The Mennonite Church USA has taken two significant steps forward in inter-church relations by joining an American-wide ecumenical body and receiving an official apology from Lutherans for past persecutions of Anabaptists.
The Mennonites accepted a statement from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which earlier this year (2007) adopted a declaration expressing regret for the violent and intolerant treatment and killing of Anabaptists.
At its national convention in California in July 2007, MC USA delegates also agreed to join Christian Churches Together (CCT), a fellowship of various Christian denominations in the United States. It is not a member of the National Council of Churches USA, though Mennonite agencies cooperate with national and international ecumenical bodies on justice, peace and common witness issues.
Anabaptists have often stressed separation from other historic Christian bodies because of the way they have been treated in the past and because of decisive emphases on holiness and discipleship.
In a letter to the presiding bishop of the ELCA, Jim Schrag, Mennonite Church USA executive director declared: “We receive the apology with gratitude for its honesty, courage and humility and accept it in a spirit of forgiveness.... We pray that God will use this gesture to release both Lutherans and Mennonites from a past that may have bound us in ways we did not even know.”
The ELCA initiated inter-church conversations five years ago to work at healing the memories of 16th-century conflict. In addition to the apology, the declaration states that many of the condemnations in the Augsburg Confession did not apply to Mennonites – either the forbears of MC USA or its current members.
André Stoner, director of Inter-church Relations for MC USA, sees the declaration as a significant step of reconciliation between the two groups. Dialogues between Mennonites and Lutherans have also taken place in France and Germany, and Mennonite World Conference continues conversations with the Lutheran World Federation.
On CCT, Stoner said, “The vision for CCT began in 2001 when a diverse group of Christian leaders met and lamented the divisions within the body of Christ.” Participants in CCT include Pentecostal, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and some representatives from African-American denominations, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches.
Poverty emerged out of the Evangelical/Pentecostal family group as a priority issue for CCT. At a meeting in March, the group agreed that addressing poverty is “central to the mission of the church and essential to our unity in Christ.”
Stoner attended the March meeting and will continue attending meetings twice a year along with two other members of the MC USA Executive Leadership.
With kind acknowledgments to Mennonite World Conference and The Mennonite newspaper.