Altaras visits AMBS for book release celebration

Published: October 12, 2022

Editor’s note: A virtual book release will be held for Resistance via Zoom on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, at 7 p.m. EST. Register in advance here.

By David C. Cramer

Cameron Altaras, PhD, holds a copy of the book, Resistance, at a book celebration event in the AMBS Library.
Cameron Altaras, PhD, with copies of the book she co-edited with Carol Penner, PhD, Resistance: Confronting Violence, Power, and Abuse within Peace Churches (Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2022), at a book celebration event on Sept. 28 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. (Credit: Rachel A. Fonseca)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — On Wednesday, Sept. 28, nearly 50 AMBS students, faculty and staff gathered in the library of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), in Elkhart, Indiana, to celebrate the release of Resistance: Confronting Violence, Power, and Abuse within Peace Churches, edited by Cameron Altaras, PhD, and Carol Penner, PhD. The event featured a presentation by author and co-editor Altaras, who visited the campus from her home in Washington State.

This book is the latest volume to be released by the Institute of Mennonite Studies (IMS), the research and publishing wing of AMBS. IMS cosponsored the celebration with the AMBS Library and Dean’s Office.

During the event, Altaras shared her own story of experiencing abuse at the hands of a Mennonite pastor and finding the courage to speak of the abuse many years later.

“When I finally spoke, seven other women came forward with their stories about abuse by the same pastor,” she told the audience. “This was my first experience of how personal storytelling brings us out of isolation and empowers us to heal in community.”

Altaras explained how — out of their own personal experiences as well as their academic research and professional experience related to the topic of abuse — she and Penner joined forces to collect stories of other people who have survived or confronted violence and abuse within Anabaptist churches. More than 30 people entrusted them with their stories, resulting in this collection of 34 essays by abuse survivors; survivor advocates; and other storytellers, poets and academics.

Regarding the choice of the title “Resistance,” Altaras explained, “Because this book is situated within the particular religious context of the Anabaptist tradition — and Historic Peace Churches — we were faced with the emphasis on ‘nonresistance’ to violence, based on the Anabaptist interpretation of words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 5:39 — to not resist the evildoer and to turn the other cheek.” 

She described how she and Penner chose the book’s title to challenge this traditional Anabaptist emphasis on nonresistance: “This book addresses ways in which theology has sanctioned and justified harm and asks how we might honor the Anabaptist theology that has shaped us and at the same time resist evil and seek healing for those who are harmed. We use ‘Resistance’ in our title to pay tribute to the power of survivors of such harms.”

Altaras shared how the book confronts not only sexualized violence but also the related violence of colonialism; the Doctrine of Discovery; and various forms of oppression and “othering” based on racial identity, gender and sexuality. She noted that these forms of violence are often related and overlapping, “causing suffering under an intersection of multiple webs of oppression.”

Following the presentation, members of the AMBS community engaged Altaras in a discussion about how the church can become a safe, supportive and caring environment that can empower survivors to come forward with their stories. Altaras advised that becoming such a community begins with the commitment to believe the testimony of survivors and to stand in solidarity with them, even when doing so risks financial or reputational damage to the institution. She thanked the AMBS community and IMS for being willing to take such a risk by supporting and publishing this volume.

Director of Library Services Karl Stutzman, MLS, said of the event, “It was a delight to host this gathering in the beautiful space we have in our library. We celebrate the contributions the Institute of Mennonite Studies and its collaborators are making toward safe and grounded leadership in the church.”

Find more information about the book and how to order copies, on the Resistance: Confronting Violence, Power, and Abuse within Peace Churches webpage.

The Institute of Mennonite Studies is the research and publishing wing of AMBS. Founded in 1958 under the directorship of Cornelius J. Dyck, IMS promotes scholarship in Mennonite and Believers Church theology, history, biblical studies, peace studies and related fields, primarily through the publication of books and journals and the organization of conferences.

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world.

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