The 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025 gives the church a unique opportunity to celebrate and dream. This week on ~ing Podcast, host Ben Wideman is joined by Mollee Moua to talk with three members of the Advisory Team – Gerald Mast, Sarah Augustine, and Jonny Rashid (past podcast guest on season 2!). We’ll learn more about why they said yes to this task, talk through some of their hopes and dreams, and some of the early surprises along the way heading toward celebrating this anniversary of the Anabaptist movement. This is part three of a miniseries where we’ll meet more of the people involved with this incredible project.
To learn more about Anabaptism at 500 or how to add your voice to the first-ever Anabaptist Community Bible, visit Anabaptismat500.com
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~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit Publisher that creates thoughtful, Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at www.mennomedia.org/ing-podcast.
Sarah Augustine, Jonny Rashid, Mollee Moua, Gerald Mast, Ben Wideman
Ben Wideman 00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine. What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?
Sarah Augustine 00:09
I think that is the beauty of Anabaptism… in general… is what the early Anabaptists did. They were bringing their lives to, to the Word of God. And figuring out how to be people together,
Jonny Rashid 00:21
And seeing the diversity of perspectives, even within Anabaptism, on the text. And the tensions and conflicts even, that emerged there.
Gerald Mast 00:31
Getting a group of people together, who in fact come from different backgrounds, it leads to new insights and discoveries that are quite astonishing.
Ben Wideman 00:39
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together. Hello friends, welcome back to ~ing Podcast. We are excited to continue our conversation looking at the Anabaptism at 500 project and the folks that are involved with it, some of them at least. I’m joined again by Mollee Moua, who is my co-host for this mini series. And we’re joined today by three of the Advisory Team members of this really monumental project here. We’re joined by Sarah, Gerald and Jonny and I’m going to ask them as we get going here to introduce themselves.
Sarah Augustine 01:29
I’m Sarah Augustine. I am the Executive Director of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery.
Gerald Mast 01:37
Gerald Mast, I teach communication at Bluffton University, a member of the Art, Communication, and Theater Department.
Jonny Rashid 01:45
Johnny I use he/him pronouns, I’m pastor for Circle of Hope, I guess author of Jesus Takes A Side too.
Ben Wideman 01:52
Yeah, and a former guest on ~ing Podcast. Thanks for coming back.
Mollee Moua 01:55
I think I would just love hearing about, you know, when MennoMedia first put out the call for Advisory Group members, what is it that drew you to the project? Or what is it that made you click that apply button?
I’m the Convert to add a baptism. And like a lot of converts, I think I’m pretty passionate about it. Honestly, the reason I applied was because Mollee was like, kept emailing me. The reason I felt compelled by that is that I really have felt that it’s important for Anabaptists – ordinary people – to contribute to what we’re doing and who we are and sort of embodying that vision of, of collective discernment working together as a people.
Jonny Rashid 02:50
Similar to what Sarah’s saying, I’m super excited about the idea of sharing an Anabaptist hermeneutic, or a way of reading the Bible with with both people who are Anabaptist. And people who aren’t. If we can help people understand maybe even our unique approach to reading the Bible, I think that’s really cool. And I think that’s helpful to people who are both suspicious of the Bible, or new to it, or, or have even been involved in reading the text and just need a new way to approach it. I also want to say that Anabaptism in North America is largely white. And I’m a person of color and Egyptian American, Arab American, child of immigrants. And, you know, I think it’s important for Anabaptists of color to share their perspective. And I’m happy to offer what I’ve got. To, you know, I’m also queer. So that that as another intersection that we want to include in this Bible. And so even like working with people like Sarah was really helpful to me as well. And getting her perspective. Sarah, you say you’re a native.
Sarah Augustine 03:55
I didn’t! Thanks for the prompt there, Jonny. I’m an, I’m a native woman. I’m, I’m Pueblo, Tewa. And I really have to agree with what you’re saying, Johnny, in terms of thinking through Anabaptism, through the lens of, of our lived experience. And I think, I think that is the beauty of Anabaptism in general, is what the early Anabaptist did. They were bringing their lives to, to the Word of God, and figuring out how to be a people together and that that wasn’t something that was created and sort of settled. It’s an ongoing process of connecting with the Divine and each other. And that, you know, that that is a pretty compelling story.
I suppose that one of the things that attracted me to the project was that part of the Anabaptist Bible – Anabaptist Community Bible project that involved seeing what 16th century Anabaptists actually did with various biblical passages… how they, how they used it. There are, of course, a lot of theories about Anabaptist hermeneutics about how Anabaptist ought to interpret the Bible with a Jesus-centered lens, and so on. And my sense is that, of course, whenever you actually read the primary sources, it’s more complicated than that. And so I was quite eager to be involved in especially that part of the project where we are calling, 16th century, reading Anabaptist sources from the 16th century and in seeing how they actually use the text, and then making marginal notes from those 16th century sources.
Ben Wideman 05:42
You’re all members of this advisory team that is working together, it’s not just the three of you. There are other folks as well, who add to the variety of postures and perspectives that are coming to the table. I’m curious in forming this team, do you work collaboratively together? Or do you each have your own separate tasks with the anabaptism at 500 projects, that your that your focus is on?
Mollee Moua 06:10
John and I are on staff with MennoMedia. He is… John Roth is the Project Director and I am the Managing Editor. So we formed this Advisory Group. Because we felt that it was really important for the especially for this project, to include more voices besides MennoMedia staff. And that… it was, we were really intentional and looking for people that would have… they would bring a diverse perspective and diverse experiences to to add their wisdom to this project. And so this group is very much an advisory group. We do have some people, such as Gerald, who’s taken on more tasks and working with Anabaptist texts on the Anabaptist Community Bible. And so yeah, so, so we do work collaboratively. They give input into all the products that we’re making. And but some Advisor Groups have taken on more roles and responsibilities, whereas others have not just because of their own priorities and jobs and things that they’re working on. And so recognizing that we definitely hear everybody’s voices. We are hoping to come… we’re actually meeting together in Ancaster, Ontario this weekend.
Ben Wideman 07:26
Mollee Moua 07:27
Yes. So we get together in person to talk about the different product products that we’re doing. We’re hoping this weekend to talk a lot about the editorial process and the devotional photo book, things like that. And so on the big picture of things, Advisory Group provides that for us, as it works out into more of the smaller details and things like that some Advisory Group members are involved in some are not just depending on their availability.
Ben Wideman 07:57
I’m curious what have been some surprises along the way, as you’ve as you’ve been named to this Advisory Team. What’s been unexpected with being a part of this project?
Jonny Rashid 08:07
When we met outside of Chicago, in the summer, just getting together. What was the conference called Mollee?
Mollee Moua 08:16
It was called, In the Beginning Was the Word Bible Conference.
Jonny Rashid 08:20
So it was super cool to just see all sorts of other Anabaptists talking about the Bible and relating about it. And seeing the diversity of perspectives, even within anabaptism on the text, and the tensions and conflicts even that emerged there. So that was really interesting to me to like to relate to someone from, like the Hutterite tradition, from the Bruderhof community… that’s super special for me and not common. But then also to talk about how, how as Anabaptists, we can read the Bible in a way that’s honoring, and dignifying to everybody. And specifically, Jewish people, you know, what is a we say, like, “Christocentric” a lot. What’s a “Christocentric” reading of the Bible? That is not… that doesn’t try to wipe away the Old Testament or, or even the Jewish tradition, that’s rich in the New Testament. So I think that’s been very stimulating and interesting, and I hope advances Anabaptist thought around the Bible, too.
I would say that that conversation that sort of got started at that Chicago meeting, about anabaptism and supersessionism. And how do we read the Bible with attention to the way that the Bible has been used to, particularly the Christian Bible and attitudes toward the Old Testament have been connected with harm towards Jewish people. That was not a topic that I sort of expected to come up or for us to spend a lot of time with, but it has actually been. It’s taken a substantial amount of our time and attention and I’ve learned an immense amount from that discussion.
I would say that it’s, it’s, it’s been much easier than I thought it would be. So being asked to be in an Advisory Group, often it’s just sort of doing some tasks. But actually in my, in my life, talking with Mennonite people and other kinds of Anabaptist people will be like, “Wow, you’re doing that?” Um, and we’ll bring up controversies and say, “Wow, I wonder what you’re gonna do?” And I and I just, I have found that to be amusing. That it.. You know, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say controversial, but certainly, there’s been buzz that that I did not expect. So I find myself, you know, in some rooms or conversation saying, “Hey, this is going to be okay.” When when people are, are wondering or have questions and say, “Oh, I don’t know, it seems like a big job.” And I say, “No, no, that’s why we’re doing it.” And I probably didn’t, I probably didn’t expect for people to be that, for there to be that much sort of engagement with it.
Mollee Moua 11:22
As you guys have been working with John and I on this project, we said Anabaptism at 500 is bigger than Mennonite Church Canada and MC USA, and includes the whole Anabaptist umbrella. You know, is this something that excites you? Or is it something that makes you a bit cautious or scared?
Well, the Anabaptist movement got started with a small group of young people in Zurich, forming a Bible study group, and challenging their their leader, Ulrich Zwingli, about some of the ways that he was interpreting the Bible. And if we think about our church, being founded in that, in that context, just ordinary people sitting around, having access to the Bible, in their own language for the first time, and trying to figure out what to do with it. That the idea that we can reproduce something of the energy and excitement of that moment, and perhaps think new thoughts for the church, in this anniversary season, through this sort of massive study project, which starts with 500, you know, Bible study groups, producing marginal notes on the one hand, but hopefully, then supplying a product that will actually help many other Bible study groups, study the Bible and, and create momentum for new insights and understandings.
Hey, one of the things that is most exciting to me is maybe part of the reason I became an Anabaptist. But maybe the reason I was attracted to Anabaptism… it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing there, you know, is this understanding that anybody could have access. And, and you don’t have to learn the party line and get in line before you have something to say. And I think that’s what’s been the most exciting part of this project for me that, you know, that people across the Anabaptist world are invited to participate, and, and really share what they’re what they’re learning and thinking and interpreting, you know, in conversation with the Bible, specifically in the Anabaptist Community Bible project, without having to have, you know, a series of degrees or you know, that it’s okay to read it, and interpret it and be in conversation with it and with each other. And that the Spirit is able to, to connect with us without any sort of prerequisite. And, and that’s been very exciting. And, you know, some of the people I’ve been talking with, you know, in my work, and in my life, you know, outside the advisory group will say, “Well, how, how do we know that it’s going to be the right thing?” And, and I love that question. It’s just like, favorite question, because you’re not trying to form an exclusive club, you know, the opposite.
Jonny Rashid 14:33
Yeah, I’m totally with what Sarah’s saying, the idea that, you know, we’ll we will rely on some scholars for for portions of the Bible, but the bulk of the commentary coming from the community is kind of Anabaptist unto itself. And so the form of it is, and I believe also the content will be so I wonder if what we learn is that when people get together to think about the Bible and talk about it, what They end up developing is an Anabaptist approach to the text just because of how we do it communally. You know, I don’t think that’s tested yet. But I liked the possibility of that, that when we read the Bible as a group project, we kind of get this very communitarian understanding of the text that lends itself to Anabaptist. Thought.
Sarah Augustine 15:21
I like that, Jonny,
Ben Wideman 15:22
It sort of brings about another question I’ve had, and that was when we talked initially Mollee, with John, he mentioned the… trying to correct some of the errors that happened 50 years ago at the 450th anniversary, which wound up somewhat unfortunately, sort of celebrating Swiss-German heritage, a very specific kind of niche understanding of of Mennonites or Anabaptists. I love what you all have said about trying to widen that circle and understanding that we are far more diverse than that. And I’m wondering if there are specific challenges with with trying to be more inclusive with with acknowledging, you know, how much the church has grown or changed. Is it is it a challenge to bring these different voices to the table? Or maybe Is there is there something beautiful that happens when we do when we do widen that that space?
I think there is a challenge. I think there’s I think there there are myriad challenges. And I think that’s part of the beauty of, of what we’re doing. And I don’t mean just in Anabaptism at 500. I mean, in being a church together, I think it’s it’s fun to imagine and to participate in stepping back from a linear reductive process, that there is a right answer for every one, and that our job is to find it. Rather than we are living right now we are all of us alive. And we are creating history with our lives. And we’re bringing this text and this community to our lives. And that is what we’re doing. You know, that’s that is the process and unfolding process of creation. And maybe maybe the goal isn’t identify the smartest person to tell us what the answer is.
Yeah, I mean, I think that there are these challenges where many of us in the Advisory Group would wish for this to represent the whole global Mennonite Church. And, and it’s actually quite hard to do that when you think about the language issues involved. And so, you know, the project has become, you know, in some ways focused on North America. But there is, of course, plenty of diversity in North America in, in the Mennonite church and in Anabaptist related denominations that we haven’t adequately accounted for. And but I think still, some of the problems there are that the kinds of people who often are drawn to projects like this, are people connected with the institutions of the church. And so the in that in those are people very often with long family histories in the church. And so, that’s, that’s a challenge that that we’ve had to work with. I as a professor at Bluffton University, I’ve had the opportunity to bring in some students from a diversity of backgrounds, not necessarily Anabaptist backgrounds, but who had been started to be shaped by Anabaptist convictions such as peace and justice commitments and that approach to reading the Bible. And I was just delighted by what actually happened that illustrate some of the things that we’ve been talking about. I had a group of seven students who didn’t have really verot wide variety of experience with the Bible, some very little experience. None of them were Bible or religion majors. And, and so it was a kind of laboratory for producing these marginal notes. And we got assigned, for example, Leviticus 4, which is a chapter that deals with what are the sacrifices that you have to bring, when you’ve committed an unintended sin. If you’re a priest or community leader, or an ordinary person, then you know, a bull or a lamb or a goat. And you know, at first I thought, there’s that there’s this is just not going to work. I mean, I can’t imagine what the students will be able to derive from this text. And I have committed myself not to taking much of an active role other than to write down what they had said. And they pretty quickly focused on the idea of unintentional sin. And how interesting it was in that text that the system of sacrifices supplied an opportunity for people to make amends for things that they had done unwittingly, unintended, unintended, namely the mistakes that they’ve made, so that quickly got into sins of complicity. sins of privilege, discussions about reparations as an as a way, actually to, to, to help one cope with the harm that one discovers that one has done without meaning to, and the idea that there are different levels of responsibility the priest has to bring as to bring a more valued animal. Because because they have responsibilities as leadership, they have more there with great, with great power comes great responsibility, we might say. All those things came out in that discussion without really any prompting from me. And it really affirmed that, that getting a group of people together who in fact, come from different backgrounds, not all from the same church, for example, or who have already a pretty clear sense about what the Bible is all about. It leads to new insights and discoveries that are quite astonishing.
Jonny Rashid 20:55
I think some of the challenges that just face Anabaptist communities will likely show up in the in, in what we talk about and what we don’t talk about within the Bible, that we’re that we’re composing. So I am thinking specifically about matters of social justice matters that relates to equality matters, that relate to even LGBT dignity. We’re still figuring out how to thread that needle as a whole community, as a community of denominations and traditions within Anabaptism. And so what we don’t say, I think will be interesting, and will just propel us forward to have those conversations in different avenues, you know, we can, we can make something that we aren’t ready for. But you know, I hope that are the voices of the contributors, and in the Bible studies can kind of push the envelope on that, to some extent.
The language of Christianity, maybe I should say, also, the project of Christianity, maybe in a formal sense, has provided the language and the justification for colonization and empire-building across the world. And this is an opportunity for Anabaptist, to perhaps share a different message about what the story of Jesus is, and the message and the mandate of Jesus. And to, to share that with the world.
Ben Wideman 22:32
Great. It’s such a fine line, when you’re claiming it as an Anabaptist perspective, but to not also like have that be a crippling kind of hold on it or something like that. But to, to let it breathe and live. Yeah.
Jonny Rashid 22:46
Do you want to talk about when this Bible could come out?
Mollee Moua 22:49
Yeah, so we’re hoping that the Anabaptist Community Bible will be printed and ready to be distributed in and for people to have in their hands. We’re hoping by the spring of 2025. And so in 2023, right now, we are gathering all the notes and getting, we’re hoping to get 500 Anabaptist, Bible study groups involved in this process. And so if people are interested, you can go onto our, the anabaptismat500.com website to register your Bible study group. And then the last day that will be to taking submissions, is for the Bible study groups is April 1. And so we’re a little bit at the halfway mark now. So there’s still plenty of space for, for people to to be part of this project.
Ben Wideman 23:42
I just want to say a word of thanks to all of you for saying yes to this invitation to be a part of something so significant. You know, you’ve all mentioned there are challenges here. This is not an easy task are an easy assignment. But I’m excited that there are people like you with passion for it and a willingness to offer this to the church. The tagline is looking back looking forward. And I like that too. It it helps us with some of these issues. As you said, Jonny, we’re not going to get everything right here. But if we have a posture looking forward, you know, hopefully future generations will come and add their own voices and help us along the way as well. Just want to say thanks again, for for joining us on this journey and friends. If you want to learn more, please visit anabaptismat500.com. Mollee and I will be back. We’ll have more from this project in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that. Thanks. As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.