I’ve met folks who have been Mennonites for decades who still feel like outsiders. We welcome folks with our words but often push them away with our actions and cultural hang-ups. To be a Mennonite, for me, means accepting the reality that I’ll never be as Mennonite as other people.
– Mark Van Steenwyk, “Revisiting Anabaptist Camp Followers.”
Is there such a thing as an ‘ethnonite?’
The practice of Mennonite as ethnicity, and the practice of Mennonite as faith tradition is a tension felt in many Mennonite circles. Particularly those within Mennonite Anabaptist communities which ‘extend the table’ to those who are not Mennonite by ethnicity. Exploring the tensions of this dynamic is something I have explored on more than one occasion. I remember my father, a Mennonite pastor for 18 years reflecting on the implications of being, what he referred to as ‘a non-Mennonite, Mennonite.’ It wasn’t ethnicity that connected my father with the Mennonites, it was the practice of it’s wholistic, radical, peace theology.
There is 500 years of practice in Mennonite history. Stuart Murray calls this an ‘earthed history.’ Within those 500 years is the richness of experience and the birth and development of an ethnicity.
Today, as people continue to wonder and explore Mennonite Anabaptist faith, ethnicity as part of a rich, earthed history, is both gift and burden.
Mennonite Anabaptist practice which facilitates a deep radical’ism’ tends to come face to face with the ‘way things have been done before’ of ethnicity. It appears that to be an ‘ethnonite’ is to carry an unrelenting commitment to a past that is not informing the present. Rather it is a past that is losing it’s grip on the present by carrying on with what Van Steenwyk calls, ‘cultural hang-ups.’
It’s tragic really, to think that in some circles, to not be Mennonite by ethnicity is to not be slighted in community.
Without the newness of Mennonite Anabaptists who come to this theology by persuasion, there is a potential for Mennonites to be held slave to these ‘cultural hang ups.’ For Mennonites to grow in this particular time and place is to invite all people, no matter what ethnicity, to participate in the practice of Mennonite Anabaptist theology.
Where do you see the implications of this dynamic of “Mennonite or Ethnonite?” How can the joys and baggage of the past inform the practice of Mennonite Anabaptist faith today? How can newness, or new people rejuvenate current Anabaptist Mennonite praxis?