Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Dr. Vern Ratzlaff: Mennonite Pastor & Theologian

vern-ratzlaff-leads-bible-study.jpgMost years at “peace camp” we have Bible Study in the mornings and good preaching in the evenings.  Our evenings were more varied this year, but we were led in a fantastic set of Bible studies by Dr. Vern Ratzlaff.  A Canadian Mennonite minister, Vern worked for many years in the Middle East for the Mennonite Central Committee, a pan-Mennonite agency that combines mission work with peace and development work.  After returning from his time in the Middle East, Vern worked for the Canadian branch of the MCC in Ottawa.  Officially “retired,” now, he pastors a small Mennonite congregation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and is an adjunct professor of theology at the nearby Lutheran seminary(philosophy and historical theology) . 

So, how did the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America manage to invite a fantastic (but hardly famous) Mennonite pastor and theologian to lead our Bible studies this year? Well, it turns out that one of our Canadian members, Bob Doll, had gone to university (the University of British Columbia) with Vern and they had remained friends.  Bob had said that we needed to hear Vern–and he was right.

Our theme this year was As the Powers Fall: Sustaining Our Faith and One Another As Empire Crumbles.  Vern’s Bible studies were:

  1. Powers, Stuctures, and G-d: Creation and Power (Genesis 1 and 2).
  2. Powers, Structures, and G-d: Prayer and Power (Matthew 6:9-13).
  3. Powers, Structures, and G-d: The Church and Power (1 Corinthians 12).
  4. Powers, Structures, and G-d: Suffering and Power (Revelation 1:4-10).

These lectures will soon be available on compact disk (and also DVD?), I believe, from the BPFNA and one can order them from the BPFNA website.

But, Vern did more than fly in (I picked him up from the Louisville airport and drove him and others to Berea and then back at the end of the week) and give Bible studies.  He joined the volunteer choir for the week and made sure to give special talks based on his lectures (but more age appropriate) to the children and youth programs.  Then he joined in nearly every activity for the week.  We found that he has a great sense of humor. (At one point he wanted us Baptists to know that, although his branch of Mennonites–and most Mennonites–baptize believers by pouring water thrice over the head, he, Vern, had been properly immersed–dunked fully under water. We did not, however, find out the circumstances behind his immersionist baptism–or, at least, I didn’t.)

As regular readers of this blog (are we up to 6 of you, now?) well know, I am one Baptist who emphasizes our Anabaptist roots more than our roots in English Puritanism or our later Revivalist influences.  And several 16th C. Anabaptist theologians and more recent Mennonite theologians (like John Howard Yoder, J. Denny Weaver, Gayle Gerber Koontz, Duane K. Friesen, Willard Swartley, Mark Theissen Nation, and Mary Schwertz, to name a few) have been influential on my theology, to say the least.  So, I was glad to see a greater connection this peace camp, via Vern Ratzlaff–something that hasn’t happened since we met on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA) in the mid-’90s.

It’s also interesting that our Bible study leaders at peace camp for the last 3 years have all been Canadians: Cam Watts, Baptist pastor in Ontario in 2005 (when we met in McMinnville, OR), ex-patriate African-Canadian Baptist Peter J. Paris of Princeton Theological Seminary in 2006 (when we met in Atlanta, GA) and Vern Ratzlaff this year.  Hmm.  I hope our U.S. members are still remembering how to read Scripture!!! 🙂

July 30, 2007 - Posted by | anabaptists, Biblical exegesis, peacemaking


  1. Dear Michael,

    Make it seven regulars. I have been itching to attend peace camp for a couple of years now. The first lady and I have promised 2008, no matter what.

    Thanks for the recap of the week, only whet our appetites more.

    Travis, aka travyboat, aka savvytravvy

    Comment by travis norvell | July 31, 2007

  2. The First Lady? Er, isn’t Laura Bush a Methodist? And, how do you know her?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 4, 2007

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Michael; the hospitality of the BPFNA to this schismatic Mennonite was unstinted and warm, and thanks especially for the times together in the van. Joy and peace. vern ratzlaff

    Comment by Vern Ratzlaff | August 16, 2007

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