Friday, July 01, 2005

Mennonite Observations

My friend Rita and I were in a grocery-store checkout line not long ago when the man ahead of us asked about our veils.

We explained.

"I’m a Christian too," he said, "and in our church we believe in salvation by grace."

"We believe in salvation by grace too," I said, just a bit hotly, "but we also believe in doing what the Bible says out of love and gratitude."

I tell my teenagers sometimes that, just so they know, the "world" will be the biggest threat to their basic doctrinal beliefs (Jesus as the only way, heaven and hell, creation, etc) but the pressure to drop their Mennonite practices (nonresistance, head covering, modest clothes, not drinking alcohol, no divorce) is going to come primarily from other Christians and not from unbelievers.

I have never understood this phenomenon. In general, when it comes to our outward, visible religious practices non-Christians are accepting, other Christians are condescending, and ex-Mennonites are insufferably patronizing.

Non-Christians ask me why we do something, and it doesn’t matter if it’s because of tradition or a particular Scripture, they say, "Ah, I see. Interesting. And I wanted to talk to you about your work in Africa. Can you tell me more about it?"

Christians ask why we do something and imply that if we were a bit more enlightened we would realize we don’t HAVE to do this stuff. Salvation by grace alone, you know.

And ex-Mennonites know good and well why we do what we do so they rattle on about the freedom they’ve found in the church they’re in and what a joy it is to not have rules. Some have been known to back their Mennonite friends up against the wall and go on for half an hour about how they MUST get out of this dead, lifeless church and go to another one, preferably theirs, as though it never occurred to them that their friends might actually be called to love and serve in this admittedly imperfect setting.

Ironically, for all these other Protestant churches’ insistence that they don’t have rules, they have plenty of unwritten ones. I have found this when speaking to women’s groups when I get the sudden sense that I have crossed an invisible theological line and it is confirmed when Mrs. Emcee gets up afterwards and does some quick damage control in her closing statements. One time at a Baptist church I talked about Mary and Martha and had been too heavy on faith and too weak on works. Rather amusing.

(Incidentally, these attitudes splash over into my writing life as well. Left-wing liberal-media types take me almost too seriously as a writer, and ex-conservative-Mennonites smile sweetly and say, "Oh, you write those little stories for, what is it, the Harrisburg newspaper? How nice.")

Is this just a quirk of my life and the west coast or for other people and places as well?

Damage-control Disclaimer from Mrs. Emcee—I’m generalizing here. I have met Christians who don’t follow this pattern and bless you if you are one of them.

And a confession: A while back I made an "amusing" comment about cape dresses and then realized a cape-dress wearer was in the room. So I am not without my own issues as an ex-Beachy.

Quote of the Day:
"Mom, tomorrow’s your birthday and you’re going to be 43 and in 7 years you’ll qualify for the senior citizen’s discount at Meier and Frank."


  1. Why don't you just say how you really feel, Dorcas. :-)

    I do know what you mean, and can understand what you say, all along the line. I think, finally, it comes down to being human, finite. We put things into categories, because it's easier for us to remember/handle/cope that way. Once we categorize things, we start valuing some categories as superior/inferior to others. And then we judge people by the box we put them in, rather than looking at them as individuals.

    I had a Bible study leader in Campus Crusade who would tell people I got saved when I joined Crusade. She thought Mennonites were pure legalists.

    A woman I cleaned house for was from the Church of Christ, and kept trying to convince me to be immersed, so I could be truly saved.

    When I was in NYP, I was irritated by people referring to church dress standards as "higher" and "lower" when they meant stricter or less strict. As if my church had low standards.

    In the past, when I have attended informal worship services, I used to feel pressure to clap and raise my hands, to fit in. To appear "spirit-filled."

    Maybe one of these days, we'll all be together singing, "Nothing but the blood," and quit judging each other.

  2. "I have never understood this phenomenon. In general, when it comes to our outward, visible religious practices non-Christians are accepting, other Christians are condescending, and ex-Mennonites are insufferably patronizing."

    Dorcas,I thank you for saying exactly what you think! We Mennonites tend to shy away from confrontation, we have our own form of PC speech not wanting to "offend" our critics. The above paragraph is priceless! As are the paragraphs that follow. I have witnessed the same reactions as you point out here. I wonder if the other Christians actually read their Bibles to really learn God's will for living in life as a servant or to pick out a few verses that support their pet theology and choice of lifestyle. I do not want to even get started on ex-Mennonites, might become too "resistant" on that.

    I hope that you have had time to read Byran's latest postings on his blog. There is a lot of "interesting" commenting going on there concerning By's thoughts on witnessing and education. Your "phenomenon" is very apparent there.

    I am fond of the old Pogo cartoon, shows my age, but the closing statement Pogo made at the close of the last strip is something that I will never forget. He said, "We has met the enemy, and he are us."

    Keep up the blogging, you are wonderful, insightful and witty. Thanks for the energy you impart.

  3. Is Beachy Mennonite, Amish or both? Recently I read a book which mentioned Beachy and then I saw it here so I just had to ask. Please excuse my ignorance. :0

  4. Dorcus, I read your blogs from time to time (found the link on ITF) and really enjoy them. I found this one very interesting for several reasons, but mainly your attitude towards ex-Mennonites. First of all, I am an ex-Mennonite and my wife's family came from the horse and buggy Mennonite. By the way, she wore a cape dress at our wedding. Both of us have high regard and appreciation for the standards and Faith that was imparted to us by our parents, who are still Mennonite. We thank God often for that blessing in our lives. It does appear that for some reason you are very prejudiced against exMennonites when you call us "insufferably partonizing". I have been wrongfully accused of a lot of things, but never this one. Oh well! I guess I could be classed as an "other Christian" as well, but then I would be accused of being "condescending". Looks like the non Christians win out on this one because they accept you. Don't you think that acceptance or non-acceptance is a little weak to be a basis for judgment. Something doesn't seem right here, Jesus said that if you love me, the world will hate you. I wonder if that is still true? Or have we made a doctrine to work our way around this one. Maybe our expression of Faith, yours and mine, is so generic and verigated that we just blend in and the world just says, "How nice", or "Very interesting"! We are happy because we are accepted, Forgetting that Jesus said "They have rejected me and they will reject you" Whats wrong with this picture?

    Maybe if we really know what it is to walk with Jesus in the restraint of Love we would have more restraint in our lives than any doctrine or law would ever bring!

    I'm sure you have been around long enough to know that not everyone in every group is the same, be it Mennonite, exMennonite, Christian or ??? name any group. Tragicly there are sad cases of unrepented sin in every group, but this is not what defines any of us. Those situations are not the normal expression of our life together. I think we both are looking forward to the same think in the end, seeing Jesus face to face, fully clothed in His Righteousness.

    Keep up the good work! I love your view of life with all it's humor

    After saying all this, I must identify myself and say that I look forward to meeting you next time we are in Brownsville.

    John Troyer

    1. Once we have an experience with a certain group of people enough times, it sticks as the norm. You are outside the norm. Well done. Focus on that.

  5. Thanks for the comments, all.
    Julana--"Nothing but the blood"--Amen!
    Truthseeker, love the Pogo quote.
    Lindsey--The Beachy Amish church broke off of the Amish in 1920 or so and acquired cars and electricity and have continued to diverge from the Amish since then.
    John, you will note that I said I was generalizing so of course there are exceptions. And I was speaking specifically of Mennonite applications. I have encountered hostility from non-Christians on other issues. How people do or don't accept me as a person is a separate issue from what I was writing about here.
    People's responses to the practices I mentioned have been consistent and numerous enough to conclude that there definitely is a pattern. Just why that pattern exists continues to puzzle me.

  6. Where in the Bible do you get the idea that you shouldn't drink wine? Jesus not only drank wine, he made wine out of water.

  7. You know, maybe in the minds of most non-Christians, our Mennonite practices don't have much to do with their own lives. They can find us to be "interesting", in much the same way as they would find a Buddist's lifestyle to be "interesting", and then go back to their own lifestyle. You know, "tolerance for all" and "to each his own truth." But when we talk about "Jesus being the only way" or heaven and hell, that has more implication for them and might bring a defensive response. Unless, of course, the person has thoroughly absorbed the idea that we can each have our own "truth", in which case (tragically) there's no reason for them to care what you believe.

    However, maybe fellow-Christians, including Mennonites and ex-Mennonites, have this feeling that, since we're all trying to live for God, there must be some of us who are "doing it better". And they feel a need to show us that their way is better. It makes sense that we would all be asking, and trying to answer, (subconciously) "Who's right and who's wrong?" (Will you all consider me heretical if I say this - I think we all probably have some things wrong and some things right. Only when we reach heaven will we fully realize how God sees everything.)

    But in the meantime, maybe it's appropriate to try to "win each other over", (after all, God does have objective truth) as long as we can get it into our heads to do it with love, love, love! Believing the best about each other, acknowledging that they may have a few Biblical things to teach us, too!

    AND, keeping all of this far secondary to winning over the ones who are going to HELL unless we do so! In other words, focus on witnessing instead of bickering with other Christians. Talking to myself here!!

    P.S. Dorcas, I have concluded that running a blog is a rather gutsy thing to do. Never knowing what kind of responses an innocent little comment will get.... : ) Just keep preening your feathers so that some of those will just "run like water off a duck's back"!

  8. Dorcas, just how should I, as an ex-Mennonite, relate to Mennonites? We both have our reasons for holding to our beliefs. Should we avoid the subject completely? That's what I normally do since it seems like a waste of time and energy when both parties are firmly planted in their opinions. And it’s not just one side that backs the other to the wall! I’ve witnessed my share of Mennonites telling ex-Mennonites how they are heading to hell because of the changes they have made.

    I think it comes down to the reality that all of us want to be right. And then feel the need to prove that we are right. The logic goes something like this that Mennonites and ex-Mennonites can’t both be right, so we fight it out… each side trying to prove that it is right. But maybe we are both wrong!

    I seem to remember a passage that I read somewhere… Who are you to judge another man’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls.

  9. Dorcas, Me thinks that you have really hit a nerve on this issue. You and Byran can really can pick them!

    Truth is not a boutique phenomenon, meaning that everyone cannot shop for the most convienent version of currently accepted theologies or lifestyles and expect that all is well, unfortunately we do this throughout Christendom. Since we have apparently done this, our practice is like the time of the Judges when it was said, "everyman did what was right in his own eyes."

    Along with this we can understand what Steve Byer said concerning a servant standing before his master. Each of us is responsible to follow the Holy Spirit's leading as we read the Scriptures and accept the principles of Truth that will form our beliefs and lifestyle. As we do this we must remember that within Scripture is the warning, "for him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Since we are to be "God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them", I believe that a more literal practice of obedience meets the admonition of James' epistle concerning works giving life to our faith and brings us closer to the Truth of God's Word. These "works" are works of good done to others and brethren as well as "obedient works" of following the commandments of God contained in His Word, i.e. non-conformity, non-resistance, headship/devotional veilng, etc.

    Those that reject the necessity of this obedience stand before their Master for their decisions; as do we who diligently strive to be obedient in a more literal sense remembering that salvation is not by "works that we have done", and in relation to what Jesus said in Luke 17:10. Maybe we all, Conservative Mennonite and other Christians, should adopt the attitude of remembering the "mote and beam" issue here.

    When we choose a practice of life in which to live our faith, we must then expect others to reject it as trivial and unnecessary, either by non-Christians or other Christians, or condemn it as heresy and living by "works" by other Christians. The closer one follows Christ with their faith, the more there will be attacks from all sides. As the world hated Jesus, so it will hate His followers. And let us remember that the "world" as complacent as they are now, will not always be as seemingly ambivalent to us as they are today, regardless of our beliefs and practices. If we claim Christ, we will be their enemy.

    To the Lone Ranger, as far as wine is concerned, we do drink it, it is just not fermented, it is called grape juice. As far as wine in the fermented state, the admonition is to use it sparingly "for thy stomach's sake" in a cleansing way or for a medicinal purpose. We are further commanded not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit of God, as a warning not to imbibe excessively, therefore, we usually abstain from wine or other strong drink to avoid the issue of drunkness or alcoholism. If you, as a Christian, do drink alcoholic wine, I do not think that it will "damn you to Hell" but it will demand of you to be accountable in the use of it as a servant of God. Hope this helps.

    As far as the relationship of ex-Mennonites and Conservative Mennonites or any other group, maybe the use of Christian forbearence, charity, and longsuffering (patience) will be beneficial on both sides on this issue. May we all strive to glorify God and not ourselves.

  10. Dorcus, I think the whole point of writing, or public speaking is to be able to stir the reader or listener into an action that they would not otherwise take. When we do that, we are succesful. I think you are succesful at writing.

    You have made points of doctrine that are taken literally by some and spiritually by others. It seems that different churches major on different teachings. This problem began before the first 12 Apostles passed on to Glory.

    In one generation a doctrine is taught and it is scorned by the heathen, as well as the established church, for example, the Pentecostal movement. About 30 years ago I was riding a bus from Prince George, B.C. to Fort St. John and it happened, (actually I think God planned it) that I sat beside an elderly lady. She was probably pushing 80. One thing that stood out was that she was at peace, full of life and love. As we talked it became very evident that she loved the Lord. I asked her how she met the Lord and a bit about her relationship with God. She explained that she was the daughter of the first Pentecostal minister in Peace River, Albera. Her story was incredable. This was at a time when speaking in tongues we considered demonic. They were called "Shakers" because when they would sing and worship, they danced, spoke in tongues and prophicied. This was very unusual those days. They had their house windows broken with rocks, their church burned, their lives threatened, but they wouldn't move. I asked her what kept her from turning away from her church to find something more acceptable. Her answer was that she had met Jesus, knew his touch and the baptism of His Spirit. Just four hours with this lady 30 years ago inspires me yet today.

    But my how things change. Now, there are churched built that name themself by this experience. It's almost a mockery because in many places the life is gone and all that remains is the dead shell of a past experience.

    I conclude by stating that my desire is to keep studing the Bible, not to reinforce what I belive, but to experience the washing of the water of the Word. Like the Apostle Paul, I want to "know him" and follow him with all my heart. I want to hear Him, the Lord Jesus, say, "well done"


  11. Dorcas, I so enjoy your posts. I grew up Lutheran, attended Assembly of God and Charismatic churches and now our family are members of a church that most closely resembles a Mennonite church. I have never experienced patronizing attitudes and being misunderstood like I have since joining our church. Though there are things that I learned and appreciate about my Christian upbringing, we know that God directed us to where we are now. The pain of being misunderstood runs deep at times. In a VERY, VERY small way, I feel persecuted against. I have a miniscule understanding of the pain the saints that have gone before us felt when they were misunderstood by friends and family. In this way, God is using it to teach me that regardless of what others think, I need to do what He has directed ME to, no matter what the consequences in this life are.

  12. Heidi, are you saying that the patronizing attitudes and the misunderstanding are coming from your family and friends who are not Mennonite, and don't understand your changes?

  13. Lone Ranger--Please see Truthseeker's explanation about wine.
    Sheryl--Thanks for your thoughts. I think you make a lot of sense.
    Steve--Yes, in all this it's good to think of the other side and recognize how we Mennonites have sinned against people who have left.
    Truthseeker--"Forbearance, charity, and longsuffering." Yes.
    John--"to know him...and hear him say 'well done'" Amen
    Heidi--thanks for sharing your story.

    Thanks, all, for the challenge to really understand each other and to keep a common goal in mind.

  14. Sheryl, Yes, I would say that the majority has come from friends and family that don't understand the changes in our lives, but there are others that no longer attend our church that give condescending looks and comments hinting that we have not "seen the light" yet concerning the "errors" of our church. We all want to be "right" in our theology. I suppose that appears to imply that others must be "wrong". There are sins that are unto death and those that are not stated as being unto death in Scripture. In addition, as Truthseeker quoted, "for him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." I desire to obey Scripture to the best of my understanding and ability. Unfortunatly, in our society, that is not always very popular. Only God knows my heart.

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. Meri - I am curious why would the men in your family think a cape dress seductive?
    Would you have sugestions then on how to make them so they arent?

  17. Meri--I appreciate you stopping by the Shoe but I didn't like your comment so I removed it.

  18. Comment #16 Anonymous: In all due respect for Dorcas not liking my previous two sentence comment, I feel it best that I do not answer your questions. Sorry.

  19. "Meri - I am curious why would the men in your family think a cape dress seductive?
    Would you have sugestions then on how to make them so they arent?"

    Anon, and Meri, while I did not see the comment Meri made, I can reconstruct it mentally somewhat and want to say this about the removed statement Meri must have made.

    Any man has the power to lust in his mind and heart no matter the way a woman dresses. Some women make it easy, others attempt to be modest, as do our sisters that wear the cape dress. It is the man's responsibility for his lust if it is directed at a woman wearing a modestly made cape dress. This lust on a man's part is not the "fault" of the sister clothed in a modest cape dress, just as the man is also held responsible for his sin of lust in the case of the woman that dresses immodestly for attention. Lust is the sin of an individual no matter the object of their lust, but there is the issue of aiding and abetting that immodest attire on the part of some women that contributes to most men's tendency to lust.

    I have seen sisters wearing immodestly made cape dresses. And I can see how men will find them seductive. I have seen Mennonite sisters that do not wear a cape dress be in line with the Scriptural command to be modest. That said, I have also had conversations with men outside of our church that wanted to know if they could court and marry a Mennonite sister because they wanted a wife that was pure, I find this interesting. I also find it corresponding to the worldly double standard that men can be unchaste, yet expecting their wife to be chaste in her life.

    Men cannot find women's dress to excuse their lust, no matter the clothing used.

    Dorcas, if this is not a suitable comment, please delete it. I offer it in defense of our modestly clothed sisters, whether in cape dresses or in other forms of modest clothing.

  20. Truthseeker--thanks for your input. You explained it honestly yet appropriately.

  21. As Christians, I think we let our differences come between us too often. As followers of Christ, we are sisters, regardless of our outward appearances. Personally, I don't wear a headcovering but I admire your conviction and your observance of it as worship to the Lord!

  22. Dorcas, thank you for your kind assessment of my comment. I really get tired of men blaming women for their failures. This said by a repentant male complainer. {:^)

    Randi, I agree that we Christians do look more at our differences rather than our common beliefs. This is an unfortunate reality of our human nature and the product of not "rightly dividing the Scriptures" as Paul admonished us to do.

    While I tend to hold my Mennonite brethren to a different standard than other Christians, but I try to do this with forebearance and charity because of the different interpretations of how they will follow Scripture we hold in common in our separate fellowships. With other Christians I try to accept them as Christians first and debate the differences we have in the development of theology by our individual denominations.

    My greatest dislike is when we Christians decide to label each other as heretics and therefore are not saved. Salvation is of the Lord and we have no right to label anyone professing Christ as not a Christian, that judgment is God's perrogative only; each one stands before the Master and not before man, other than Church government which God has given similar authority to in order for the maintainence of purity in the fellowship (church).

    I am open to re-direct if anyone disagrees. May God direct our relationships.

  23. Thanks for expressing some of my half-formed thoughts on this. In my experience, it has been/is the professing Christians who have exerted the most pressure on me to "free myself from bondage" i.e., lose the weird dress code and start voting like an honest citizen should. The non-Christians are generally respectful and interested in the most important thing I have to offer -- Jesus.

    I agree with you that we all have our "issues." Goodness knows I've ranted about the spiritual darkness and bondage among the Amish often enough, only to miss it in my own Beachy circles -- and my own life.

  24. as an ex menno i was appalled at being called patronizing. even slightly hurt - i am thankful to have grace from god in heaven and thankful that he sees my desire to live for him in spite of being an ex menno. it amazes me what goes on in the mennonite church which is so hidden to the "world" - immorality, masochinism, ect- we are all sinners saved by the grace of god and by jesus' blood. i am sorry if i have been patronizing to anyone.

  25. I am a Christian. And as far as I have ever known Mennonites do have salvation. We have a big Mennonite community around us. I am independant baptist and here are the differences that I know of between independant baptist and mennonite. Mennonites wear a cloth on their head and we do not. Although some of us might wear a scarf. We both wear modest apparel just a different style. The men in mennonites communitites are supposed to wear beard while ours are not required. I believe mennonites follow foot washing we dont. Also we immerse in baptism while I think, Mennonites sprinkle. We do not watch television, although i know that choose too. I dont think there is anything wrong that mennonites do it is just different. If my husband wanted me to wear a cloth I would. But he does not want me to. However I could never get away with wearing pants. I know that we believe in eternal security. Once saved always saved, I am not exactly certain if Mennonites believe this. Anyone like to clarify this for me?

  26. to anonymous--
    you are pretty much right on in your observations. Some things vary with the community and congregation, such as beards. And Mennonites believe it is possible to fall away after you are saved.

  27. I love the Mennonite Church, I just wish I didn't have to drive to another state to visit one. NJ is filled with Charismatic 'Legalists" who believe you are missing out if you don't speak in tongues, or have God speak to you while you drive to work.
    Although, church do interpret text differently at times, I think it's unwise to be unloving or attacking because of difference in non essentials of doctrine.

  28. I am an Independant Baptist in Australia :). and I believe in dressing modestly.
    I just wanted to comment on what Mari said about the cape dresses being suductive. (I do not want to make this an un unappropriate comment - I am just stating what some of my sisters in Christ have told me, and what I have observed.)
    My dear friends use Rod & Staff and they used to wear cape dresses until recently. The reason why they stopped was because the sides of the cape are not sewn into the side seams of the dress, ans so it was having a 'pick-a-boo' affect. Even though there was nothing to see, it stiil can bring on bad thoughts.

    They were not told by any men that they were dressing in a bad way, they just came to their own conviction about it. They still dress very modestly, but just not in cape dresses :)
    I am not against people who do dress in cape dresses, but I do not think that it is nessisary to wear them, to be classed as a born-again believer.

    Have a great day!

  29. Cape dresses are not the only modest clothing for women and if a Christian woman wants to cover her head in obedience to 1Corinthians 11,then it needs to be more than a see through bun cap or tiny hankie. I don't get Christian liberty that many "Grace only" churches preach. It's just an excuse to do what you want and feed the flesh. Following Christ means a separated life and a totally different mindset. However, not everything in the world is bad or will condemn you, but we need to be careful. Let us look to fill our lives with the things of Christ, not Christ-less things.