Royden Loewen, Hidden Worlds: Revisiting the Mennonite Migrants of the 1870s. North Newton: Bethel College, Wedel Series 12, 2001 ($15.00 – paperback) ISBN 1-889239-01-1. Reviewed by Gary R. Entz.
Michael A. King, Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality. Telford, PA: Pandora Press, 2001. Pp. 304. ISBN 1-931038-03-1 Reviewed by Bradley G. Siebert.
Adina Reger and Delbert Plett, eds. Diese Steine: Die Russlandmennoniten. Steinbach: Crossway Publications Inc., 2001. Pp. 692. ISBN 1-55099-124-8 Reviewed by Mark Jantzen.
Henry D. Remple, From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story. Sioux Falls, S. D.: Pine Hills Press, Inc., 2001. Pp. 366. ($29.00) ISBN 1-57579-231-1 Reviewed by Dwight Emanuel Roth.
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Walter Klaassen, Frank Friesen, and Werner Packull, trans., Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press Canada, 2001, Pp. 429 ($40.00–paperback) ISBN 1-894710-15-0. Reviewed by Leland Harder.
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Gilbert Fast and Galen Peters, trans., Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren, 1540. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press Canada, 2001. Pp. 227 ($20.00–paperback) ISBN 2-894710-16-9 Reviewed by Leland Harder.
Kimberly D. Schmidt, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Steven D. Reschly, eds., Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Pp. 398. ($39.95) ISBN 0-8018-6786-x Reviewed by Penelope Adams Moon.
John B. Toews, ed., The Story of the Early Mennonite Brethren (1860-1869): Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman. Winnipeg and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Productions, 2002. Pp. 188. ($8.99–paperback) ISBN: 0-921788-763-8 Reviewd by Marvin E. Kroeker.
Royden Loewen, Hidden Worlds: Revisiting the Mennonite Migrants of the 1870s. North Newton: Bethel College, Wedel Series 12, 2001 ($15.00 – paperback) ISBN 1-889239-01-1.
Royden Loewen, professor of history and Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, has composed an important addition to the history of late nineteenth century Mennonite immigration. The group migration of Mennonites from the steppes of southern Russia during the 1870s was a prominent event that garnered a great deal of attention from the federal governments of Canada and the United States, and from railroad companies eager to see farmland developed along their tracks. The public lives of the Mennonites, their tight-knit communities, and their introduction of Turkey Red wheat to the grasslands of North America have been subjected to many studies and are well known. In Hidden Worlds, however, professor Loewen looks beyond the public world of the Mennonites and the idea that they transplanted and maintained a static culture that replicated familiar eastern European folkways in North America. Instead, he argues that the Mennonites were dynamic, creative, and more than willing to adopt new approaches in the face of new realities. "Immigrants," writes Loewen, "chose old, inherited viewpoints, practices, and symbols to make sense of new realities in the North American grasslands."(6)
Loewen's book is not a comprehensive narrative of the 1870s migration. It is a relatively short but detailed analysis of selected topics of the relocation and settlement of Mennonites on the western Plains of America. Thus Hidden Worlds works as an accessible introduction and supplement to Family, Church, and Market and From the Inside Out, Loewen's larger studies of the Mennonites. Over the course of five chapters, Loewen takes his readers on a tour of Mennonite life and how it changed over space and time. He starts with a literary examination of Mennonite diaries from the Ukrainian steppe and how those diary authors had to re-examine their worldview in preparation for the trans-Atlantic migration. Loewen next moves to an analysis of Mennonite inheritance practices and how the custom of "partible" and "bilateral" division of property equally among children of both sexes evolved over time. He covers the rarely examined lives of Mennonite women in the third chapter. The woman's point-of-view has genuinely been a hidden world in Mennonite studies and is one of the more interesting aspects of the migration. The differing way in which Mennonite men, Mennonite women, and outsiders viewed the world around them is a subject worthy of greater study. Loewen's fourth chapter is a comparative examination of two Mennonite farmers in Canada. Cornelius Plett, who migrated to Canada from Ukraine in 1875, and David Bergey, a third-generation Canadian Mennonite descended from the "Pennsylvania Dutch." This chapter finds a common identity even in the midst of complex cultural diversity and external stimuli. The final chapter is a critical overview of recent historical studies of rural immigrant culture in the United States.
Loewen used numerous sources in preparing Hidden Worlds, including diaries, wills, census records, and newspapers. Some of the material has come available only recently, which allowed Loewen to cover ground other historians may have missed. In the end, however, he arrives at two interconnected conclusions. "First, the process of transplantation was often hidden from public view"(103). As Loewen demonstrates throughout the book, the everyday worlds of work, gender relations, child rearing, and imagination were private and not open for public consumption. "Second, the transplantation often succeeded because of the re-envisioning, reshaping, and reinventing that Mennonites undertook in their private, everyday lives"(103). The Mennonites were able to adapt when necessary, but ironically it was the process of adaptation that formed the public, popular image of the Mennonites as static and unchanging.
Loewen's book is brief for what is really a large and expansive topic. It is an academic analysis more than a popular narrative. Therefore, casual readers may find it somewhat frustrating. Nevertheless, it is a welcome and useful addition to the fields of Mennonite and immigration studies. It should point the way to future research.
Gary R. Entz
Assistant Professor of History
McPherson College, Kansas
Michael A. King, Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality. Telford, PA: Pandora Press, 2001. Pp. 304. ISBN 1-931038-03-1
Michael A. King's Fractured Dance: Gadamer and a Mennonite Conflict over Homosexuality is an important book for Christians concerned with how we might better deal with differences and conflicts. It belongs in church, church college, and seminary libraries. It would be appropriate for courses in hermeneutics and congregational practice. And it deserves serious attention from church leaders at all levels.
Although Fractured Dance began as King's dissertation and contributes significantly to Gadamer scholarship, it is quite readable. It is, primarily, a case study in conflict, the case being the Franconia Conference of the Mennonite Church deciding in 1997 whether or not to excommunicate Germantown Mennonite Church because of that congregation's position on membership for non-celibate homosexual people. King's theoretical filter for studying the Franconia-Germantown case is Hans-Georg Gadamer's theory of philosophical hermeneutics.
Fractured Dance, then, is not about homosexuality. It is about how some Mennonites once talked about homosexuality. Much more so, it evaluates, from a Gadamerian perspective, how one Mennonite conference processed an intense conflict, which in this case had to do with differences over membership for homosexual people. To do so, it spends substantial time describing and critiquing Gadamerian theory as a valuative perspective on such discernment processes.
On this basis, it offers Mennonites specifically – and people of other faiths – perspective on how we process conflicts based on faith and biblical understandings, personally and institutionally. Fractured Dance's potential to provide such perspective is its basis for inclusion in Pandora Press's C. Henry Smith series, whose agenda, J. Denny Weaver, the series editor, writes, is "to show how an assumption of nonviolence can impact the discussion in virtually any academic discipline." Weaver continues, describing Fractured Dance as "a fine example of scholarship in the service of the church" (18).
King chose Gadamerian theory because of the affinities he sees between it and Mennonite tradition. King cites Willard Swartley's assertion "that the ‘believing community is an interpreting community' which . .[as a] ‘community of faith'. . .tests interpretations of individuals" (42-43). King also sees in Gadamer's thought a connection to Paul's idea of the church as Christ's body (I Cor. 13), "which must learn to love its many different parts as all contributing to one body" (30).
Using Gadamerian theory, King reveals how we can fail to live up to pacifist ideals and the standard of Christian love – which is what makes Fractured Dance important. It provides an attitude we might cultivate to bring us closer to achieving such ideals. King acknowledges that achieving such ideals may seem unrealistic. But by the same token, Christians are idealistic people, used to striving toward goals we can't achieve by human power and skill alone. So perhaps a Gadamerian attitude and approach to discernment, one that embraces difference, even opposition, as productive is right up our alley.
The goal is to be enlarged by coming to understand each other. No two people are quite the same, so this is always possible. But in Gadamer's way of thinking, potential growth is greater when difference is greater. The different other is not an opponent or enemy to be defeated, but someone who can broaden a person's horizons, if the person can bring him- or herself to understand the other.
We come to such understanding through genuine conversation, according to Gadamer. King characterizes genuine conversation in his first two chapters. In keeping with contemporary thought, Gadamer begins from the premise that human understanding cannot be objective. It is filtered through people's culturally influenced sensibilities. Gadamer would say that effective histories (shared backgrounds) condition people's prejudices, the productive perspectives that shape the way each comes to understand his or her particular set of experiences.
When the one and the other (or people in whatever number) engage in a conversation with a spirit of openness to the subject and each other, the potential for enlarged understanding exists. The parties gathered open themselves to the subject as it appears to and confronts them from their initial perspectives. Then, in conversation, they put their prejudices and understandings at risk by opening themselves to each others' understandings. This risky/courageous openness involves granting the validity of the other's understanding from the other's perspective and even exploring the possible superior validity of the other's understanding.
This doesn't finally require that we accept the other's understanding. However, opening ourselves to others this way enlarges us by virtue of expanding our horizons of mutual understanding, by fusing horizons, in Gadamer's terms. We may deepen each other's ways of thinking or persuade each other too. But participating in genuine conversation ensures that we won't ignorantly reject what we haven't understood, either the idea or the person.
In this way, striving for genuine conversation potentially upholds pacifist ideals. We strive to give each other open, hospitable hearings – in faith, humbly confessing that our own may not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If ours is not the whole story, then, like different parts of a body, we need and complete each other.
Gadamer would not be our primary resource, but we Christians who would live peacefully with each other and all people might do well to cultivate, even institute a Gadamerian approach to discernment as a counterweight to other cultural influences. Western culture glorifies victory. It idolizes majority rule, sometimes to the point of demonizing and silencing dissent. Judicial procedures thrive on and Roberts' Rules of Order cast us into adversarial roles that are difficult not to play once the context is set.
If we read other writers descriptions of Mennonite hermeneutic traditions, we will understand King's reason for selecting Gadamer to reflect on Mennonites' attitudes and discernment practices. If we reflect on how "listening committees" have been used by our denominations and conferences, we will recognize how important we know listening carefully to each other in the midst of conflict to be. But when we read King, I hope we also realize that honest and courageous listening cannot be the business of a select few. It is the responsibility of every member of the body.
Bradley G. Siebert
Adina Reger and Delbert Plett, eds. Diese Steine: Die Russlandmennoniten. Steinbach: Crossway Publications Inc., 2001. Pp. 692. ISBN 1-55099-124-8
Our young children, ages three and five, have recently become enamored with the old photo albums that document their parents' childhoods. Why were your glasses so ugly, Dad? Why are you dressed like an angel in your wedding picture, Mom? Hey, there's the birthday picture where you got that cement truck we still play with, Dad. Many things have changed in our family, a few have stayed the same. Rightly dividing those two categories is not only the passion of our preschoolers.
Adina Reger and Delbert Plett are especially interested in what has remained as a result of the Mennonite sojourn in Russia. These Stones, the title of their volume, alludes to the editors' view that the life of each Mennonite who lived in Russia represents a monument to God's faithfulness to a chosen nation (1, 7). Thus the focus of the book, like a photo album, is to gather and record the significant snippets of daily life. Most of the material in this book was reprinted from other volumes of Mennonite history, from Plett's journal Preservings, or from the German Mennonite Encyclopedia (Mennonitisches Lexikon). The book consists of seven parts: Historical Background (52 pages), Chortitza Colony (161 pages), Molotschna Colony (106 pages), Daughter Colonies (204 pages), Exile and Resettlement (56 pages), Emigration (79 pages), and For Faith and Intellect (36 pages). The sections on the colonies are further broken down by individual villages. Nowhere is the selection criteria for the material explained, although one goal seems to be to provide comprehensive coverage. Even so, not every village is included. The book concludes with a reprint of the 1801 Census of Chortitza Colony, bibliography, and index of names.
The overall tone of the book reflects Plett's concern with the impact of "outside" influences on Mennonite theology and tradition. Thus the judgment of others, for example, that the Pietist and Mennonite Brethren movements were detrimental to Mennonites are given some space (251, 260, 284, 509, 537). The inclusion of an essay on the history of Christianity in the "For Faith and Intellect" section highlights the seductive power American Fundamentalism holds over conservative Mennonites who are uninformed about their own history and church history more broadly. Other articles in this section by J. C. Wenger and David Schroeder emphasize the value of conservative, non-pietist expressions of Mennonite faith. The views of Plett's co-editor, Adina Reger, who was born in Kazakstan in 1950 and emigrated to Germany in 1987, are only identified in a few places (9-10, 515-7).
The book shares some of the weaknesses of photo albums as historical records. Any photo album can hold some interest for the reader if he or she finds a recognizable photo in it. Thus those people who have some memory of their time in Russia will undoubtedly find that one of the many photos or some snippet or other of story in this book will affirm their personal memories. For those outside this "family" of personal memory, the book has less draw. Reprinting from such a variety of sources means that some repetition results. We are told, for example, of Potemkin's role in bringing the Mennonites to Russia in three different places (36, 46, 227). The social and economic roles of the Mennonite family in relation to Russian society receive only indirect coverage and hence the larger forces which shaped the Mennonite experience are not fully conveyed.
Questions could also be raised about the definition of the Mennonite family. Is it cultural, ethnic, or theological? As is more typical for the German-speaking world, the definition the editors settle on seems to be largely ethnic. Thus they include the story of John Denver, a descendant of a Russian Mennonite, and leave out the story of Indonesian Mennonites, whose churches were in part planted by missionaries from Russia. The attachment to German culture and language is clear and deep, although as is true of every emigrant community, the German is a bit dated or Anglicized at places (Großsohn instead of Enkelsohn, 251, Anabaptistische Mennoniten instead of Täufer 622). This older style of German perhaps also explains the reference to the activities of the German military in the summer of 1942 -- at the height of the mass-murder of Jews, Soviet POWs, and others deemed undesirable -- as "Nazi stupidity" (Nazi-Dummheit) (332) instead of Nazi crimes, the prevalent usage in Germany today.
The book has a number of strengths in addition to its attempt to preserve the memories, if not the history, of the Mennonites in Russia. The German village names are generally accompanied by their modern Russian equivalents and several bilingual maps of former Mennonite colonies are included. The organization of the colony sections into village units makes it easy for those looking for information on specific villages to find an overview quickly without having to hunt through a variety of different monographs. The same can be said of the index of names, which broadens the scope of the Mennonite story beyond a few key leaders.
Assistant Professor of History
Henry D. Remple, From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story. Sioux Falls, S. D.: Pine Hills Press, Inc., 2001. Pp. 366. ($29.00) ISBN 1-57579-231-1
The autobiography of Henry D. Remple is a remarkable reflection upon the human spirit triumphing over many difficulties and tremendous pathos. The text, From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story, is based upon a diary kept by Remple from the time he was age 13 through 19, that is, from the years, 1922 through 1928 -- starting in Russia and ending in Nebraska. The rest of the book involves the author's reflections about his life's journey along with thoughts of his sisters, Agatha and Agnes. Throughout the text there are also comments made by his wife, Mariana Lorenz Remple.
Henry was born in 1908 during the Russian czarist regime in Alexanderwohl in the Ukraine. Because of problems including civil war, political dislocation and drought, the Remple family left their home for what would hopefully be a better life in North America. The Remples, along with many other Russians Mennonite families, left their home in 1922 heading toward the Black Sea. Here they thought they could find a port city for migration and immediate passage to a new land. Instead, the Remples, along with about 250 other families, found themselves held in Batum for several months in a destitute refugee camp. While in Batum, Remple's parents Dietrick and Aganetha (Fast) Remple and six siblings died as a result of malaria and typhoid.
With the help of Mennonite Central Committee, Henry and his two remaining sisters landed in Henderson, Nebraska, in 1923. In Nebraska he was taken in by the C. D. Epp family. From there, we read of Henry's move from adolescence to adulthood. This includes reflections about his positive experience as part of the Epp family, his work on the farm, his public school education, and getting ready for college. In the rest of the text, Henry describes his years at Tabor College, his marriage and children, work in the U.S. Army during World War II, and his many years as a professional counselor.
In reading From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story one is struck by a number of points. One is the pain and destruction that occurred during the Communist Revolution in Russia. More specifically, we see the horrific trials faced by the many Mennonites who left Russia. As a response to this pain, the Mennonite motif of service is highlighted in this book. This service is seen at the institutional level in the work of Mennonite Central Committee and the more personal involvement of the Epp family in caring for Henry. There is a brief reference to some of the pain experienced by young Henry as he settles into tightly-knit Mennonite culture in the Henderson community. This pain is not only the negative memories of the trip from Russia. The hurt also involves snubs and innuendoes experienced by this young immigrant to the United States. These snubs and innuendoes came from other Mennonites who perhaps were threatened by existence of the newcomers.
Throughout the text the reader is reminded time and time again of the power of the human spirit to persevere through the greatest odds -- and win. Important in the latter point is that the survival and positive lives led by Remple and his sisters is predicated upon the idea that children who are raised in loving homes -- as was the case of the Remple children -- may make many contributions to the larger world -- even though they may have experienced profound suffering.
In reading the book, one may wonder why Remple, as a Mennonite, became a member of the United States Army during World War II -- from 1942 until late 1945. He left the army with the rank of captain and five battle stars earned in the European Theater of Operations. In brief, Remple says regarding his entry into the military, "I had resolved my questions about how I, a person raised as a Mennonite with a proud pacifist heritage, would serve my country in the time that I had sought United States citizenship" (p.296). Not much is said about how the author made this resolution.
From Bolshevik Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story is well written. Remple has the ability of making complex situations and stories easily understood. This text is helpful in understanding the difficulties many Mennonites experienced as they left their homes in Russia during the first part of the 20th century. The text helps us to understand the difficulties of adjusting to a new culture. It is an account of Mennonites serving each other in times of profound need. The book also informs us of the many contributions Remple made in serving others in his professional role as psychologist that spanned almost sixty years. Finally, the book tells us about the importance of memory and witness. Indeed, as Paul Toews says in the forward to this text, "Because of memory, Henry D. Remple's entire life is a witness" (p.12). A witness to how triumph may overcome tragedy.
The text includes a variety of photographs and maps that help to illustrate Remple's life experience.
Henry D. Remple, Ph. D., is a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is retired from his private practice and his work as a psychologist with the Veterans Administration.
Dwight Emanuel Roth
Director of the Lifelong Education and Development (L.E.A.D.) Program
Hesston College, Hesston, KS
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Walter Klaassen, Frank Friesen, and Werner Packull, trans., Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press Canada, 2001, Pp. 429 ($40.00–paperback) ISBN 1-894710-15-0.
Reading documentary history vis-á-vis interpretative history is a big step closer to the primary events. These 34 documents were written by the actors themselves in the German language between 1524 and 1590 in the beginning decades of the Anabaptist movement in Europe. They were co-published in English as volume 10 in the Classics of the Radical Reformation series (Institute of Mennonite Studies, Elkhart, Ind./Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa.) and were supplementary to an earlier volume published by the Institute of Anabaptist and Mennonite studies at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ont. The huge task of selecting, translating and editing these source documents was a labor of love, and we are grateful to the editor and three translators for this achievement.
This collection is characterized by a number of factors in addition to its geographical source. The editor refers to "the role played by late medieval mysticism in shaping the spiritualism visible in early South German/Austrian Anabaptism—a connection to an earlier spirituality that is less clearly evident in other branches of Anabaptism" (pp. xv-xvi). This factor is more specifically emphasized in Packull's earlier book, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525-1531 (Vol. 19 in the Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History series, Goshen, Ind.).
The view of mysticism portrayed in both books is in contrast to that of Ernst Troeltsch in his two-volume work, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches. Troeltsch defined mysticism as a third type distinct from his sociological types, church and sect, the latter modeled he thought especially by the 16th century Anabaptists and the former by Catholicism and the Protestant state churches of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. Mysticism, he believed, represents the unrealistic desire to have the values of both without the pitfalls of either. It does this by a rugged individualism which evades opposition and has no ecclesiastical organization, thereby seeking the free spirituality and adapability of the church type without the binding strictures of the sect with its radical lack of culture and conventicle-like narrowness. Not so the mysticism of the south German Anabaptists, writes Snyder, which links "a greater role for the direct action of the Holy Spirit" (p. xix) with a firm commitment to the church as the disciplined, suffering body of Christ. Thus, unaware of Troetsch's definitions, these primary writers merged the rugged individualism of the medieval mystics with the otherworldliness of the sectarians.
They also contributed much to Anabaptist martyr theology. Six of these writers were beheaded for their faith and two, including one of the four women in the collection, were executed by other means. The lay reader must wonder what kind of human mentality could sanction the torture and horrible killing of persons because of their nonconformed faith. The necks of six of these pious, zealous Anabaptists were pressed to a block and their heads severed by the sword of the executioner upon the order of a magistrate. Snyder tries to interpret this enigma by explaining, "The fundamental political assumption in the sixteenth century was that order in the social-political sphere could only be maintained by a unified religious confession in any given political territory. A ‘separation of church and state' was virtually inconceivable….Civil enforcement of a uniform religious confession and the persecution of religious dissenters had a long, if inglorious, political history reaching back to the christianization of the late Roman Empire. The persecution of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century followed this bloody, time-honoured model….What was surprising was that the coming of the Protestant Reformation changed so little in this regard."
For this reader, Snyder's perspective cannot fully explain the motives of such violent persecution, and a behavioral perspective is also needed. Mass hysteria is a form of collective behavior, illustrated by witch-hunts of many kinds in human history involving widespread and contagious anxiety, usually caused by some unfounded belief. Abusers typically enjoy the power exercised over their victims while they are being tortured and killed. A revealing illustration from the book at hand is the torture and death of Hans Hut: "The Hutterite Chronicle…states that after being tortured, Hut was left in his cell like a dead man; a light accidentally set the straw on fire, which killed him. Augsburg officials, apparently frustrated at not being able to execute Hut, tied his body to a chair, officially sentenced him to death, and burned his body on December 7, 1527."
Another characteristic of the collection is the inclusion of five anti-Anabaptist documents, plus three by Anabaptists who recanted, and one about false or flawed Anabaptist leaders. Document #9 specified the appropriate recantation procedures required by the magistrates, and document #18 was an effort to justify the prosecution of Anabaptists. In the vein of Snyder's historical perspective, Urbanus Rhegius' main argument was the alleged need to "compel" persons to return to the "one holy apostolic Christian church." For a twisted biblical support, Rhegius cited Jesus' parable of the great banquet, "Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled." (Luke 14:23, italics added).
The best review of this book is the one given in the editor's introduction, citing the Anabaptist spokespersons on such themes as the following:
Suffering and the body of Christ. "All who become attached to Christ through his divine word are his members, that is, hands, feet or eyes…. To such members Christ, true man in the flesh, is the head through whom the members are governed."…"Those are the exiled of whom all prophets write, who can have no place to stay but must be ever chased and driven from one city into another…. In brief, there must be suffering, whether here or there. We must all be purged in water or fire." (Ambrosius Spitelmaier, 1527, pp. 56-57, 61).
The new life. "O dearly-beloved brothers and sisters in the Christian gathering: Let us note well the first plank of this house, as Christ teaches us: 'Refrain from sin' (Matt. 3). For sin has no place in this house. If we build with sin we are not building the house of God, but rather the house of darkness. But when we refrain from sin, we will not dishonour the name of God, but praise, extol and honour it, and begin to love him with our whole hearts, as he first loved us." (Eitelhans Langenmantel, 1527, p. 113).
Scripture and the Holy Spirit. "The scriptures give only an outer witness of a true life, but they cannot create a new being in me….Some think that one must believe the dead letter of Scriptures without the experience of God's illuminating power, but that would mean nothing less than inventing delusionary truth. Such a person accepts the Scriptures without having the inner experience to which they witness." (Hans Hut, 1527, pp. 18-19).
Nine of the last eleven documents were written by Paul Glock between 1563 and 1573. During the nineteen years of his imprisonment, he experienced the whole range of persecution from painful torture to a six-months period when he was allowed to leave the prison during the day to seek gainful employment and witness to fellow workers. He always returned to his cell for night and remained steadfast and clear-minded in his faith and witness. But in spite of the temporary tolerance of the warden and his wife, who supplied him with paper and ink, he was most critical of his captors and wrote things about them that were "not calculated to win him friends" as our editor put it. On one occasion the warden, three clergymen, and several theologians, came to interview him and another Anabaptist prisoner, explaining that "they came with good intent and desired that their imprisonment should end. The prisoners were only to obey and answer well." In his response Glock said to them, "Your teaching, preaching, church and assembly is a mob and an assembly of fornicators, adulterers, liars, blasphemers, drunkards, proud, usurers, and all unclean spirits in whom the devil has and does his work" (pp. 309, 315). This kind of polemic raises a question I dared to raise in my critique of Conrad Grebel, "Have Mennonite scholars tended to overlook the provocations of their Anabaptist forebears in order to lay the entire blame on the Magisterial reformers for their resort to violent prosecution?" (The Conrad Grebel Review, Spring 1989, p. 143). My answer there was two-fold: If we are talking about the breakdown in communication, the answer is "Yes," but if we are talking about equal responsibility for persecution and murder, the answer is surely "No." As Glock put it, "The devil forces people into his kingdom using arrests, stocks, dungeons, prison, expulsions and murder. Such things Christ and the apostles never did."
I'll end with a minor complaint about the production of this book. Even before I finished reading everything the first time through, it started coming apart and whole sections fell out. This important collection of source documents deserves a better binding.
North Newton, KS
C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Gilbert Fast and Galen Peters, trans., Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren, 1540. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press Canada, 2001. Pp. 227 ($20.00–paperback) ISBN 2-894710-16-9.
Concordances are a particular genre of Bible study guides about which most readers are familiar. As the editor of this source book points out, however, there are two types of biblical concordances—verbal and topical. The ones most familiar to us are of the former type. Selected if not all, the words of Scripture for a particular version (KJV, RSV, NIV, etc.) are listed alphabetically with the chapter and verse citation of each. It is assumed that we have a copy of that version of the Bible at hand as we search for the citation of a verse containing a word in which we are interested.
All of the early Anabaptist concordances (and there were multiple variations) were of the topical kind (see Robert Friedmann's article in Mennonite Encyclopedia (Vol. 1, pp. 665-7). One by Conrad Grebel and Hans Krüsi dated 1525 uses only two topics—faith (37 passages) and baptism (16 passages). The 1540 Swiss Brethren Concordance contains 66 topics, under each of which the selected passages are cited verbatim or in a few instances only their locations are listed.
These concordances had two functions—apologetic and educational, the former used primarily as a tool in the debates with their accusers and the latter as self-study resources among the Anabaptists themselves. The purpose of the Grebel-Krüsi concordance was mostly apologetic while the function of the Swiss Brethren Concordance was mostly in-group education. Thus, its production over some years surrounding 1540 reflects the gradual transition from the founding of the movement to its more established state. In this transition, as H. Richard Niebuhr explained in The Social Sources of Denominationalism, the movement "must take on the character of an educational and disciplinary institution, with the purpose of bringing the new generation into conformity with ideals and customs which have become traditional" (pp.19-20). To this observation the editor of our source volume adds the factor of the life-span transition: "The narrative thread guiding the selection marks the stages of the Christian life, lived in response to God's call: its beginning, formation, and faithful obedience to the end" (p. xvii).
Other Anabaptist concordances (e.g., one by the Pilgram Marpeck circle) emphasized the preeminence of New Testament passages over those from the Old Testament; but the Swiss Brethren Concordance did not make that distinction. As the editor pointed out, "there is a simple, but unspoken, assumption…that God's words to Israel are meant just as truly [as the New Testament] for the later church" (p.xiii).
Apparently, the editor and translators debated the general principles that guided their translation of the selected biblical passages. Retaining the comparative accuracies and inaccuracies of the original German of the Zürich Bible, what they did in effect was to translate texts that had already been translated from the Hebrew and Greek Bible (or perhaps from the Latin Vulgate, in itself an earlier translation). The option would have been to use of the latest and more reliable versions of the Bible, perhaps using endnotes to highlight the differences in the Swiss Brethren Concordance. This decision hinges on what is the primary purpose in publishing source volumes in the English language. If the purpose is primarily scholarship, the reader wants access to the original document as nearly as possible. If the purpose is to give the reader a resource for self Bible study, continuing the educational aim of the original Concordance, it might be preferable to do so with a more reliable modern version. Since the purpose of Anabaptist source volumes is to read these documents in 20th century English in either case, perhaps the editor and translators should have provided side-by-side versions of every text—one based on the 16th century Zürich Bible and the other an up-dated 20th century Bible.
This reviewer had the same problem with the binding—the coming apart of whole sections. I doubt whether I'm normally that hard on the books I read!
North Newton, KS
Kimberly D. Schmidt, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Steven D. Reschly, eds., Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Pp. 398. ($39.95) ISBN 0-8018-6786-x
Sitting alongside her grandniece one afternoon, Sarah Hartlzer, or "Aunt Toot" as she is known to family, opened an old saltbox and took out an ornate gold ring, engraved with flowers. Conscious of the baffled look on her grandniece's face, the old Mennonite woman remarked, "We weren't always plain."
Sarah Hartlzer's revelation, included in Julia Kasdorf's essay on Mennonite women's poetry, points to one of the central themes of a new collection of essays entitled Strangers at Home. Although the essays vary widely in their focus, most emphasize themes immediately familiar to historians of women—the centrality of women in community and religious life, the constructed nature of gender, the non-linear pattern of tradition, and the different ways women and men interpret gender. Through essays that examine Anabaptist communities since the sixteenth century, the contributors reconstruct the evolution of Anabaptist cultural tradition, particularly as it has impacted the lives of women. In three separate sections, Strangers at Home suggests that Anabaptist women have acted and been acted upon to secure community identity, maintain a sense of "otherness" from the outside world, and negotiate a livable existence between pre-industrial and modern society.
In the first section, "Practice Makes Gender," contributors wrestle with the ways their own identities make them outsiders and insiders in Anabaptist communities. Diane Zimmerman Umble, for example, found that her interviewees insisted upon evaluating her "family tree" so they could place this "feminist Mennonite woman scholar" in a context to which they could relate. Umble found her legitimacy among her Mennonite and Amish subjects rested on her fulfillment of traditional gender roles and in her relationship to men. Ironically, at the same time, Umble senses her ethno-religious identity threatens her legitimacy among her non-Anabaptist colleagues, who often assume an incompatibility between "serious" research and religious belief.
While being an "outsider" may create obstacles for a researcher, it can also provide insight. Beth Graybill draws on feminist analysis, particularly the concept of agency, to uncover the complexity of prescriptive dress codes for some Mennonite women. Although the dress code signals women's subordinate status to men, conservative dress also provides the women with a means of witnessing to their faith, a sense of security from the outside world, visible evidence of shared values, and a way to avoid the objectification implicit in contemporary fashion. Similarly, in observing the Old Order River Brethren breadmaking ritual, Margaret Reynolds found that the women who ceremonially make bread in silence cherish the sisterhood the ritual nurtures.
In the second section, "Creating Gendered Community," the contributors focus on Anabaptist women's roles in immigration, community-building, and schisms. Jeni Hiett Umble's essay, for example, suggests that gender shaped the way that sixteenth-century Anabaptist women in Augsburg held meetings and gained converts. In a fascinating essay on immigrant communities in Paraguay, Marlene Epp points to the crucial ways gender constructions shape social perceptions. Mennonite Central Committee considered the predominantly female communities of Volendam and Neuland "weak" precisely because they lacked male heads of household, breadwinners, and religious officials. While poverty and the grueling task of settlement indeed tested them physically and economically, the female immigrants endured the process through backbreaking work, as well as by consciously creating female villages and adapting marital standards to create new family situations. Both essays highlight the ways gender shapes women's activities in their communities and the ways women capitalize upon or adapt gender systems to move forward.
Other scholars in this section examine women's resistance to patriarchy and the impact of shifting gender roles on Anabaptist communities. Taking restrictive dress codes as their focus (as many of the contributors do), these authors note that dress codes frequently serve as a source of conflict. Steven Reschly argues that anxiety about the "flood tide of American individualism" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led male community leaders to tighten dress codes and familial roles for women, establishing what he calls "preservationist patriarchy." Kimberly Schmidt's study of a conservative Mennonite community in the 1930s and 1980s reveals how social anxiety over the Great Depression and Reagan-era farm crises challenged the community. While the economic hardship pushed Mennonite women into the public workforce, the move often led to an abandonment of the traditional cape dress and prayer covering. Women who worked "off-farm" found themselves at the center of a struggle between economic necessity and religious tradition and were often scapegoated as troublemakers. Both essays emphasize how communities invest their cultural identity and security in the plain dress of women.
In the third and perhaps most interesting section, "(Re)creating Gendered Tradition," contributors emphasize the malleable nature of tradition. Royden Loewen's engaging, "Household, Coffee Klatsch, and Office," looks at women's diaries, newsletters, and community histories to trace the evolution of gender roles among Mennonite women in the post-WWII era. Loewen argues that Mennonite women lost authority as communities moved from self-sufficiency in the 1940s to commercial farming in the 1950s. As women's productive roles on the farm diminished, traditional gender roles changed. Where once they emphasized gender mutuality and productivity, Cold War-era Mennonite farmwomen now defined themselves as "housewives" and stressed their "traditional" roles as consumers and caregivers. Economic depression in the 1970s forced many Mennonite women to once again embrace productive roles and turn to wage work. Community histories of the 1970s, though, reveal that women took pride in their professional accomplishments even as they continued to identify closely with their Mennonite communities. Loewen's essay suggests that Anabaptist gender "traditions" have not followed a straight path from orthodox to liberal, or from plain to worldly.
In an equally fine essay, Julia Kasdorf looks at women's poetry to expose the non-linear and contested nature of tradition. By quoting their poetry, Kasdorf allows readers to see Mennonite women not as silent objects upon which communities manifest their anxieties and construct their identities, but as individuals who have been and still are conflicted and decidedly unsilent (at least on the page). These writers struggle with issues common to all women of faith—how to reconcile the individual and community, negotiate the earthly and the spiritual, and acknowledge the constructed nature of tradition and gender without devaluing religious belief.
In a stinging final essay, Jane Marie Pederson finally states what many readers will be longing to read by the end of the book—Anabaptist women have borne the brunt of resistance to "worldliness." As Anabaptist communities worry about the press of the modern world, women find their lives increasingly restricted. Pederson claims that such a trend—the restriction of women's lives as a response to modernism—has "ceased to represent resistance" to the outside world and has, in reality, become a kind of "accommodation to the dominant culture." Like the Victorian Cult of Domesticity, narrowing codes of behavior and dress for Anabaptist women—and masking it as "tradition"—allows Anabaptist communities, particularly men, to assuage the guilt they feel over embracing modern capitalism. Communities use women to maintain visual evidence of their "outsider identity." As Pederson explains, "gender asymmetry" has become the only clear distinction communities have from the "dominant culture."
Pederson's essay is perhaps the most crucial in the collection for it summarizes the themes and, importantly, the shortcomings of the preceding essays. While she acknowledges that women and men often perceive the same gender system differently, Pederson argues that the meaning of these traditions can change. A dress code that once functioned to emphasize unity may decades later simply signify inferiority. Too many of the contributors stretch their analyses in a struggle to find female "agency" amidst increasingly patriarchal Anabaptist communities. For example, Reynolds claims that the River Brethren breadmaking ritual, while authoritarian in nature, is actually a source of power for women. Women, Reynolds argues, "have the literal power to make or break the group by accepting or rejecting social restraints." This sounds good, but do River Brethren women really have a choice? Is it realistic to suppose that the women—many without higher education and paying jobs—have the means to support themselves when faced with the social ostracism that would surely follow a rejection of "traditional" customs and gender roles? River Brethren women likely consent to silently make bread (and buttress patriarchy in the process) because they either agree with the patriarchal social structure or they recognize that rejection of the ritual would result in shunning and economic devastation. As a "tradition" barely a generation old, the breadmaking ritual is a prime example of how many conservative Anabaptist communities attempt to maintain their separation from the world by placing new restrictions on the lives of female members.
Beyond these feminist criticisms, Strangers at Home needs an introduction to Anabaptist anti-modernism and a short discussion of the ideological differences between the Amish, Mennonite, and Quaker traditions in the beginning of the book. Pederson outlines anti-modernism and Barbara Bolz juxtaposes Quaker and Mennonite "silence" in the book's final section, but non-Anabaptist readers need this information sooner.
Generally, however, Strangers at Home is a good read and an important addition to both Anabaptist and feminist historiography. As a Catholic feminist, I found the collection to be a good introduction to Anabaptist history, as well as an excellent source for articles on the nexus between religious belief and public behavior. Moreover, the essays provide further evidence of the diversity of women's experiences, the complexity of community-building, and the centrality of women in history. Finally, the candor with which the contributors address their own commitment to faith and scholarship is a topic today's students rarely tackle. These essays provide valuable insight into the ways one's multiple identities—scholar, (non)believer, rich, poor, middle-class, nomadic, rooted, gay, straight, celibate—leave their mark on the questions we ask, the manner in which we ask them, and the way we respond to the answers
Penelope Adams Moon
Assistant Professor of History
John B. Toews, ed., The Story of the Early Mennonite Brethren (1860-1869): Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman. Winnipeg and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Productions, 2002. Pp. 188. ($8.99–paperback) ISBN: 0-921788-763-8
This book consists of a set of documents recently discovered in the St. Petersburg Imperial Archives dealing with an investigation of the controversial emergence of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia. The scope of the documents is broader than merely the "Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman." In addition to the official reports of the government investigator, letters and reports of numerous other government officials and religious spokesmen are included. The translated documents were compiled and skillfully edited by John B. Toews, a leading authority on Mennonite-Russian history.
Did the rise of the Mennonite Brethren reform movement in the early 1860s pose a threat to economic and social stability? What was the nature of this new sect, and what were the motives of the secessionists? These were questions that evoked concern among civic and religious leaders in the Mennonite colonies and officials in the Russian government.
The dissenters maintained that the established Mennonite Church was spiritually decadent and displayed an overall lifestyle deficit. Their efforts to bring about renewal from within had been rebuffed. Only by withdrawing, they believed, could they create a pure church based on the precepts of the Bible and the teachings of Menno Simons. Some of the early more radical Brethren leaders endorsed ecstatic religious services involving dancing, leaping, shouting, and hymn singing accompanied by a variety of musical instruments. Because of their exuberance, these adherents were scornfully referred to as Hüpfers, or Jumpers. (The exuberant movement was formally condemned by the Brethren in 1865.) Some church and village leaders resorted to harsh measures, including court procedures, imprisonment, and threat of exile in an effort to convince the dissidents of the error of their ways, and to discourage others from joining them. The controversies and rumors surrounding the movement, plus the concern that the Brethren were seeking to evangelize among the Orthodox population, prompted the czarist government to investigate the "new mystical sect."
The man appointed to make the investigation was Alexander Brune, an Evangelical Lutheran magistrate. Brune's name was submitted by a Lutheran church official, indicating that the Lutherans were also concerned about the active proselytizing of the Brethren. The inquiry took place from December, 1863 through November, 1864. Brune filed his reports periodically, divided into Parts I through IV. He agreed with the dissidents that the Mennonite Church had strayed far from the teachings and lifestyle promulgated by Menno Simons. And he believed that they had served the church well by issuing a warning cry for spiritual renewal. Brune interviewed persons on both sides of the split, including a number of the Brethren leaders who were advocates of the exuberant movement. To him they came across as fanatical, arrogant and confrontational. Thereafter he became more critical of the dissenting group. It appears this aggressive element may have colored his perceptions of the entire Brethren movement. Also, he became greatly disturbed by the attempts to convert Lutherans and the adherents of other faiths, and to force rebaptism by immersion upon them. And he criticized them for breaking civil and church laws.
On the other hand, Brune was also critical of the Molotschna elders who opposed the formation of a new church. They had sent a letter condemning the secessionists and recommending that they be "dealt with according to the law," claiming that it came from all of the elders, when in fact it expressed the views of only some. He also addressed the harsh treatment of the dissidents, and consistently pointed out the need for renewal in the existing church. But by the time Brune completed his investigation, he had concluded that the "Hüpfers" were not God's chosen instruments "for reforming the fallen Christian church." (112). What had begun as worthy and good, he said, degenerated into hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and "pharisaic conceit" (110).
The investigator predicted the Brethren movement would suffer a quick decline. Spiritual flaws, including a loveless spirit, weak leadership, and internal disputes were among the reasons given. The decision to move to the Kuban would not alter their ultimate fate. Initially he believed the movement held the potential for dangerous consequences, but in the end he concluded otherwise. Let them move, set up their own church system, and fall to anarchy, he advised. Another document included in this study reveals that the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs arrived at similar conclusions. Purely religious sects, officials declared, did not pose a threat to the established order; and sectarians should be permitted to form their own congregation. It was believed that such a congregation would soon suffer from factionalism and lose its zeal to convert Orthodox adherents. Resettling the Brethren in the undeveloped Caucasus, it was believed, would defuse the immediate situation and probably hasten their demise. Of course, the predictions of the decline and fall of the new church did not materialize, although the Kuban settlement did initially suffer from dissension and defections to other religious sects.
Brune's reports, according to Toews, confirm the content of materials found in the published works of Franz Isaak, Jakob Bekker, P. M. Friesen, and others. In addition, some previously unknown documents surfaced, including a February 29, 1860 Mennonite Brethren membership list. Of great interest to me was the discovery that my great- grandfather Jacob Kroeker and his family accounted for seven of the 130 members of the church as of that date.
The Brune investigation is of further value in that it provides us with a rare outsider's view of the Mennonite Church split. Toews believes that "Brune certainly tried to be objective—at least initially." (7). It is clear that over time he developed a strongly negative attitude toward the Brethren movement and its leaders At times his Lutheran bias is evident. Many of his criticisms of the Brethren, for example, echo the arguments made by Lutheran theologians against the Anabaptists during the Reformation period. These included their view of the sacraments and who should administer them; disobeying government authorities; the practice of rebaptism; and arrogantly claiming to have established the true church.
Brune's assertion that "The Mennonite community of South Russia remains at its former low and impaired level of intelligence, morality and religious education," reveals at best a jaundiced view of the Mennonites. (107). His consistent use of the term Hüpfers in reference to the Mennonite Brethren may also be revealing. By adopting the derisive nickname given to them by their detractors, rather than the name chosen by the founders, he appears more like an antagonist than a neutral investigator. Nevertheless, this outside perspective, added to our existing inside perspectives—also not bias-free—broadens our understanding of the Mennonite schism. Since the publication of this work more Brune archival materials have been found. It will be interesting to learn what they might add to the story.
We are indebted to Professor Toews for making this material available in the English language, and to Kindred Productions for publishing it. It is unfortunate that an index was not included.
Marvin E. Kroeker
Professor Emeritus of History
East Central University