An open letter to the Church from the presidents of Mennonite Church USA colleges, universities and seminaries

Dear friends and brothers and sisters in Christ,

As presidents of the schools to whom many of you have entrusted the formation of future leaders for our church’s witness in the world we want to say with full hearts, that we hear you:

  • We hear your longing for our schools to keep faith with the deepest wisdom of our Scriptural and Anabaptist heritage.
  • We hear your heartfelt desire that everything we do and teach be rooted deeply in faith and spring out of love for God and neighbor.
  • We hear your urgent calls, amid the escalating anguish, polarization, bigotry, violence, and fear mongering of our current world, for us to form leaders with the professional competence and spiritual maturity needed to be courageous, shining ambassadors of the good news of Jesus Christ for all nations.

We speak from the heart to declare as a group and with no hesitation that our loyalty to the global Christian Anabaptist witness in the world runs deep and true. The disagreement stirred up recently by the actions of several of our schools does not diminish what has been and continues to be our preeminent calling:

To form graduates who are rooted and grounded in the love of God, truly Christ-like in character, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, expansively global in their outlook.

We readily paraphrase the words of the Apostle John to his spiritual children: “We have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children [the children you have entrusted to us] are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

Any one of us will gladly show you the overwhelmingly persuasive data that details the transformative work our graduates have done and are doing on behalf of the world-wide church and global Anabaptist witness. Over and over again, church and communities around the world have been renewed by the leadership of idealistic, compassionate, visionary, service-oriented, justice seeking, Jesus-loving young adults who were formed in one of our schools.

Each of us, along with many of you, was cheered by the global assembly of some 8,000 Anabaptists at the Mennonite World Conference this summer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That assembly inspired in us an extraordinary hope for the church. Many of those in leadership of the assembly, by the way, were graduates of one or more of our Mennonite Anabaptist colleges, universities or seminaries. We came away from that gathering of Anabaptists grateful for the eloquent, straightforward list of seven Shared Convictions of Global Anabaptists. Those shared convictions simply, yet profoundly affirm what unifies us in the midst of our vast cultural, linguistic, ethnic, theological and denominational diversity. The generous spirit of worship and unity we experienced there was a foretaste of an even greater unity in the Spirit that Christ himself longed for in his final prayers.

It is in that generous spirit of worship and unity around shared convictions that we, as a group of presidents, reaffirm our shared resolve to do all within our power to align our schools with these shared convictions—in unity with the global Anabaptist community:

By the grace of God, we seek to live and proclaim the good news of reconciliation in Jesus Christ. As part of the one body of Christ at all times and places, we hold the following to be central to our belief and practice:

  1. God is known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator who seeks to restore fallen humanity by calling a people to be faithful in fellowship, worship, service and witness.
  2. Jesus is the Son of God. Through his life and teachings, his cross and resurrection, he showed us how to be faithful disciples, redeemed the world, and offers eternal life.
  3. As a church, we are a community of those whom God’s Spirit calls to turn from sin, acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, receive baptism upon confession of faith, and follow Christ in life.
  4. As a faith community, we accept the Bible as our authority for faith and life, interpreting it together under Holy Spirit guidance, in the light of Jesus Christ to discern God’s will for our obedience.
  5. The Spirit of Jesus empowers us to trust God in all areas of life so we become peacemakers who renounce violence, love our enemies, seek justice, and share our possessions with those in need.
  6. We gather regularly to worship, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to hear the Word of God in a spirit of mutual accountability.
  7. As a world-wide community of faith and life we transcend boundaries of nationality, race, class, gender and language. We seek to live in the world without conforming to the powers of evil, witnessing to God’s grace by serving others, caring for creation, and inviting all people to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

In these convictions we draw inspiration from Anabaptist forebears of the 16th century, who modeled radical discipleship to Jesus Christ. We seek to walk in his name by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we confidently await Christ’s return and the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

As presidents, we humbly confess our imperfections, both personal and institutional. In a world desperate for the good news of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, we recommit to doing what we can to form communities of learning that will be in the vanguard of a spiritual awakening for Mennonite Church USA and beyond.

James E. Brenneman, Goshen College President
James M. Harder, Bluffton University President
Howard Keim, Hesston College President
Sara Wenger Shenk, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary President
Loren Swartzendruber, Eastern Mennonite University President
Perry D. White, Bethel College President

Discussion on “An open letter to the Church from the presidents of Mennonite Church USA colleges, universities and seminaries

  1. Mennonite institutions of higher education were formed to better the community, nurture Mennonite leaders, and raise the level of education within the Anabaptist world. The vision of people like J.S. Coffmann, J.B. Smith, N.E. Byers and L.J. Heatwole is still alive and well. If only the churches would listen to the best and brightest who have committed their lives to their fellow Anabaptists!

  2. This is a great letter. Thanks Loren for signing it. Can this be posted in a prominent place on EMU’s website as a testimony of our shared convictions?

  3. Thank you, presidents, for standing in confessional solidarity with the global Anabaptist church. Mennonite World Conference brings more than one hundred Anabaptist denominations from six continents into fellowship and shared mission around the Shared Convictions. Central to these is the understanding that Jesus is Savior, Lord and role model. I am grateful that you are part of this confession, and thank God for the role your institutions have played and continue to play in forming leaders for the global church. How our broken world needs this healing witness!

    Nelson Kraybill, president
    Mennonite World Conference

  4. Thank you for taking this action to state your commitment to these Anabaptist values. Carry on!

  5. I, too, thank you for this letter. It seems to me that it points to a way forward for MC USA as well. These seven core convictions are very helpful in what they say and what they don’t say. They express the core values and practices of Anabaptists and they steer clear of making dogmatic statements on disputable matters. I do wonder, in our current context, however, what it says about MC USA colleges relative to MC USA itself. It makes no mention of committing to a stance of mutual accountability within MC USA. What role does the Confession of Faith play in the life of MC USA colleges and universities? I understand the move towards openly embracing the seven core convictions of global anabaptists. It’s the unspoken – and likely intentional – move of not making any sort of statements relative to MC USA’s “foundational documents” that has me curious…

  6. Thank you, presidents, for speaking to the church so clearly, proclaiming your commitments so passionately, and reminding all of us of the generative role of Mennonite higher education in forming Christ-centered leaders for the church and our world. Alongside our congregations, our schools, at all levels, are the most dynamic center of the mission of the Mennonite Church in North America.

  7. I too echo the sentiments of appreciation for this statement, and admiration for the profound influence of Mennonite Higher Education institutions in the formation of leaders in the Mennonite community of faith.
    I echo as well the affirmations of Michael Danner in your avoidance of dogmatic statements on matters of current dispute, and also his query on the issue of mutual accountability within MCUSA. It would seem that some more direct interaction and communication between MEA institutions and parties from constituent groups such as the MCUSA area conferences might well be in order. I do not wish however to detract from the helpfulness of this statement itself. May the Spirit guide and bless as we deal with this fractious period in our context and communities.

  8. Telling the church that you hear us , but then in the next breath totally disregarding our concerns and ignoring our questions to you as presidents of Mennonite colleges does not really accomplish much. God and people do not really care how well you know the scriptures; obedience to God to bring him glory is what matters in the end. To hold up token students who God is using miraculously around the world is not too impressive. What about the many who end up misguided and affirmed in disobedience to God by colleges and universities? God can use whoever he wants; that does not mean we should become donkeys. Thank you!

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