The 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025 gives the church a unique opportunity to celebrate and dream. This week on ~ing Podcast, hosts Allison Maus and Ben Wideman are joined by Mollee Moua and John Roth, two individuals helping to shape this anniversary celebration. They will share some of their vision for how we might celebrate the Spirit’s calling together of diverse people across all boundaries of culture and geography, and to dream about how more people can be invited into and participate in leading and shaping Anabaptism’s future. This is part one of a miniseries where we’ll meet more of the people involved with this incredible project.
To learn more about Anabaptism at 500 or how to add your voice to the first-ever Anabaptist Community Bible, visit Anabaptismat500.com
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A written transcript of this episode is available at our website – https://www.mennomedia.org/ing-podcast/
~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit Publisher that creates thoughtful, Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at www.mennomedia.org/ing-podcast.
Allison Maus, Mollee Moua, John Roth, Ben Wideman
Ben Wideman 00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine. What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?
John Roth 00:09
So being attentive to the past, being thoughtful about the past,
Mollee Moua 00:15
…Celebrating creative expressions of Anabaptist witness
John Roth 00:20
…Is, it seems to me an empowering way of engaging the future.
Ben Wideman 00:26
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now, join us as we journey together. Hello, friends, welcome to this new season of ~ing Podcast. We’re really excited to have you all with us. And we are especially excited to start a mini series. We’re going to spend the next few episodes talking about a pretty significant project that is underway, sort of “in-house” here with MennoMedia. It’s called Anabaptism at 500. And we have two key folks from that project here with us today. We’re going to get to know them a little bit and get to know the project a little bit and we’ll go on this journey together. The tagline is “Looking Back, Living Forward.” And I think that’s a good way to to start a podcast series as well. I’m joined once again by my co host, Allison Maus… Allison, good to see you. It’s been a little while since we’ve had the headsets on together.
Allison Maus 01:34
Yeah. Good to be back.
Ben Wideman 01:36
Thanks for joining us once again. And we’ve got our two guests here. Mollee and John. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to introduce yourselves for our audience. Why don’t we start with Mollee?
Mollee Moua 01:48
Sure. Thanks for having us on the podcast here, Ben and Allison. But yeah, my name is Mollee Moua. And I’m the Managing Editor for Anabaptism at 500 project. And I live in Kitchener, Ontario. And yeah, I’ll just say that for now.
John Roth 02:07
Yeah, it’s great to be part of this conversation. My name is John Roth. For many years, I taught in the history department at Goshen College and edited a journal called the Mennonite Quarterly Review. But six months ago or so I started as project director of anabaptism at 500. And I continue to work out of an office on the campus of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.
Ben Wideman 02:33
Thanks so much for taking the time to be here with us. I wonder if a good starting point is what drew you to this project? How did the two of you get involved in Anabaptism at 500?
John Roth 02:46
Well, for most of my career as a historian, I have been interested in the Anabaptist Mennonite tradition. And I have tried to think of my work as scholarship for the church and in some ways in the publication’s the books that I’ve written are the articles to help connect the world of academics with the world congregational life. And this project pulls together so many of my interests in previous commitments, in that it clearly is attentive to the past. We are, our tagline is “Looking Back”… But the focus really is on the contemporary church, and where are we headed. How does the past helped inform the future of the church? And I’m really interested in renewal, the theme of renewal, which is part of the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement. It’s been part of our tradition in every generation. And now we have an opportunity to participate in that renewal. As we look to the next 500 years.
Mollee Moua 03:54
Yeah, um, I was introduced to the project by our then executive minister, Leah Reesor Keller. And she had caught wind of that project, and she had shared it with me. And it just seemed like a really interesting project to be part of. I’ve always been connected to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. And so being in that role for about 10 years, has allowed me to connect with people from all different congregations and diversities and ethnicities and age groups. And I just saw this as an opportunity to extend that network and get to know people outside of the MCC bubble and know get to know more of those minute brothers sisters around the globe, particularly in my church USA. But also, what was interesting was the products and the projects. And so, MennoMedia had just completed Voices Together and here was this new project that they’re undertaking and the projects are the products that we’re hoping to produce is a wide variety and range. And so that was also exciting. You know, we’re creating an app, children’s books, or Bible, you know, devotional, just a wide range of projects that seem really interesting. But, you know, I don’t really have a lot of experience on creating an app. But it would be pretty cool to be a part of creating something like that.
Allison Maus 05:24
You talked a little bit about some of the projects that are going to come out of this. But will you take a moment as someone who’s asking as an outsider here, here from the Presbyterian tradition… Can you tell me more broadly about what this project involves?
John Roth 05:41
Sure. The the Anabaptist tradition emerged in the 16th century in the context of the Protestant Reformation. And part of the energy around this movement was connected with Martin Luther and the recovery of scripture as a kind of central beginning point for the Christian life. And many of the early Anabaptists, in fact, were early proto Lutherans and that and sharing his enthusiasm for reading scripture and asking what does it mean for our daily lives. And the Anabaptist movement emerged, because many of those young, radical readers of scripture, begin to ask hard questions about the connection between what they read in Scripture and what they saw in the church, and particularly around baptism. So the conviction that baptism should be reserved only for those who voluntarily decided to follow Jesus became a signature expression of the Anabaptist movement. Those first baptisms of adults, happened in January of 1525, in Zurich, Switzerland. And so we have taken 1525 as kind of the symbolic beginning moment, for the Anabaptist movement. We know that movements always have many streams, feeding into them, a movement never starts at any given moment. But symbolically, the adult baptisms, which brought these radicals to the eyes of the authorities, and got them into a lot of trouble. That’s the symbolic beginning. And so now, as we approach 2025, we have the opportunity to celebrate a 500 year birthday of this tradition. And we want to do that thoughtfully. Celebration is part of it. But there’s also plenty to confess along the way, we want to be attentive to the shadow sides of our theological tradition. And we want to invite contemporary Anabaptists in all their diversity, to rediscover the Bible, to reclaim sort of the energy and inspiration that gave rise to this movement 500 years ago, because we believe that the Bible continues to speak in new and fresh and exciting ways today, just as it did 500 years ago.
Ben Wideman 08:23
Mollee specifically, you talked about, you know, thinking beyond your local definition of what it means to be a Mennonite. I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about how this project is positioning itself in a global denomination, to think about anabaptism at 500 for a global church, but coming from a North American perspective, can you say more to that unique dynamic here?
Mollee Moua 08:50
I’ll start a little bit with the Anabaptist Bible. And a part of that project is we’re looking for involvement from 500 lay Bible study groups. And so this is a project that we’re inviting everyone to participate in. When whether you identify yourself as Anabaptist you’re welcome to that. And so we’ve cast the umbrella wide in terms of, you know, if you’re more conservative, like the conservative Mennonites, or Amish or something, even to all the way up to maybe more progressive or liberal Mennonites, and so also it’s not only just MC USA and MC Canada, and so, because it’s a Anabaptist Bible trying to broaden that to include our other Anabaptist brothers and sisters. One realization is also that the end products are going to be in English. And so keeping that in mind, you know, we are we translated the Bible studies into other languages such as Spanish, French, uh… Bahasa Indonesian. And was there another one join? Was there?
John Roth 10:06
I think just those three right now it’s those three.
Mollee Moua 10:09
Yeah. We want to invite people to participate. But understanding that the majority of the Bible study groups, most will most likely be from North America. But that’s not to say that there is a Bible study group that’s, that has registered to participate from Japan or China and Germany. And so where it is starting to spread, and we are definitely inviting and reaching out to the global family. So with those pieces, yes, definitely. This is a project that we’re hoping to include global Global Voices in that. But then recognizing that, at the end, the products will most likely be geared towards the North American audience.
Ben Wideman 10:54
Primary primarily published by MennoMedia, which is based here in North America. Yeah,
Mollee Moua 11:01
Yeah. So one way of reaching beyond that is we’re hoping is with the app. And so a lot of people overseas have smartphones. And so hopefully, they can get connected to the Anabaptist Bible and other projects through the app. So that’s one product that we’re hoping to make more accessible globally as well, hoping to share more global stories in our photo book. And so we’re… one of the projects is in an Anabaptist photo book, celebrating creative expressions of Anabaptist Witness. And so I’ve been kind of looking through, you know, through MWC stats, and it says, Okay, well 36%, or something of Anabaptist are in, in Africa, or in this region. And so hopefully trying to bring representation and the photo book baseline, okay, if we did 100 stories, and hopefully, you know, a third of those would be from this region. And so then we can kind of hear more from our global brothers sisters in the photo book. That’s some ways that we’re trying to do that as well. In North America, we can hear from a number of different voices from, for example, like the Hmong community who live in Canada, right? So there’s diversity around us as well.
Allison Maus 12:30
I’m curious, you have this wonderful tagline of Looking Backwards, Living Forward. And I am curious to know, that’s part of the purpose of the project to uncover a little bit of that… But could you speak more to that about what does that mean? Why is it important for us to revisit and look back, as we envision, find hope for the future of the church?
John Roth 12:55
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are shaped by our history. And so being attentive to the past, being thoughtful about the past, is it seems to me an empowering way of engaging the future, that you’re not just unreflective about why you care about certain things and ignore other things, but well, as in as individuals, we understand ourselves better by thinking carefully about our past. Collectively, that’s also the case. But we want to do that cautiously. Or carefully. 50 years ago, at the 450th commemoration in 1975, there was a kind of celebration of Mennonite ethnic culture in North America. So a lot of the emphasis was on German elements of Mennonite identity, so frock tour art, for example, or a lot of emphasis on in the 16th century, the martyr stories, so and it was very much focused on the past. And we care about that. We want to, we want to reflect on what are the themes from the past that are relevant today. But our primary attention is going to be where is this movement headed? And as Molly already mentioned, in the past 50 years, the number of Anabaptist Mennonites around the world has nearly tripled. And virtually all of that growth has happened in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Now, in North America, we can look at the Amish and say, Okay, that’s an Anabaptist group that has has also grown significantly. But by and large the growth in in this 500 year old tradition has happened outside of Europe and North America. And that’s exciting. That’s part of what it when we think about the future of the movement. We need to be attentive to that, and ask how does the vibrancy and the excitement about Christian faith that is driving that movement that that growth outside of North America? How can we bring some of that back here in ways that will enliven our own understanding of faith?
Ben Wideman 15:38
I’m curious, as I hear you talk about trying to be as inclusive as we can be to these many different streams of what Anabaptism has become… With the awareness that people of faith, they’re pretty good at splintering and segmenting and creating new denominations. Is there any red flag or danger in celebrating one of those fracture points in our history 500 years ago? And and how do you sort of hold that while you celebrate In the midst of it?
John Roth 16:09
It is a good reminder that the beginning of any particular Christian group is also almost always a division of fracture,
Ben Wideman 16:23
Painful in some way, probably right. Yeah.
John Roth 16:26
And so it’s true that the body of Christ was broken, early 16th century, in ways that call us also to reflect on our debts to the Catholic Church, out of which we emerged, our debts to the Lutheran tradition, the Reformed tradition. And I’m deeply grateful that Mennonite World Conference and also Mennonites in North America have been increasingly open to those acknowledgments in those conversations. It’s harder to acknowledge debts to those groups that are first cousins, you know, that broke off, divided in, you know, recent memory. Those wounds are still fresh in some ways. And we have really worked hard to offer this project. As a big tent, no one owns the Anabaptist brand. And we hope that commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist tradition can be an opportunity to invite our diverse body in the Anabaptist Mennonite tradition, into some even symbolic ways of shared shared engagement. It’s not easy, there are a lot of ways of getting it wrong. But we want to keep reaching out. We want to, we want to find ways of offering olive branches and building bridges. And particularly with the Anabaptist Bible project, we hope that we can have representation from a wide variety of faith communities in the Anabaptist tradition.
Ben Wideman 18:30
Did I just hear the train pass through Goshen?
John Roth 18:33
Sorry. You can edit that out, right? That little line there.
Ben Wideman 18:38
For those who understand Anabaptist they’ll understand there’s a train that goes through Goshen campus.
John Roth 18:46
It’s been with us for 100 years! Well, and Anabaptismat500.com. So anabaptism at 500 – the numbers – .com. We’ll help listeners find out more about the project. So at some place, we’d we’d want to make sure that clear.
Ben Wideman 19:14
And you’re still looking for folks to participate in shaping the Bible project, for instance, be coming a study group member, things like that.
John Roth 19:23
Mollee Moua 19:25
Yeah, we are. We’re at about 100 A little over 100 groups. So our goal is to hit 500. So yeah, lots of room for people to to join in.
Ben Wideman 19:35
That website is an extensive place to find out the different pathways that are that are happening here. I wonder if either of you would be willing to share who else at this point is involved with this project. And I know we will be meeting some of these folks in future episodes but but who is joining you it’s not just the two of you shaping this, this endeavor?
John Roth 19:57
Well, we have For example, there are more than 50 biblical scholars Anabaptist biblical scholars who are writing introductions, and some of them are supplying a biblical context notes for the margins of this study Bible. So we have lots of connections with our biblical scholars. We have a group of Anabaptist historians who are combing through the primary sources of the 16th and 17th century, and looking for a kind of biblical commentary that’s linked to a specific verse that we can excerpt and drop in. So there’s a cluster of Anabaptist historians. We have four artists who are working on original linocut style artwork that will become part of the Anabaptist Bible. There’s a staff at Menno media that has been very, very engaged and supportive. We have an Advisory Group of let’s see, I think nine people from a wide range of locations who bring their interests and passions to this project. We’ll be meeting with them in Kitchener in second week of January, not Kitchener in Hanover,
Ben Wideman 21:17
John and Mollee, thank you so much for taking the time. If you’re not aware, Mollee was part of a team that put together a podcast for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada called “Courageous Imagination.” I think it was a 10 episode series. And Mollee has been gracious enough to join us for this podcast series. She’ll be my cohost here for the next several episodes as we continue to interview people connected with the anabaptism at 500 project. Mollee, thank you. This isn’t the last time that we’ll hear from you. But John, thank you so much for being someone to help this take shape and get moving. And for joining us here today on the podcast. It’s been great to have you both here with us.
John Roth 22:02
Thanks for the opportunity. And we’re grateful for your work. Thank you,
Ben Wideman 22:08
Listeners, we really encourage you to check out anabaptismat500.com. If you type it in your search bar, you’ll get it pretty quickly. I’m sure you can see so much more about this project and find different ways to get involved and we hope you do so.
Allison Maus 22:25
Thank you again, both to John and Mollee for joining us. We cannot wait to hear more about what this project will entail, how it will take shape what you all learned through the process. Thank you so much listeners for being back with us for another season. We hope that you will be inspired and find a lot of hope here in this series and then this project. Peace until we meet again friends.