STUTTGART, Germany (RNS/ENInews) A global Lutheran assembly in Germany has asked for forgiveness for the 16th-century persecution of Anabaptists, the religious reformers whose modern-day descendants include Mennonites.
“We remember how Anabaptist Christians knew suffering and persecution, and we remember how some of our most honored Reformation leaders defended this persecution in the name of faithfulness,” said Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation, at a joint service of repentance with Mennonites on Thursday (July 22).
Anabaptists, whose originally pejorative name means “re-baptizers,” stressed the need to baptize Christian believers, including those who had been baptized as infants. Both Protestants and Catholics persecuted Anabaptists as heretics, and many fled to America.
“I think it would be naive to say that this (service) is an end to it. … For me, it is a beginning; it is a process that all of us have to work on, all of us have to pass on to each new generation,” the president of the Mennonite World Conference, the Rev. Danisa Ndlovu, told ENInews after the joint service.
The successors of the Anabaptists are found in groups such as the Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites.
The LWF includes 70 million Christians in churches worldwide, while the MWC accounts for some 1.6 million members, most of them from Africa, Asia or Latin America.
The ceremony was the result of three decades of dialogue and reconciliation that began in 1980 during the 450th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, a key Lutheran doctrinal text, after Mennonite representatives asked how they could celebrate a document that explicitly condemned their teachings.
The service in Stuttgart took place on the same day that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the titular head of the Anglican Communion, addressed the LWF assembly.
“All the `historic’ confessional churches have perhaps most to repent, given the commitment of the Mennonite communities to nonviolence,” Williams said. “We look at a world in which centuries of Christian collusion with violence has left so much unchallenged in the practices of power.”
Larry Miller, general secretary of the Mennonite World Conference, said his side also had things to atone for.
“At times, we have claimed the martyr tradition as a badge of Christian superiority,” he said. “We sometimes nurtured an identity rooted in victimization that could foster a sense of self-righteousness and arrogance, blinding us to the frailties and failures that are also deeply woven into our tradition.”