Modern ‘Martyrs Mirror’ Envisioned
Goshen hosts gathering to guide project collecting stories of those who have suffered for their faithBy Kaeli Evans Goshen College
GOSHEN, Ind. — More than 35 people from around the world gathered at Goshen College Aug. 5-8 for a consultation on “Bearing Witness: A New Martyrs Mirror for the 21st Century?”
Hosted by the college’s Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, the gathering explored the possibility of a story-gathering initiative, focused especially on the theme of “costly discipleship.”
Conference organizer and Goshen professor of history John D. Roth said Anabaptist groups have had a long tradition of storytelling, particularly stories of those who have suffered or died because of their convictions. In 1562, Dutch Anabaptists secretly published a collection of martyr stories, known as Het Offer des Herrn (Sacrifice Unto the Lord). Later editions culminated in 1685 with an expanded version called Martyrs Mirror.
No further expansions have been published, though many Anabaptists have continued to suffer for their faith, including in places such as Indonesia, India, Zimbabwe, Congo and Colombia.
Roth invited scholars and church leaders from a wide range of groups to discuss the possibility of gathering stories of costly discipleship.
Participants affirmed the project, encouraging Roth and co-moderator, Bluffton University professor of communication Gerald Mast, to cultivate a broad base of support for the research and gathering phase. The group also identified challenges to be addressed as the project continues.
“There can be a danger,” said Jack Suderman, former general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, “of speaking about victimization from a perspective of power, or that we use the suffering of others to bolster our own positions.”
Other participants noted the logistical and practical challenges of gathering stories from a global body of 1.7 million members. Participants also wrestled with the question of who “qualifies” for inclusion in the project.
Some argued for narrow definitions — focusing the initiative only on individuals from Anabaptist groups who had died for their faith. The majority favored a broader scope that would include some stories of nonresistant Christians outside the Anabaptist tradition, as well as those whose suffering did not necessarily result in death.
Roth noted the title of the consultation, “Bearing Witness,” was an effort to shift the focus from physical suffering to deeper reasons behind suffering.
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