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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

"They Harry the Good People Out of the Land"

"They Harry the Good People Out of the Land" - John S. Oyer This book is a collection of essays on the history of persecution, survival and flourishing of Anabaptists and Mennonites written by John S. Oyer (1925-1998), former history professor at Goshen College. I took this book with me for inspirational reading on a recent trip that my wife and I took to Europe to trace our ancestors' migrations. I didn't read all the essays, but concentrated on those that were most closely related to the history we were exploring.

The following are descriptions of the various essays.

The Reformers Condemn the Anabaptists:
This essay is a collection of Reformation polemics based on the initial and developing attitudes of the reformers (Lutherans and Calvinists) toward the emerging Anabaptists. The charges against the Anabaptists are summarized as: (1) They're sectarian (i.e. they separate themselves from rest of society), (2) They're excessively subjective (i.e. they consider the reconciling of God to be a human response), (3) They're seditious (i.e. They destroyed the established order in society; an example of this failure to baptize their children was the equivalent of not registering for a birth certificate), and (4) Personal Morality as the Center of Religion (i.e. too much emphasis on good works). Eight other miscellaneous charges are also listed.

Two Anti-Anabaptist Hymns:
This essay examines two hymns written ostensible to express opposition to the Anabaptists. These poems offer the opportunity to probe hostile polemics for elements of truth about the Anabaptists, especially for the less salubrious aspects of Anabaptist life that Anabaptists understandable did not want to report. These hymns need to be seen as a part of a larger exploration by printers as to what would sell, frankly, as propaganda of a religious nature. There is little evidence that these hymns were very influential as credible propaganda.

Responses to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptists to Persecution: How the Anabaptists Ran an Underground Church:
The concepts of religious liberty or diversity were foreign concepts to the 16th century mind. Anabaptists were considered products of the devil thus deserving to be executed. Responses of the Anabaptists were to (1) Protest, (2) Go underground, (3) Flee the entire region (that's what my ancestors did), (4) Suffer the persecution and become martyrs, and (4) Forgive their persecutors (there are examples of their forgiving their executioners prior to their beheading).

From Anabaptists to Mennonites: Some Selected Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Developments:
The term "Mennonite" came into common usage as a way to differentiate between the pacifist anabaptists from the militant variety (i.e. Munster and Peasant's Revolt). It's a term used by outsiders that eventually over the years was accepted by the group themselves. This essay explores changes in Anabaptist evangelizing patterns, scriptural foci, attitudes toward suffering, economic and occupational changes, and migration patterns that occurred during this transition of identity.

Jan Luyken, Mennonite Artist in the Netherlands' "Golden Century."
This essay is a short biography of the 17th century life of Jan Luken who was the illustrator for the publication of the "Martyr's Mirror."

Bernese Mennonite Religion at the Time of the Mennonite-Amish Division:
This essay summarizes the report prepared in 1693 by Georg Thormann, Swiss Reformed pastor from the Canton of Bern. His a 692-page report against the Mennonites had been ordered by the Swiss Reformed church governing body. It is clear from his writing that he anticipated a widespread sympathy for the piety of the Anabaptists among the readers of his report because he acknowledges their good and strong points prior to exploring issues where be believed them to be in error. Consequently his report ends up being an unusually complete analysis and description of the Swiss anabaptists at that time.

Is There an Amish Theology? Some Reflections on Amish Religious Thought and Practice:
After an analysis of various theological issues, this essay concludes that the Amish live out their religion in tranquility, seriously enough but without much fuss or bother, generally free of emotion or crisis.

Menno Simons: Why Should We Revere Him?:
American Mennonites are generally surprised to learn the Dutch Mennonites to this day refuse to use the name "Mennonite" officially to designate themselves. They call themselves Doopsgezinde (Baptism-Minded). In similar fashion the Swiss Mennonites call themselves taufergemeinde (Baptist Community). This essay suggests that there are logical reasons for this because there are a number of positions taken by Menno Simons that have not been widely accepted by Mennonites (the ban being a prominent example). However, his 25 year ministry left a considerable legacy and many scholars credit him with saving the anabaptist movement from the unsavory reputation caused by the militant revolt at Munster.

The following is my edited version of a quotation from the conclusion of the preceding essay:
It is somewhat ironic that at least two major religious principles of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists--ideas and practices for which they were outlawed and killed--have triumphed in modern western societies: (1) Church membership is voluntary, and (2) The church is no longer an arm of the state. These principles are so widely accepted in today's society that it's difficult to imagine a time when these ideas were incomprehensible to the prevailing European power structure.

Jan Luyken Copper Plate Etchings: Lost Then Rediscovered:
This essay tells the story of the recovery of many of the original 17th century copper plate etchings made by Jan Luyken for use in the Martyr's Mirror.

The Peace Testimony of the CPS Experience:
CPS stand for Civilan Public Service, and it was an option provided for pacifists in the United States during World War II for drafted pacifists who refused to serve in the military. This essay was written by the author based mainly from his own personal experience of having served in CPS. The essay was presented as a speech on August 6, 1995 on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Poughkeepsie Hates its COs:
This essay, in the manner of a folk tale, attempts to tell what happened in 1945 related to community protests to conscientious objectors (COs) working at a hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Ethics, Aesthetics and Mennonites: Why I Am a Mennonite:
This essay is a description of the author's faith journey through life.

The Anabaptists in Esslingen: A Viable Congregation Under Periodic Siege:
This is by far the longest essay in this book (114 pages). Esslingen is a region in central German near Suttgart. The essay provides a thorough analysis of conditions there relative to the anabaptist population during the 16th and 17th centuries.

It is interesting to note that the title for this book comes from the following quotation of a man named Dionysius Dreytweing, an Esslingen Chronicler:
"They harry the good people out of the land . . . the devil is restless, piety has no place. John the Baptist preached in the woods because he had to.