Gary Bryson hosts a program about anabaptism on ABC Radio National called “The Anabaptist Vision“…
[Part 8 of a 12-part series]
Show: ABC Radio National
Full Podcast: The Anabaptist Vision
Host: Gary Bryson
Guests: Mark Hurst, Chris Marshall, and John Hirt
Gary Bryson: The over-riding authority then for Anabaptists was and is the New Testament. All scripture is interpreted according to the teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand them. Perhaps the most important consequence of this is a fervent commitment to non-violence.
Peacemaking was and is in many ways one of the more radical expressions of Anabaptism, isn’t it, and it’s also one of the most controversial, and one of the other reasons that people were persecuted?
Mark Hurst: Yes. The Anabaptists in the 16th century and since have refused to join military forces, often refused to join police, and this goes back to an understanding of what the church is. For many Anabaptists, in the 16th century and even today, when they look at church history and they look at Constantine, rather than seeing that as a high moment in church history, they see that as the fall of the church, and they see the introduction of Christendom as something that they were against, that linking of church and state. So from the very beginning, they said no, the church should not be linked to the state, and because of that then, as Christians they didn’t get involved in the political forces, and particularly the police and the army, that they would use lethal force to enforce their ways.
Chris Marshall: When you come to the issue of violence, I think a huge cleavage opens up. As I understand the teaching of Jesus – and this is open to dispute, not everybody would agree – but as I understand the teaching of Jesus, he did reject coercive violence, he did encourage his followers to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, not to use the sword. And when you say well, if that’s the case and we look at Christian history, why has the church been so caught up in violence? To this day the dominant Christian position on war is the ‘just war’ theory, which believes that under certain circumstances, war is all but obligatory, and that it is not inconsistent with discipleship for Christians to participate in that. And so how does that square with the teaching of Jesus? Well, we either have some way of limiting the teaching of Jesus to personal conduct or to private areas so that it is no longer an obstacle to fighting a war, or we ignore it. So to take this seriously I think is quite radical.
Thorwald Lorenzen: It is very important that the church – actually all of religion, but in our setting, the church – has a clear peace witness, because we know that all over the world religion is functionalised to validate violence and war, what the state is still using as a political instrument. And here all religions are invited today, to make a clear commitment to non-violence.
Chris Marshall: The commitment to peace, the commitment to non-violence flows from an understanding of the teaching of Jesus. The Anabaptist tradition by and large said, well, this means that followers of Jesus must not be involved in lethal coercion, and I guess a corollary of that is if you’re not going to be involved in war, then it’s not enough just to withdraw into a kind of separate community of pacifism, but you also need to be committed to peace-making.
Thorwald Lorenzen: Today, as you know, for instance in the church’s stance with regard to the war in Iraq, there was basically a unanimous opinion of all the churches, and all the church leaders, to oppose the war. So we have reached the stage today where in light of modern military technology, most or perhaps all churches would agree that war is no longer an institution by which we need to do politics. So in a sense, the Anabaptist vision today has become ecumenical.