I’ve made an interesting observation, as word gets out that I have written my story and that it reveals some less than noble truths of my cultural upbringing. That observations is:
We are comfortable with telling the ‘ugly truth’ of redemptions stories, as long as they don’t incriminate ourselves, our culture, our belief systems and expose things we are not willing to look at. We protect tenaciously that ‘exposing truth’ that makes our lives uncomfortable…
Some years ago, when my mother found out I was writing, she said something, gently, about not telling the ‘evil things’ that happened, that it is best to forget those things and move on. This led to a heart to heart discussion, and it is the first time I recall thinking the whole thing through, and the beginning of this observation that the telling harsh truth is only comfortable when it doesn’t incriminate us.
That mention is not disrespect for my mother. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Over the past few years some of the deepest, most meaningful and honest discussions I’ve had with anyone, have been with my mother. That day was one of them.
I asked her why the Bible tells ‘bad stories’, and I named some for her. She thought about that for a moment. I then asked her how we can tell accurately the amazing redemption of God, and the wonder of who He truly is and what He has done, if we don’t tell the stories of what He has redeemed us from, saved us from, and the tragedies and sins He has helped us overcome.
Again, she thought about it, and said she sees what I’m saying, that God really didn’t hide the dark truths of Bible stories. It was a new thought.
Many of us have been programmed to believe that ‘family secrets’ should ‘stay in the family’ and not be shared. And within our churches and cultures, the same thing is true, for many of us. It is one of the most crippling realities, in that it holds people hostage in silence.
It leaves us with no place to turn, no one to reach to for help–beyond those who are ‘approved’, whose agenda is often more about self-preservation than it is about truth, healing or redemption. The result is generation after generation of enslavement to the same corruption, sins, addictions and strongholds.
Those ‘within’ who do ‘rise up’ and try to address things, are labelled as unforgiving, rebellious, or some other thing that justifies silencing them. Some surrender to this control, others walk away. Of those who walk away, many remain in bondage to that silence, terrified of the cost that comes with telling the truth.
And those of us who begin to tell it are quickly ‘tackled’ on our motives, our methods and judged as having ‘an axe to grind’ or being bitter, and again encouraged to retreat into respectful silence.
One of the things that alerted me to the hypocrisy in this whole thing–since one can argue that the Bible is written under God’s authority, and no human has that right–is the stories that go back to our Anabaptist beginnings. We are taught the evil of our ‘oppressors’ and ‘adversaries’–particularly the Catholics–and in these stories our heritage is shamelessly protected. Never, in all my studying or listening to our history, do I recall the dark side of our heritage and fore-fathers mentioned. And never do I hear the ‘good side’ of our oppressors and adversaries mentioned either. To share both, creates a richness that a one-sided story will never tell.
Perspective is a fascinating thing…
We mostly like to be ‘saints and heroes’ working against the bad guys. And to get that position, we tell their ‘bad’ stories to show our good. But what if telling our bad stories could show the goodness of God, through Jesus? What if our identity wasn’t wrapped up in keeping our ‘name’ untarnished?
The truth is, there was and is much good in our Anabaptist heritage, going all the way back to the beginning. But there was also much corruption. When I read in the Complete Works of Menno Simons, some time ago, something about how people should be dealt with, who murder, I was a bit bewildered. Most of our churches don’t have explicit instructions on how to deal with murderers, and we might be inclined to find a new church if such instruction was a necessity.
It wasn’t until I began discovering Anabaptists like Bernhard Knipperdolling, Jan Van Leiden, Jan Matthys, Bernhard Rothmann among other less-than-noble-Anabaptists, particularly by the standards of my upbringing, that I started to see both sides had corruption, and both sides carried rich heritage and values.
Knipperdolling, a follower of Rothmann–who came from very wealthy stock, and a ‘proud and bold Protestant–sued the Catholic Munster town council, in 1528. A few years later he became mayor of Munster and played a part in the Munster Rebellion.
Rothmann, if my memory is accurate, was very disturbed by the sexual indiscretions he saw in the priesthood, and spoke against it and, after being censured by the Catholic church, he aligned himself with the Reformed faith in 1531. A few years later he joined the Anabaptist movement and in 1535 fought in the reconquest of Munster, where he is believed to have died, though his body was never identified.
The stories are too complex to paint a bigger picture accurately, without a lengthy dissertation, however, these realities give us a glimpse into a side of the truth that is often overlooked. I look at it, not with judgement for Anabaptists, or even for these men. They seem sincere men in their pursuit of God. But their behaviour matches closely, if not exactly, the very thing we have used against the Catholics.
I’ve heard the argument, “Ah, but they were not true Anabaptists. We mustn’t align ourselves with them in history, by acknowledging them as part of our heritage”–or some similar statement. Fair enough. I can grant that.
But then, should we not also offer the Catholics the same grace? Is it possible that there is good and evil in both? That their ‘corrupt ones’ are just as corrupt as our corrupt ones, and ours as corrupt as theirs?
Going back to the two examples I use–Knipperdolling with his ‘power’, thanks to money and prestige, and Rothmann with is ‘concerns’, which were legitimate, over abuse of sexuality–I find it intriguing that the two things that most corrupt our Anabaptist churches today, from what I have seen, are the abuse of power (and money) and the abuse of sexuality. I have seen three cases of litigation–brother going to law against brother–in our local conservative churches, completely defying the ‘non-resistance’ we profess, and I have watched countless times as power and prestige sway the direction of leadership.
And the sexual abuse I’ve written about and made abundantly clear in past writings, so I won’t start into that, other than to go back to Menno Simons. In his writings, Menno Simons addressed immorality among Mennonite men with their daughters, maids and neighbours wives, after hearing it happened, saying he could not believe it would be among Anabaptists, and that was the reason he had not addressed it sooner. He had a higher expectation, and seems devastated to discover that ‘godly’ men would do this. Even this exists in our early history.
From Menno Simons, Complete Works, Excommunication:
““I would earnestly admonish the reader, that about 18 years ago I published an admonition , in which I made no distinction of sin; […] I say inexperience; for to the best of my knowledge I neither heard nor knew at that time, any thing of fornication, adultery, and such like. […] it is evident that […] concerning such gross, offensive abominations, we would make many great hypocrites; for I hear that there were some within a few years who carried on their horrible roguery and infamy in secret, till time and circumstances could no longer conceal them; yea, as I have understood, if some of them had not been detected by great wisdom, they would, I fear, have continued on their old course; but as soon as it was disclosed they began to wail and weep. Who could ever be so blinded, that when he has disgraced his neighbour’s wife, daughter or maid… that he would not say “I am sorry that I did so”.’
And finally, our silence surrounding our own corruption in Anabaptist history, and ‘picking and choosing’ which part of our heritage we will acknowledge, in order to make ourselves look like saints, has opened doors to corruption, in some ways.
(Granted, this all exists in other churches too. But they are not my history, my heritage or my struggle. I feel no need to make myself feel better about our heritage by saying it exists everywhere. I am only interested in facing the truth about myself, my people, and my heritage.)
I have believed for a long time that the answers to the roots of some of our strongholds lie with our early forefathers, and am more convinced now than ever. I also believe that if we name the name of any other person or movement, apart from Christ, and take pride in it and try to protect it, then we live in idolatry, and should repent. Furthermore, that makes us accountable for all things associated with that name, and we would do well to repent on behalf of our forefathers, as we see done by Nehemiah, in the first chapter, when he repents of his sins, and his fathers.
And to do that, bringing this full circle, we must be willing to tell the painful truth of our sinful past and present. Until we face our own corruption–as individuals and as ‘the Anabaptists’–and stop investing our energy in trying to silence those speaking truth, we will remain in bondage to sin.
Truth that reveals and exposes is not evil. It was never meant to be protected in a shroud of silence or secrecy. It was meant to be brought to the cross of Jesus, for forgiveness and redemption, and then declared as a victory on the mountain of God’s people.
We overcome the enemy through the blood of the Lamb, and by sharing the word of our testimony, the story of sins forgiven, addictions broken, sexual abuse buried, leadership used for manipulation, and any other thing that Jesus has done for us.
There is no shame in the truth. There is only shame in hiding it.
When we strip ourselves of all our pride, the image of perfection, the pretence of sinlessness, and stand naked before God, then we are in a position to have Jesus look on us with compassion, and slip on us the cloak of His righteousness. Then, and only then, does God see us as holy and acceptable.
© Trudy Metzger
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