The image on the cover of this issue of Anabaptist Witness is a painting by our designer, Matt Veith, of a medieval church in Italy from a travel advertisement. The architecture—with the colonial-era buildings that bear resemblance to styles elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Americas—reminds me of a form of Christianity, and of Christian mission, deeply involved in European imperialism. The colors Matt has chosen are redolent of a sunset or an old photograph, perhaps suggesting an ending to this form of Christianity, consigning it as a relic of the past. Yet suns rise again. Architecture and the forms of life they express and engender endure. And imperial mission finds new life in travel, in advertising, and of course in the various modes of modern Christianity.
Although the essays in this issue were not written in response to a call on a specific theme, each of them wrestles in its own way with possibilities for a different, non-imperial form of mission—one centered in trust in God, in care for the marginalized, in healing transformation of conflict, and in resistance to injustice. Anabaptism is no stranger to imperialism, having been its victim and its agent—and sometimes both at the same time. These essays are born of that acquaintance and point to a more healthy and just Anabaptist witness.
Tim Erdel and Robby Prenkert anatomize one of today’s leading justifications of imperialism—the doctrine of American Exceptionalism. Speaking in particular to fellow US American evangelicals, Erdel and Prenkert warn readers of the temptation to political idolatry, and call for mission to find its roots once again in the logic of the Abrahamic covenant, in which God’s people are blessed in order to bless “all the families of the earth” (Gn 12:3, NRSV). “Nationalism, ethnocentrism, pride, or religious triumphalism,” they write, have no place in Christian mission.
If heeding Erdel and Prenkert’s call entails greater circumspection about the entanglement of mission and state politics, Johannes Reimer urges believers church Christians to get more involved in Russian politics. Situating his argument in a historical narrative of evangelical political withdrawal after Stalinist persecution in the 1920s, Reimer sees Russian evangelicals as having a crucial role to play in the pursuit of a politics of the common good in their setting.
The following two essays, by J. Denny Weaver and Dorothy Yoder Nyce respectively, suggest that attention to the shape and expression of our Christian convictions is a vital matter for just witness. Weaver takes aim at the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, judging that its lack of rootedness in the narrative of Jesus as a starting point for all doctrine allows the historic Anabaptist peace witness to become negotiable instead of being integrally woven into the very fabric of the Christian faith. A new, Jesus-oriented confession would, by its nature, be a missional peace confession—one that compellingly announces the good news of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who lived a life of nonviolent resistance to injustice.
For Yoder Nyce, Mennonite missionaries who share about the goodness of God’s creation need to review problematic assumptions about gender taken from misguided readings of the Genesis creation accounts. Drawing on classic and recent feminist hermeneutics, Yoder Nyce offers an egalitarian interpretation of the creation stories, an interpretation that affirms and values the full humanity of women.
Jonathan Bornman similarly points to another devalued group—refugee youth. Bornman delves deeply into the literature on mission, migration, transnational religious identities, and youth to sketch the initial lineaments of a missiology receptive to the gifts of refugee youth, who carry wisdom forged in the crossing of multiple kinds of boundaries.
Safari Dieudonné Kizungu was a refugee youth who came into contact with Mennonite Central Committee workers after fleeing Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Now a therapist and peace activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné shares his life story, including his struggle to embrace Anabaptist Mennonite teachings about nonviolent conflict transformation in settings of endemic violence and trauma.
In a concluding reflection, David Rensberger looks to Jesus’s parable of the sower for missional guidance. Noting that “a seed can only produce what it is itself,” Rensberger reminds us that “a reconciled, loving, caring, forgiving, peace-making, justice-doing church is the seed of a new humanity.” Communal embodiment of Jesus’s teaching is not an optional add-on to mission; rather, it is the heart of mission.
A set of reviews on recent books in mission history, theology, and indigenous justice closes the issue.
The articles in this issue were written prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 and its effects on global health and economics. Perhaps their provenance will make them feel remote from the setting in which you are reading them. But I hope that the insights they offer on mission—on a form of mission that has integrity in word and deed, a form of mission rooted in Scripture and the best of the Anabaptist tradition, a form of mission dependent on the Spirit of God—will be a salutary reminder that Christian mission can foster relations of care and justice, healing and hope across the world.
Jamie Pitts, editor