On 8 October Professor Tom Yoder Neufeld delivered the inaugural annual lecture which launched the Centre. His title was “Anabaptists, the Bible and Violence” and the lecture was delivered to a packed audience. He drew heavily from his acclaimed book, Jesus and the Subversion of Violence: Wrestling with the New Testament Evidence (Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament in the USA). Noting that contemporary Anabaptists themselves have a variety of ways of interpreting the Bible, Tom sketched approaches from the simple biblical literalism of the Amish at one end (he certainly was not disparaging their approach) to the passionate concern for global peacemaking and justice of Christian Peacemaker Teams at the other.
Tom, although passionately advocating non-violence as the appropriate stance, nevertheless acknowledged the ambiguity of the biblical witness and deliberately focused on the New Testament to illustrate that this was not immune to the accusations of being a violent text. He used the account of Jacob wrestling through the night in Genesis 32:22-32 to advocate an incarnational model of reading scripture. Jacob wrestled with a man but claimed to have seen God face to face. So, in wrestling with the very human words of the text, we seek to find the word of God – the Word in the words and we do not stop wrestling until we find a blessing. His honest account of wrestling with the text, including stating that there were texts that he just did not know what to do with, drew an appreciative response and provoked a number of interesting questions from the audience.
Tom’s lecture, which we hope will subsequently be available in print, was certainly a fitting way to launch the Centre.