Dunker Punks In History

To be a Dunker Punk is to be an active, radical follower of Jesus. Not everyone who has been part of the Church of the Brethren has been a Dunker Punk. Rather, the distinction of Dunker Punk can only be given to those Brethren who have stepped forward, taken up the cross of Jesus, and lived out their faith through radical gestures of obedience to Christ and Christ-like love to their everyone, especially their enemies. To be a dunker is to be baptized into the Church of the Brethren, but to be a Dunker Punk is to take that Baptism seriously.

The following is a list of Dunker Punks who have distinguished themselves in their set apart ministry of the cross. It is important to remember that these individuals did not act to be remembered as individuals. Rather, they strove to be but a part of our large spiritual heritage of obedience and enemy-love. Still, just as our culture has created “heroes” – too often of war – it is healthy for us as Dunker Punks to study examples of how we can better live out our faith.  Fittingly, it is often the case that we celebrate not one individual, but several Dunker Punks working together to create God’s kingdom.

Always remember, it is not our individual history that matters, not the “good Brethren pedigree” of our genes or how fitting of a Brethren last name we have. Instead, it is how we  contribute to our spiritual tradition, how we radically and obediently follow Jesus and love like Jesus, that matters. And it is not our names that matter in history, but our contributions.

Alexander Mack, Anna Mack, and the Schwarzenau Brethren

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The original Dunker Punks were a group of just eight who gathered together in Schwarzenau, Germany.  They came to Schwarzenau to seek religious asylum, because as followers of the Pietist movement, the group would have faced persecution, often leading to execution, for going against the regionally endorsed religion.

At first, the group met together in secret to hold bible studies. The more they studied Jesus’ life and teachings, the more they realized that they were called to a different walk of faith than the one endorsed by their rulers. They saw in Jesus undeniable commandments to love everyone, especially their enemies. They felt that the New Testament, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, held the most important and relevant instructions for how to live a Christian life.

Though we recognize Alexander Mack as the founder of the Church of the Brethren, and though he was their minister and leader, the original Dunker Punks believed that no individual was as important as the spiritual journey they were about to begin. For this reason, when the group decided to baptize one another in the Eder river, they used a lottery system to select which member of their group would do the Baptisms. It is important to remember that as radical followers of Jesus, we are all qualified and required to carry one another to the cross. The original Brethren knew (though it was radical) that any man or woman who loved Christ was qualified to minister to others, be a leader in the Church, and display Christ’s love.

Christopher Sauer and Christopher Sauer Jr

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You may not have heard of these two early Brethren, but both distinguished themselves as Dunker Punks through their revolutionary commitment to nonviolent nonconformity.

Among the first members of the Church of the Brethren in the colonial United States, Christopher Sauer became a prominent printer to native Germans and other German speakers in the colonies. Among the works that he printed were radical condemnations of War and Slavery, becoming one of the first outspoken advocates of pacifism and abolition in the country. In 1758, Sauer was arrested for denouncing the militant activities of the British army during the French and Indian war, though he died before receiving any punishment.

His son, Christopher Sauer Jr., continued his father’s legacy, and did even more to promote the dunker punk ideals of nonviolence and nonconformity. Not only did he continue to promote the ideals of pacifism and abolition, but he did so during an incredibly volatile and formative time in American history.

Sauer was very active in promoting these ideals during the American Revolution. While many throughout the country were gripped by nationalistic fervor for the American cause of independence, Sauer Jr. stood resolute in his belief that even independence was not worth the cost of violent conflict. Refusing to conform to the militant nationalism sweeping the nation and his region in particular, Sauer remained committed to nonviolence.

In 1778, Sauer was labeled an “Enemy of the State” and was summoned to appear in court to take an oath of allegiance. He refused both summons. A few days later, Sauer was arrested by the military, where he was subjected to humiliation and near-torture. Still, he refused to take an oath of allegiance. The next day, he was marched to a military internment camp, where he was held for several days until he made an appeal to George Washington. Washington allowed Sauer to be released, but Sauer was exiled from his hometown of Germantown until the revolution was over. Again he disobeyed the State and returned to Germantown a few months later. Sauer was arrested, and while in custody he missed another summons to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. As punishment, all of Sauer’s possessions and property were auctioned off. Sauer, a considerably wealthy man, lived the rest of his life in extreme poverty. Through all of these circumstances, he never wavered from his conviction to nonviolence.

Both of the Sauers, and Sauer Jr. in particular, remind us that being a dunker punk is not supposed to be easy. Sticking to the nonconformity that a truly Christ-like life demands isn’t supposed to be fun. We maintain our radical obedience to Jesus and his ways of nonviolence and enemy-love because we are ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, and here in the Kingdom of Heaven, we do things differently. We are called by Christ to promote and build his kingdom here on earth, and the only way we can do that is stay resolute in our commitment to walking a different path.

Let Sauer Jr. remind us that no matter how bad things get, what we are doing is meaningful and powerful. So stay strong. Keep the faith you have committed yourself to living. And allow this community to support you. The Church of the Brethren and the dunker punks stick together. Allow us to help one another. We are called by Christ to Journey along a different path, and Christ has blessed us with everything we need to make that Journey together.

Stay tuned for more Dunker Punks from history and their radical and obedient acts of love! Want to suggest a Dunker Punk? Contact the curators of dunkerpunks.com at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

From Murderer to Patron Saint of Nonviolence: Moses the Ethiopian

st moses the ethiopian

As I write this article on August 28, our Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world are celebrating the feast day of the fourth century monk St. Moses the Black, also known as St. Moses the Ethiopian. Originally the slave of an Egyptian master, as a young man St. Moses was the last person you would expect to become a saint. His master dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. He eventually came to lead a band of seventy thieves who roamed the Nile river valley spreading fear and violence in their wake.

On one occasion, a barking dog kept him from completing a robbery. Seeking revenge on the dog’s owner, he swam across the Nile to attack the man, a shepherd. He was seen crossing the river with a sword in his teeth, and the shepherd hid himself in the sand. Angry about being unable to find his intended target, Moses killed some of the best animals, swam with them back across the Nile, butchered his stolen livestock, and feasted. After selling the extra meat and skins to buy wine, he walked fifty miles to rejoin his band.

Accounts differ as to what caused Moses to repent and become a monk. My personal favorite version says that while of the run from local authorities, Moses sought refuge among a community of monks in the desert of Scete, nearby Alexandria. Deeply moved after witnessing their dedication, peace, and contentment, Moses gave up his old ways and joined the community.

It is said that group of thieves attacked Moses’s monastic cell, not knowing who he was and intending to rob him. The former robber overpowered his attackers and slung them across his back. Taking them to the church and dumping them on the sanctuary floor, he told his fellow monks he did not think it would be Christian to harm them and asked their advice for what to do. Discovering just who it was they had tried to rob, the thieves repented and became monks themselves.

Moses’s transition into a Christian life did not happen overnight. He struggled with the demands of monastic life, and he became discouraged by the fact that he could not live up to his ideal of the perfect monk. He met with the abbot of his monastery, St. Isidore, who took him to the roof to watch the sunrise together. As the watched, Isidore told Moses “Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one become a perfect contemplative.”

Later on, Abba Moses (as he was then known, Abba being an intimate term meaning father or daddy) was called upon to settle a dispute about an offense committed by one of the monks. He refused but was prodded into coming. So he tied, depending on the version of the story, either a basket of sand or a jug of water with a hole in it, letting its contents trail out behind him. When asked why he did this he replied “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” At his words, the monk was forgiven and restored to the community.

At the end of his life, another group of bandits came to attack Moses’s community. He advised his brothers to flee, but refused to leave himself, saying, “I have been expecting this day to come for many years past, so that might be fulfilled the command of our Redeemer, who said, ‘Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” He and the seven monks who stayed with him welcomed the bandits with open arms to their community and were murdered for it. Because of this, in the modern day he has come to be seen as the patron saint of nonviolence. Even today his witness lives on, both in his homeland and around the world.

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