Significance of Reconciliation Action toward Anabaptists Affirmed at LWF Regional Gathering Implications for Society and Families

BRATISLAVA, Slovak Republic/GENEVA, 17 March 2010 (LWI) - For Mennonites, looking back on the history of the Reformation "is very painful," Rev. Sven Oppegaard told a consultation of European Lutheran churches being held from 13 to 17 March in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.

Mennonites claim the heritage of 16th century Anabaptists, who were condemned and persecuted by Lutherans and others during this period.

Addressing participants in the five-day Lutheran World Federation (LWF) European region pre-assembly consultation, Oppegaard, who was assistant general secretary for ecumenical affairs at the LWF from 1997 to 2006, explained the significance of a 2009 LWF Council statement on the reconciliation process with Anabaptists.

At its meeting last October, the LWF Council adopted a statement asking for forgiveness for the persecution of Anabaptists by Lutherans in the 16th century and for similarly hurtful portrayal by Lutheran authors to the present day. The LWF governing body thus recommended that the LWF Eleventh Assembly, to be held in Stuttgart, Germany, in July 2010, endorse the "Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of 'Anabaptists.'"

The statement expresses a "deep sense of regret and pain" over the legacy of brutal persecution of Anabaptists, especially over the fact that Lutheran reformers supported this persecution with theological arguments. The statement asks for forgiveness "from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers - for the harm that our forebears in the sixteenth century committed to Anabaptists."

The statement goes on to request forgiveness for "forgetting or ignoring this persecution in the intervening centuries, and for all inappropriate, misleading and hurtful portraits of Anabaptists and Mennonites made by Lutheran authors, in both popular and scholarly forms, to the present day."

The voluntary commitments contained in the statement include an affirmation of the present consensus in "repudiating the use of the state's power either to exclude or enforce particular religious beliefs," as well as to "work towards upholding and maintaining freedom of religion and conscience in political orders and societies."

Oppegaard explained that the only remaining differences between Lutherans and the Anabaptist tradition identified in the report of the Lutheran - Mennonite International Study Commission (2005 - 2008) concerned the theology of baptism, and relations of Christians and of the church to the state. Lutherans today do not see contemporary Mennonites described in the other condemnations pronounced by the reformers.

He told the LWF pre-assembly gathering that as early as 1980, the LWF Executive Committee had expressed its regret for the pain and suffering that the condemnations brought in their wake. In 2002, the LWF Council and the Mennonite World Conference established the Lutheran - Mennonite International Study Commission. As regards Lutheran churches, Oppegaard said "their attitude is one of gratitude and repentance."

Noko: Significance for Society and Families

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko emphasized the importance of the anticipated reception of the statement and report by the forthcoming Assembly. The Zimbabwean theologian noted that in many countries reconciliation has significance not only for society, but also for families, pointing out that his mother was from the Mennonite tradition.

The LWF area secretary for Europe Rev. Dr Eva-Sibylle Vogel-Mfato added, "The reconciliation process with Mennonites can serve as an example for other cases where healing is needed."

Hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic, the pre-Assembly consultation is being attended by 67 delegates, stewards and advisers from 35 LWF member churches of the region, as well as representatives from national committees, church networks, church-related agencies and LWF staff.

The LWF has 43 member churches in Europe representing around 37.2 million people. (608 words)

More information on the LWF Pre-Assemblies is available under the "Journey" section of the LWF Assembly Web site at:

Miroslava Mikletičová | 17.3.2010

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Grafické spracovanie:Ladislav Menyhart