Now that I am licensed to minister in MCUSA I feel like maybe now I can start taking some ownership in the term Mennonite. Typically I find myself torn between referring to myself as an Anabaptist Christian or as Mennonite. Often when I am given the chance to address Mennonites I say that I refer to myself as Anabaptist amongst them because I don’t believe they really understand the term Mennonite if they think an ethnicity of “Mennonite” exists that can be separated from Christ and if they do they should just get over it and baptize their babies. Outside of Mennonite circles I am more comfortable accepting the term, but I want to be clear my goal is never to be a good Mennonite, but that Mennonite is the term that best locates how I think we are to follow to Christ. However, I do not accept Mennonite as a substitute for Christianity. One of the radical instances of me feeling lost in the term Mennonite happened when I was on a panel with several other younger Mennonites and one person described themselves as an “Agnostic Mennonite” and not a single member of the audience sought to challenge that such a person could exist.
But what I wanted to draw attention to are two separate articles that currently weigh in on this struggle. The first from this issue of The Mennonite by Janet Trevino-Elizarraraz explores the difficulty with this discussion from a Latino perspective. She writes:
Historian Philip Hammond categorizes Mennonites as an "ethnic religion" whereby "ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification, but the reverse is rare." What I’m asking for from Germanic Mennonites is rare; I’m asking them to present a living faith divorced from their ethnicity so that people like me can find a home with them, and this faith can speak to my culture as well.
Her article displays how an understanding of Mennonite that stems from not just a perceived identity as Mennonites, but from a particular geographic location can stunt a different cultural expression of what it means to be Mennonite. And while I enjoyed her article it does seem to grant too much weight to notions of culture. Janet accepts the terms that cultures are really at risk here rather pushing how the body of Christ is at risk, a body that is more dictated by our location in it, that is “in Christ”, than our geographic or ethnic locations.
The second article is from the Mennonite Weekly Review by Matthew Krabill (whom I know from sometime I spent at Fuller Seminary) and is written from the perspective of a Mennonite insider. Matthew’s concern focuses more on the growing disconnect between Mennonite and Christianity. He writes:
Part of the problem is that we can be so thoroughly Mennonite that we are no longer Christian. Culturally, this is actually possible, since Amstutzes, Yoders and many others represent ethnic clans with historical ties to Europe. Theologically, however, this is a serious problem. Mennonites are sometimes so inherently oppositional that we define ourselves over against the rest of the Christian family, to a point where our “distinctives” (peace and justice, etc.) become the only story we tell — or at least they are disconnected from central Christian convictions. Put another way, in faithfully being neither Catholic nor Protestant, we adopt an isolationism that has the potential to distance us from our Christian roots altogether. So, for example, while we may affirm a value such as peace, we may not be so sure how it relates to core Christian affirmations such as “Jesus is the Son of God” or “Jesus is Savior.” We may affirm justice but not know what it has to do with the crucified Christ or the hope of the resurrection.
Matthew’s article provides a greater insight into the missional nature of Anabaptism that I think is currently being put together through Mennonites at Fuller Seminary. Here I think Matthew does a better job at connecting the theological beliefs that root Mennonites only as they know Christ, for he notes this is “the firm foundation upon which nothing else can be laid.”
Both of these voices and stories need to be heard in the church and hopefully we can begin to find ourselves no longer engaged in this discussion be moving outward. And as Ephraim Radner pointed out in reference to the Episcopal Church, “the Gospel is alive, and the Church that is Christ’s Body given, takes us to a new place.”