inauguration | noun | the beginning or introduction of a system, policy, or period.
Zürich: January 21, 1525. In the middle of the night a group of Christians met together in the house of Felix Manz and baptized one another into a new Church. It was real cloak and dagger type stuff. They had intitially started as a part of the Swiss reformation (following Zwingli) but decided it wasn't going far enough and so that night they became the first group of the Reformation to officially break with Rome. Thus, Anabaptism was born.
It seems fitting to remember the beginning of such a subversive group the day after the United States' Presidential Inauguration. Considered heretics by Catholics and the mainstream reformers, Anabaptists were hunted down and killed in one of the most widely spread persecutions in Christian history. Thousands were martyred and, as a bit of cruel irony, drowning tended to be the execution of choice by their enemies. They were people who lived their lives on the run. Listen to the words of Menno Simons, the leader of the Dutch Anabaptists as he reflects on leaving the Catholic Church to become an Anabaptist:
"For this I, my poor, feeble wife and children have for 18 years endured extreme anxiety, oppression, affliction, misery and persecution, and at the peril of my life, have been compelled everywhere to live in fear and seclusion."
All of this because Anabaptists radically believed that one was not simply born into the Christian faith and that the Church was meant to be a community separate from the world, living by alternative ethics and values. One of those ethics that got them killed was their pacifist stance, believing that the church should be committed to non-violence. Michael Sattler, a prominent Anabaptist, had his tongue cut out, pieces of flesh torn from him, was forged to a cart, burned with red hot tongs, and then pushed into a fire; because he taught non-violence. By the way, this was one of the main reasons the early church was martyred by the empire as well - for refusing to serve in the military.
It's interesting that while most of North American Evangelicalism was wrapped up in the politics of the Presidency this week, another group of Christ-following radicals (including Shane Claiborne) found themselves tossed in prison for protesting the death penalty. Why? Because they believe the same sort of things as the Anabaptists; that you're not a Christian simply because you live or attend or are raised somewhere and that the Church is meant to be an alternative to the ways of the empire, living by a different set of ethics (like non-violence).
Remembering the Anabaptists today reminds us what resistance to structural evil looks like. Unlike the mainstream reformers, the Anabaptists felt that the Kingdom of God could never be inaugurated through collusion with empires and nation states. There was no compromising on this. They readily traded their comfort, their reputations, and their positions of authority for this alternative way of life. A life of weakness and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom and its Crucified King.
"yea, when ministers repose on easy beds and downy pillows, we generally have to hide ourselves in secluded corners; when they at weddings and feasts, pipe and beat the tambour, and vaunt loudly, we must look out, when the dogs bark, lest the captors be at hand. Whilst they are saluted as doctors, lords and teachers by everyone, we have to hear that we are Anabaptists, hedge preachers, deceivers and heretics, and must be saluted in the name of the devil. In short, whilst they are gloriously rewarded for their services with large incomes and easy times, our recompense and portion must be fire, sword and death."
- Menno Simons