First things first. Being Mennonite has nothing, repeat NOTHING, to do with ethnicity. Being Mennonite, or any other version of Anabaptism, has to do with a particular understanding of faith, religion and God.
That being said, I offer the following observation on the use of the term “ethnic” within the Mennonite Church.
One one hand: I am an “ethnic” Mennonite.
I grew up in central Kansas. Within a 50 mile radius from the Hesston/Newton area there were over 100 different Mennonite settlements. Each of these groups came from various parts of Europe during the 1860’s to 1890’s. They could hardly be described as a homogeneous group, even though today they all happen to all be seen as white/european/Americans. To be fair, the central Kansas Mennonites are also not the same as the northern Indiana Mennonites, which are not the same as the east coast Mennonites. Nevertheless, I grew up knowing that I was part of a group known as “ethnic” Mennonites. In my childhood consciousness that meant, primarily, that we ate weird food, had weird last names, kept track of genealogy to the 14th generation, had grandparents that spoke German and a variety of other things. Above all, however, the term “ethnic Mennonite” referred specifically to a group of white people who emigrated from Europe to the United States.
On the other hand: I am not an “ethnic” Mennonite.
While the origins of Anabaptism, and thus the Mennonite church, come out of a Northern European context, the Mennonite church has begun to deal with the changing racial landscape of the churches that make up it’s constituency. (The effectiveness and completeness of this integration should certainly be discussed further at a later date) In the struggle to describe the different parts of our church we have settled, intentionally or unintentionally, on the term “racial/ethnic” to describe the non-white parts of the Mennonite church. The term “racial/ethnic” is somewhat of a catchall term that is not fantastically specific by any means. “racial/ethnic” simply seems to mean “not-white”. As far as I can observe, from my viewpoint as a white male, the use of the term “racial/ethnic” does not really allow for a nuanced understanding of the differences and tensions within and between the various cultural groups that get lumped into this category. For example, the term “racial/ethnic” neglects the various shades within the Hispanic communities in the church.
I offer these observations simply to name a phenomenon that I’ve noticed. I’m not making an value judgment on the use of “ethnic” in either sense. I simply find it interesting. I also do not yet know what it means to have the same word used in very different ways. So, I ask you all; does this actually matter? What are the implications of the use of this word? Is it worth being more specific in our language? If so, how do we go about changing the use of it?
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