I just finished reading Loren Swatzendruber’s article, “Liberal or Conservative” in the Spring 2007 issue of Our Faith. It was a good article, although his conclusions seem to be very different from what the title would indicate. I found myself enjoying the article, and felt like giving a hearty amen by the end of it, but then I remembered that I just graduated from a Mennonite institution (Bluffton), and my feelings deflated. My initial reaction was to write a letter to the editor of Our Faith with my thoughts, but instead, I will publish my thoughts here on YAR.
I fully agree with the premise of Swatzendruber’s article; that Anabaptists have a distinct theology that is based on the Christo-centric interpretation of the Bible. Based on this interpretation, we cannot really align ourselves with the political ideologies that are offered to us in America. Swatzendruber seemed to lament that this is not the case (many Mennonites are aligning themselves to political parties), and the solution to this problem was to get more Anabaptist young adults into Anabaptist institutions of higher education. Sounds like a good sales pitch coming from a president of a Mennonite college.
As I mentioned above, I just graduated from a Mennonite college, and during my time there my peers and I were continually frustrated with the way that the college was run. Where as Swatzendruber contends that “we’re[Mennonite colleges] different from other colleges,” my experience was that the only difference came from the theology department and some history profs. Yes, our theology and biblical interpretation are distinctly Anabaptist, but that is all.
I remember in one of my classes we got into a discussion of whether of not Mennonite Colleges function any differently from non-Mennonite, or secular institutions. We couldn’t come up with anything. Everything, and I mean everything, revolves around the precious dollar. From food service, to maintenance, it is all about making money. Admissions counselors are not recruiting good qualified students, they are chasing after 20+ thousand dollar chunks of change that happened to be attached to high school seniors. I have a friend who is an admissions counselor that often times vents to me about this.
If I had a dollar for every time that I heard, “young adults want authenticity” I would be a couple hundred dollars richer than I am now. Our colleges now are a far cry from displaying “authentic” Anabaptist values outside the theology departments. Mr. Swatzendruber, my challenge to you is find a new way to do college, a college that is holistically based on Anabaptist values, and you will find a more effective way to propagate our perspective to the next generation.