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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vacuum In Our Identity

I've been studying the Revolutionary War, how it affected the lives of the Mennonite community, and my ancestors in particular. It is a story that is not very well known by most of us. In his book The Earth Is the Lord's, John Ruth says:
"An astonishing series of incidents, miscellaneously recorded in crumbling documents surviving from the years following 1774, help us realize that . . . [by] 1976, modern American Mennonite had largely forgotten one of the most dramatic chapters in their own story. We read of enormous fines, communal jealousies and confrontations, confiscations of property, whippings, migrations, appeals, dozens of jailings, and even a neighbor's execution. By failing to remember this part of their own story, even conservative Mennonites allowed a vacuum in their own identity, into which could gradually creep the myth of a God-ordained United States of America, born from the matrix of Revolutionary War."

The Second Continental Congress passed the Resolution for Independence on July 2, 1776, on the second vote. The first vote in June resulted in seven colonies for and five against with New York abstaining. The five colonies that did not vote for independence still wanted to reconcile with England by peaceful means. Congress recessed for three weeks, during which time Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Congress reconvened on July 1 and voted again on the Resolution for Independence on July 2. This time twelve colonies voted for it but New York still abstained.
The founding fathers were not committed Christians as they are often portrayed. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist (belief there is a God but He is not involved in the lives of men) and George Washington rarely attended church. The story that he knelt in the snow at Valley Forge to pray is a much of a myth as the cherry tree story.
The Revolutionary War era was a time of great turmoil on the national level and Mennonites were caught in the middle of the conflict, believing it was their duty to obey "the powers that be" but it was not clear who those powers were. They had promised to be loyal to the king. Now a rebel government had risen up and was requiring them to break that promise and change their allegiance. In addition, they were expected to fight with the Continental Army which was a direct violation of their beliefs in the Biblical doctrine of nonresistance.
Other peace churches which found themselves in the same position included the Quakers, Dunkers (Brethren), Schwenkfelders, Moravians, Seventh Day Baptists (Ephrata Cloister), and other smaller groups of sectarians. They paid a price to remain true to their beliefs. And three hundred years later it is largely a forgotten story and a vacuum in our identity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting that you quote from John Ruth's, The Earth is the Lord's.

I've been trying to buy a copy of that book for my brother who also enjoys history. There's only one on Abebooks right now and it's priced at $350.00

Do you know where or if it is possible to get a copy of that book. Is anyone taking of reprinting it.

I believe you have my e-mail address. I'd love to hear your input on that. Thanks

Mary Horst