The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) adopted a statement on Thursday asking for forgiveness from the Mennonite community for persecutions dating back to the Reformation.
"When Lutherans today realize the history of Lutheran - Anabaptist relationships in the sixteenth
century and beyond…they are filled with a deep sense of regret and pain over the persecution of Anabaptists by Lutheran authorities and especially over the fact that Lutheran reformers
theologically supported this persecution," said the statement, which was approved at the group's Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany.
The statement was presented in a service where officials from the LWF and the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) were participants.
"Today, in this place, we together – Lutherans and Anabaptist Mennonites – are fulfilling the rule of Christ," the Rev. Dr Danisa Ndlovu, president of the MWC, told the Assembly in an emotion-filled address.
In a symbolic act of reconciliation, Ndlovu presented LWF President the Rev. Mark S. Hanson with a wooden foot-washing tub, saying that it represented the Mennonites' commitment to a future "when the distinguishing mark of Lutheran and Anabaptist-Mennonite relationships is boundless love and unfailing service."
Accepting the gift, Hanson said, "In this and so many other ways, we will continue to follow [the Mennonite] example, and in this most significant day in our life there may be no more public example of reconciliation."
The Anabaptists - a term meaning "re-baptizers" – were formed in 1525 in Switzerland in protest of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
Protestant leaders however, including Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, saw the Anabaptists as a dangerous sect and violently persecuted and even executed them.
The Lutheran statement, entitled "Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of 'Anabaptists," was approved last October and was based on a four-year study from the Lutheran-Mennonite Study Commission.
LWF General Secretary the Rev. Ishmael Noko hailed the historical approval of the document, saying that, "Our children will remember this day."
Hanson called the action "the most significant legacy this Assembly will leave."
"We will not just look back; we will also look towards together to God's promised future," he said.