the West and the East.

Initially, Amish were the hardest hit by the continued war-footing in America.  Over the years, a number of Amish COs who went off to cities to do alternative serve in hospitals and other alternative service duties failed to return home–and if they did, some suffered reverse culture shock upon their return. Because of this, some Amish communities soon created their own old-folks homes  in order to allow conscripted boys to stay closer to home while doing their alternative service.

Finally, by the late 1960s and 1970s, there was so much opposition to war, especially, the Vietnam War, that President Nixon decided to cool down opposition to that very war by ending conscription in 1973.

Meanwhile, starting in the 1940s onwards, many Mennonites founded and helped create institutions to help those patients whom they had worked with and seen suffering in national and state medical institutions or asylums for the insane, i.e.  as COs.  The former COs  mantra was simply, “there has to be a better way.” This became the “guiding principle for the Mennonite mental healthcare institutions that were established as a response to the experience of conscientious objectors (COs) during World War II.”  At Bethel College and in hospitals in Kansas city, I met doctors who had served as COs year before going into medicine and mental health as careers later on in life.

Despite the positive work that COs  and ex-COs have done in medicine and missions around North America and abroad over the years, though, the question of how closely the (churchmen or) church and the federal government should be cooperating must be reviewed and discussed with every new generation.

That is likely why “[t]he first years of the post-Vietnam era were dedicated by pacifists to calling for amnesty for draft resisters and draft dodgers. [Next]Draft registration was reinstituted in July 1980; from then until 1985, over 500,000 men refused or failed to register. Twenty persons were prosecuted for not registering from 1980 through 1990. Students who did not register generally could not receive federal student loans, grants or work-study money; some states also denied educational financial aid. After 1986, no new cases were brought against non-registrants, and draft registration became almost a non-issue, until the Persian Gulf War.

In the early 1980s, members of various Mennonite Churches of the USA soon encouraged the creation of a private fund of interested donors  to pay for the education of those males at Mennonite colleges who, like many of my peers at Bethel College, refused to sign the Selective Service agreement upon turning 18 years old. By that time failure to sign up for Selective Service meant losing one’s right to federal government subsidies in education.

I really respected the churches and churchmen providing that that kind of support for committed non-registrant, non-violent  practitioners in America.  Most all of the Mennonite churches I visited (or knew of) in the 1980s in Kansas and elsewhere supported their youth in whatever decision they made on this important issue.

In conclusion, this commitment to conscience and a faith in a God who hates men’s wars and crimes against humanity is one reason I considered becoming a Mennonite several times in the 1980s and 1990s. When I graduated from Bethel in 1985, I felt like I had a network of people and a religious community who might be able to support me in standing-up for what-is-right over the next days of my life.

 

 

 

 

NOTE

[1] In summary, like Chuck Epp of Bethel College ( a classmate of mine from a Mennonite family in Nebraska), who was indicted for not registering for the selective service, i.e. the draft in 1982, I had philosophical arguments along with my christian beliefs.  Chuck was one of the first three Bethel College students who were indicted for not registering for the draft.  The other two had more traditional religious or church-supported convictions behind their decisions to not register.  Chuck (as I did)  saw that by putting his name on the selective service document as an acquiescense to support a great endless war machine that was already for nearly half a century been distorting our education and society.

I had allowed my older brother, who was attending a nearby Presbyterian college,  to know in December of 1980 that I was not planning to sign the selective service document the following month, January 1981, when I was required to.  However, I was put in extreme duress by both my father and brother in January to finally go and sign the document, i.e. because my mother was from a family that had many members who served in the navy most of WWII and most of the Vietnam War.  My father and brother explained that my motehr’s family did not know what a conscientious objector needed to do and would isolate my mother if I did not register.

I subsequently registered for selective service to potentially maintain peace between my mothers family and her, i.e. based on my father and brother’s explanations.

However, at the suggestion of many at a famous national onference held in March 1981 at Bethel College on Resistance to the Draft, I wrote Selective Service and asked that my name be expunged from the Selective Service roles.  I.e. I had fulfilled the letter of the law but would “at that time like to withdraw my name from the” war machine’s potential fodder list.

Selective Service wrote back and indicated that there had been many spies on campus that March 1981 at Bethel College.  They were aware of the call to encourage those who had registered to withdraw their names. The Selective Service, however, had no interest to comply with the request to expunge our names (the letter stated).

Finally, I should note that the government of the USA settled with Chuck Epp of Nebraska at Bethel College in 1984.  In short, Chuck Epp did not have to sign a government documented called the Selective Service registration if he could not in good conscience support the idea (of threatening the Soviet Union and any other government) through selective service registration. Meanwhile, another Bethel College student, Kendell Warkentine had already completed his community service for refusing to register for the Selective Service some years earlier.

[2]  Marc Becker’s work, Men and Women Who Dare to Say No:  Mennonite Resistance to Draft Registration 1980-1985, is most authorative on this period .

[3] “The C.O.s in World War I were sent to military camps where they had to convince officers and other officials that they were sincere in their conscientious objection to war, which, at times, resulted in abuse from the enlisted men. One unofficial source states that 3,989 men declared themselves to be conscientious objectors when they had reached the military camps: of these, 1,300 chose noncombatant service; 1,200 were given farm furloughs; 99 went to Europe to serve with the Friends Reconstruction Unit; 450 were court-martialed and sent to prison; and 940 remained in the military camps until the Armistice was fully enacted in 1918. Recent scholarship, though, has revealed that the number was closer to 5,500 (at least), not counting the men who immediately signed up to go into the noncombatant branches of the military rather than declaring themselves to be conscientious objectors.

The absolutist C.O.s who refused to drill or carry out any noncombatant service were sentenced to many years of hard labor in federal prison at Alcatraz Island or Ft. Leavenworth U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, often suffering persecution, manacling, and solitary confinement. Most C.O.s who had been imprisoned were released by May of 1919, though some of those thought to be the most recalcitrant were kept until 1920. At least 27 C.O.s died, mostly while in prison.

in WWI Online, https://wwionline.org/articles/conscientious-objection-during-world-war-i/

Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale (Pt. 5)

October 28, 2016

 

 

 

This article is the fifth in  as series: Almost Amish, Almost Mennonite? My Tale (Pt. 4) , Part 3 , Part 2 , and Part 1 . 

by  Kevin Stoda, Oman

Steven Nolt shares in History of the Amish the following: “In the spring of 1946 federal agents publically urged Amish farmers to give up horse-drawn farming practices and begin using tractors so as to boost American agricultural production.[p. 246).” [1] This was just after WWII had ended and many countries, especially the European countries–which Amish and Mennonites had known well from living there during prior centuries–were starving for food and livestock after 6 years of horrific war and long term occupations. “Amish farming practices were simply outdated and unscientific, the government was sure.  The Amish needed to mechanize, the Agricultural Department said, or the Old Order church would not survive economically.

Naturally, the majority of Amish did not listen to the government nor change their ways of farming and living greatly over the next generations.  Nolt writes, “Amish persisted in their use of horsedrawn equipment and reserved their  tractor engines for belt power. Fully automated farming destroyed the need for working together, and the Amish valued group cooperation.(p. 246)”  One Amish remembers his thoughts at the time, “[N]eighbors went for bigger tractors and combines and modern ways of farming….until no one seemed to have any use for his neighbors anymore (p. 247).”

According to America’s most recent census (2010) “the Amish are growing faster than ever. There are nearly 251,000 Amish people in America and Canada, according to Ohio State University researchers. That’s more than double the estimated population in 1989 of about 100,000..”  Most of the growth stems from “the fact that more Amish children are staying with the religion and starting their own high-fertility families.”  However, there are folks who are enamored by the manner that the Amish have shown of stepping back from the rat-race and viewing our fast moving world.  Many others, too, would like to live lives more simply and simply focus on living in a good community, living out one’s faith,  and raising a good family. [2]

One website from Lancaster, Pennsylvania explains as follows in answering this commonly posed  common question: Can an outsider join the Amish church/community?The response on the blog begins: “A local Amishman recently remarked, “You do not need to move here to adopt a lifestyle of simplicity and discipleship. You can begin wherever you are.”

Yes, it is possible for outsiders, through conversion and convincement, to join the Amish community, but we must quickly add that it seldom happens. First, the Amish do not evangelize and seek to add outsiders to their church. Second, outsiders would need to live among the Amish and demonstrate a genuine conversion experience and faith that results in a changed lifestyle. Third, it is extremely difficult for anyone who has not been raised without electricity, automobiles, and other modern conveniences to adjust to the austere lifestyle of the Amish. And to truly be a part of the Amish community one would need to learn the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.”  Another recent article, however, in the Guardian claims that currently there are only about 150 Amish converts in the USA.

I have certainly been enamored with some Mennonite and Amish practices over the decades.  One of them has been a consideration of trying to live a simplified life and not to chase after the Joneses.  My wife, Vik, who is from the Philippines, reveals such foci in her own lifestyle–even though she has likely never yet met a Mennonite nor an Amish.

Vik refuses to use a smart phone so as to avoid all the time wasted on it that she observes in actions of others around her.  Moreover, she recycles wooden crates and makes them into furniture and other useful items in her spare time.  She loves to grown her own vegetables and flowers and recycles wherever she can.

LIVING MORE WITH LESS

I once stayed with some Buddhists in  Japan.  It was the early 1990s and I was interested in the couple’s lifestyle and their missions with Burmese refugees in Southeast Asia.  While eating in their kitchen one evening , this couple, who lived near the ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara, referred to a recipe they were using in “The Mennonite”.

I was flabbergasted.

That couple was obviously referring to Doris Janzen Longacre’s the More-with-Less Cookbook, which they did have on their shelves.    This was a cookbook intended “to help people who wanted to cook more responsibly in light of world food needs—Living More with Lesswas a cookbook for simple, sustainable, sane and healthy living in a world where too many people lacked basic necessities for life.”

The book was written “in 1980, before living simply and ‘green’ became trendy and popular, Living More with Less was a practical guide for living in simple, sustainable, and healthy ways—ways that keep the future of the planet, and the plight of poor people, in mind.”  My Bethel College buddies–some who had worked in Mennonite voluntary service– and old Mennonite roommates from that period all had copies of “More with Less” in their kitchens.  Soon, I did too, i.e. on-and-off over the next three decades.

Mennonites and Amish aren’t the only faiths that have historically emphasized  the importance of living simply–i.e. long before down-sizing households (and feng-shui) became a fashionable trend in North America over the past 10 to 20 years.  The Quakers that I have known have often  been advocates of not only simple worship but of simple lifestyles, too.  Meanwhile, [s]ince at least the middle of the 19th century, when Henry Thoreau described his solitary two years in a hut on the shores of Walden Pond, the allure of the simple life has animated the imagination of generations of Americans seeking alternatives to relentless materialism.

“For me the witness of simplicity is a recognition that we ultimately trust in God,” said Greg Jarrell, a Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond graduate and member of Hyaets, a Christian community in a low-income Charlotte neighborhood.

Jarrell lives in an intentional community which focuses on serving the poor. Jarrell says, “I think that ultimately you can live more deeply into the world with less stuff….Attachment to a particular place and people, and to the small things that you actually need — being attached to those things enables to live in a deeper way. The cultural norm is to be detached. Anything that comes along that’s new, just by virtue of being new, is better and we throw away the old.

Even though he is Baptist, Jarrell notes that he has been strongly influenced by the Mennonites and other Annabaptists. He explains why: “A simplified lifestyle is closely related to Mennonites’ understanding of conscience and responsibility. The gospel requires a new set of glasses to look at the world, at government, at authority and at the environment.”[3]

Jarrell continues, “For Mennonites, living a simple life is part of a ‘broader package’ inspired by the gospel, one that includes a passion for peacemaking, nonresistance, compassion for the poor and care of the environment, he said. A simple lifestyle both shapes and is shaped by those additional concerns, he said — a theology succinctly expressed in a quote attributed to Ghandi and displayed on bumper stickers: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.’”[4]

In 2008, one of the “400th anniversary of the Baptist Church” events was celebrated in Amsterdam in “Singelkerk, a 17th-century Mennonite church not far from the site of a bakery where the first Baptist meeting is thought to have been organized by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, who may have worshipped at the Singelkerk.”[5]  Singelkerk is one of the churches I attended in Spring of 1984 when I was living and working on Mennonite farms in France and Germany.   In short, Singelkerk is not only an important church for the Mennonites; it obviously connects with Baptists and other groups founded in the radical reformation era in Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries.[6]

“For some pursuers of a simple life, the biggest obstacle is technology — or an assumption they’ll need to live without it. Rejection of technical devices, however, isn’t at the heart of simplified living, practitioners insist.”  For example, recently, “John Peters, a Mennonite pastor in Seminole, Texas, told the Avalanche-Journal in nearby Lubbock he remembers riding in a horse-drawn buggy while growing up. Today, he drives a car and watches DirectTV. As a pastor, Peters deals with change nearly every day, he said. Some of it he embraces, and some of it he battles.”[7]

 

OMAN BEFORE 1970:  HERMIT KINGDOM? SIMPLE LIVING

 

Up until 1970, much of what today is the country of Oman was focused on living a simple life and keeping out changes from the West, the East, the North and the South.  (You can see a great short video of the way the life looked here.) The country had less than 12km of paved roads.   In the city of Salalah, there was only one bicycle and people rode only donkeys and camels (or an occasional horse) otherwise.

Since 1970, the country of Oman has seen numerous changes–a fascinating whirlwind of modernization! Yet, the entire country and especially the region of Dhofar where I live, continue to accept change only about as fast as the people can mentally, physically, and spiritually absorb these changes.  In short, like the historical Mennonites and many Amish today, they are selective about what kind of modernization they will accept.  The Omanis, especially here in Dhofar, quite often put family before nation and the workplace.  If workplace demands too much of their time and lifestyle, they drag their feet and seek accomodation from the change-oriented leadership affecting their lives.

Oman’s trajectory of development and international affairs since 1970 both parallels and provides a contrast to all of its neighboring lands–the UAE, the Saudi Kingdom, and Yemen. For example, all of these countries are currently involved in war–but Oman refuses to take sides.

Omanis prefer to wear their traditional dress everywhere–and are required to do so when employed anywhere in the land or going to places, like public schools and colleges. Like the Amish, they do this for many of the same traditional reasons, including a focus on simplicity and identity.  Like the Amish, the dress is modest for both men and women.  Religion is essential to this identity and prayer times are announce regularly with live human voices calling people to the mosque or prayer times.  (This contrasts with Kuwait, the UAE, and other GCC countries, all of which sometimes simply play recordings of the prayer call for the masses to be aware of.)

Finally, Omanis are not intor building skyscrapers in their cities.  They prefer a more liveable dimension to life and won’t permit buildings to be created past 10 stories in any of their cities.  In short, as a whole, the Omanis have no intention of keeping up with either the Joneses or neighboring Dubai[9] which features the tallest building in the world, in terms or racing to embrace modernity and/or all the values or practices of their neighbors.

In some ways, it is a wonder to me that none of the Anabaptist groups, like the Amish of Mennonites, has chosen to settle in Oman.  The people here are similar in many ways and interests.

 

NOTES

[1] Nolt, Steven (1992) History of the Amish, Intercourse, PA: Good Books, pp. 318.

[2] According to The Young Center’s Amish Studies Blog: “The estimated population of the Amish of North America (adults and children) as of May 2016 is 308,030. This is an increase of approximately 8,030 since 2015, a growth rate of 2.6 percent. For a comparison of 2016 to 2011 population data, see Population Change 2011-2016 tables. For a comparison of 2016 to 1992 population data, see Population Change 1992-2016 tables. (For earlier population data and growth rates, see Population Change 1992-2013 tables and Population Change 2008-2013 tables.)”

States and Provinces. North American Amish communities are located in 31 states and three Canadian provinces. In 2016 the Amish established two new settlements in the province of Prince Edward Island.

South America. Horse-and-buggy-driving New Order Amish from Ohio established two settlements in South America in the fall of 2015—one in Bolivia and one in Argentina. Each settlement has one small congregation. Most of the members come from Old Colony Mennonite background. These settlements are not included in the North American population estimates.

Settlements. During the past year, 15 new settlements (geographical communities) were established and 7 existing settlements failed, a net gain of 8 settlements. New settlements are typically small, with only a few families in a single church district (congregation).

http://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/statistics/amish-population-profile-2016.

[3]  Dilday, Robert (2013) “A gift to live simply”, https://baptistnews.com/article/a-gift-to-be-simple/#.WBOBVNJ961s

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] In short, originally, the Baptists and Mennonites were cousins in faith, holding many of the same beliefs and practices originally.  There were even important correspondences and visits between the groups on the continent and the Baptist in  England during the 15th century.

[7] Dilday.

[8] “Three decades ago, Oman’s customs harked back to the Middle Ages. The wooden gates to Muscat, the capital, were closed each night to keep out intruders, and anyone walking about in the darkness (there was no electricity) was required by law to carry a lantern or risk being shot as a thief by city guards. The country had only three miles of paved road and 12 telephones.

Today, Oman is a paragon of development–blanketed by thousands of miles of highways, linked to the rest of the globe by the Internet and cellular telephones, open to commerce and tourism and building one of the largest container ports in the world to take advantage of its location on the world’s main east-west shipping lanes.

It also is one of the most tolerant countries in its region. The sultan has built churches and a Hindu temple for the Christian and Indian minorities amid the large Muslim majority. He has spearheaded the cause of women’s rights, admitting women to his Consultative Council and allowing them to serve as deputy ministers, a first for any government in the Persian Gulf region. He also appointed the first female ambassador from an Arab Gulf country.

The 59-year-old Qaboos, like several other of the emirs, sheiks and kings still in power in the Arab world, has been attempting to adapt the traditional monarchy to modern demands.

How has Qaboos effected improvements? It has not been by coercion. The country has a small police force and an even smaller army, both of which are almost invisible compared with those in other Arab nations. And it’s not oil money alone that has facilitated Oman’s advances–the country has less per capita than any other Gulf state except Bahrain, and it has had to spread spending over a much larger, geographically diverse area, approximately the size of New Mexico.

Qaboos said in a recent interview that one key to his success has been leveling with his people.

“I always try to be honest with them,” he said.

Relations between the Arabs and Israelis is one sphere where Qaboos has been candid. Unlike other Arab leaders who fulminate against Israel in public and quietly say in private that peace with the Jewish state is inevitable and a necessity, Qaboos has been frank about accepting Israel as a permanent state in the Middle East.

“We cannot continue to have conflicts and hostilities for the rest of our lives,” he said. “We have a responsibility for the generations who come after us.”

Qaboos preferred to win the loyalty of his subjects not by holding back the clock but by encouraging modernization–in the form of education, commerce, technology and democracy. In the interview, he said his greatest pride is the state’s Sultan Qaboos University, established in 1985, where–he noted proudly–a majority of the students are women. His government has announced plans to charter four more private institutions of higher learning.”

Daniszewski, John (1999) A Former Hermit Kingdom, Oman Emerges From Shell,  https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/omanhe.htm

[9] Burj Dubai is the tallest building in the world currently.  Neighboring Saudi Arabia is intent on eclipsing that record.

Here is what the Saudi Kingdom has planned.

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About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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