C. Norman Kraus, professor emeritus of Religion, ordained Mennonite minister, author of books on church history, theology, peacemaking and social justice, and a lifelong Christian disciple whose teaching took him to countries in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, died April 6, at the age of 94. His family said the cause was congestive heart failure.
Early on Kraus developed an interest in history and religion, particularly that of his Anabaptist faith. He attended Eastern Mennonite College and graduated from Goshen College in 1946 with a bachelor's degree in Bible. While attending Goshen Biblical Seminary, he joined the Bible Department at Goshen College. In 1953, he completed a master's in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, followed by a PhD in Religion from Duke University in 1961. He taught at Goshen College for 30 years, founding and directing a Center for Discipleship program there in 1971 that focused on helping students and lay Christians explore effective discipleship across disciplines and vocations.
In 1980, Norman Kraus and his wife Ruth accepted an assignment from Mennonite Board of Missions to work with the Mennonite churches in Japan. After 18 months of language study in Tokyo, the couple moved to Sapporo, where Kraus lectured and taught for six years while also writing a two-volume Christology, "Jesus Christ Our Lord: Christology from a Disciple's Perspective" and "God Our Savior: Theology in a Christological Mode," published first in Japanese and later in English.
Born Feb. 20, 1924, in the Warwick River Mennonite Colony, Kraus was raised in the farm village of Denbigh, Virginia, now a part of Newport News. The experience of growing up in a pioneer Mennonite community, whose northern, Pennsylvania-German, pacifistic culture was radically at odds with the martial, post-Civil War "English" culture of the surrounding Virginia community, profoundly affected his world view. It became his life's quest to understand the church's mission of peace and justice and to explore how the visible church could manifest the teachings of Jesus. Kraus taught a model of the church as a "community of the spirit," and "an authentic movement at the grassroots level to promote the personal-social goal of God's kingdom on earth." His books "The Community of the Spirit" (1974) and "The Authentic Witness" (1979) are among his most widely read.
Raised in the "Jim Crow" South, Kraus knew firsthand the racial attitudes his church community brought to its involvement with the segregated black community. In 1958, he wrote "Integration: Who's Prejudiced," one of the first public attempts by the Mennonite Church to address its own implicit biases. In Goshen, Indiana, where he settled in 1949 and where strict segregationist codes were still the law, he became, in his words, "an educator, reporter, protestor, and advocate" for racial equity and social justice. Though he never considered himself an "activist," he participated in a lunch-counter sit-in in Durham, North Carolina, in 1960, and in 1963 at the request of Mennonite Central Committee, he spent six weeks in Georgia and Tennessee helping church leaders assess possible engagement with the nonviolent student movement. When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Kraus was asked to lead a march from Goshen College to downtown Goshen and gave the memorial address.
Norman Kraus married Ruth Smith in 1945 and raised a family of five children: Yvonne, Jo Anne, John Norman, Bonnie and Robert. After his stint in Japan, he retired from Goshen College, moving back to his home state of Virginia to settle in Harrisonburg where he continued teaching part-time, writing, and occasionally preaching. In Harrisonburg, he served as interim pastor at Community Mennonite Church in 1990-91, was a member of the Park View Mennonite Church, and more recently worshipped with the Shalom Mennonite Congregation.
In 1997, Norman lost Ruth, his companion of 52 years to leukemia. In 1998, he married Rhoda Short Hess, who survives him. He is also survived by his five children and their spouses, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They grieve the loss of his earthly presence while celebrating the great gift of his long, fruitful life. A memorial service will be held on April 28 at 3 p.m. at the Community Mennonite Church, 70 S. High St., Harrisonburg, Virginia. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Ten Thousand Villages, Artisan Fund, in care of Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, Pa. 17501-0500.
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Published on April 16, 2018