"Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence" (an essay by David Bumbaugh) and the "Declaration of the Marginal Mennonite Society"

Reason, reverence and a cup of strong tea
At the moment I'm taking a short break from writing tomorrow's Sunday Address in order to have a cup of strong tea and to gather my thoughts a bit after an hour or so of writing. (The resonating relevance of drinking a cup of strong tea will, by the way, become clear at the very end of this post . . .)

The address draws heavily upon William R. Murry’s (to my mind) excellent book Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21st Century (Skinner House Books, 2007, pp. 151-153) and, as I drank my tea,  I decided to follow up one of the threads that Murry tells us influenced his own thinking, namely, David Bumbaugh's 2003 essay called Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence. It struck me as a good and interesting piece so I post it here for your consideration:


Now, as regular readers of this blog know "religious naturalism" (or in Murry's terminology, "humanistic religious naturalism") is a philosophical/religious position with which I'm very much in sympathy.

However, again as regular readers of this blog will also know, I'm also sometimes minded to describe myself as a Christian atheist with a particular passion for Tolstoy's interpretation of Christianity. Clearly this is a position that overlaps considerably with religious naturalism but, because it is a form of life whose natural (figurative and poetic) language is derived from the Biblical texts it speaks in a fashion that feels very different from Murry or Bumbaugh's speech.

So why do I mention this? Well, it's because as I was reading Bumbaugh's essay a friend sent me an email directing me to the Declaration of the Marginal Mennonite Society. The Mennonites are an anabaptist movement (as were the early Polish Unitarians) that has much in common with Tolstoy's own thought and practice. Anyway the link to the Marginal Mennonites clearly had to be followed up and what I found you can read for yourself below in a moment or two.

In an instant (and really without me seeing it happen) I jumped from comfortably and happily speaking the language of humanistic religious naturalism to comfortably and happily speaking that of a kind of radical, liberal anabaptist Christianity. I found the Declaration a splendid, attractive and joyous document and, having read it, I found myself spontaneously wanting to say that in some real sense I'd consider myself to be a Marginal Mennonite too.

But can one be both a Marginal Mennonite (or Tolstoyan Christian) and a humanistic religious naturalist? Wouldn't claiming this be to try to have one's cake and eat it? Perhaps to some people it is but, as I offer you this little meditation, improvised on the spot, I think it's more like being genuinely bilingual and being able to use two very different languages fluently and flip with ease between them. To be sure no simple, direct translation is possible between these two languages but (speaking both) I feel (existentially) sure that countless correlations exist between them both (to borrow a term from Paul Tillich).

So, below is their splendid declaration. I hope you are enjoyably provoked by what it says. And now I really must get back to writing tomorrow's address . . .


We are Marginal Mennonites and we’re not ashamed. We’re marginal because no respectable Mennonite organization would have us. Yet we consider ourselves legitimate heirs to the Anabaptist tradition.

We reject creeds, doctrines, rites, and rituals. Because they’re man-made, created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in and who’s out.

We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify as a Marginal Mennonite. If you say you’re a Marginal Mennonite that’s good enough for us.

We see God as Mother as well as Father, a heavenly parent who cares for all her children. (Isaiah 49:15: “Can a woman forget her nursing baby, or show no compassion for the child who came from her womb? Even these may forget, yet I won’t forget you.”)

We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus. The human teacher who moved around in space and time. The Galilean sage who was obsessed with the Commonwealth of God. The wandering wise man who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42).

We believe the Commonwealth of God is a state of being,
a state of transformed consciousness, available to everyone. (Luke 17:21: “People won’t be able to say it’s over here or over there. For God’s Commonwealth is inside you and around you now.”)

We are universalists. In our view, everyone who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. We claim kinship in this belief with Anabaptist leader Hans Denck, Brethren leader Alexander Mack, and Quaker leader Elias Hicks, among many other universalists throughout history.

We oppose the proselytizing of non-Christians.
For us, religious diversity is beautiful. It would be a shame if all Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Jains, Pagans, Pastafarians, etc., were converted to Christianity. So we reject evangelism projects and missionary programs, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be.

We endorse the “Sermon on the Mount.” In particular the sayings identified by modern scholarship as most authentic. Especially the ones on the following themes:

1. Nonviolence (Matthew 5:39-40/Luke 6:29);
2. Generosity (Matthew 5:42a/Luke 6:30);
3. Unconditional love (Matthew 5:44/Luke 6:27-28);
4. Universalism (Matthew 5:45b/Luke 6:35d);
5. Mercy (Matthew 5:48/Luke 6:36);
6. Forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15/Luke 6:37c/Mark 11:25);
7. Non-attachment to things (Matthew 6:19-21/Luke 12:33-34/Gospel of Thomas 76:3);
8. Freedom from anxiety (Matthew 6:25-30/Luke 12:22-28/Gospel of Thomas 36:1-2);
9. Non-judgment (Matthew 7:3-5/Luke 6:41-42/Gospel of Thomas 26:1-2);
10. Compassion (Matthew 7:9-11/Luke 11:11-13).

We are pacifists, in the tradition of Bayard Rustin, Vincent Harding, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Mahatma Gandhi, Jane Addams, Jeannette Rankin, Leo Tolstoy, Adin Ballou, Lucretia Mott, George Fox, the nonviolent Anabaptists, and of course Jesus.

We are humanists, feminists, and freethinkers. We are gay, carefree, and fabulous. We believe in art, evolution, revolution, relativity, synchronicity, serendipity, the scientific method, and putty tats. We value irreverence, outrageousness, and a strong cup of tea.

We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.
As someone once said: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” For us, hilariousness is next to godliness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This declaration is not a creed or doctrinal statement. It carries no weight of authority. We are anti-authority. The above “beliefs” are suggestions only. We could be wrong.

The Marginal Mennonite Society was created in February 2011. 
Declaration last revised February 26, 2017.

Visit www.facebook.com/marginalmennonitesociety and “like” us.

Charlie Kraybill, MMS Page Administrator.
Post a Comment