One aspect of the Evangelical / Evolution dialogue I find fascinating is the differing reactions to evolution within the Evangelical camp (usually just varying degrees of intense opposition). I’ve already posted some brief thoughts on the Christian Reformed Church and Lutherans, and now I’d like to comment on the Anabaptist / Mennonite reaction. (Note: Anabaptists are not really a proper subset of Evangelicalism but there is a significant intersection in my opinion).
The Anabaptist reaction is of particular personal interest to me since my background is thoroughly Mennonite – at least 4 generations on both sides of my family and, I suspect, back to the original Anabaptists during the reformation. Although my family left the Mennonite church when I was six, I grew up in a “Mennonite culture”. Most of the members of our church came from either an Old Order or other conservative Mennonite backgrounds, a majority of the our farming neighbors were some form of Mennonite or Amish, and many of my relatives were (and still are) Old Order Mennonites.
There was a recent interesting post and discussion on Anabaptists and Science and Religion at the Young Anabaptist radicals blog. The author provides his view of the science / faith discussion within the Anabaptist tradition – actually, he comments that there is very little discussion among modern Anabaptists.
He then concludes by asking some very interesting questions regarding this lack of discussion.
In the Anabaptist churches, however, I see little of this discussion. Perhaps it’s the lingering suspicion of higher education from our Anabaptist forebears. Perhaps it’s our emphasis on social justice and discipleship at the expense of other matters. But whatever the reason, there just aren’t very many Mennonites or Brethren out there talking about science and religion.
So, here are my questions for you. Firstly, why is this something that is never talked about in the Mennonite Church? Secondly, do you think that it is something that should be talked about? Is it an unimportant issue? Is this just pointless intellectual hair-splitting that is better saved until we’ve actually solved things like hunger, war, and poverty? Finally, if it is something that we should talk about, is there something distinctly “Anabaptist” that we can bring to this issue?I’d like to make 2 comments. First, although not necessarily healthily, I think this lack of discussion is much better than the thoroughly unhealthy opposition to the findings of modern science found in the broader evangelical church. The Anabaptist emphasis on orthopraxy (eg. In the area of social action) is something the broader Evangelical church should learn from. (And we are, albeit slowly, from Anabaptist Evangelicals like Ron Sider). This emphasis on orthopraxy does not have to come at the expense of orthodoxy; “right thinking” and “right action” need to be balanced.
Second, I believe there indeed are some “distinctly Anabaptist” ideas that can be brought to the table in the science / faith discussion. Nancey Murphy, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, has done a good job of articulating this perspective. For example, her view on “God’s Nonviolent Direct Action” (see chapter 2 of Religion and Science: God, Evolution, and the Soul) should be required reading for anyone trying to understand divine action in the light of evolution. In my opinion, this Anabaptist-ethic model is very helpful to those of us trying to avoid the “Cosmic Tyrant God” of ID on one hand, and the “Non-existent God” of Richard Dawkins and other metaphysical materialists on the other. In fact, this view of God’s action is the only one, for me, that begins to address the issue of theodicy.