Brenneman calls for new 'school of thought'
Wants Goshen College to be a place of radical assent as well as radical dissentby Jodi H. Beyeler
The time for "yes" is here, says Goshen (Ind.) College president Jim Brenneman, who believes it is a new day at the school. In his Jan. 15 chapel sermon, "Getting to Yes and Amen! The New GC 'School of Thought'"—based on 2 Corinthians 1:20-22—Brenneman juxtaposed the college’s historic culture of dissent with a culture of assent and affirmed that both are needed. The president gave much credit to President Emeritus J. Lawrence Burkholder, who attended and was recognized during the service.
"From 1924," Brenneman said, "by my reckoning 30 years into the history of Goshen College until at least 1989, the normative ‘school of thought’ at Goshen was that of the radical dissent, nonconforming idealism and prophetic disestablishmentarianism. There were more no’s than yeses."
"Saying no a lot isn’t necessarily a bad thing," he added.
Brenneman pointed to the earliest Anabaptists as the inspiration for dissent.
"We came to such an ethos quite honestly," he said. "They said no to the fundamental religious and civil order of the time. They rejected the church-state union, which had dominated Christianity for some 1,000 years. They championed human freedom and the separation of church and state, and they were persecuted and executed for beliefs that have since been enshrined in all Western democracies.
"These early Mennonites/Anabaptists were also 'idealists' and 'perfectionists' for whom the word compromise was considered sinful," Brenneman said. "Unfortunately, because so many of them were silenced and killed during those early years, they never really had the opportunity to try to put into practice a social or political model of how their beliefs might actually have played out in the world of nations and cultures where compromise can be seen as a positive norm."
This understanding, Brenneman said, led to being on the side of prophets rather than political leaders, on the side of protesters rather than the establishment, on the side of the individual rather than institutions. But as an Old Testament scholar, he said that understanding doesn’t include the full view of the biblical prophet.
"Clearly, they came down on the side of the prophetic dissenter," Brenneman said, "largely based on a somewhat narrow understanding of biblical prophets as primarily naysayers and exclusively critical."
Manifestations of Goshen College's "culture of dissent" include the publications of The Anabaptist Vision by Goshen College dean H.S. Bender. It called for true Christians to "withdraw from the worldly system and create a Christian social order within the fellowship of the church." As well, Goshen College Professor Emeritus of History Guy F. Hershberger authored the book War, Peace and Nonresistance.
In contrast, Brenneman told the story of philosopher J. Lawrence Burkholder, who called for Mennonites to get involved in public policy decisions. Brenneman concluded by calling for a new day at the college, one in which both schools of thought have a home.
"We need both," he said. "To side with one to the exclusion of the other is to settle for half-truths. ... At this time in Goshen’s history, we need a lot more radical yea-sayers. We need to create a culture of assent alongside our historic culture of dissent."
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Goshen (Ind.) College announced on Jan. 22 it will play an instrumental version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" before select sports events on campus, followed by prayer. This decision takes effect in March and was made after discussion and deliberation over the past year. Providing a more hospitable atmosphere for athletic events was a primary reason for the recommendation and ultimately for the decision. Mennonite Church USA does not have an official position on the playing of the national anthem; there are varying practices among the other Mennonite colleges and universities.—