There’s a lively discussion current now on one of the Mennonite chat rooms online. It’s about the existence–like a tribe of Yeti, I guess–of “Cultural Mennonites“.
Here follows a sizzling grenade I decided not to lob into that chat room (too much collateral damage) but, well, I wanted to share…
As Religious Mennonites will confirm, Mennonite is a religion. I feel it’s a good one, as religions go. The doctrine of peace & non-violence–above all–and the notable generosity and charity inherent in Mennonite churches are beliefs that are, indeed, “full of grace.”
(Am I not adorable? Such a guileless and earnest view of religious sociology.)
Many–myself included–feel Mennonitism also has a distinct, modern (awakened in the 1960s?) cultural derivative. It was during that period when the idea of being a Mennonite without baptism or a deep commitment to church life first began to gain acceptance.
“Cultural”, btw, has an interesting root word, for the etymologically inclined. That root has a lot to do with why I believe I am part of the Cultural Mennonite phenomenon: I was born and raised–innocently so–in the cult of Mennonite. My formative influences were different than my Religious Mennonite kin & kith but different too from my non-Menno “import” friends.
The Cultural Mennonite is the result of a true “half-breed” existence, suspended between disparate worlds.
Those who disavow a stand-alone cultural variant often point rather to a kind of “Mennonite Imposter” creed. I and several of my antecedents are seen to be of this lowly ilk. I tend to object, but maybe I should embrace this tag even if it is pejorative and imposed by others?
I’ll propose a fourth iteration: “Smoking Jacket Mennonites“. Those who gather in a shadowy, virtual convivium and represent the interests of:
- industry & commerce
These intruders are connected via interlocking directorate. All within the friendly, hallowed confines of the church’s tax-exempt status where they typically hold high rank.
The SJM prerequisite secret handshake is ostentatious membership in the Religious Mennonite super-set. Or just good’ol wealth and power. Ideally both.
SJM membership is by invitation. It’s populated by fewer women than men. Likewise, there are not many “fringe” members; those financially challenged, POC, FN peoples, and LGBTQ are not generally members. By extension, those overtly tolerant of non-mainline or accused of “liberal extremist” social beliefs need not apply either.
These are not hard rules. But like the current U.S. Cabinet, it just tends to work out that way.
Smoking Jacket Mennonites are not the first or the best at this specious, old-boyistic combination of wealth creation and worship of the divine, but we are starting to really get the hang of this reciprocal back-scratchery. I can see a Doug Ford getting a standing “O” in the right sanctuary, at the right time. Maybe he already has.
In conclusion, I don’t believe I am a “Non-Mennonite”. Nope. I definitely feel I am a “Mennonite“. In fact, I have a bullet-proof, unshameable set of Menno credentials, but I am not a member of a Mennonite church so some would not agree.
Seeking a finer definition, you can go right ahead and call me a Religious Mennonite (if you’re willing to accept a highly non-conformist definition) or a Cultural Mennonite, or a Mennonite Imposter — I’ll accept any of those labels without complaint.
As for the arm-waving megafellas of the Smoking Jacket Mennonite elite, I don’t qualify nor do I seek entry to the club.
~ ~ ~
Two stories that grab a root and dig at these themes:
“I am Otter” in The Machinery – A Literary Collection
Literally Stories presents a satiric peek at Big Church in, “The Business of Saving Souls”