Mennonites or Ethnonites?

Menno Simons

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?

*Be sure to read the blog post by Tim Nafziger, called “Revisiting Anabaptist Camp Followers.”


  1. Robert Martin · February 26, 2013

    Actually, Chris… delete the above comment… I’m going to post that over on my blog rather than take up comment space here… Going to respond to you via blog. 🙂 How’ that for a blogging network. 🙂

    • Chris Lenshyn · February 26, 2013

      Done bro. Waiting anxiously!! 😉

      • Robert Martin · February 26, 2013

        Done. Nothing fancy, just my own thoughts from experience and observation…as an ethnic Mennonite myself. 🙂

      • Chris Lenshyn · February 26, 2013

        Nice. Good stuff bro.

  2. Pingback: The Pros and Cons of Ethnic Mennonites | Abnormal Anabaptist
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  4. Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel · February 27, 2013

    Thanks for your good insights on this gift and burden. Through my connections at events like the last 5 Mennonite World conferences my appreciation has grown for both my earthed faith and culture and the earthed faith and cultures of brothers and sisters from around the world. There’s an amazing joy that comes from discovering our unity in Christ and Anabaptist essentials, but I also know from experience that working with culturally different brothers and sisters on a committee is challenging as well as rewarding. And it is worth the effort.

    • Chris Lenshyn · February 28, 2013

      I agree completely. It is worth the effort. We need both voices for Anabaptism to thrive, in my opinion.

  5. Pingback: The Pros and Cons of Ethnic Mennonites » Young Anabaptist Radicals

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