An Anabaptist Anti-Racist Reading List

Rowena Lark teaching Bible school. Lark’s husband, James, was the first African American minister ordained in the Mennonite church (1944). [Caption edited 6/19/2020]

The brutal murder of George Floyd has exposed again the systematic injustices perpetrated by institutions of power against black and brown people in the United States and around the world. We, the board of Anabaptist Historians, are enraged and heartbroken. To stand in solidarity with those protesting police violence and interrelated forms of institutionalized racism, we have put together the following Anabaptist Anti-Racist Reading List. We have been inspired by other anti-racist reading lists recently circulated, and we hope our contribution will be as useful as possible for readers. We have thus compiled specifically Anabaptist ways of saying: Black Lives Matter.

This Anabaptist Anti-Racist Reading List features short and online-accessible articles and essays on the relationships between Anabaptist history and matters of race, racism, and violence. Each thematic section also includes suggestions for further readings, including articles and books that may require purchase. In such cases, we recommend supporting local bookstores, ordering used copies, or you can submit a purchase or interlibrary loan request through your local library. And of course, if you like what you read, be sure to share recommendations with friends and family!

Overview

Anabaptists over the past five hundred years have been deeply entangled with racism and racial violence. From European imperial expansion and the Dutch slave trade to settler colonialism and displacement of native peoples, the origins and development of Anabaptist churches have been shaped and reformed in crucibles of injustice. As individuals and as communities, Anabaptists have struggled with these contexts, often developing sophisticated ways of naming and resisting state violence although more typically deploying such strategies to serve themselves than others.

If the story of Anabaptism is inextricably bound to race and racism, then the process of doing Anabaptist history must be understood as an anti-racist calling. The readings highlighted below share a common mission to bring about a more equal church and a more just future. Historians may take different approaches toward this end. Some uncover troubling examples of racism in the church. Others explore cases when Anabaptists meaningfully spoke truth to power within their own denominational contexts or beyond. All recognize that these stories resonate today.

We acknowledge the profound incompleteness of this anti-racist reading list. The brokenness of our wider society impedes efforts to fully grasp systemic injustice. Working toward restitution will mean changing how we think about the Anabaptist past alongside reformulating our public institutions. We invite readers to submit further reading suggestions in the moderated comments section. We also welcome submissions and pitches for short historical essays and think-pieces. Anabaptist Historians looks forward to publishing a new anti-racism series over the coming year.

Readings by Topic

1) African Americans and Anabaptism

Melody Marie Pannell, “A Radical Love in Harlem: Resolve, Resilience and Restoration (Part 1: 1952-1975),” Anabaptist Historians, November 24, 2017.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, “Mennonites, Mission and Race: The Cleveland Experiment,” Anabaptist Historians,November 15, 2016.

Further Reading:

  • Regina Shands Stoltzfus, “The Unexpected and Complicated Presence of African American Women in Mennonite Churches” (PhD diss., Chicago Theological Seminary, 2017).
  • Jeffrey Phillip Gingerich, “Sharing the Faith: Racial and Ethnic Identity in an Urban Mennonite Community” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2003).

2) Anabaptists and the Black Freedom Struggle

Tobin Miller Shearer, “Martin and the Mennonites: Lessons From King’s Legacy for Today,” Anabaptist Historians, January 20, 2020.

Tobin Miller Shearer, “State of the Race: A Short History of Mennonite Racial Statements, 1940-1979,” Anabaptist Historians, October 3, 2019.

Further Reading:

  • Tobin Miller Shearer, Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2010).
  • Tobin Miller Shearer, Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017).

3) Imperialism, Slavery, and Settler Colonialism

Marvin E. Kroeker, “Natives and Settlers: The Mennonite Invasion of Indian Territory,” Mennonite Life 61, no. 2 (2006): online.

Ben Goossen, “Mennonites and Empire,” Anabaptist Historians, September 21, 2018.

Further Reading:

  • James Lehman, Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
  • Anthony Siegrist, “‘Part of the Authority Structure’: An Organizational History of Mennonite Indian Residential Schools in Ontario,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 93, no. 1 (2019): 5-38.

4) Anabaptists, Immigration, and Nativism

Felipe Hinojosa, “Place Matters,” Anabaptist Historians, September 22, 2016.

Felipe Hinojosa, “Hazel’s People,” Anabaptist Historians,January 12, 2017.

Further Reading:

5) Gender, Race, and Anabaptist Women

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, “Juanita Lark Building Dedication at Goshen College,” Anabaptist Historians, February 16, 2017.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, “Telling All of Our Stories as a Movement To Peace,” Anabaptist Historians,August 24, 2017.

Further Reading:

  • Anita Hooley Yoder, “In A Reunion Like This We Can Share,” Anabaptist Historians, August 31, 2017.
  • Kimberly Schmidt, “Moneneheo and Naheverein: Cheyenne and Mennonite Sewing Circles, Convergences and Conflicts, 1890-1970,” Great Plains Quarterly 31, no. 1 (2011): 3-22.

6) Anabaptists and White Supremacy

Ben Goossen, “The Pacifist Roots of an American Nazi,” Boston Review, May 2, 2019.

Tobin Miller Shearer, “On Being a Watch Listed Historian in the Age of Donald Trump,” Anabaptist Historians, December 8, 2016.

Further Reading:

  • Damon Berry, Blood and Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2017): 74-101.
  • Ben Goossen, “Mennonite Fascism,” Anabaptist Historians, April 27, 2017.

7) Ethnic Shibboleths and Racial Exclusion

Austin McCabe Juhnke, “Rethinking 606, the ‘Mennonite National Anthem,’” Anabaptist Historians, November 28, 2017.

Ben Goossen, “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege,” Anabaptist Historians, November 3, 2016.

Further Reading:

8) Interracial Alliances and the Problem of Tokenism

Tobin Miller Shearer, “A Prophet Pushed Out: Vincent Harding and the Mennonites,” Mennonite Life 69 (2015): online.

Tobin Miller Shearer, “Mennonites and the Magical African-American Friend,” Anabaptist Historians, April 10, 2019.

Further Reading:

  • Philipp Gollner, “How Mennonites Became White: Religious Activism, Cultural Power, and the City,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 90, no. 2 (2016): 165-193.
  • Steve Heinrichs, ed., Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019).

9) White Mennonites as Allies

Tobin Miller Shearer, “The Deepest Dichotomy: How A Sixty-Five-Year-Old Essay on Racism Helped Me Learn A Lesson From Before I Was Born,” Anabaptist Historians, September 8, 2016.

Tobin Miller Shearer, “Confronting the Confessional Catharsis: David A. Shank and the Legacy of ‘Race Criminals’,” Anabaptist Historians, April 19, 2019.

Further Reading:

10) Anabaptists, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust

Mennonites and the Holocaust Syllabus,”Anabaptist Historians, April 7, 2018.

“Lisa Schirch, “How Mennonites Reckon with our History in the Holocaust,” Anabaptist Historians, March 23, 2018.

Further Reading:

  • Mark Jantzen and John D. Thiesen, eds., European Mennonites and the Holocaust (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020).
  • Benjamin W. Goossen, Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).

11) Anabaptism, Race, and Overseas Missions

Danang Kristiawan, “The Faint Past and Constructed Identity: The Challenges of Historical Awareness in Javanese Mennonite Church,” Anabaptist Historians, May 21, 2020.

Lucille Marr, “Mysticism and Evangelicalism in the Writings of a ‘Spiritual Mother,’” Anabaptist Historians, January 28, 2020.

Further Reading:

12) Building Coalitions

Felipe Hinojosa, “Freedom Dreams: On the Legacy of the Minority Ministries Council,” Anabaptist Historians, April 24, 2017.

Tobin Miller Shearer, “Money, Sex, and Power: The Black Manifesto and the Minority Ministries Council,” Anabaptist Historians,April 13, 2017.

Further Reading:


We hope that these readings offer entry points into deep, long-lasting movements that address racism and violence in Anabaptist communities and beyond. We see scholarship and education as elements of larger struggles against structural injustice that also include organizing, protests, voting, and other strategies for systemic change. We hope that this Anti-Racist Reading List will inspire fresh research into the subjects covered here as well as new areas like Anabaptism and policing. If you are conducting such scholarship, please contact us about featuring your work.

This Anabaptist Anti-Racist Reading List was compiled by the Board of Anabaptist Historians: Ben Goossen, Simone Horst, Ted Maust, and Christina Entz Moss, as well as by Coordinating Editor, Joel Horst Nofziger. Thanks to Rachel Waltner Goossen and Madeline J. Williams for providing comments.

3 thoughts on “An Anabaptist Anti-Racist Reading List

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful resource. I’d add Joanna Shenk’s interview with Vincent Harding, The Movement Makes Us Human, to the section on the Black freedom struggle. Also, Rebecca Janzen’s Liminal Sovereignty: Mennonites and Mormons in Mexican Culture is an important contribution to the discussion around race, imperialism, and settler colonialism.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lots more Canadian literature. Such as Timothy Epp
    “Anabaptist-Black Interaction in Upper Canada: An Initial Reconnaissance”
    Journal of Mennonite Studies, 2013, Vol.31. And his articles in Canadian Mennonite and Ontario Mennonite History.
    Work on settler colonialism with regard to Indigenous people, by Joseph Wiebe, Melanie Kampen, more by Steve Heinrichs; Journal of Mennonites Studies theme issue 2001.

    Liked by 1 person

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