Since 1975, the Brethren in Christ Church has continued (in a variety of ways) to embrace, resist, and reform evangelicalism. At the same time, members of the church have continued to see themselves as both distinctively “Brethren in Christ” and a part of the larger evangelical movement. As a 2006 survey of church members revealed, when asked Brethren in Christ people self-identify as “evangelical” (44%), “Anabaptist” (29%), and/or “Brethren in Christ” (72%).
Even as they have continued to engage with evangelicals, the Brethren in Christ have also drawn on their own history to shape contemporary church life. Specifically, the church has examined the history of their engagement with evangelicals to draw inspiration for the future. In 2011, for example, moderator Warren Hoffman pointed to church leaders’ late-night prayer meeting at the 1950 NAE convention to inspire changes in contemporary church life. Just as those mid-century leaders had welcomed changes for the sake of growth, so too should present-day church members welcome changes that will “strengthen our outreach and [help us] become a more embracing community.”
But Hoffman’s analysis focuses on only one part of the story. As this exhibit has shown, Brethren in Christ people did not just see evangelicalism as a means by which to change their community for the better. They also saw it as a threat to resist and as an imperiled entity to reform. How might these stories of mid-century evangelical encounter help the Brethren in Christ to shape their future?
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