Author: Rempel-Burkholder, Byron
Date published: August 23, 2010
Almost 500 years of guilt were formally laid to rest July 22 as representatives of 70 million Lutherans around the world asked forgiveness for the violent persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century and for the way negative portrayals of Anabaptists and Mennonites have been allowed to continue. Representing the AnabaptistMennonite family, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) acknowledged their request and granted forgiveness.
The landmark action came on the third day of the eleventh Lutheran World Federation (LWF) assembly, held in Stuttgart. Some 480 delegates from around the world acknowledged "the harm that our forebears in the sixteenth century committed to Anabaptists, for forgetting or ignoring this persecution in the intervening centuries, and for all inappropriate, misleading and hurtful portraits of Anabaptists and Mennonites made by Lutheran authors, in both popular and scholarly forms, to the present day."
The action was the culmination of four years of work by the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission of the LWF and the Mennonite World Conference. On hand to witness the resolution were official representatives of Mennonite World Conference along with other Mennonite guests from Germany, France, Switzerland and Netherlands.
During the discussion time, the motion was given heartfelt affirmations from Argentinean, Nigerian and Canadian delegates. Following a time of prayer, LWF president, Bishop Mark S. Hanson called on delegates to vote by standing or kneeling. The action passed unanimously with a number of delegates, dropping to their knees.
In the MWC response to the vote, MWC president, Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe faltered with emotion as he told the assembly that Anabaptist-Mennonites cannot come to this table with "our heads held high; we also stand in need of God's grace." The response named the action as a fulfillment of the "rule of Christ," binding and loosing according to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18.
"We believe that today God has heard your confession and is granting your appeal for forgiveness. We joyfully and humbly join with God in giving forgiveness. In the spirit of the rule of Christ, we believe that what we are doing together here today God also is doing in heaven."
Recalling the practice of foot-washing in some Anabaptist-Mennonite churches, Ndlovu, assisted by Janet Plenert of Canada, presented Hanson with a wooden foot-washing tub and a towel. Ndlovu said the tub was "a sign of our commitment to a future when the distinguishing mark of Lutheran and Anabaptist-Mennonite relationships is boundless love and unfailing service. We will learn to seek one another's good from a posture of vulnerability and mutual submission."
BY BYRON REMPEL-BURKHOLDER
MENNONITE WORLD CONFERENCE RELEASE