What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Melody Scoles, April 2011

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I do not identify with the Mennonite tradition. In fact, before this class, I never knew too much about the Mennonite faith at all. By attending Goshen College, I learned bits and pieces but my view of this faith tradition was a bit skewed. I never thought that I would appreciate this class as much as I do now. Mennonites have many beliefs and practices that I strongly hold to be something that all Christians should hold to, whereas there are some that I am not too fond of.

Mennonites have been through a tough last couple of centuries. They were persecuted, martyred, killed, tortured, shunned, banned, etc. How this faith tradition still exists must belong to an act of God. Many of the Mennonites fled from the persecution to practice in secret. They hid their meetings and prepared themselves for this oppression. Thought Mennonites have been through a lot, their faith still lives. They were strong and very faithful to God and their tradition. This is how the Mennonites still exist, even though at the present time, this tradition is slowing down here in the U.S., especially compared to the growth happening in Africa. Many others faith tradition, beliefs, cultures, etc. have been through these types of events and they do not exist anymore, or are very small. However, the Mennonites persevered through these horrible acts against them. Their history is something to be remembered, accepted, and appreciated, whether or not you are a Mennonite.

They hold to their beliefs pretty strongly, though not all Mennonites are the same. There are many different beliefs within this tradition, but one thing that I appreciate is that they are tolerant and accepting of different beliefs. Politically, most Mennonites choose to not participate. The separation of church and state is a smart idea, though I love the guidelines given about living with politics. Mennonites practice humility, respect, peace-making, creating good relationships, addressing others’ needs, etc. It is stressed that politics are for the common good. Politics are to serve others through justice. If Mennonites are involved in politics, it must include a walking with God and seeking the Bible to help politics move along in a supportive way. Many times, politics demands a devotion that can not be had within the Mennonite tradition. Their devotion is to the Lord. I can resonate with this. I’m not very politically involved, mostly because I am apathetic and ignorant. Mennonites stress that we can be involved in politics in a certain way, in order to help and supports others. Politics don’t have to be evil.

I also love the stress on mission work within this tradition. From this class, I have learned about so many different mission fields that are Mennonite-related. Most churches that I had read about in this class have stressed mission work. Other denominations that I have experienced don’t seem to stress the mission field as much. This missionary work comes from the Great Commission: therefore go and make disciples of all nations. The Mennonite tradition has spread from Europe, to Asia, American, South America, and Africa. It seems to be booming in South America and Africa, and is even meshing with some of the cultures in those areas. This is the way to help others that are living in poor conditions. If Mennonite mission work can be successful in areas very focused on their culture, then the U.S. has found a way to improve others’ lives: by doing mission work. Though it is a slow process, it is still making much progress.

From this idea of meshing mission work and culture comes something that I am not extremely happy with. I am very accepting others beliefs, practices, cultures, etc. In some instances, meshing Mennonite missions with culture does not seem to work. One of the articles last week mentioned that converts had to conform to certain ideas within the Mennonite tradition in order to fully be a leader within the church (example being polygamy). Though this was his culture, he still was not fully accepted within the tradition. I would hold that we should support others cultures in every way that we can. Polygamy is not necessarily within the Mennonite tradition, but you can still be a Mennonite and not hold to every tradition. There is certainly a way to include Christianity within others cultures without being prejudice about that cultures ways of practice and the like. Though this article was about how Mennonites were more accepting of these practices, I feel like there is still a ways to go. However, lines must be drawn. I do feel that everyone should accept and practices the culture they were given, for it was given to them by God. There is always a way to implement religion/beliefs/spirituality with all types of cultures. Though it might be a challenge, I don’t feel that it is right to tell someone that they can’t be a Christian because they have too much stuff, etc.

Overall, I feel that we can all learn from Mennonite ways. Though I am not a Mennonite, I feel that I can relate to them and their beliefs/practices. Though some Mennonites are more conservative than others, they still come together to worship and support others. They stress mission work, peace, justice, equality, and politics condoned in a way that is liberation, peaceful, respectful, and just. Personally, I relate more to liberal Mennonite beliefs, but their overall belief is Christianity at its finest: follow Jesus’ teachings. Through this idea, all of humanity can learn to treat others better, no matter the religion humanity holds to. Humanity can learn from Jesus’ example, even if we don’t agree that Jesus is our Savior. He was still a great person to be respected and to learn from, and that is what I feel that Mennonites stress the most: learn from Jesus’ ways and teachings.

This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.