What about Anabaptism?

Most people will not care that I've joined the United Methodist Church, but some may be confused by this announcement because a year ago I was writing about my engagement with Anabaptism, specifically through the Mennonite Church (e.g., my interview with Tyler Tully in August 2013). I want to write this response preemptively letting people know why I changed course. Let me emphasize first and foremost it had nothing to do with being offended or upset by the doctrines and practices of the Mennonites as much as the simple realization that my wife and I didn't feel like we belonged to this tradition.

While we appreciate the emphasis on Christianity in "the way of Jesus"—something Wesleyans desire as well—there was some cognitive disconnect for us. We are both anti-war as much as we can be in good conscience, but we weren't sure we were as committed to a dogmatic stance on nonviolence as central to discipleship and ecclesial identity as the Mennonites. I do not want anyone to think that I've completely abandoned all of the principles of nonviolence, just that both my studies of the historical Jesus, my understanding of Christology, and my attempt to live an ethic of love in our world made it impossible for me to say that I would never use violence or condone violence. This has a lot to do with my personality: I am slow to embrace absolute statements.

Other less important details mattered to us. Mennonites are very familial, but it can be hard to feel a part of the community because of this. It is hard to feel like an insider rather than an observer. Maybe this is the cultural conditioning of Anabaptists because of their own history and experience, or maybe it has to do with their self-proclaimed "radical" approach to discipleship, but it is there. That is not to say that our local community wasn't welcoming. That is the opposite of true, but as anyone who has ever tried to find themselves in the maze of different traditions knows, just because a community is welcoming doesn't mean that their shape of Christianity easily welcomes outsiders. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and many other Christians with strong commitments to certain hierarchies and liturgies can be very kind and open to guests, but a guest may feel like guest perpetually because the practices remain foreign.

I jive with Wesleyanism because in many ways I want to participate in Anglo-Catholic worship and practice. John Wesley was an Anglican. On the other hand, I came into Christianity as a Pentecostal and while I am not a Pentecostal there is so much about Pentecostalism's spirituality, mission, and ecclesiological identity that thrives among the marginalized of society that I want to retain. Wesleyanism paradoxically (mostly because of the holiness aspect as well as the emphasis on experience) was an important seedbed for the development of Pentecostalism. I sit at the intersection of Anglo-Catholic and Pentecostal Christianities as does Wesleyanism/Methodism.

One day when I was day dreaming about moving back to my homeland in northern California I decided to Google Mennonite USA congregations in the area. There are two in all of the Bay Area and Sacramento. This didn't sit right with me. I don't deny that Anabaptism has an important place in the world more often than not testifying directly toward other Christians against their willingness to collude with the State or society's elite. On the other hand, that separatism prevents mission. I know much mission has been negative at times, even colonial in practice. On the other hand, if the Mennonites were the only Christians the Gospel would have never reached me in Napa, California. In my home valley there are two UMC and two more within driving distance. My Pentecostal friends are everywhere because they've passionately, zealously preached the Gospel, even though their preaching and practice contains some concerning elements. So, I am thankful for the witness of the Mennonite Church, for Anabaptism, but I am not Mennonite, I am not Anabaptist. 

I don't think this should offend any Anabaptist types. If you watch their discussions and debates online their arguments often highlight the many criteria of "true" Anabaptism. Traditional Anabaptists are quick to debate whether Greg Boyd can be a "real" Anabaptist because he pastors a megaChurch. While I respect the call to discipleship, and the seriousness of it, my time around Oneness Pentecostals made me allergic to an ecclesiology that spends a lot of time debating who is "real" and who isn't. I am sure there are Methodist who fall into this trap, but for the most part Wesleyan thought is quite flexible and Methodist ecclesiology tries to be welcoming, even when it fails it tries. Remember, the Calvinist George Whitefield was an early Methodist. I doubt he'd be one today, but he is part of the heritage of the tradition, and it was Whitefield that led John Wesley out of a building into the fields making "the whole world" his "perish". The imperfections of Wesleyanism are not necessarily better than those of Anabaptism, nor are the strengths of the Methodist Church necessarily more important than those of the Mennonite Church, but personally I can function within one in a way that honors my calling and gifting in a way I couldn't the other, so I hope this long rambling answer will suffice the two or three people who may care about my recent decision.