A Conference for Sex Abuse Victims With The Anabaptist, the Baptist, and Me

God willing and the crick don’t rise, on May 19 – 20 we plan to do a conference at Erb Mennonite church, Lititz PA, for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as those who offer support. This includes pastors, teachers, friends, family, mentors and anyone who wishes to offer understanding.

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Some years ago, when going through a particularly dark time in dealing with the abuses in my past – the sexual, physical and spiritual abuse – I cried out to God, as I have often done over the years. I don’t expect God to write on the wall, take away my grief or pain, or even say a whole lot in those moments. It’s mostly just a trusted place where I release my heart and know I will not be brushed aside, judged or disregarded; He always listens and always loves me just the same. But somewhere in that time He whispered something to me. And I just knew it was Him, and I just knew it would happen. Deeper healing would come from the place of my suffering, but the ‘how’ of it was not revealed. I shared it with Tim, a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know what it meant, but believed someone from ‘within’ would play a role in that healing and acknowledge that the problem is real. I didn’t hold my breath, but I held on to hope, knowing such a thing would have significant impact on many.

Being told it doesn’t happen or isn’t so bad, thus downplaying the impact of sexual violence, adds to trauma while also escalating the problem. And maybe it is the latter that makes it the denial so hard; we who were once victims know it continues and there’s no way to stop it from happening to other children. That thought torments us. So for someone within my culture to boldly acknowledge the problem, without excusing the offender, minimizing the trauma, or blaming victims, would have been enough. But what happened was so much better.

The note came at a difficult time. The challenge of helping victims is wearing, because exposing it disrupts people and systems, and anger is directed at those trying to help. And exposing the darkness is particularly exhausting when I’d rather be friends with everyone and believe there isn’t any evil in religious cultures. The fatigue of that resistance had set in when the note came from a conservative Anabaptist lay pastor; a simple apology for the attacks on our ministry, and on me as a person, simply for following God’s call, a thank you for daring to follow that call, and then speaking into that calling and affirming it.  I was overwhelmed.

Weeks earlier someone shared an incident where they heard a leader in our local community speak evil of me and our ministry. Because they are a couple I held in high regard, I contacted them and asked to meet and try to come to an understanding. They declined and till all was said and done, I felt inadequate and genuinely believed maybe God was telling me to walk away from my calling, that I was unqualified.  On the heels of this, I was astounded to receive the random note of encouragement, apology and blessing from the conservative Anabaptist leader. He even included the very verses God used many years ago to define my calling; verses which are documented and engraved in every phase of this ministry, and which always seem to resurface from random places when something is at stake.

That conservative Anabaptist leader was Kenny Kuhns.

Some time later, when I heard Kenny speak, I wept. Hearing a leader from ‘among my people’ speak such life and hope into the harsh reality of my past, and the past of every survivor of sexual violence in a religious setting, deeply moved me and gave me hope. For a second time, God used Kenny to bring deeper healing into my own experience. I’ve been in ministry a long time, and sometimes people ask if the past ever causes struggle. The answer? Of course it does. From time to time, something triggers the trauma. While this ever less frequent, the truth is that humans have moments when we are confronted with the past, and we must grieve, or run. I used to run. Where there is grief and pain, there is a need for healing, and that is something we need never be ashamed to admit, no matter how long we are in ministry, or how ‘healed’ we become. I believe with all my heart that Jesus is enough for me, and the power of the past is broken. I am not a victim. And I believe just as confidently that He sends representatives to unveil His love in new ways to bring deeper healing when needed.

After seeing Kenny’s heart, we invited him and Irma to join us at our upcoming conference at Erb Mennonite church in Lititz, to speak to the victims as a ‘voice from within’ who understands both the magnitude of sexual abuse in our culture and the cost to those who were victimized. Having worked with survivors for many years, he sees the damage done, but also sees the potential, the place for hope, and the power of Christ to restore and renew. His compassion for survivors serves as a life-line for those often misunderstood and unheard in churches, as he acknowledges the deep suffering. But he doesn’t leave us in our suffering; he honours the hard spiritual battles we fight and acknowledges speaks the life and hope of Jesus into that darkness.

We’ve also invited Pastor Dale and Faith Ingraham from New York to join us again. We’ve had the privilege of working with them numerous times in the past five years, and are always blessed and encouraged. Faith’s story of overcoming abuse at the hands of her father, also a Baptist pastor, while painful, is also a story of resilience, courage and faith. Their heart for the wounded is as genuine as any I’ve encountered, and the gentle message of hope God has given them, brings healing and life.

We are honoured to partner with Kenny and Irma Kuhns for the first time, and especially thankful for the long-term support and friendship of Dale and Faith Ingraham. We look forward to what God will do. It’s going to be good!

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red brochure inside

All are welcome to attend. We acknowledge sexual abuse, however, what we focus on and talk about is God’s love, His grace and His redemption; that is something we all need. Registration is by donation until May 5. After May 5 it is $65. Refreshments and a noon meal will be provided on Saturday May 20, but attendees must preregister for this. This is to make meal planning possible, and avoid last minute stress for the organizing team. Register online: http://www.generationsunleashed.com/events or by snail mail to: Generations Unleashed 15 Coral Gables Crescent, Elmira Ontario N3B 3P4.

For further information, call Dave Miller at: 519-669-3126.

Love,
~ T ~

Ps. Because of the unusual nature of this conference, in that we have invited a conservative Anabaptist leader to come speak, we are aware this may stir up questions, concerns and even fears for some who have suffered abuse at the hands of leaders within the culture, whether spiritually, sexually or otherwise. We acknowledge this risk and are open to questions, concerns and addressing those fears. Please feel free to contact any of our speaking team at:
Trudy: trudy@generationsunleashed.com
Kenny: kenkuhns@nls.net
Dale & Faith Ingraham: dfingraham@speakingtruthinlove.org

Shocking Note From Conservative Minister…

Even as I write this, I recognize that I have not fully absorbed the words in the note that arrived earlier this week. I shared it with a small handful of people, not offering the name of the author, and most responded with tears and emotion, amazed and encouraged. Of those with whom I shared the message, most–if not all, besides my husband– were also conservative Mennonites. And because it was so encouraging to them, I decided to share it in a blog….

I am accustomed to receiving letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from strangers. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence, so when I saw that note, I was mostly nonchalant about it. That is, until I started reading. And my eyes have this way of taking in an entire page all at once, but registering only a portion, so words popped out grabbing my attention. “…don’t know me… conservative… minister… negative connotation…” This can be a distressing thing, at times, when the wrong words grab me, and my heart rate increased ever so slightly as I read it.

The shock at what I read, compelled me to read it at least three times before it all registered. (All identifying information has been edited out:

Trudy, We have never met but I feel a fire inside to drop you a line this morning. I am a conservative Anabaptist …minister…. Recently …in the course of different conversations your name come up at least a half dozen times often with negative connotations but not always. For your name to come up that often you must be having a big impact … I want to do 2 things.
1. I want ask for forgiveness where “my” people have spoken evil of you for just following the call on your life.
2. I want to thank you for following that call and not giving up. We need you. Your call? Isaiah 61:1

By the third reading I felt like a dam was pushing against the inner walls of my heart, threatening to burst, but it would not give way. I wanted to weep, but only a lonely tear or two formed. A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and memory, of all this one message addresses in my heart, and the ‘history’ of my life among ‘his’ people… who are and always will also be ‘my’ people.

In an instant I realized how very healed my heart is in so many ways and places, and yet how there are small ‘brutally raw’ spots, waiting to heal. The words God had spoken, and words I shared with Tim and a few friends a few years ago, when my heart was particularly raw, returned, “Healing will come… and it will come from the very source of your pain.” At the time I tried to imagine just how my healing could or would ever come from ‘my people’, where so much pain had entered my life and broken trust with God. But I chose to believe it.

And little by little it came… A note from a friend still in the setting… and another… and another… An encouragement from one Conservative Mennonite pastor after my book came out in March… and then another… and another… and another, until there were six.

And then the unthinkable happened. Never in a million years would I have anticipated it or even dared to desire such a thing… but it came. I attended a funeral in my former church setting, and a leader I knew in ‘those years’ shook my hand. But he didn’t let go. He held my hand and his voice choked up as he thanked me for honouring them in my book. “We didn’t deserve it,” he said. I smiled and patted his hand–still holding mine–“I think you did,” I said. Tears formed then, as he continued, apologizing for not understanding me, for not being there and for failing me. “I wish we had done more to help you,” he said.  I thanked him, and immediately felt it; another moment of healing.

These moments have been representative of my Heavenly Father; Abba… Papa God, who cares personally and intimately about every wound in my heart. Even the ones I forgot I had, or never acknowledged. I expected nothing more in the way of healing. My heart was full.

And I think that is why the note this week was so overwhelming. It wasn’t just about the past. It was about the ongoing lies, evil-speaking and attacks on our ministry. (Which, thank God, I have learned to let run off as the oil of the Holy Spirit covers me and doesn’t allow it to penetrate.) But more than that, it was a blessing on our ministry.

Ultimately my affirmation comes first from my Heavenly Father, very directly, as He ministers to my heart. Secondly it comes from my husband who stands with me. Thirdly it comes from hearing and reading about others who are rising up to bring the healing of Jesus to the broken and wounded in the church. I seek nothing beyond that, in the way of endorsement or affirmation.

So when a moment like this drops out of the clear blue sky, my heart and spirit are almost overcome. I thank God for this minister’s encouragement, for his ministry to the wounded, and for a reminder that there are others ‘within’ in spiritual warfare for the children and offering the hope of Jesus to the wounded.

It is my prayer that this minister’s note will be encouraging for those of you who are also conservative Mennonite and feel alone and abandoned. If you are wondering if any of ‘our people’ and leaders in particular, will acknowledge what was done against you, and the need for your heart to find healing, now you know.

I recently received a message from an abuse victim, asking if every conservative Mennonite victim of sexual abuse gets the urge to strangle anyone they see wearing a plain suit coat. And in another email this note arrived not so long ago, from a victim of extreme sexual violence, in a religious home with this question:
“why is it that the people who ‘look the most christian’ are the ones that are the least understanding and the most hurtful? Even the ones who don’t place much stock in a host of church rules etc. The people who have shown me a clear picture of who God really is are people who my friends and family would call wordly. (…) It’s been drilled into us since we were kids that if they don’t wear a Menno dress they probably aren’t Christian and yet look at what all goes on in the life of people who wear the ‘right’ clothes. When it comes to some of these people it feels like the only thing you accomplish is beating your head on a brick wall.”

 

My prayer is that the gentleman/minister who wrote the note of encouragement and apology, who also wears a plain suit coat and is conservative Anabaptist, will be representative of the Father’s heart to you as he was to me, and a reminder that good and evil dwell in every culture. And I pray that healing will come to each of you also–even from the very ‘source’ of your pain–as it has for me, as Jesus is represented will by those who love Him above all else, including image and religion.

Those of us who love Him, will love you also, and we will tear down the dividing walls between brothers and sisters in Christ, with no regard for self preservation. We will put ourselves on the line for your well-being, because that is the way of Jesus.

Last but not least, I want to bless this minister of the healing Gospel of Jesus. I pray that God will enlarge his sphere of influence, so that many of ‘his people’ will know the healing touch of Jesus Christ, through him, his wife, his family and his church.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

The day Heaven Knelt in the Sand…

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(….)
I was confronted with love, so pure and unadulterated, I almost couldn’t absorb it. Deep love, for me. The God of heaven, kneeling before me—positioning Himself as my servant—and writing in the sand to scatter my accusers. The God of heaven, looking up at me to say, “I have no condemnation to offer you. Go, you are free from the sin that had you bound.”

The God of heaven who disregarded the law—even broke it in the eyes of those religious ones—to show me love, asked for nothing in return. No money. No sexual favours. No strict adherence to any law, for this freedom to be mine.

Love: a gentle offer, a quiet invitation. Yet, a bold confrontation of all I had believed, demanding a response; bold, only because of its stark contrast to my beliefs and experience. It defied almost everything I knew, and to accept it required trust; a thing that was destroyed in me, almost immediately after my birth. How was I to trust Him, a strange God? And would it last? …

To read entire blogpost: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2015/03/26/2-gods/#ixzz3VV5g1528

Love

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

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MENNO SIMONS… (Part 4): Excommunication, Love & Compassion

My intention is not to belabour Menno Simon’s teachings, but his views on Excommunication deserve further exploring, in my opinion.

The most outstanding, and maybe even astonishing, things I found was Menno’s views on how sin should be handled, when an individual comes forward in repentance. (The only exception to this, which he addresses first, and I will address after, is in a case of a criminal offence.)

When an individual sins (privately, as Menno calls it, meaning a sin that is not known publicly) Menno urges the church to deal gently and privately with the sin. If the individual confesses a sin to a ‘brother’, it is not to be taken to the church for discipline, with the exception of a criminal act.

“I understand that […] brethren are of the opinion that if some brother should secretly have transgressed on something or other, and, in sorrow of heart should complain to one of his brethren that he had thus sinned against God, that hen this same brother should tell it unto the church; and if he should fail to do so, that he, then, should be punished with the transgressor. This opinion is not only absurd but it sounds in my ears as a terrible one. For it is clearly against all Scripture and love, Matt. 18: Jas. 5:19-20.

Excommunication was, in one respect, instituted for the purpose of repentance. Now if repentance is shown, namely, the contrite, sorrowing heart, how can excommunication, then, be pronounced against such. O, my brethren, do not put this doctrine in force, for it will lead to sin, and not to reformation.

If we were thus to deal with poor, repentant sinners, whose transgressions were done in secret, how many would keep from repentance, through shame. God forbid that I should ever agree with, or act upon such doctrine! Lastly, I understand, they hold, that if any one, in his weakness, transgresses, and openly acknowledges his transgression, that they should consider him, then, as a worldling.

This, again, is an absurd doctrine; for, if the transgression was done through weakness, then, let us not be arrogant and too hard on the poor soul, lest we commit a worse fault.

Not the weak, but the corrupt members are cut off, lest they corrupt others. Of such unscriptural doctrines and practices I want to be clear. I desire that excommunication be practiced in a sincere paternal spirit, in faithful love, according to the doctrine of Christ […]

My chosen brethren, guard against innovations for which you have no certain, scriptural grounds. Be not too severe, nor too lenient. Let a paternal, compassionate, prudent and discreet heart, and the Lord’s holy word, actuate you.” (Exceprt taken from the Third Letter by Menno, “An Epistle […] to the brethren at Frenekar.)

In a nutshell, Menno discourages running to the church with every sin confessed to us. In other writings he instructs that relational issues, where ‘brother sins against brother’, reconciliation and forgiveness is to be pursued according to Matthew 18. He distinguishes between a sin against God, and a sin against each other, in that we cannot forgive a sin against God. An individual must seek forgiveness from God, but we are to forgive a sin against us. Where these relational offences, sins, and hurts can be resolved without church involvement, and the offender takes ownership, it is not to be handled at a church or public level.

All public sin, however, in Menno’s teachings, needed to be confessed publicly, but, again, he distinguishes between sin and offences that are not sin, if I understand him accurately.

Where a crime is committed, Menno does not allow for warnings and second chances before discipline. He addresses this, in the same letter, in response to having heard that there is a ‘violent dispute’, between two opposing views on excommunication. One would like to see church members get three warnings before discipline, and the other insists on heavy-handed, no warning excommunication. He speaks against both views.

His advice, to the one looking for three warnings, is, “I cannot agree with this doctrine. For there are some sins […] which require summary punishment at the hands of the (law). If we were to admonish transgressor thrice, in such cases, before they were punished, then the sweet bread of the church would be changed into sour bread, before the whole world. Therefore, act with discretion, and do not treat criminal matters, especially if they are public, the same as you would other carnal works, which are not considered, by the world, as requiring disgraceful punishment.”

To the other man he writes, “That doctrine is, according to my humble understanding, erroneous and against the world or Christ, Paul, and James. For averice (or, greed/pursuit of wealth), pride, hatred, discord, defamation and quarreling are carnal things which work death, if not repented of, Gal. 5:19-20; James 3:16; notwithstanding, they are not punished until after having been thrice admonished as the Scriptures command. I wish that it were taken into consideration, that, as “the wages of sin is death,” so also, the repenting, converted heart brings for life…”

There is no indication, anywhere that I have found, that Menno Simon endorsed the careless and quick excommunication over things that having nothing, whatsoever, to do with sin. In most cases I have seen, apart from the ones involving sexual immorality, or drunkenness, excommunication has been exercised over issues of opinion and rules not being followed, or some label such as ‘bad attitude, which usually comes back to a rule that is in no way connected to the word of God, the ten commandments, or any other sin.

For many years I have found this troubling, and believed that this way of operating was based on Menno Simon’s teachings. It has been healing for me, though I disagree strongly with Menno’s view on shunning, to read his writings and see how strongly he sought to honour God. No where can I find any indication that he made decisions based on protecting church image, hiding sins of the prominent, or any other perverse and selfish control.

It seems he tries earnestly to follow God’s word, while exercising his understanding of it, with fatherly compassion, a heart to restore, and no desire to wound or control.

His prophetic word or questioning, that if repentant sinners are dealt with harshly, then how many will avoid repenting for fear of being shamed, has come to pass. Every adult with whom I meet as a coach and mentor, as we work through the aftermath of abuse, we also go through a time of confession and repentance for hidden sins. Most, if not all, share sins of which they cannot repent at church, for that very reason. Many have looked at me, tear flowing down their faces, as they tell me they wish they could have that kind of openness at church.

I sat with a young woman this week, not yet nineteen years old, who had told me she is looking fora church. I asked her what she is looking for, what it is her heart longs for and seeks.

Her answer took me off guard, coming from one so young. I might have expected, ‘no strict rules’ or ‘no man-made rules’, even ‘a lively church that is fun’. But she said she wants a place she can go and confess and repent when she has sinned, without fearing shame or judgement. She wants to live a life of purity and holiness, and have accountability, fellowship, and prayer support.

“A place where I can go and confess when I have sinned…” No shame. No harsh discipline, unless it is a matter of crime.

I think Menno would have applauded her. And I think he would have done his best to give her such a church home.

Menno does address the issue of a person repenting, but not producing ‘fruits unto repentance,’ and says there is a time to discipline when the follow-through is not there.

In such a case, my heart tells me to come alongside that person, struggle with them and understand them, disciple them, teach them, and they are far more likely to walk in victory. I know this because of the number of people I have discipled, who have overcome addictions after months, and years, of strongholds. 

While I don’t see eye-to-eye with Menno Simons, I have appreciated the wisdom in his writings, and can’t help but wonder where the church would be, if the passion for biblical truth, practice and understanding had remained as sincere as his writing portray….

He addresses numerous times, in his writings, the sin of materialism and the pursuit of riches, among other ‘sins’. As I read that, I thought of the church today. Almost any denomination. What has more power, more pull, more prestige, than materialism and riches?

Changing the church, like any other transformation, begins with personal transformation. So my prayer to God is, “Give me a hear that loves You, more than anything else in the world. Give me a heart that understands your commands, and your desires, and the courage to live them. Create in me a heart that is clean, pure, true and tender, and fill that heart with compassion. And let that compassion flow to every person whose life I am blessed to impact, so that they will know You, through me.”

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©TrudyMetzger

Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series

Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 3): Shunning & Excommunication

The practice of excommunication, with or without shunning, is not unique to Anabaptist churches, but seems to be most commonly practised among churches with Anabaptist roots. Excommunication is considered an ‘ordinance’, or ‘authoritative law or decree’, given by Christ and the ‘holy Apostles’, as Menno calls them, for the ‘church’.

Because of how frequently this ‘ordinance’ is abused, it is easy to simply turn the other way, and not even try to understand it. Tragically, in my own experience and that of my years in the conservative Mennonite churches, I saw this practice abused in most vile ways. One man in his sixties, or thereabouts, was excommunicated for listening to radio, but the lead minister, who later became the bishop, carefully covered for his son’s immorality, when it was discovered that the son had sexually violated numerous youth.

While the devastating reality is that his son had been dreadfully violated by a man in his late twenties or thirties–I cannot recall his age accurately–it was an imbalance to excommunicate one man for breaking a man-made law, while harbouring another who sinned outright, and directly violated God’s law. Over the span of several years, numerous members were excommunicated for violations such as bad attitudes, listening to instrumental music, watching tv, and various other ‘sins’, all while the young offender, and others like him, were protected.

For this reason I still find it hard to trust anyone on the topic of church discipline and excommunication. Every church I’ve had connections to, who exercised any form of the ban, did so with this same level of corruption at some level of leadership. Having said that, I am very aware that only some leaders knew about the corruption, and they intentionally withheld that information from other leaders, or misrepresented it. There are good leaders who try to do the right thing, and are not always well informed.

For years I skipped over Menno’s writings on the topic, and anyone else’s, for that matter. It all seemed to have become a perverse power trip in the hands of the wrong leaders, and hearing it from our ‘founding father’, as Menno was often referred to, didn’t appeal to me. What I read and understand in the Bible is a far cry from anything I’ve ever heard taught on the topic, and ultimately it is God to whom I give account for what I believe. Not a religion, denomination, or culture.

Recently, though, something drew me into this section of Menno’s writings and I was quite intrigued. He is completely on target in some areas, and as far off base as anyone I’ve heard before, in other areas.

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The most disturbing of beliefs, in my opinion and understanding, is the notion that an excommunicated spouse needed to be shunned by the other spouse, and the family. That view quite stunned me. Menno goes to great lengths to prove and convince his readers that it is not only in the area of spiritual ‘communion’, or the ‘breaking of bread’ that Paul commands the church to break relationship, but to very literally not speak a word to the person excommunicated, in conversation, beyond an ordinary greeting of ‘good morning’, or the like.

Taking this to the extreme of applying it in marriage, based on Menno’s article titled ‘Excommunication’ as well as ‘Questions and Answers’, then anything  beyond common greeting and politeness would end with the excommunication of either spouse, leaving no room for marital intimacy, deep communication, or eating together. And that is precisely what I understand him to promote.

Whether many Anabaptist churches still take it to this extreme or not, I cannot say, but that directly collides with Paul’s command in Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:5

New King James Version (NKJV)

“5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Menno’s extreme views on excommunication here, and Paul’s teachings cannot both be accurate. Since one is the scripture speaking, and the other is another individual’s interpretation of scripture, I take the former at face value, and assume the latter is missing something.

Menno Simons on Excommunciation & shunning a spouse 002

Menno on Excommunication & shunning spouse 001

By comparing scripture with scripture, it is clear that there was a misunderstanding of excommunication as Menno taught it in relation to marriage, but in other areas he was more biblical than any church I’ve ever known, who use the ‘ban’.

Menno quotes a lot of scripture throughout his writings, but rather than coming across as though he is ‘comparing scripture with scripture’, it seems as if he is using scriptures to endorse his particular view points. Viewpoints which he seems to sincerely believe are the most accurate interpretation of the intended message.

In studying further, and looking deeper at Menno’s use of the ban, these extreme views are brought into balance somewhat in his caution about using the ban. It seems he did not carelessly or casually use the ban for things that were not scripturally wrong, or sin issues–there is no indication anywhere that he would do so. And if someone disagreed in this area of shunning in marriage, and a spouse would not agree to treating their excommunicated spouse with extreme shunning, he extended grace.

In explaining this, he encouraged the church to be aware that not all commandments are equal, and a misinterpretation–or what I would call a disagreement with his viewpoint–should not be viewed with the same harshness as murder, adultery and other ‘abominable works of the flesh’.

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In this way, it seems, Menno differentiated between ‘sin’, and interpretation of ‘ordinances’. While strong, and very black and white in his views, when the issue presents itself in real life, his ability to reason through it is obvious. He doesn’t want to wreck marriages, and the strong tone in his writing becomes more mellow.

In my next blog we will explore further Menno’s views on Excommunication, with one view, in particular, that was pleasantly surprising. A view that, if we lived by it today, would give the Mennonite church permission to make confessions without fear of discipline. Many of the confessions I hear, day to day, from clients, would not be hidden so long, if fear of harsh discipline was removed…

… Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series

MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 2): Personal Ponderings

It’s a bit uncomfortable, seeing our heritage through a whole new lens, with a very different beginning than we have imagined. The truth is a bit intrusive… Never ind, it’s downright disruptive, at times, and demands of us to see life a differently than we always have… to see ourselves a bit differently…

But I, for one, prefer the truth, no matter what. So, when I discovered, in returning to our early history as non-resistant folk, that ‘our side’, the Anabaptists, also brutalized their enemies, it was with mixed emotions.

I was saddened by the atrocities, yet thankful to know the truth, and thankful to see the bigger picture. Knowing our true history and heritage, I believe, better equips us in breaking generational sins and the strongholds of our ancestors. And maybe it even removes the temptation to surrender to religious arrogance, and causes us to see our own humanity.

I first learned of these horrific things a few years ago, and was reminded of them again recently, when I read my friend, Ira Wagler’s blog, where he some of that story. Rather than retell it, I will link to his page, for you to read what he shared, at: Distant Roads: The Cages of Muenster.

Understanding some of these realities, it makes far more sense, to me, that Menno Simons refers relatively frequently in his writings to the importance of dealing with murderers and violence, through church discipline and excommunication. Without that knowledge, it would seem a bit over stated. I mean, it’s not every day that someone in the church murders someone. Why put it in the list of things to excommunicate for? Clearly this violence is something that troubled Menno, and was appropriately dealt with under his leadership.

In my next blog I will begin exploring the matter of shunning and excommunication, looking at some of Menno’s amazing strengths, as well as what I would view as biblical weaknesses. (In sharing these weaknesses, I expect very few readers, at least with Anabaptist heritage, will disagree with me. And, in his strengths, many will cry a silent ‘amen’ to him and wonder where and when we lost what he had.)

Regardless of his strengths or weaknesses, I am convinced that he was a man passionate about God, pure of heart, and as sincere a man as any I’ve known or studied. (And, as for his weaknesses, at the end of the day, we are probably all a bit misguided in one area or another, to which I say, “Thank God our salvation lies in Jesus, not in perfect understanding of God and His word, nor in our faultless delivery of that understanding.)

With that I will return to my exploring of the big, ugly, brown book… which, I might add, turned out not to be boring after all….

In fact, it made its way off of my bookshelf numerous times, over the years, and then ended up on my night stand a year ago, or so, and now it rests by my writing chair. Next to my Bible, it is probably the most ‘marked’ book I own. More pages are ‘dog-eared’ than any other book I own. I laugh. I read it out loud. And now I’m writing about it. 

As I familiarized myself with Menno’s writings, I discovered the various sections and how at least some, if not quite a few, of his writings were responses to accusations of his ‘enemies’. This immediately intrigued me. His enemies inspired him to express himself, to write out his beliefs, even if in defence of their attacks on him, and stand firm on his faith. And he did it with very little hostility. 

Hmm… what if we, as Christians today, did that, rather than surrendering to culture, society, and those who oppose us? Oh sure, some of the back and forth seemed a bit juvenile, and therefore a bit entertaining–like when Martin Micron called Menno a cuckoo (see pic below),  and Menno  says at another place that Micron “…repeats the same song, but he sings it to the unintelligent, and to a little better tune”, when referring to Microns inconsistent presentation of his own distorted doctrines.

Menno Simons 2 007

Menno Simons 2 009In another instance, Menno responds impulsively, then apologizes for his insensitivity in his writings, but closes with leaving it to Microns own consideration as to who should get the greater blame.

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Seeing the side more ‘reckless’, as Menno describes himself, or more impulsive, I gained a whole new fascination with him. Human after all… And possibly a bit more like myself, with a blend of the Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul. Not quite as composed and ‘perfect’ as I might have previously imagined. A bit of a smart-alec too… Something I can appreciate in a strong spiritual leader, if it isn’t abused, because it makes for an engaging speaker.

Along with that ‘reckless’ humanity, I also saw the root of some things not quite so noble. There is an obvious thread of our spiritual arrogance on which our faith was founded. I don’t mean that rudely, but the reality is most of us Anabaptists have been raised with a strong sense that we are the most right…. Just a bit more saintly than other Christians, if, in fact, they are Christians at all. We’ve been taught in subtle, and not so subtle, ways that we have the ultimate truth. (Yeah, yeah, I know… there are many others like us, who believe the same thing about themselves. Odds are their founding forefathers carried some of the same arrogance about ‘a perfect understanding’.)

At one point Menno writes, in his reply to Martin Micron of a younger ‘adversary’, Herman, “I told him twice, ‘dear Herman, you are too young; you will have to learn a great deal before you ought to try to defend your cause. What is become of all the bold assertions, which you made at the start?’ Yet, Micron writes that some of their weak brethren were very much strengthened by Herman during discussion. I will leave the matter here. Thus they hoodwink the reader that he may not observe that Herman acted so childish, to their shame....” [pg 359, Reply to Martin Micron, Menno Simons, Complete Works.]

Another place Menno says to Martin Micron, “…Good Martin, you would be well if you would learn to know yourself better, for you are yet too much of a novice in the scriptures to defend yourself.”

His calling Herman ‘much too young’ as grounds for trying to silence him, and again  calling Micron a novice, seems not only a bit of a power trip, but it isn’t biblical. Paul tells Timothy to not let people despise him because of his youth, but to be an example. (1 Timothy 4:17) While it may have been accurate, in Menno’s case, his words could have come across as an attack and were not necessary.

In this way it is obvious that Menno condescends to those who oppose him. Had he already done all that he could, in a non-adversarial tone, to communicate effectively? I cannot judge that. However, the way he talks down to anyone who does not agree with him, is something that sounds oddly familiar. Come to think of it… I think it is my own voice I hear, echoing in the not-too-distant past. So I will keep my stones in my pocket and not judge, since I, too, have sinned with my words. Far greater sins than these…

While I agree with only some of what Menno Simons teaches–particularly in the area of excommunication, where he seems to get derailed brutally by human reasoning–I give him credit for one thing. The man knew his Bible and passionately taught what he understood it to say. 

So I find myself vacillating, as I read his writings… Caught between deep admiration for a man who stood with courage for his faith, in one moment, and wondering at his less than admirable character, and beliefs, in the next moment. It is his transparent humanity in the less noble side that I admire deeply, even with the obvious flaws.

With that in mind I will delve into his teachings on excommunication and church discipline, starting next week.

… Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 1): Teachings on Divorce

MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works…

Menno Simons Writings 003

My father handed me the big, fat book, of boring, religious writings. (Forgive me. I mean no disrespect, but old English, for me, is associated with a distant, non-relational God.)  An ugly brown. Go figure. As unappealing to look at, as the thought of reading it. Another book in the collection of the ‘Never Read’ section of my book-case.

Most likely it was my father’s way of reminding me to never leave the Mennonite church–in whatever ‘brand’–and his attempt at keeping me on the ‘straight and narrow’.

“Thank you very much,” I said. And I meant it.

Whatever his motive at the time, and however (appropriately) plain, and even boring, the book might be, my father had given me a gift that meant the world to him. He handed it to me with almost a sense of reverence. On ‘this’ man, Menno, our faith heritage was founded, and that was something my father treasured. Still, it stayed a step below his near-sacred Martyr’s Mirror, which I had spent much time reading as a child. Now that book I would have loved, had he given it to me.

(I must inject here that, in 2001, my father became very ill, suffering from diabetes, that had, unfortunately, only worsened with his love for cultural fried foods, desserts and other taboo menu items, and led to him needing an amputation. While in the hospital I spent more time with him, one on one, than any other time in my life, and during that time he blessed me to leave the Mennonite church. The ‘brand name’ no longer mattered to him. He had discovered grace, he said.)

This gift, of Menno’s writings, was given to me in my mid-twenties, or thereabouts, and it lay dormant for quite a few years.

One Sunday morning, while I was still in a conservative Mennonite church, the pastor preached enthusiastically on  ‘Divorce & Remarriage’ and the church’s stand on it. He referenced Menno Simons, our fore-father, our spiritual ‘leader’, more than he referenced the word of God. And, quite frankly, Menno wrote about it more than the New Testament, for sure.

What it was about the strong referencing of Menno Simons that inspired me, I don’t know for certain, but something tweaked my curiosity… A desire to hear it from ‘the man’ himself.

Maybe it was my irritation at hearing more about this ‘founder of our faith’, than Jesus Christ, on that particular morning, or the frequent preaching of the church’s positions, rules and constitutions, rather than the teaching and doctrines of Christ and the Word of God in general. Whatever it was, I do recall that these things always aggravated me, and unsettled me, and that particular morning enough to make me act.

Regardless the cause, the questions began… What did this man really teach and believe? Do we assume that what is taught, Sunday after Sunday, church service after church service, and what is attributed to this great leader of our denominational faith, is accurate? Or does anyone ever reference his actual writings? (Or, do they, like me, find that big ugly brown book a little drab, inside and out?)

Are we like the daughter who, when she moved out on her own, went to prepare a roast, and instinctively cut the end of the roast. When questioned as to why, she couldn’t  answer more than, “My mother always did.” When she questioned her mother, she said, “Your Grandma always did.” And when they asked the Grandma, she said, “Because my roast pan was too small.”

Do we ask the questions, make sure we know and understand truth, or do we simply accept, without questioning, what we have seen and learned?

I had no reason to believe he was being misrepresented… No reason to believe that our denominational views had evolved over time and morphed into something very different than what I had heard my entire life was the beliefs of our founding fathers. Such a thought never occurred to me.

Still, with the curiosity sparked, I found myself, the following Monday morning, searching Menno’s big, fat, ugly book for answers. I flipped furiously at first, having found no title page, simply scanning, looking for key words, ‘marriage… divorce… remarriage… etc’. Nothing caught my eye.

When I finally discovered the book’s index system, I made progress. On page 311, of ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘–ah… there’s our humility, boldly advertised, so as not to have it missed…–I found what I was looking for… but it surprised me.

I admit, I was fully expecting Menno to support everything I heard preached the previous day, and my whole life, but I had to see it for myself. What I found, instead, rather stunned me. I am confident that my Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario (CMCO) leaders, and all other conservative Mennonite leaders, whether in school, Numidia Bible School, or any other potential influence, never intentionally misled me about Menno Simons’ beliefs. But clearly they didn’t do their homework, because not one every mentioned that Menno Simons had it wrong.

Rather than type out his words, I have photographed what I found that day. His writing is in response to a false charge that the Anabaptist church allowed polygamy, having wives in common, and that any man could say to a woman, “Sister, my spirit desires your flesh’. [MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works, pg 310, in ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘.]

Menno goes beyond simply answering to those charges. He expounds on where the church stands on the issue of divorce and remarriage, among other things, before he even ventures to address their accusation.:

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Lest anyone would quickly argue that ‘they cannot be separated from each other, to marry again’ is a stand alone ‘belief’, and the ‘otherwise than for adultery’ applies only to the separation, I did my homework to find out if in fact I read this correctly. What I found was the ‘Wismar Articles’.

In 1554, seven key Dutch Anabaptist leaders, including Menno Simons, Dirk Phillips, and Leonard Bouwens met together in conference to discuss some pressing issues, and the result was the ‘Wismar Articles‘.

“Article IV. In the fourth place, if a believer and an unbeliever are in the marriage bond together and the unbeliever commits adultery, the marriage tie is broken. And if it be one who complains that he has fallen in sin, and desires to mend his ways, then the brethren permit the believing mate to go to the unfaithful one to admonish him, if conscience allows it in view of the state of the affair. But if he be a bold and headstrong adulterer, then the innocent party is free – with the provision, however, that she shall consult with the congregation and remarry according to circumstances and decisions in the matter, be it well understood.”

That Monday morning, still in a state of shock, I called the wife of the minister who had preached the previous morning, and asked if they happen to own the Complete Works of Menno Simons. They did.

“Could you turn to page 311, in A Humble & Christian Defense, and read, out loud,  the second from the bottom paragraph on the left column of the page?”

She began reading, and gradually her voice faded, as she absorbed what she found. There was a pause, followed by, “Well, we have to remember Menno Simons was just a man.”

I didn’t say it, but the thought went through my mind, He sounded like a powerful authority on the subject yesterday… on this topic, I might add. I wondered then how we had come to idolize a man with such differing views from our present practice and teaching.

My intent that day wasn’t to endorse careless divorce and remarriage. However, my findings did force me to contemplate whether there are other ‘biblical teachings’ that we have reinterpreted, reinvented, adjusted, and enforced that might, in fact, have another valid biblical interpretation… Possibly even one endorsed by our denominational hero, Menno Simons.

I have friends and relatives whose marriages survived affairs, and some who did not. I have Christian friends who understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce precisely as Menno Simons taught them, and have remarried fellow believers. I judge neither view, because biblically I can see both sides. For myself, I have predetermined that absolutely nothing will ever sever our marriage bond. I am committed to Tim for life, no matter what. But that is easy to say about a man who loves and honours me with his whole heart.

Having seen the impact of affairs, sexual addictions, and brutal betrayals, woe is me if I should judge harshly another individual on the matter, when the Bible, and our forefathers, allow room for divorce and remarriage.

In writing this, I am not arguing for or against Menno’s position. I am merely exploring some of what he believed, and sharing it with the world….

…To Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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