MHB readers respond
to the question: What is the one event in Anabaptist-Mennonite
history you wish you could have witnessed--and Why?
I Wish I'd Been
. . .
Among the Illinois
Bishops in the 1940s.
by V. Gordon Oyer
The points in history which most
fascinate me are those at which the intangible - belief and doctrine
- grow increasingly dissonant with the tangible - practice and
material/cultural environment. The struggles of individuals and
groups reconcile these divergences reveal much about what it
means to be a human in pursuit of the divine.
A recent era that reflects such a struggle centers around issues
confronted by Illinois Mennonite Conference leaders in the 1940s.
During the preceding decade, Illinois Mennonites earned a growing
reputation as inappropriately lax in upholding the era's doctrinal
regulations, and rumblings of expulsion from the Mennonite General
Conference surfaced among sister conferences. As Illinois outreach
activity escalated in the late thirties and early forties, their
increasing focus on bringing non-traditional Mennonites into
the fold clashed with traditional standards, some Illinois leaders
felt nearly compelled to chose between their affiliation and
their evangelistic programs. Compromise won out, though, and
By the end of the decade, however, these same leaders felt pressure
from a cadre of younger ministers to expand boundaries ever farther.
Though the conference "old guard" probably remained
quite flexible relative to many from other regions, their own
expectations failed to keep pace with those of several younger
ministers. Feeling stifled, some of the younger leaders ultimately
withdrew from the conference.
During this decade, then, as Illinois leadership sought to reconcile
traditional practices with growing evangelistic expectations
and emerging "Anabaptist Vision" understandings of
the faith, they became caught between labels of "too liberal"
for some and "too conservative" for others. To have
been among them as they deliberated, observing their efforts
to reconcile competing priorities in a rapidly-changing society
would be instructive, I think. Of course, based on observations
of current controversies, if I were to join them, I'd also want
to retain my current perspective of hindsight as reassurance
that after all the emotion subsides, life goes on and God remains
and maintained by John E. Sharp
updated 7 September 1999