Mennonite. Isn’t there a Spray for That? 

What are Mennonites? According to John Oliver of The Daily Show they are Diet Amish. Statistically the risk of your child being born Mennonite is doubling every three years, but it’s not a birth defect, either. Globally, the average Mennonite is a woman, and black. There’s probably no “Denomination” as impossible to define.

They descend from a hodgepodge of “stick it to the man” groups in the 16th Century called Anabaptists. One of the favorite ways to rebel was to stop attending State Sponsored Churches, paying tithes and fees, and best of all, not baptizing your babies which totally screwed up the Government because they relied on the Church to sort out property ownership, inheritance and taxation through the strength of eternal damnation. 

Out of this sometimes sordid mess a few organized groups emerged with effective leaders. Among them were Hutterites (communists), Mennonites (socialists) and later Amish (socialist cult) and Dunkers (the donut pietist). 

The Hapsburg method of population management ( such as moving Muslims to Europe as a buffer against Invasion – it quit working in Sarajevo just 30 years ago) didn’t have an effect on Mennonites because they would not fight or politic and took being killed as a matter of necessity for conscience. 

William Penn invited some persecuted Mennonites from what’s now France and Switzerland to settle Pennsylvania, and later Catherine the Great a clever Woman who learned from her Hapsburg ancestors invited persecuted Polish Mennonites to settle her New Territory to create a buffer between her and the ancient tribes that raised from The Caucuses. This huge distance produced two distinct types of Mennonites both of which mainly survive in North America today. Mennonite Brethren (Russian) and Mennonite (Pennsylvania). 

In colonial America Mennonites tended to be fairly liberal compared to other denominations. Few were closely attached to a church, freely moving and settling, forming new little congregations content to meet for Church whenever a Preacher could come visit. Lutherans and Reformed folks tended to form new settlements with the hierarchy of Church in place. This informal approach was the essence of Liberty of Conscience that was central to Mennonite belief. There were a few rules they agreed upon such as a horrified and strict prohibition against slavery not surprising from a group that arose in protest of feudalisms child, guild enforced class inequality. 

The Mennonite Church didn’t grow very fast as many members aligned with other, more organized groups and more disciplined denominations. In response to the need to supply preachers and discipline to congregations they formed District alliances that soon became conferences with a group of elders administering to a larger pool of congregations. 

These elders became powerful and at the same time the institutions became more effective because of co- operation. Then along came the great revivals and Mennonites left in droves to the new “Spiritual” churches. The Mennonites decided to adjust. Maybe have revival meetings, or Sunday School on the weeks they didn’t have church. (The practice of church twice a month is still around!) Of course some folks loved this, some hated it. So, they went two ways. The ones that hated it are Old Order Mennonites. There are now all kinds of Old Orders but to be simple we will say Old Orders drive horse and buggy, even though many drive cars. Same thing happened with English language church services, cars, etc. 

During this wreck, a lawyer called Daniel Kauffman became a Mennonite. He was dumbfounded that although Mennonites knew what they believe, no one was an authority and there was no concise set of doctrine. So lawyers being lawyers, he introduced legalism to Mennonites in the form of a book called Doctrines of the Bible. This legalism, coupled with the fancy new fundamentalism took off in the church. George Brunk was sure that the way to fight modernism was uniformity in every aspect of life. The new doctrines book said it was a sacrament for a woman to cover her head, fundamentalism said it must be covered at all times, Brunk said it must be covered this one way. 

In 1921 all the bishops from all the districts wrote a rule book saying how it’s going to be from now on. Men wear a certain suit and hat. Women wear a certain style dress and bonnet. Some said hell naw and the Brethren in Christ denomination snagged them with its No Written Creed and became the big little sister denomination. 

The rest of the Mennonite Church plugged along. They sent missionaries to Africa and India, founded schools and hospitals in those countries. They sent young folks to Europe to aid the poor refugees after the war. All these folks came back and said “That Bonnet Rule? Kinda unnecessary and unrealistic.” The Church said Ooookaaay but just save souls. 

And the legalists said Hell Naw and became Conservative Mennonites. They said the bishops and institutions were weak, that they’d not have them. Each church on its own- and we are going back to the truth. But they didn’t go to the Bible, or to the Anabaptist theology. They went to the legalist playbook, Kauffmans Doctrines of the Bible. Then they added rules. No TV, No Musical Instruments. No radio (and some said Hell Naw and became unaffiliated and kept their music). They added more rules. And I’m not joking here. Wristwatches shall be worn with black bands. Print on a dress must be under 3/4 inch (and some said Hell Naw and only wore dresses in solid colors and took over the Conservative moniker so the rest called themselves fellowships and brotherhoods) dresses must reach halfway between the knee and ankle, cars must be black, no luxury models, they even specified the maximum collar height for a woman’s dress. 3/8 inch where I grew up. 

The Fellowships figured out that the people who couldn’t follow their rules were educated so they quickly produced curriculum for their schools. There was nothing wrong with what they taught, but they skipped a lot of stuff like critical thinking, arts and literature. Within 30 years they successfully became a superstitious and ignorant cult. 

They began ordaining leaders who were poorly educated and a product of a paranoid Christianity. Even though I find it incumbent for an adult to inform themselves, I have pity on these fellows. Cowed by domineering old folks they ruled against anything young. They beat their congregations into submission with incessant bullying and threats of ostracism. If a guy’s suit was the wrong shade of grey, he couldn’t ask that girl out on a date until he’d repented and bought another one. Yep. No dating unless your lined up right. There was rampant physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse and the poor young pastors were completely unequipped to deal with it. The old men hated that their grand conservative proof blew up in their faces so they excommunicated mouths instead of sin. They expelled the minds that investigated. They punished parents whose children didn’t conform. 

They told my parents that I left because they had let me read books. 

I’ll get to the bread recipes and lovely singing later. 

I read books, and that’s why I couldn’t be a Conservative Mennonite. Their words. 

Actually I left because I was in a dysfunctional family with an abusive father and the Church failed to provide the Pastoral care for us that it should have. 

Not all Mennonites try to be close minded cults. There are Conservative Mennonites with denominational checks and balances and conferences to assist with Pastoral care and discipline. Within those groups that are Fellowships are bright shining lights of Christians. Kind and compassionate people abound. I can assure you they are rebels. 

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13 thoughts on “Mennonite. Isn’t there a Spray for That? 

  1. Interesting perspective. I like to think of myself as someone who is fairly well read but has chosen to stick with the conservative Mennonite group despite our obvious flaws. Perhaps I have simply had the good fortune to run into a higher percentage of the good folks you refer to at the end.
    I especially like your impressions of both Brunk and Kauffman. The ironic thing is that Brink’s insistence on a particular mode for the veiling almost turned what Kauffman set up as one of the Mennonite sacraments into a form of non conformity to the world and the real meaning and purpose of the veiling is almost lost on many conservative Mennonites today. In fact If you read Brunk’s daughter’s own biography it is evident that she totally missed the point of it IMO.
    My hope and dream is that there will yet be a group of young people that will rise up and hold to the good things that Anabaptist brought to the world and discard the baggage. The Lord knows we desparatly need that.

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    1. Thanks Mr. Martin for adding another perspective. I agree that there are good Conservative Mennonites and I hope you continue to follow as I begin to tell the stories of these “bright shining lights.”

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  2. Following eagerly… I’ve learned some of these things too, in studying the Conservative Mennonite history, especially about Daniel Kauffman and his revered book. Shines a lot of light on things. I appreciate your non-judgmental approach in writing, and the fact that you seem to have lost any fear of saying what you see.

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    1. Hi Laura, it is nice to hear from you. Even though there were issues in the Churches of our youth I know that the Bride of Christ is alive and well despite it.

      The thought that comes to mind when I think of your old church- the benches creaked and cracked loudly when we took our seats.

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  3. AS A MAN OF FAITH I ENGAGE IN THE MENNONITE CHURCH AND LIFESTYLE, i was not born a mennonite, i was born catholic. i value the mennonite lifestyles and the refreshing honesty they present to others in society… if all people were more like them the world would be much better place to live in.. robert jette, phoenix, arizon.

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    1. Thanks for taking time to comment and for your positive testimony.

      Is the Congregation you are part of Conservative Mennonite Conference? If so, did you know that their roots are Amish?

      I hope you continue to read this blog because my goal is to tell about the people who are bright and shining lights and whose Christian consciences rescued and nurtured my parents.

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  4. I love you, Allen. Remembering all the good times we had together. I still miss my best friend Jordan. Your brother that drown. I miss your Dad. I not sure why , he was mean to me at times but I miss him. I miss your mom. I had to work through all the tough stuff you spoke of. NOT EASY.
    That song ” you bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine “, is close to my heart. I ponder God view. We live, we criticize, we build our kingdoms in our minds, and we all die. God bless you brother. -Elmer Weber

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    1. Good to hear from you Elmer. There were many good people on that old world, but somehow they made a toxic mix. One of the biggest contributions from your family to my life was your grandfather, Elmer Showalter. I had a great interest in music and your he encouraged me in that area. He provided sheet music for sacred classical music, choral arrangements and other more sophisticated men than I had.

      To this day I typically listen to classical sacred music more than any other genre.

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  5. Wow Allen!

    Succinct! Great read! It’s been a long time…

    I strongly agree with your analysis of the removal of critical thinking and the squelching of reading a broad range of literature.

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    1. It has been a long time, twenty years I believe. You are one of many people I completely lost track of. Feel free to add me on FB messenger or email Allen.eugene.king at gmail

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  6. Same world in their hearts as ours, I specs.
    Loved my grandpa too. Miss him awful.

    Yes toxic is right. Downright devastating . Amazing how what seams so right to one is so destructive to another. How can we right this human or rather inhumane existants. Oh to be lost in the darkness of one own kingdom of pride and self will or to be a victim of another’s slavetrading post . To be sold from childhood to hate and deception.
    First my childhood is marked with examples of love for anything but Christ , especially money.
    I am as well guilty . Secondly marked with fear of men.
    I see now the sins I thought so great in others my own life bears deep stains that I can’t hide.

    Into my lonely agony and darkness shines a pure and inspiring light. Over my wounds pours and soothing and healing balm . Over my stains washes the crimson blood of one who loved beyond my comprehension . Into my heart comes gentle , innocents , softness of a baby. Into my spirit comes the refreshing memory beauty lost. A longing for something beyond this world. Everything in this world disappoints. Leaving us lost and alone. Spirits of this world blind and torment .

    Longing with you for deeper freedom and the faith and heart of a little child.

    -Elmer Weber

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