Lutherans expresses ‘deep regret’ for persecution of Anabaptists
The council of the Lutheran World Federation(LWF) has taken another critical step towards reconciliation with Anabaptists. At its October 2009 meeting, the council unanimously recommended that LWF Eleventh Assembly adopt the statement,”Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of ‘Anabaptists’,”
when it meets in Stuttgart, Germany, in July 2010.
The statement expresses “deep regret and sorrow” for the 16th-century violent persecution of Anabaptists by Lutherans. It asks for forgiveness from Mennonites for past wrongs, for having forgotten or ignored this persecution, and for continuing to describe Anabaptists in damaging ways.
The statement also speaks to how Lutherans will remember this persecution and how the Lutheran confessional legacy will be interpreted in the future.
This action comes in response to the work of the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission, established in 2002. The joint commission’s report-based on its work from 2005 to 2009, and the LWF council’s action-will be sent to Lutheran churches for discussion and response in 2010.
Larry Miller, MWC general secretary, welcomed the action “in a spirit of celebration and prayer.” He brought greetings from the 15th MWC assembly held in Asuncion,Paraguay, in July.
Larry told the Lutheran council that the message Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, delivered was “one of the most sacred moments of that assembly.”
Noko’s words, his conciliatory spirit, and his expression of hope to walk with Anabaptists on a part of healing and reconciliation brought the assembly to its feet. People wept.
Honesty and care
Lutherans are not the first Christian world communion to address the execution and persecution of Anabaptists by Christian authorities, noted Miller.
“But the honesty, carefulness, and compassion with which you are doing so seems to touch the Mennonite heart in a way I have not previously seen,” he said.
Noko’s message in Paraguay continues to command attention around the world and is one of the assembly events most frequently reported in churches and in the North American Anabaptist press.
Dominant emotions at the Geneva LWF council meeting for Rainer Burkart from Germany were joy and thankfulness “that God has brought together… two churches that have resulted from the turmoils of the European Reformation.”
Burkart is the co-chair of the International Study Commission and a member of both the MWC Executive Committee and the MWC Faith and Life Commission.
Rainer sees two main differences between Lutheran and Anabaptist faith and practice: (a) baptism and (b) matters concerning church and state relations, including the use of force for humanitarian purpose. These two issues will be future agenda for MWC’s Faith and Life Commission, he said. Rainer served as secretary in the conversation between the Lutheran and Mennonite churches in Germany from 1989 to 1993. The German dialogue resulted in a declaration of mutual Eucharistic fellowship. He said that the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden, one of two MWC member churches in Germany, does not require rebaptism when Lutherans transfer to Mennonite congregations. Other dialogues have occurred in France ans the United States.
At a meeting in Ontario, Canada, in November 2009, MWC officers considered how to respond to the Lutheran statement.
“In the spirit of biblical forgiveness, it is important that we offer forgiveness when asked,” said Ernst Bergen, MWC treasurer. General secretary Larry Miller added,”We need to address our stereotypical treatment of Lutherans and our continuing sense of victimization.”
The goal is mutual forgiveness, Larry noted.
Officers affirmed the proposal of the International Study Communication to send the commission’s joint report to member churches for discussion and response. That will happen early in 2010.