One of the most curious things I’ve found about the Anabaptist movement is that it started as a rebellion against Catholic homogeny and then viciously opposed internal dissent. One of the doctrines of Anabaptist sects is the notion of the One True Visible Church … which is why there are so many different Anabaptist sects.
When I recently discovered the concept of the “OTVC,” I was impressed with its breathtaking arrogance. It is the belief that there is one, and only one, correct way to be a Christian and any church that does not adhere to the correct expression is going directly to hell (do not pass GO, do not collect $200). Only an insular community bathed in the ignorance of an 8th grade education could have developed the idea that using horse-drawn transportation and dressing in the manner of 19th Century German peasants would somehow make the them plainer, more humble and more godly than thou. At some point, the parade passes you by, and you become the local freak show. It happened in Lancaster, and it has happened here in Southern Maryland.
Yet the fights over dress and technology continue to devolve the movement and the families who adhere to it. Those who dissent too strongly either start new OTVCs, if they are popular, or they suffer excommunication, known as the Bann. The Martyrs Mirror wastes no time in justifying this tradition. I found the first reference on P. 32.
Unfortunately, dissent runs strong in my family. According to a book written by my uncle (who obviously had an axe to grind), my paternal grandfather was harassed by the church for his use of a gas-powered tractor for farming. The old man had a bad heart, and the hard work eventually killed him. My maternal grandfather, whose name I bear, went far enough to earn the Bann-hammer when he decided to wire the house up for electricity, buy a car and abandon the church. Such bold action was not entirely the product of a principled stand, and it had consequences that I’ll get to later.
But I did find a ready example of the Bann’s power in the Holdeman Mennonite forum I’ve been reading lately. The Holdemans have moved past the transportation issue. It is the Internet with its vast quantities of heretical thought that is their problem today. And even the “progressive” Holdemans (Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) don’t tolerate much lip. One man told a tale of being “exed” for “spiritual adultery” (viewing porn or reading the Catholic Bible?). He said he moved 100 miles from the church, but it still hold something over him by prohibiting his extended family from communicating with him.
…They stole my family from me. I was talking to one of my [Holdeman] friends recently. He said, “Bryon, I feel that you hold more against me then I do against you.” I said, “You are exactly right.” I told him it’s like the school yard bully [who] is taking the younger boys lunch money by force. The little boy cries, and the bully asks, “Why are crying?,” in a concerned voice. “All you have to do is give me your lunch money, and I won’t hit you anymore.” The [Holdeman] church takes what is rightfully yours, and then acts all innocent and wonders, “Why are you hurt? Just submit to the ‘church,’ and you can have your family back.”
One of the strange contradictions of shunning and the Bann in the Stauffer Church is that those family members who never join the church aren’t subject to these punishments. In fact, much like the Amish, Stauffer Mennonite teens often spend a few years “running around” (Rumspringa) partying, driving, and often making accidental children before deciding to submit to the church’s rules. I recently read an excellent, if somewhat overly sympathetic, book on the subject. What I found disturbing about the tradition is that youngsters usually end up joining the church for its economic safety, since there are few job opportunities for the uneducated in the rural areas where they live.