Minding Us Mennonites

Article excerpt

I think of us Mennonites as a rather muscular group--small, scattered, varied, but still making some difference in the world. So I was a little sobered the other night while catching "Jeopardy" on TV. I had just remarked about how intelligent the contestants seemed. But they all got stumped on the next question, from the category "Protestantism." The answer, for which they were to provide the question, was: "The group related to the Amish, named for one of their leaders, a Mr. Simons." None of the three players knew. Kind of humbling. Kind of funny.

Clearly the game-show brains who wrote the set-up assumed the contestants and their audience had some idea about who the Amish are. They were the reference point. Of course, we (smug) Mennonites know why. We think that, if the Amish weren't so visually obvious, they would be no-names, too. And then we go on, explaining why we're so small and nearly invisible, usually because of our tough discipleship standards and our self-effacing, servant-like practices.

Oh, yeah? "When and where and who?" I'd have to ask, if it were any other group claiming such a mix of sulky self-analysis tinged with a strain of self-pity and self-righteousness.

And so I was reminded again that, while we have our own self-perceptions, others may have a somewhat different view of us--if they have any at all.

WHO IS "Us"?

At the invitation of the editor of Mennonite Quarterly Review I agreed to reflect, in a "highly interpretive" manner, on what Mennonites are presently facing, to give a sort of window into Mennonite life at this moment, as I understand it.

In an effort to be frank, I have imagined that I am talking to my mother or to my daughters--and so I will be personal and candid. No footnotes, no documentation, no results of careful studies.

I will limit my observations, confessions and questions primarily to the band of North American Mennonites of which I am a part. Once the "mainstream" among Mennonites, we of European origins and long histories in the peoplehood are a shrinking percentage within the global Mennonite church. More than half the Mennonites in the world are now Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. Within North America, Old Order and conservative groups will likely surpass us in numbers within a few years. And there are a rising number of charismatic Christians joining our church. …