EMU Homepage

‘Shenandoah Confession’ emerges from 2014 intercollegiate peace meeting, in spirit of 1527 Schleitheim Confession

P1090167

Students from seven Anabaptist colleges wrapped up a three-day Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship Conference, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2014, at Eastern Mennonite University by deciding to issue the Shenandoah Confession, drafted in the style and spirit of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527.

Keynote speaker Lisa Schirch, an EMU professor internationally known for her peacebuilding work, asked the 100 conference participants to craft a confession of their faith, informed by 500 years of peacemaking experience. The resultant statement reached fruition on Feb. 24, exactly 487 years from the day that the Schleitheim Confession was issued.

The original document represented “a watershed articulation of certain Anabaptist distinctives,” wrote C. Arnold Snyder, in the “Schleitheim Confession” entry of the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.

The Shenandoah Confession – printed below – encompasses themes of love and compassion as well as calls to radical nonviolent action. “It heavily stresses the peace principles that set the Anabaptists apart from many other faith streams,” said Bible and religion professor Nancy Heisey, adding that it was “drafted in group process and finalized by a student-led committee.”

The document follows in the tradition of “speaking boldly” as part of the “priesthood of all believers,” said senior Evan Knappenberger. He led the process through a half-dozen drafts, working with seniors Jacob Landis, Aaron Erb, Christine Baer and Krista Nyce. (Baer and Nyce also organized the conference.) Knappenberger said Heisey, Schirch and other EMU faculty members significantly contributed to the process.

The Shenandoah Confession consists of 11 articles comprising 1,668 words. EMU Bible and religion professor Peter Dula calls its language “robustly theological.”

“The same spirit of radical community still hangs in the air, waiting for the right moment to spark something new,” said Knappenberger.

The Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship of Mennonite and Affiliated Colleges aims to “promote the cause of biblical nonresistance by providing various channels for sharing ideas among the college peace groups,” according to its 1953 constitution. Its annual conference rotates among host institutions.

 * * *

The Shenandoah Confession

Presented this 24th day of February, 2014, on behalf of those gathered in Christ at the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship of Anabaptist colleges meeting at Eastern Mennonite University, to our various communities around the world. Written by participants with inspiration from previous Anabaptist confessions of faith.
Preface.
May peace, fellowship, patience and the truth of the love of God be with all who love God.  Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, may the care of the good shepherd and the strength of the lamb who was slain sustain you in your efforts to recognize God’s Kingdom which, according to the most holy teacher and savior, Jesus of Nazareth, exists among and within all creation and is the source of life everywhere.
Dear brothers and sisters, we who have been assembled for the 2014 Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship Conference, in the Lord at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, make known to all that we have been united in the spirit of fellowship to the common goal of building the peace of a loving and merciful God.  The articles to which we confess ourselves we announce here in the spirit of those Anabaptist brothers and sisters who before us made confession together at Schleitheim on the 24th day of February in the year 1527, and Dordrecht in 1632, including the various conclusions that have been amended to it by the church since.  As those dear brothers and sisters made formal confession into a foundational action of the Anabaptist church, so let us confess ourselves in the hopes of a new and prophetic life in Immanuel, who is God with us.
The eleven articles of confession.
The articles of our confession are as follows.
1.     Confession of faith in Christ as the foundation of peace.
2.     Love as the root of all things.
3.     The call of the spirit of God to all for radical pacifist action.
4.     Acceptance of the truth of the full humanity of all God’s children.
5.     Inclusion as the guiding principle of action within the spirit.
6.     Accountability of historical wrongs, especially colonialisms.
7.     An abiding desire to participate in resilient and just economies.
8.     The full and unflinching engagement of creative faculties of believers in service of peace.
9.     Embrace of lives of radical simplicity following the truth of God’s peace on Earth.
10.  Commitment to deep listening and dialogue as the prophetic intention of Christian pacifism.
11.  Recognition of failures and continued re-commitment to our principles within community.
Explication of articles.
Confession of faith in Christ as the foundation of peace.  We confess our faith in the peace of Christ that surpasses understanding, and our dedication to the principled peace of the Lord and savior Jesus who taught a bold humility.  We embrace the faith even as we work for the good of all people, including people with whom we disagree, or people of other faiths, and even those who proclaim themselves our enemies and seek to do us harm.  We seek the realization of the one we follow, Jesus, that the good of all is the work of servants; and in the tradition of him who laid down his life for all people, we embrace our identities as his followers knowing well the consequences of the burden of the cross.  We admit that there can be no higher calling than the gospel call to nonviolent action in accordance with the will of the Holy Spirit, and the imminent fullness of the kingdom of the lamb, who does justice with mercy.
Love as the root of all things.  Being created in the spirit of love, and saved by the love of Jesus who is our redeemed example of love, we here confess that love to be at the heart of all things.  We confess to loving ourselves and others without the world’s judgment and vanities; we commit to loving the earth and protecting God’s gift of life, the spirit of God itself, and our enemies and neighbors, in praise and thanksgiving.  We also confess our belief that our love must be one that challenges those around us to become better followers of Jesus.  Love must be mission, holding others accountable and building them up.  True love, we hold, calls people to action in its embodiment and by its very example.
The call of the spirit of God to all for radical pacifist action.   This gospel call to act as servants we confess to be the central tenant of the Christian faith.  Peace is the vocation of all things made by a just and good creator, we believe.  Peace shapes our daily lives and actions whether or not we are aware of it; it is our intention to practice this peace conscientiously around the world and amongst neighbors.  The spirit of God calls all God’s life back to God, clothed in the raiment of nonviolence, worshiping the wonderful counselor who does justice and loves mercy.  We confess that we seek to build institutions upon the shoulders of Christ, the servant who yearns for right relationship among the children of God.
Acceptance of the truth of the full humanity of all God’s children.  We affirm all brothers and sisters to be equal in Christ.  We call for the full privileges and rights of Christ to be granted them without delay.  We honor the power and beauty of all life, and seek to enter relationship with it, not avoiding but rather walking toward conflict in the spirit of peace and fellowship.  Along with this, we confess that our communities must become places of deep healing, sustainable praxis, nonviolent education and radical acceptance, where brothers and sisters can seek their identities in Christ freely, without fear of prejudice or categorical pre-judgement.
Inclusion as the guiding principle of action within the spirit.  We confess that the guiding principle of prophetic action within the will of the spirit is one of active inclusion.  In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female.  All people, created in the image of God, are unconditionally welcomed to God’s table and to God’s salvation.
Accountability of historical wrong, especially colonialisms.  We hereby pledge solidarity and yield up positions of leadership to those communities who have been historically marginalized.  We seek to affirm their leadership and support peace and nonviolence education by upholding the principles of peacebuilding in our own local and historical contexts.  As North American Anabaptists, we confess our need to challenge and reform our own government and lay out peacebuilding alternatives to violence and war.
An abiding desire to participate in resilient and just economies.  We see that our world suffers from a lack of care for God’s living environment, and we grieve the lack of our participation in an economy that is environmentally sustainable and socially just.  We confess our desire to support local enterprise, invest prudently in clean energy, and remain mindful of our impact on and our role within God’s loving creation.  We seek to embrace trickle-up change, and we commit to imagining innovative communities along these principles near to our homes, even as we seek God’s peace farther from our immediate spheres of influence.
The full and unflinching engagement of creative faculties of believers in service of peace.  We confess that we look for creative engagement within our hearts and communities in order to nonviolently pursue restorative justice in the name of a righteous God of wholeness. Violence stifles creative impulses and inhibits our ability to seek the peace of God.  We believe in appealing for peace to the creativity of the Spirit, which is that of Jesus, and of the one who sent him.
Embrace of lives of radical simplicity following the truth of God’s peace on Earth.  In order to focus our lives to the call of God’s peace on Earth, we hereby uphold the life of the servant Christ in its simplicity and mission-orientation as the model for all conscientious human activity.  We seek to affirm the intentional community of believers without excluding other brothers and sisters, and we disavow egotistical ambition as a basis for peace and faith work.  We recognize the impossibility of following two masters, and chose to follow the way of peace despite the possibilities of worldly poverty which can sometimes overshadow it.
Commitment to deep listening and dialogue as the prophetic intention of Christian pacifism.  We assert principles of right relationship to neighbor, enemy and self to be the following: deep listening as a means of connection and dialogue; openness to change of identity and opinion; mutual transformation in partnership and in the spirit of the creator; deep reflection before action; and nonviolence.
Recognition of failures and continued re-commitment to our principles within community.  We confess that we have at times failed to embody the principles of community.  With contrition we earnestly implore God’s forgiveness.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, we have not honored God’s creation, and we have often left the work of peace undone.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us recognize our many vanities, our mindless consumerisms. Let us hereby recommit ourselves to the principles of Christian pacifism, the articles of confession above, and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the way of nonviolence.
 Postlude.
Brothers and sisters in God, we most earnestly confess these points to you in hope that they move in your hearts, and excite within you a desire to confess them also.  May your roots – watered in the innocence and strength of the lamb of God – nourish your spirits and give you rest and joy.  Also may your wings – lifted by the breath of the Holy Spirit – shield you in the protection of the most high and allow you to walk and not grow faint, to run and not become weary, to soar as eagles.  May the peace of God be with you now and always, and may the teachings of the Prince of Peace guide you to the realization of God’s presence among us.  Amen.

27 Responses to "‘Shenandoah Confession’ emerges from 2014 intercollegiate peace meeting, in spirit of 1527 Schleitheim Confession"

  1. Trevor Bechtel says:

    What a wonderful statement. May it resound as deep and wide as earlier statements.

  2. Duane Shank says:

    Very well done–a statement I can totally affirm, It should be be published widely and could perhaps be the foundation for some much needed discussion in the church.

  3. Sabrina Dent says:

    A very well-written document that professes one’s belief in the ways of Christ; while, affirming the validation of other faith practices, communities, and the necessary essential of living and acting in peace.

  4. Annabeth Roeschley says:

    thank you for this confession, which did indeed stir in my heart. this statement, from a mennonite body, is one i can get behind. i echo trevor’s hope that it may resound deep and wide.

  5. I felt tears well up as I read this words. They challenge me to be and do more to exemplify these words. I love the fact that college students are leading and challenging the church. Conrad Grebel and Michael Sattler were very young at the time of the 1527 Schleitheim Confession. I’m honored to have taught some of these students. And now they are teaching me.

  6. Gwen Gustafson-Zook says:

    Amen and Amen. Thank you to all who worked to articulate this vision.

  7. Susan Gascho-Cooke says:

    Thank you! And amen!

  8. Terry Stutzman Mast says:

    Thank you all for such good work and such pure and full words of Spirit. I echo the Amen!

  9. Mark Metzler Sawin says:

    What a wonderful thing to have done. Impressive and inspiring.

  10. What a beautiful and hopeful idea! With so many young people joining the call, I’m thankful our church’s stance against violence will live on. I do however want to voice disappointment that this new confession perpetuates the “patriarchal pacifism” Stephanie Krehbiel articulates so well http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/7544/the_woody_allen_problem__how_do_we_read_pacifist_theologian__and_sexual_abuser__john_howard_yoder.

    I speak as a survivor and advocate for victims of sexualized violence within the Mennonite Church and hold in my files a list of more than 30 names of leaders who have perpetrated sexualized violence in my lifetime alone. So when you include #6 as “Accountability of historical wrongs.” I say “Yes!” When you add, “especially colonialism,” it is like cold water in the face. Why in the world would you feel it necessary to lift out a global issue of injustice at the expense of the interpersonal violence so rampant in our Mennonite homes and churches and so recently a topic of world wide discussion? If I didn’t know the sincerity of your work, I’d assume you were intentionally making a point to distance yourself from the challenges of sexism, patriarchy and sexualized violence still alive in our churches today. How about making the inclusive choice and replacing your comma with a period in #6?

    • Evan Knappenberger says:

      Barbara,

      I don’t think the participants in our process had any intention of perpetuating patriarchy. I invite you to come and participate in the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship in the future, and add your voice to the mix. If there is an issue you feel strongly about, it should perhaps be brought up in the conference itself. I am sure that the ICPF is interested in hearing your stories.

      Evan

  11. Matt Stutzman says:

    Methinks declaration more of Zeitgeist than of Schleitheim…

    • Evan Knappenberger says:

      Matt,

      This is an interesting point you bring up about contextuality and historicity. Us young people want to live into our times, and many of us strongly believe that the point of Anabaptism — of all Christianity actually — is to engage other people and institutions in the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we would have used theological language if we were concerned with looking cool.

      I would add that the Schleitheim confessors saw themselves not as Anabaptists per se, but as catholics (or ex-catholics?) trying to do reform. I think that the spirit of the Schleitheim confessors lives on in our Shenandoah document, and that those (ex?)catholics would be proud of the group and its statement. I hope that these sentiments make sense.

      Peace,
      Evan

      • Matt Stutzman says:

        Well, all communication is inevitably theological, but with all due respect, I don’t think there is any theological language of a distinctively Christian nature in this latest confession. Christian terms such as “faith,” “Christ,” “God,” and even “Love” have been co-opted so extensively that they are meaningless without definition. Can you show me, other than a nebulous reference to “faith in Christ, (with no further definition) any part of the confession that would not be heartily affirmed by any secular social activist organization?

        Here’s a sample of the un-cool theological language from Schleitheim: “May joy, peace and mercy from our Father through the atonement of the blood of Christ Jesus…be to all those who love God, who are the children of light…” See how peace is clearly predicated on the atoning work of Christ–in His death in our place? That is the heart of catholic Christianity embraced in Schleitheim. That is the essential truth with which we ought to engage people and institutions.

        • Evan Knappenberger says:

          Well, there are a number of specific points of reference to fairly precise, rigorous theological language.

          From the preface: “may the care of the good shepherd and the strength of the lamb who was slain sustain you in your efforts to recognize God’s Kingdom which, according to the most holy teacher and savior, Jesus of Nazareth, exists among and within all creation and is the source of life everywhere…” It’s hard to get more Christian than that. Also, ” let us confess ourselves in the hopes of a new and prophetic life in Immanuel, who is God with us.” This is calling for prophetic leadership, not secular leadership.

          The whole first article lays the basis for any peace/political activities as faith in Christ, and Jesus of Nazareth is specifically referred to a number of times in the document. From the first explication: “We seek the realization of the one we follow, Jesus, that the good of all is the work of servants; and in the tradition of him who laid down his life for all people, we embrace our identities as his followers knowing well the consequences of the burden of the cross. We admit that there can be no higher calling than the gospel call to nonviolent action in accordance with the will of the Holy Spirit, and the imminent fullness of the kingdom of the lamb, who does justice with mercy.”

          From the first article to the closing, there is serious theology going on. From the conclusion: “watered in the innocence and strength of the lamb of God…”

          Perhaps all the secular social organizations are seeking the specific points of difference that you’ve pointed out. Perhaps they are Anabaptists and just haven’t realized it yet.

          • Matt Stutzman says:

            Evan, you can use as many Christian terms as you like, but without definitions you’re not communicating anything meaningful about the heart of Christianity. I don’t mean to be needlessly critical, but the quote about the “care of the shepherd and the strength of the lamb” you keep posting says nearly nothing of substance. Is the *Kingdom* of God the source of life? Why was the lamb slain? Jesus, savior of whom? How? From what? If God’s Kingdom is everywhere, and we’re merely recognizing it, why would we need strengthening? I would expect some definitions in a confession of an objective and historical faith such as Christianity, but they are conspicuously absent. What *are* we saved from? What are we saved *by*? What are we saved to? Or do we even need to be saved? Did Jesus do anything we couldn’t have done for ourselves? Based solely on the explicit content and emphasis of your confession, I’d believe we hope to be saved from human oppression and injustice, through our own non-violent efforts, to a utopian society. That’s “seriously theological,” to be sure, but it’s certainly not unique to Christianity, and it takes no moral courage to assert, or regenerate heart to affirm–it’s actually a very popular idea in some very large secular circles. In contrast, the essential *Christian* message is inherently offensive to fallen man: that we are saved *from* God’s wrath against our sins, *by* the substitutionary atonement of Christ, *to* a restored fellowship with our Creator. Our most pressing need, and that of every human, is not social justice, but forgiveness and justification.

            For Christians, “Living into our times” means holding forth timeless truth that is eminently relevant not because it is like the world, but because it is different–not because it parrots the offenses du jour (colonialism, patriarchalism, “green sins,” etc.) of all those evil guys, but because it uniquely confronts each of *us* with our own offenses against a holy God, and holds forth His offer of salvation and eternal life secured through Christ’s suffering of God’s wrath in our place on the Cross.

          • Evan Knappenberger says:

            Matt,

            Aha, I think we are getting to the bottom of the disagreement. My personal theology, which I worked for in my part of the confession process, is markedly different from the kind of substitution atonement that you are laying out here. To me — though I should make it clear that I don’t speak for the group — I could never confess to such things, because I simply don’t think of them that way. I find myself more along the lines of Ted Grimsrud, who does a strong Anabaptism without substitutionary atonement. It seems too Calvinist for me, and I can’t reconcile my intellectual needs with the transactional nature of atonement.

            I hope that you can appreciate the fact of the confession being theological at all, which is certainly a step forward from the kind of secular academicism that Hope (below) is upset with. Unfortunately, the struggles between theologies have made it unsavory for less theologically-inclined intellectuals to approach the topic at all. I think the coup of the Shenandoah Confession is that it acknowledges the roots of pacifism as fundamentally Christian, whether that is doctrinally palatable to all of us. Anyhow, thanks for engaging us, and for your honesty in this forum. I would invite you to the next ICPF conference, where we can talk further about our specific views of theology.

            v/r,
            Evan

  12. Lisa Schirch says:

    Thanks for your contribution Barbara. The participants attending the conference first wrote down their contributions on individual sheets of paper. Then small groups began weaving the individual statements of faith into categories that could be grouped together. It was surprising to me that a variety of different forms of violence – including sexism and racism as well as homophobia – were not specifically named by any of the participants. There was no intention of distancing from these issues. I think rather the contributions represented those present and many of the students wanted to articulate a statement of positive inclusion and community. Several students mentioned colonialism specifically and this is why it found its way into the document – but of course you are right that this isn’t sufficient concept to cover all that needs healing and change in our world. Another group of students might have come up with a statement that included patriarchy. I would strongly support your voice and other women’s voices in naming and challenging the Church to directly address patriarchy, and other forms of exclusion and violence if there is another version. I also strongly support other groups of people developing their own confession – again to represent that we practice speaking boldly of what we believe and sharing this with others… as this is the Anabaptist way.

  13. carolyn rudy says:

    Hats off to these young people in the Mennonite Church who spent time talking together, learning and coming up with a statement. I am encouraged and pray my generation can welcome your insights, hopes and perspectives. We need you!!

  14. Hope says:

    There is one big problem with the confession: it uses so much sociological/cultural studies language status-quo 2014, that it is likely to be outdated by its language alone a decade from now, as many of these terms will be superceded by new ones (or, in the academia, already are, to some degree, that just hasn’t arrived at Mennonite colleges yet)
    Using more explicitly theological language could have helped to avoid this.

    • Evan Knappenberger says:

      Hope,

      Like I said in response to Mr. Stutzman, how do you get more theological than this: “may the care of the good shepherd and the strength of the lamb who was slain sustain you in your efforts to recognize God’s Kingdom which, according to the most holy teacher and savior, Jesus of Nazareth, exists among and within all creation and is the source of life everywhere…” ?

      Evan

  15. Hope says:

    You keep quoting the preface. We got it. I am talking about articles 4-8 and 10, and am convinced that significant parts of its language will be outdated before too long, since they rely far too heavily on fleeting jargon borrowed from the humanities and social sciences. Which is fine for many church documents, books etc. But pretty thin for a confession that, well, poses as a Schleitheim rekindling. Unfortunate, but probably the whole framework was set up to produce something like this.

    • Evan Knappenberger says:

      I would disagree heartily. I know that there can sometimes be a dearth of theology in the academic field, but I don’t think you’re being fair. This confession of faith should count as a victory for the theologians, especially in an era when the Mennonite church is getting old demographically, and working hard to remain relevant.

      If you think that this is too “thin” then pen something better, and bring it to the next conference. The young people who worked on this will still be around in ten years, and are the future of the church. Instead of vaguely criticizing academic thinking, I would encourage you to bring your sentiments forward and engage the community. By all means, if you can find some theological language somewhere that is stronger than “the blood of the lamb” and that is still pacifist, then I’d like to know.

      • Hope says:

        Again: I am not “criticizing academic thinking,” but find it unfortunate that so much of the language used in this document will date it so early, clearly and narrowly. I predict the demise of the term “environmentally sustainable” within the next 5 years, and the term “historically marginalized” within 10 years. Not because they’re bad. But because this kind of language evolves, quickly, and it evolves driven by the academy, not the church.

        And nowhere have I said that there is no theological language present in the document, but I happen to be the future of the church, too, and would like stuff around that wont make my kids feel like we feel now when we read academic manifestos from the 70s…

        • Lisa Schirch says:

          I think it is important to recognize a few things:

          1) The early Anabaptists were not perfect. At the conference I pointed out that while they professed to love their enemies and pacifism, they were decidedly hateful to each other on many occasions and had no tolerance for minor theological differences. When the Netherlands sent boats to help Anabaptists escape persecution in Berne, the Anabaptist followers of Hans Reist and Jakob Amman refused to get on the same boats together because they hated each other so much. And Amman said “if even one hair on my head was for reconciliation I would pluck it out”. That type of behavior does not illustrate the Way of Jesus.

          2) The language of the early Church and early Anabaptists was not time-less. It too represented the very patriarchal nature of governance at the time – which is why there is so much language of “Kingdoms” as this was the way the world was organized then. Language is always dated. And the language of the early church is important for us to understand. But for many, there are other ways of speaking about the Way of Jesus that are more meaningful.

          3) If we stopped trying to understand and make the Bible relevant to the world around us today, we wouldn’t be Anabaptists… The exercise of applying Jesus Way of Love as the primary rule of living in today’s world requires us to use new language to describe new phenomena in the world. I have little doubt we will be speaking of the environment more in the future, not less.

          4) This was a conference exercise. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t meant to replace other church confessions. Please remember the content of this Confession came from students who were practicing speaking boldly about their beliefs and honor it for what it is…

          • Matt Stutzman says:

            Lisa, I think your first point is highly illustrative of a stark contrast between the Anabaptists of yore, and the Anabaptists of today–between the spirit of Schleitheim and the spirit of Shenandoah: although they did at times express it in sinful ways, the old Anabaptists recognized that truth matters, and truth divides. Would you agree with that?

            We may have inclusion without boundaries, or we may have truth. We may not have both. What do you do with Jesus’ words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…”?

            Far from unqualified pacifism and inclusion, the Jesus of the Bible is THE dividing figure in history–which brings us to another unavoidable bifurcation: Will we worship the God of the Bible, or a God we have imagined? As a wise man once said, “A god who can be fashioned by our own thoughts is no more a God than an image produced by our own hands.”

  16. Bonnie Price Lofton says:

    I’ve been impressed with the respectful, thoughtful tone — the careful wording — of the postings so far, even when there were points of disagreement. These comments and exchanges are vastly better than many of those I’ve seen at the bottom of other online news items. Thanks to all for modeling excellent, respectful ways of dialoguing.