My favorite early anabaptist is Michael Sattler. Our first community house was named after Sattler. As a pacifist, he was condemned in part for being unwilling to take up arms against the Turks. In those days (as throughout most of Medieval and Renaissance history), the Big Enemy was Islam. It was particularly important that, in the midst of the Reformation, Christendom at least stayed united in fighting their common enemy.
Luther taught that the Turks were tools of the Devil who, along with the wicked Pope, would bring Armageddon. According to some scholars, the first stanza of A Mighty Fortress is Our God was written against the Turks.
Originally, Luther saw the Ottoman Empire as being used by God to bring judgement. He advocated non-resistance because to resist the Turks would be resisting God’s will. However, as Luther gained increased backing from the German princes, his views changed. Eventually, he saw the war against the Turks to be a holy vocation (though he never saw it as a Holy War).
With the Holy Roman Empire being threatened by peasant revolts and the Reformation, the war with the Turks was in jeopardy.
This makes Sattler’s trial particularly amazing. When asked, essentially, “whose side are you on?” He replied:
If warring were right, I would rather take the field against so-called Christians who persecute, capture, and kill pious Christians than against the Turks for the following reason; The Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith, and is a Turk after the flesh. But you who would be Christians and who make your boast of Christ persecute the pious witnesses of Christ and are Turks after the spirit!
Being found guilty of heresy and treason, he had his tongue ripped out and was burnt at the stake.
Sattler reveals a sort of radical middle grown between the liberationist violence of Thomas Muntzer and the conciliatory nature of Menno Simmons. Sattler added a rather substantial “Fuck You” to his pacifist witness.
In our own days when American Christendom is battling with terrorism, when evangelical churches are (as Jin Kim suggests) providing “foot soldiers for the American Empire,” I find myself reflecting upon Sattler’s witness and the implications for such a bold form of pacifism in our own imperial context.