We are Marginal Mennonites, and we are not ashamed.
We are marginal because no self-respecting Mennonite organization would have us. (Not that we care about no stinkin’ respect anyway.)
We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in (those who accept the creeds) and who’s out (those who don’t). The earliest anabaptists were also non-creedal.
We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify oneself as a Marginal Mennonite. We have no protocol for exclusion.
We are universalists. We believe every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. No questions asked! Mystic-humanist (and anabaptist) Hans Denck was quoted saying that “even demons in the end will be saved.”
We reject missionary activity. Christian mission, historically, goes hand-in-hand with cultural extermination. We love human diversity and seek to preserve it. Thus, we oppose evangelistic campaigns and mission boards, no matter how innocuous or charitable they claim to be.
We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus, not the supernatural one. We like the one who was 100% human, who moved around in space and time. The one who enjoyed the company of women and was obsessed with the kingdom of God. The one who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42), which we interpret as an anti-automobile sentiment.
We endorse the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least the sayings within that can be identified by modern biblical scholarship as authentic. The sayings emphasizing love, mercy, compassion, nonviolence, and non-attachment to material things. We recall that the earliest anabaptists were known as “Sermon-on-the-Mount people.”
We recognize that focusing on “authentic sayings” might say as much about us as it does about the historical Jesus. There are many Jesuses around these days. We choose to hang with the merciful and inclusive Jesus of the Sermon, as opposed to the judgmental and exclusive Jesus of the church.
We are unapologetic humanists. We believe in art, evolution, relativity, paradox, synchronicity, quantum mechanics, string cheese theory, and putty tats. We value irreverence, outrageousness, and a strong cup of tea. We aim to help raise the collective consciousness, as well as the awareness we are all One.
We strive to animate the spirits of Jalaluddin Rumi (d.1273), Hans Denck (d.1527), George Fox (d.1691), Leo Tolstoy (d.1910) and Dorothy Day (d.1980), among others.
We are weirdly drawn to the example of 12 anabaptists who ran through the streets of Amsterdam in the nude in 1535.
We believe God has a funny bone as big as the cosmos, and wants us all to lighten up.
Our favorite color is lavender. Our favorite flavor is rainbow.
Visit the “Marginal Mennonite Society” Facebook page, and “like” us.
(The MMS was created in February 2011.)
Manifesto last revised: November 2011.
So I wrote a rant, and I read it twice, and I don’t think it’s offensive, and if it is, sorry, but I decided I wanted to share, so here goes.
I’d like to make the case that this group is mistitled. I don’t think ascribing to these beliefs qualifies someone as a marginal Mennonite.
Most Mennonites wouldn’t know the creeds if they bit them. I’ve never heard of a Mennonite church with membership dues. Suspicion of mission is a hallmark of mainstream Mennonite thought through the centuries, there is a reason we’re called the quiet in the land, and many Mennonites are involved in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Universalism is openly discussed in Mennonite seminaries and congregations, and Rob Bell’s new book on universalism was reviewed in both the Mennonite and the Mennonite Weekly. Most (may I say all?) Mennonites like Jesus a lot, and being Sermon on the Mount people is a touchstone for any mainstream definition of Mennonite. (And of course the real Jesus, the one who moved through time and space identified by mainstream scholars talked about evangelism and repentance and even hell).
We can call humanism marginal, I guess, but art, evolution, relativity and humor are all welcome in the Mennonite church, and in the big mainline split between fundamentalism and modernism, Mennonites came down on both sides as well, and the humanists got all the Mennonite colleges.
The only thing remotely marginal in this manifesto is the oblique suggestion that Jesus wasn’t really divine, which I’ll grant is a little peripheral, but certainly not unknown in the Mennonite milieu, and questioning miracles isn’t really off the reservation.
I promise that there are many more marginal theological positions in every Mennonite congregation than these rather straightforward mainline liberal positions, and anyone who claimed this manifesto could become a member of many Mennonite congregations, and a pastor at a not insignificant fraction as well. There’s no mainstream Mennonite organization that’s ever said something like ‘boy, we need to keep all those non-creedal people who love Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount out of our church!’
Sure, some of these theological perspectives are at the margins. So are Mennonites who join the military, who believe that Jesus is coming in this lifetime, who don’t want women in ministry, who want to take communion every Sunday, who prefer praise and worship to 4 part harmony, who can’t trace their ancestors back to the reformation, or who don’t know why quilts are neat or what MCC is. Everyone has places where they are at the margins, and everyone has places where they are at the center, and this manifesto defines one very specific (you could even say creedal) position that’s a little off center, but certainly on the whole within mainstream Mennonite thought.
Why would we define ‘cultural Mennonites with a mainstream liberal humanist bent’ as the quintessential marginal space?
I’m fine organizing this theological space within the Mennonite framework. I’ve got a lot of sympathies with this demographic and enjoy broadening my connections with kindred spirits. But to pretend that this is marginal space really troubles me. There are a lot more marginal places we might inhabit within the Mennonite tent, and a lot more trouble we could cause.
Most of what you said above was NOT present in the conservative Mennonite home I grew up in. Only “Christian” art was welcome, there was no room for questioning beliefs, no welcome for the “other”, and absolutely no deviation from plain dress. Only the cross and the death of Jesus saved you, EVERY ONE else was consigned to hell. Large, exclusive, wealthy white Mennonite churches are alive and well today. Change has come, but at a snails pace, and the racism and white supremacy, the patriarchy and all that goes along with it, is still firmly entrenched.
Out of curiousity when you write
“We reject all creeds, doctrines, dogmas and rituals, because they’re man-made and were created for the purpose of excluding people.”
“We have no protocol for exclusion.”
what does that mean for me? As someone who can agree with about 70% of this manifesto but who, for example, believes in the deity of Christ and who doesn’t have a bone with missions (colonialism of course, but I think it is possible to separate the two).
There does seem to be a paradox about claiming to be a group that (a) rejects all doctrine and (b) believes in universalism. By affirming (a), it seems the group would have to reject (b) (and vice versa).
B all you can B. And then C.
Isaiah, the MMS Manifesto is not a binding document. We don’t believe in binding documents of any kind. The Manifesto is primarily for entertainment purposes, and for provoking thought. We try to not take the Manifesto, or ourselves, too seriously. If you feel like you’re a marginal Mennonite (no matter what you believe), then you’re a marginal Mennonite. The designation is totally up to you and nobody else. Further, the Manifesto is subject to revision. So if you want to make a case for how it should be tweaked, feel free to do so.
To DC Cramer: Is universalism a doctrine? For me, universalism is a lack of belief in the doctrine of hell and the doctrine of atonement. Universalism just says: “Everyone is gonna be saved in the end.” It’s a recognition that eternal separation from God is punishment far outweighing any crimes that could be committed in this earthly existence. Universalism is not a mandatory belief. There’s no authority anywhere that says one must believe in universalism or else. Quite the opposite: to the universalist, there is no “or else.” Universalism is a voluntary response of the rational mind. It’s a conclusion one comes to when logic finds that the church’s fear-based conception of God is simply unacceptable.
The manifesto reminds me of my favorite recent quote by R.S. Sugirtharajah: “Currently it has become fashionable to be part of the margins, and now the margin may not be able to hold all those who want to be in it.
I know the Mennonite Marginal Society is a mostly silly thing, but I do wish that we could decide to claim the center of Anabaptism. There’s something about being marginal that means we stand on the sidelines and give commentary, and make snide remarks, rather than jump in and do the work. And the movement of Anabaptists cannot move forward without those of us who claim the margins deciding that we’re going to be the church we wish the Church would be.
Just by way of context–this is coming from someone who is not recognized as part of the Mennonite church. How’s that for irony.
Thank you, Amy. You’ve got the MMS spirit. I’m with you on wanting to claim the center of anabaptism. But someone else will have to organize that piece. Coordinating MMS is all I’m qualified for.
I’ve tried to take something of a hiatus from writing here (partly because of a previous discussion on male dominance here at YAR, partly laziness) and I’ve also had something of this same conversation in another forum, which is all to say that I’m not really sure how much I should be writing this.
Anyways, the one persistent thought that I have had about the MMS Manifesto (how mainstream Mennonite is it, by the way, to already use an acronym) and much of the discussion/reaction to it is that the details of the statement of faith have changed quite a bit over time through various revisions. There is one part at the beginning which (from my limited reading) hasn’t, and that I think is the real crux of this whole statement.
Yes, yes you do care about “stinkin’ respect”. In fact, my perspective is that what this manifesto really represents is a group of people who grew up in one of the pockets of perceived “ethnic Mennonites” (and yes there are actually many, and no they’re not all the same culture/ethnicity) went to college, found beer, pot, sex and Gandhi, and either felt condemnation from their parents or, more likely, simply assumed that they would never be accepted and condemned themselves. This has much more to do with a sense of cultural ostracization from a particular home town or family group than it actually does with any theological or doctrinal position. I am very much in agreement with what Sam said, in that there is little here that is particularly out in left field.
One other nagging question Charlie, exactly who makes up the MMS? And the line “your in if you identify yourself as MMS” doesn’t count. As far as I can tell it’s just you (and admittedly I haven’t looked very hard). This isn’t meant as a condemnation of any sort, I’m just curious as to how big of a group or demographic this really represents. Is it specific to your group of peers or does it actually cut across many cross sections of Mennonites/Anabaptists. What cultural contexts have given rise to this particular voicing of a marginal identity? That might help me understand where you’re coming from a bit better.
Thanks for your thoughts, Alan. I don’t know if you’ve looked at the MMS page yet but i think it displays the number of people who’ve “liked” it. At the moment that number is 264. A think a few new ones have come aboard as a result of posting the manifesto here. As the page administrator, I’m the only person who can scroll through the list of names of members, most of whom choose to be lurkers. Of the 264, i would say that 90 percent of them are folks i don’t know, or did not know previously. I really don’t know where most of them came from. Friends of friends of friends, i suppose. Obviously our puny numbers pose no threat to anybody. We’re probably more of a danger to ourselves. The average age seems to be somewhere in the 40s to 50s. As for the stinkin’ respect line, I’m on the verge of removing it because it seems to be taken too seriously. It was intended as a laugh line. I’m a world-weary 54 and i really couldn’t care less about respect. As for the inebriatory habits of marginal mennos, i can only speak for myself. Not a drop of alcohol nor a dose of mind-altering substances have been employed in the administering of this page. I’m just naturally demented.
After thinking about it, i realize that the no stinkin’ respect line was actually a play on a memorable line from “Blazing Saddles.” I suppose it was too obscure to communicate to most readers today. Anyway, the feedback is appreciated because it’s letting me know what works and what doesn’t.
Hey Charlie, thanks for the conversation-
I actually like the ‘we don’t care about stinking respect’ I think it’s a healthy perspective for everyone, and I think it fits with the humor of the manifesto.
I think my emotional reaction comes from the ‘no self respecting Mennonite organization would have us’ which strikes me both as an overly defensive way to state your perspective, and unfair to Mennonite institutions which are generally pretty tolerant. I would offer for your consideration a more confessional tone-
“We are marginal because we don’t quite feel at home in the Mennonite mainstream” or “any denominational structure” or something like that.
I’d be curious why you think no ‘self respecting Mennonite’s’ would have you.
thanks for clarification. I guess I’ll add another question of clarification as well. As far as who is in the MMS, I guess I’m asking more about the genesis of this manifesto, not just the people who have self identified after it’s posting. Is this your brain child or are does it grow out of a group of people? If so, what are the characteristics of that group?
Also, on the “beer, pot, sex and Gandhi” line, it was meant as a generalized statement about discovering value or moral ambiguity in things that were once seen or presented as completely taboo by parents or home communities. It wasn’t a universalized statement. I too have abstained from several of those. All though I do believe that everyone should at least try Gandhi. That stuff is an amazing trip! ;)
Alan, I find it interesting that you regard Mennonite institutions as pretty tolorant. If I really believed that were true, I would not have created MMS. I’m wondering if we may be having a semantic difference here, or maybe a difference in regional perspective (my Menno experience is East Coast, NYC & Pennsylvania).
While I acknowledge that there are a handful of liberal Mennonite churches in urban areas and university towns, my view is that the majority of Mennonite churches around the country are composed of right-wing Limbaugh-listening, Glenn-Beck-watching, Billy-Graham-worshipping American-style evangelicals, who have lost touch with the Sermon-on-the-Mount-centric faith of their forefathers. Am I incorrect about that?
Granted, I have been off the Mennonite grid for a lot of years, basically since I left my parents’ house at age 17 to go off to EMC as a bible major. Haven’t attended a Menno church, or any church, since then. All I know about Mennoland these days is what I hear and read. Most of which has not impressed me.
Here’s why I feel no self-respecting Mennonite church would have me. If I were to apply to membership in the average Mennonite church, I assume it would be necessary to affirm some basic beliefs, a litmus test to verify my theological correctness. I’m guessing I would be asked things along the lines of whether I believe that: (1) God is both three and one at the same time; (2) I’m such a wretched sinner that Jesus had to be sacrificed so God wouldn’t be angry with me anymore; (3) Jesus physically came back to life after laying decomposing in a grave for three days; (4) Jesus is going to come back to judge the living and the dead; (5) the church is the body of christ. My responses to those questions would be: No, no, no, no and hell no. At which point the kindly Mennonite minister would say to me: “Sorry, Charlie, you fail our test, and thus you cannot join our super-duper exclusive Mennonite church club.”
Maybe I should add that as long as the Mennonite Church USA maintains its stance against allowing gays and lesbians to become members, I do not want to be a part of it. I choose to not hold membership in discriminatory organizations. That’s just me.
MMS does include people who are Mennonite church members, but who obviously feel comfortable keeping company with doubters and unbelievers. There are also people for whom the MMS page is their only connection with Mennonitism. Personally, I’m in that latter group. And that’s OK.
Hi, I’m a member of Boulder Mennonite and we rocked the Mennonite church by ordaining a lesbian pastor. I think it was in 2014. Mennonite Church USA split up after that event. I’m curious if you know, what percentage of churches or people left the MC USA organization (can’t handle homosexuality) and what percentage stayed (affirming the rights of non-heterosexual people)? That would give us a good idea of how accepting Mennonite churches are around the country. Please feel free to email your response (in addition to posting it here) if you know.
I think there’s a difference between the average Mennonite Church member and the overwhelming majority-that is, just because you’re not in the majority doesn’t make you on the margins either. There is a strong minority of Mennonites who are liberal on a host of issues, and the strong sermon on the mount emphasis is certainly still a majority position. I suspect there probably is a geographic issue-like Alan, I too spend more of my time with midwestern Mennonites.
In terms of whether Mennonite Churches generally expect members to broadly affirm traditional Christian understandings of the nature of Jesus and the resurrection, I’d say yeah, probably so. There are a number of people who regularly attend my congregation who aren’t members because of the baptismal questions that you have to affirm to be part of the church. They are full participants in the life of the congregation, they just don’t put themselves on the official list of believers.
On your specific questions, I think many churches are fine with questioning substitutionary atonement, there is a reason J. Denny Weaver’s non-violent atonement has been so intriguing to people. Many Mennonites I know question what exactly the trinity means and what happened at the resurrection (after all, it’s not like Jesus had the same kind of body we do-he could walk through walls, and no one recognized him unless he wanted them too). I’m surprised that the question about the church as the body of Christ claimed your greatest condemnation-why does that metaphor gain your ire anyway?
But on a more meta level, it’s odd to me to think of the Mennonite tradition of baptizing only people who confess Christ as Lord and savior as creating an exclusive ‘super-duper club.’ It feels more like the church has an identity and a teaching position, and you don’t agree with it. Which is fine, we all have groups we disagree with.
Our church, which is unabashedly liberal, doesn’t hold people to strict doctrine or creates an exclusive super duper club. It welcomes a wide range of diversity of belief. It’s what’s in your heart that really matters. I’m very marginal with the exclusively-Christ thing (i.e., that’s the only way to know), and I feel very welcomed at our church. Others who also have broad spiritual backgrounds like me are also welcome.
I’ll get back to responding to some of the things you raised in your last comment in a bit, but I’ve got to run for the moment. I did, however, want to say that I really appreciate your sharing of your story and where you’re coming from. In that one comment you’ve shined more light on this than I’ve seen yet. And yes, I have many affinities with your perspective, even though my path in life has taken me in a different way. Thanks again.
Perhaps we should take the advise of the funny-bone God that MMSers believe in and “lighten up.”
While I appreciate where some of you are coming from in terms of wanting to emphasize the diversity of beliefs that exist within the church, this manifesto resonated with me and gave me some healthy, hearty laughs.
“Become passersby” as anti-automobile sentiment? …I already want to join this society.
“Weirdly drawn to the naked Amsterdam Anabaptists.” Priceless.
I do sometimes experience frustration with people who assume that they don’t have a place in the church and project onto church people an exclusivity that isn’t actually there. More often than not it is the marginal Mennonites’ own fears and insecurities that keep them out, even as they blame the church’s judgmentalism.
Yet when I read the points of this manifesto, I intuitively know that its perspective is indeed “marginal.” Whether or not we can argue against it with facts and logic, I know there is something here that strikes a strong chord with a lot of people and it’s probably worth taking notice.
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” wasn’t it?
I don’t know how you can claim to be a marginal Mennonite when you don’t attend a Mennonite church nor believe in the deity of Christ. You’re not marginal at all, you’re totally out of the loop. This makes you more of a “mainstream agnostic” than a “marginal mennonite”.
Totally aimed at no one in particular: Once again liberals say anyone can join then make a list of openess that is, in fact, exclusiveness. Welcome to your own club. Don’t mind me, I do the same thing, at least I’m honest about it.
Are you related to Phyllis C. Or John A. Baer? I might be your cousin.
To Tim Baer: Thanks for your interesting input. So I hear you saying that membership in the human institution known as MCUSA determines whether or not one may identify as Mennonite? Or is it just attendance at a Menno church that makes one a Mennonite? How frequent must the attendance be? I happened to visit a Menno church in Illinois a few Sundays ago (for social, not religious, purposes). Did my Mennonite identity return to me on that morning? Sorry to be so sarcastic. But I reject the authority of the Mennonite Church, Inc., to tell me whether or not I may identify as Mennonite. As for the deity of Jesus, it was doubted by many early anabaptists. (Not the pious ones who wrote the confessions of faith, of course, but the more radical ones who read those confessions and said “I ain’t signing on to that crap.”) And I’m guessing Jesus’s deity is doubted today (secretly, of course) by many thoughtful Menno church members/attenders.
What is a Mennonite if it is not a confessional believer in the person and deity of Jesus Christ; he who reconciles us to God and each other, and the normative standard for how then we ought to live? From this foundational belief flows our very understandings of community, stewardship nonconformity, peace and justice. Apart from Christ these beliefs are empty symbols. This is why then that my Old Order cousins, my Ultra-Conservative neighbors, my conservative Lancaster Conference church and my very liberal friends from Germantown can all be called Mennonites – because we call Jesus, Lord, in the fullest sense of the word.
You can claim that some early Anabaptists questioned the deity of Christ but it would seem, what with the scope and force of history as the indicator, that perhaps those people didn’t remain Anabaptist for very long and their beliefs did not permeate to a very wide Mennonite audience but rather dissipated altogether until more recently. And that recent ressurgence of deity-denial has more to do with what AlanS called, “beer, pot, sex and Ghandi”, and nothing to do with an Anabaptist way of doing theology.
Simply calling oneself Mennonite does not one make you – I could easily call myself a Mormon and draw up a huge list of complaints about why mainstream Mormons are wrong but that doesn’t make me a Mormon. My Mormon-ness would be by virtue of the fact that I submitted myself to the very basic and fundamental understandings of what the vast majority of Mormons through the course of history have understood to be Mormon belief. Without wanting to offend, it appears like you’re almost conflating theology with culture or even theology with “some positions I like”; that you can call yourself a Mennonite because you were born into this, your last name is Kraybill (Krabill?), and you really like some of the more liberal churches’ peace activism. Mennonitinism is not a culture, it’s a way of thinking, seeing the world and following Christ, it has many cultural branches but most if not all of those branches find Jesus as their source.
I’m with Tim Baer (who does not attend a Mennonite church either) on this one.
I ditto Mr. Keiser who is more well spoken than I could ever dream to be.
BTW- I am back at an MCUSA congregation in Oregon. We moved here last week.
Thanks for sharing, Mr. Keiser. A very nice little sermon you gave me there. One which actually makes my point that the creeds are used by the church to establish firm boundaries between those who are “in” with divine truth (you) and those who are “out” (myself). Let me say that although my inability to affirm what I consider to be irrational theological formulations will prevent me from joining your church institution, you on the other hand are always welcome to participate in the Marginal Mennonite Society, whether you can agree with the elements of our manifesto or not. Maybe you should come to our FB page and provide a witness to us (and I am not being sarcastic about this at all). I assume, since your personal theology coincides with mainstream christianity, that you believe we marginal Mennonites are off the deep end, lost, and in need of being brought back into the fold. If in fact that is correct, then I don’t see how you can resist the christian obligation to come to where the marginals are, the marginal mission field as it were, and call us to return to Truth. I for one would welcome your input. And would hope you’d be open to what we have to say as well. Maybe you’ll be able to rack up some additional souls on your heavenly score card, and get some extra stars in your crown. I would affirm you in that.
I don’t know, I find myself with an affinity to what both Kaiser/Baer have said and what Charlie said. I would say that being Mennonite is a way of thinking, one that is particularly centered on Jesus. But I also resonate with what Charlie said in that really, the only rules about who is and isn’t a Mennonite are based on whether or not you choose to call yourself one. You can get kicked out of various institutions or denominations but if you still self identify as a Mennonite, then congratulations, you are! I would have a similar observance of Christianity in general. There are a lot of Christians out there whose faith and understand of Jesus bears little to no resemblance to my own, but yet, as long as they self identify as a Christian, they are one, and there isn’t much I can do about it.
Yeah, from my understanding being Mennonite is supposed to be about a way of thinking/believing, but I’m also part of a community and family group that would testify to the cultural reality of it as well.
so, hopefully that muddied the water.
Yes, thanks, Alan, that did muddy the waters, and I appreciate it. Marginals love muddy waters.
Isn’t there a difference between “joining” and “participating”. I would have no problem participating in your Facebook group but I would not join because I do not agree with your assumptions about the nature of Christ and what that means for the way we live our lives. You however, jumped the participation medium and went directly to “I would not join”. No one here and probably not too many Mennonites would ask that you abstain from particiapting in the life of one of our “institutions” (also known as congregations), joining us however would imply that you believe in some of the basic tenets of our shared understanding of who Jesus is. My point is that you’ve kind of proved my point – that being that all groups, yours included set boundaries by virtue of what they believe or don’t believe. You call yourself open and welcoming but since you deny a divine Jesus I cannot in good conscience join your group. Just as you cannot in good conscience join my group. This speaks nothing to the question of participation, I could easily participate in certain activities of your Facebook group just as you stated that you were able to participate in the life of an institution in Illinois. Heck, even the historical Jesus whom you so admire set boundaries of who was in and who was out. That’s kind of the nature of beief and groups.
I’m not at all concerned about perpetuating institutions, what bothers me rather is what I see as someone co-opting a name that has nothing to do with their stated beliefs or lack thereof. My question then for you is…why do you call yourself Mennonite?
As for your comments about me trying to win souls. I’m not a Southern Baptist, I’m a Mennonite. I don’t have a score card or dream of stars in my crown – your claim of non-saracsm kind of rings hollow with comments like that. I’m not trying to proselytize you – that was the job of your parents and Sunday School teachers. What I am trying to do is engage you.
I’m working on a thought but don’t have a lot of time. I can understand what you’re saying but, I see two flaws:
1. If I call myself Muslim does that make me a Muslim? If I call myself Honduran does that make me Honduran? That may seem silly but I think there’s a point there. Does simply the act of naming, make something; does naming bequeath essence?
2. In the Anabaptist context especially, is belief and theology and thus boundaries couched in the individual or the community?
Where I live (Oregon, actually, so welcome Tim!) I am around a group of young people who grew up in Mennonite churches. Some of them go to a Mennonite church now and some go to no church. Most of those who don’t go to church will not claim that they “are Mennonite.” They will say things like, “I grew up in a Mennonite church but I don’t go to church now.”
Yet even though some of these people don’t claim to be Mennonite, it is obvious to our other friends that we (who grew up Mennonite) are collectively shaped by and unified around some phenomenon for which they have no other word than “Mennonite.”
Whether or not my friends or I belief that Jesus was simultaneously fully human and fully divine, we have been molded by a force (however diluted it may now be) that traces back to the early Anabaptists and people who unified around the leadership of Menno Simons. As individuals born into a very different world than our forebears we have grappled with the tensions of modernity and our people’s historic faith and come out at different places. Yet at some non-theological level it is clear that we are all Mennonite. Our children and grandchildren may not be, but that is a different matter.
I see no point in fighting a semantic battle over the word Mennonite. It’s clear to me that the Marginal Mennonite Society has a link back to 16th century Anabaptists. Calling themselves (marginal) Mennonites is not the same as if they were to randomly decide to be Muslim. If we want to have it out over who gets to call themselves a member of MC USA or any other formal institution of Mennonite, so be it, but otherwise we need to chill out.
Thank you, Joseph. Beautifully put. I’ll see you over at the MMS page (I hope). If not there, then at St. Peter’s Gate.
I think you’ve teased out two very important questions here:
In response to question 1, I think this is complex questions for Mennonites, because we straddle the space between a faith and a sub-culture. Your comments in this thread stand focus strongly on the faith side of things. CharlieK (and perhaps the friends that JosephP mentions) are much more focused on the sub-culture. Both are are very real. They are distinct identities, but are deeply intertwined with each other.
In response to you question 2, for me Mennonite and Anabaptist faith is distinctive and important precisely because of its basis in community, not just an individual. This is why I continue to engage in the messy messy internal politics of the Mennonite church, both at a local, regional and national level. I believe that God’s vision of shalom for all creation, embodied in Jesus’ life and ministry is about a community acting together as empowered by the spirit. It’s not just about individuals signing up.
So what does this have to do with the MMS? I guess that for me its an amusing and effective piece of satire. Charlie certainly stirred the pot here at YAR and I wish him luck in continuing to stir it elsewhere on the fringes of the Mennonite sub-culture. There’s certainly plenty of precedent for it among the early Anabaptists.
However, for me the dynamic of MMS as described by Charlie (“designation is totally up to you and nobody else”) feels like so other many virtual identities and communities. I can give my digital thumbs up and walk away with zero commitment or engagement. Its all very privatized and individualized. There’s little bite or challenge after the initial buzz (satirical or serious) fades. Of course, it takes almost zero effort to start another one next month or next year for the next round.
Thank you, TimN, for your helpful thoughts. I would just like to respond to your last paragraph. It’s true that being part of the Marginal Mennonite Society requires zero commitment or engagement. However, I think it’s a fallacy to assert that involvement in the MCUSA requires much more than that. At least amongst the rank-and-file bench-warmers. Sure, there are always going to be leaders who choose to assume roles of responsibility, who expend energy to make things happen. But, based on my experience as a young person in the Mennonite church, I assume that an awful lot of church members do nothing more than show up on Sunday mornings for couple hours, stare blankly into space during the service, mindlessly hum along to the hymns, have a cuppa joe, flap their gums during social hour, and go home. Then Monday morning they return to their weekly routine of being fervent disciples of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Billy Graham, and Joel Osteen. Harrumph! I would put the spiritual integrity and ethical lifestyle of any of my MMS members up against those official Mennonite tubs of lard any day. Having one’s name on a church membership roll means nothing. (insert smiley face here)
I’m really sorry that you’ve had such a rotten experience with Mennonite churches. I know you certainly aren’t alone. It helps me understand where you are coming from. I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have been part of such hollow and vacuous Mennonite congregations. If I had, perhaps I’d be doing what you are.
I should be clear that I certainly think that effective collective action for change can happen in many different settings and places. Maybe MMS will be one of them.
Tim, thank you for your empathy. But really, is my experience not the norm in mennonite churches throughout the land? I’m totally serious. I visited First Mennonite in Champaign/Urbana last month and thought to myself that if i lived near a church like this i would darken its doorway. But it’s in a university town, and its members are a bunch of pointy-headed intellectuals and liberals (my types of peoples). Not typically Mennonite. I think the fact that most Mennonites vote Republican, are only pacifist when it comes to keeping their kids out of the military but otherwise are flagwaving warmongers, and have largely bought into the world’s finance and wealth-accumulation system … this all tells me that they are far afield from the early anabaptist reading of the sermon on the mount. Doctrinal correctness does not cover for all that.
I’ll offer my perspective on your serious question about whether your experience of the Mennonite Church is universal. I grew up a good Western District Conference GC kid in Kansas. I currently work in a South Central Conference (Old MC) church also in Kansas. There is an assumption between the two that one is more conservative than the other, but I don’t find that that stereo type holds up very well when you pick it apart. What I’ve found is this:
The stereo type you’ve described from your experience tends to resonate more with what little interaction I’ve had with East Coast Mennonites, who, in my limited understanding, really have benefited from skyrocketing land prices and have been involved in businesses there since before the U.S. was a country. There is a huge gap in the influence of money on east coast Mennonites as compared to the Midwest and farther east. The money out east is something that I can’t yet fully get my mind around, but I know it’s a major force, even if it’s not recognized and dealt with.
When you head out to the plains states, things get a bit different in their dynamic. The old MC churches tend to be a bit more on the conservative side, but I’d say conservative more like Amish, not conservative like Pat Robertson or Republican. When you start talking about the old GC churches there are kind of two main veins. Since the old GC churches were more congregational in structure rather than overseer/bishop oriented, the range of types of churches is much broader than the old MC churches. It’s in the Old GC churches that I’ve found more of the conservative-like-republican-churches as well as the churches who would be heavily influenced by fundamentalism. Interestingly it’s also in the old GC churches that you find the more liberal, open and intellectual churches as well. For example, it was not surprising to me in the least that the first conference to have a pastor perform a same sex union and have the conference not discipline them was and old GC conference, Western District Conference. It’s also not surprising to me that a large group of very conservative churches (pretty much the whole state of Oklahoma save one or two churches) has raised holy hell over this in that conference and will probably leave within the next year or so.
My experience growing up was that yes, there were some more conservative people in my church, but that I also grew up with old timers who had started hospitals in Paraguay and who volunteered for CPT when they were 80. There were people who had served in the military throughout the history of the church but the cultural heroes were the people who served in CPS in WWII or alternative service in Vietnam, even people who burned their draft cards and moved to Canada for the duration of the war! If anything I grew up thinking that this was the norm for Mennonites, not necessarily what you described.
So, take that for what it’s worth.
Thanks, Alan. I appreciate your perspective very much.
I just find it continually bizarre that you say:
Then you list all these things marginal mennonites believe. Then you take the time to delve into who you aren’t. Then you claim that you’re a little tired of feeling excluded, while you clearly find reasons to exclude politically conservative mennonites. Like many, you are clearly tired of others brushing off your beliefs, while you clearly brush off the beliefs of others. You clearly are guilty of everything you have accused the church of doing. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant went he said “you who are without sin may cast the first stone.”
I’m sorry if the church has disappointed you. A good start would be to listen to Jesus the “humanist” and forgive it. Your next step should be to realize you were mistaken and have erred or, *gasped*, sinned. Then, perhaps, realizing you have sinned, realizing that you can’t make past wrongs right, they will always follow you. Once you realize that, realize only a divine Christ can undo that which was done.
Just sayin’. ;)
Sorry Tim, I gotta back Charlie up on this one.
First off: “Just sayin’. ;)” Are you serious? A winky face and “just sayin'” is something I expect from my Jr. Highers. What’s more, I’ve seen people say some horrible things and then say “just sayin'” as if that negates what they said. It’s like saying “with all do respect…” and then completely lambasting someone. Or like 24 hour news channels saying the most horrible and libelous things about someone and then putting a question mark at the end. “Tim Baer pushes a bus full of children off a cliff?” Not cool man.
Also, you clearly have misunderstood the use of the word clearly, because what is clearly obvious to you may not be clearly apparent to the rest of us. Sorry for the sarcasm, but saying that someone obviously means something or actually believes something that they didn’t really say themselves is usually a sign that only you understood it that way and have all ready made up your mind about what “they think” and have shut off room for actually understanding what they’re really saying. I’m not so sure that they actually believe or are doing what you’ve said they do.
And as far as your last paragraph, I don’t really know what you mean by “A good start would be to listen to Jesus the “humanist” and forgive it.” Maybe you mistyped that but I genuinely don’t know what you’re talking about. Help me understand what you mean there. More troubling though is what you’ve outlined as a path of repentance. It assumes that your exact perspective is right and all others are wrong. What’s more, I’m not sure that’s what real repentance looks like. What you’ve described feels more like the old forms of church discipline that really have more to do with authority structures, particular doctrines and rigid social codes, which, it seems to me, is the exact thing that MMS is reacting against.
So it’s cool for Charlie to call the people that you and I go to church with tubs of lard, to indicte an entire church as war-mongers and Glenn Beck-ers, pigeon-hole me as interested in saving souls to earn stars on my crown and to more than subtley imply that most people in our churches are only in it for what they can get out of it as opposed to actually believing this stuff. That’s all fine by you but with TimB’s comment you chose to psychoanalyze, dissect and parse to find a meaning that wasn’t truly there.
You missed the main point entirely, that being that CharlieK claims non-creedal openess in his group:
But over the course of this discussion has gone into great detail about what the group does or does not stand for, does not like and why they’re better than mainstream Mennonites. At the very least that smacks of hypocrisy or disingenuousness on his part.
Alan, it’s cool if you want to police this place for meanness but at least give equal treatment across the board.
I would agree with you that there is a sub-culture in which so many of us have been born and raised. It has formed us, shaped us, and we cannot escape it not matter how hard we might try sometimes. Without trying to sound grandiose I often think of our own Mennonite cultural/religious experience – that all-encompassing and sometimes suffocating milieu of God, peace, shoo-fly pie, name games, MCC and quilts, as being comparable to that of the Jews. We read in books/articles and see in the movies all the time that archetypal liberal or atheist Finklestein who try as he may by dating Asians and eating whatever he pleases cannot escape his upbringing, his mother or 5000 years worth of tradition. This feels like I’m getting lost in Jewish stereotypes but my point is this, certainly Mr. Finklestein is in some way Jewish, just as Mr. Kraybill is in some way Mennonite. However, the essence of what it means to be Mennonite has little or nothing to do with cultural trappings and almost everthing to do with belief and action. Where would our Anabaptist forbears place the emphasis, in the culture or in the theology?
One other note. I find it interesting, and I do this as well, that very often when liberal, agnostic or dissaffected members drift away from the church we have no problem continuing to refer to them as Mennonites. They’ll always be a Martin afterall. However, when one of our own moves into the evangelical mainstream and rejects Anabaptist disticntives they’re no longer considered Mennonite…it’s just not polite to bring that up.
I’ve been thinking about how to respond to your response to me, because in some ways you have a very valid critique of what I said. I actually think you’re right that there is contradiction in what Charlie has said in the quote as compared to other places, but I’m not sure yet that it can be boiled down to simple, cut and dried hypocrisy. It feels more complex than that and, even if inelegantly stated, it’s touching on something that we need to pay serious attention to and understand.
But that’s not really what has caught my attention the most. You said.
As I’ve been pondering this I’ve been trying to ask myself if a) your right that I don’t apply that equally and b) if that’s a bad thing.
For a), I think I have tried to take everyone seriously and offer critique in multiple directions toward multiple people. Perhaps I have not done that in the way that you’d prefer, and for that I ask forgiveness.
As far as b), I’ve been thinking about whether or not I do hold different people to a double standard, and I think the answer might be yes. Here’s what I mean by that. One of the hallmarks of the Anabaptist tradition is that the church is a community of voluntarily committed believers that, when they join, agree to a higher standard of accountability and behavior than they would necessarily hold the rest of the world to. It’s the reason why in the Amish tradition if you joined the church and then afterward left or were shunned there are harsh consequences for that, but if you never joined at all they are pretty amiable to you. The difference is that the person who joined the church agreed to a higher standard and then broke that agreement whereas the outsider has never agreed to that and thus can’t really be held to that same standard.
Now that’s all part of my thinking that leads me to say, yes, I hold you and Tim B to a different standard than I would Charlie. Charlie seems to be someone who has some self confessed affinities and connections with the Mennonites but is not someone who has made that voluntary commitment to be a part of the church in a sense any sense that you or I might know. Which is to say that yes, I don’t necessarily fault him for “hypocrisy or disingenuousness” as you put it. However, while I don’t necessarily expect a higher standard from him I do expect those of us who are claiming the authority of the church to behave and, in this forum, communicate with a higher standard. And as a guide for “a higher standard” I primarily turn to the fruits of the spirit as a test of what that looks like (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, just in case we all forgot).
So in response to your call to equal treatment, I would say that yes, you may have accurately called me out on my double standard, but I’m not sure that I think that’s inherently a bad thing.
Also, I tend to think that when those of us who claim the church do not live up to these higher standards and exhibit the works of the flesh rather than the works of the spirit, it only goes to reinforce the real points that people like Charlie are making.
And, for the record, I’m not saying that I fully live up to my own standard here which means yes, I’m a hypocrite too. And also, I’m not completely settled on this line of thinking and could potentially be convinced otherwise.
HondurasKeiser and Tim Baer, I want to respond to comments made by both of you yesterday. You said that MMS claims to be non-creedal yet we go on to lay out what we do and do not stand for. You think this is contradictory.
I don’t see a contradiction at all. Yes, we reject church creeds and doctrines. But that’s not the same as saying we don’t believe in anything. We have strong beliefs, some of which are laid out in the manifesto. Why do you assume that rejection of the church’s theological formulations leaves us without any beliefs?
For example, MMS rejects the doctrine of the trinity. Mainly because it’s irrational, but also because it’s not biblical. That doesn’t mean we reject belief in God, or a Higher Power, or a Transcendent Being (however you want to put it). We’re totally cool with believing in God (or not believing, if that’s your thing). What we cannot in all honesty do is affirm the 3-in-1 definition that the church holds up as a requirement to be a member in good standing.
Also, MMS rejects the divinity of Jesus. Mainly because it’s irrational, but also because it’s not biblical. Even Paul never asserted that Jesus was God. This belief did not become a requirement by the church until centuries later. This does not mean MMS doesn’t give a lot of credence to what Jesus said while he was here.
The MMS is much more interested in what Jesus had to say than we are in definitions of who Jesus was. The church, however, considers the definitions of who Jesus was to be foundational, basic, requirements. According to the church, it’s more important to believe in Jesus as savior, messiah, God, than it is to believe what Jesus had to say about love, mercy, compassion, non-violence, non-attachment to material things.
The MMS wants to prioritize the content of Jesus’s message over theological formulations about who he was. Is that not an anabaptist perspective?
Jesus never claimed to be God. He never claimed to be the messiah. He never claimed to be the savior of the world. Those are claims made about him by others. Jesus did have a unique spin on who God is, based on his rabbinical reading of the Torah.
The core message of Jesus is in the Sermon on the Mount. The anabaptists figured this out, intuitively, centuries before biblical scholarship confirmed it. That’s why the anabaptists put their emphasis on the following attributes of God: love, mercy, compassion, non-violence, non-attachment to material things. MMS affirms that definition of who God is, and what God expects from his creatures. Everything else is dross.
It was the great MMS “member” bob Dylan who wrote ” Fearing not I’d become my enemy in the instance that I preach”. Based on the number responses u have received from some that maintain they would never join MMS – I think they have joined
Charlie, maybe it would help to address the following question. Would TimB and HondurasK feel welcomed and accepted in the MMS even if they believe firmly in the Trinity and salvation through Christ?
How would their sense of not quite belonging be different than your feeling of being excluded from official Mennonite churches?
Joseph, to answer your question: Absolutely they would be welcome. In fact, I already extended an invitation to HondurasK to come over and engage us. He asked whether he’d be able to interact on the page without having to actually “like” the page. And I don’t know the answer to that. I’d love if someone who hasn’t “liked” the page would give it a try and see if they are able to comment or post something.
The difference between MMS and the institutional church is we welcome all comers, no matter what you believe or don’t believe. There are many creed-affirming church-going Mennonites who’ve “liked” the MMS page, because they’re open-minded enough to not be bothered or offended by posts that challenge the church’s modes of thinking and operation.
I apologize if my prior comments seemed mean. I am not angry, however frustrated I may be. It just seems everytime I turn around someone is trying to co-opt my faith. Whether it be evangelicals seemingly wanting to paint the face of Christ on the sides of bombs or liberals wanting to put an “*” after every line of the Nicene creed, its just tiring.
Would I join the MMS? Absolutely not. I understand groups have their own beliefs and creeds. I don’t want to have to deal with trying to bend them to my will. Would you even have me? Maybe, at first. But I think if the group should grow you would tire of me and something would eventually have to be done.
One last note; Mennos put a lot of emphasis on their ethnicity. But the name itself “re-baptizer” or “re-birther” would seem to suggest that your first birth is less important than your second. I understand some people want to cling to their culture, but I truly think that Anabaptistism is a faith first and an ethnicty second. In retrospect, perhaps when the Amish shun their kin it is done to avoid these kinds of complications.
Excellent question JosephP.
I’ve been exploring your Facebook page and I have to be honest that it frightens me to even think of posting there. You have article after article of tired old leftist/anti-religious tropes and then you and others post snarkey, sarcastic comments and make fun of people that don’t agree with you. Where’s the welcomeness in that? I get that many of you are dissafected/don’t like the Mennonite or evangelical mainstream and maybe you just want a place to vent your frustrations, I can understand that. But I must reiterate that I do not feel welcome nor do I imagine I would be welcomed there. I couldn’t help but seeing the contrast between your FB page and the YAR blog or even the conservative counterpart Mennodiscuss.com; YAR is perhaps equally fringe, radical and left-leaning as the MMS yet they strive to create a forum where all are made to feel welcome and valid whilst maintaining the radical persepctive. The same is true of Mennodiscuss and I happen to know that the members there actively and kindly engaged you and tried to understand your perspectives before you decided to disengage from that forum. Your FB page by contrast feels much more monolithic and closed and just all-around mean.
One last note. So you believe things, you write them down, you list groups and people (like Bishop Spong and the Universalists) that you like. You put in writing that you don’t believe in Christ’s divinity. You list these beliefs over and against the beliefs of the mainstream. What’s non-creedal about that? Just because you’ll accept anyone? Of coursse you’ll accept anyone, you’re a FB page not the Body of Christ. But even in that, and this is what TimB and I have been trying to say, you can claim openess (open-mindedness, tolerance, etc.) all you want but by making bold and definiive claims like Jesus is not divine, the Trinity is illogical and unbiblical and rank-and-file Mennonites are tubs of lard you create boundaries, erect walls and close yurself off to the wider world. That’s cool, that’s the nature of groups, that’s what claiming a certain belief does. Just know then that you’re just like all those evil institutions you claim to be better than.
To Tim Baer: I have a very thick skin when it comes to mean comments. I live in the Bronx. Around here, a yelling screaming match is a friendly conversation.
I would suggest you consider letting go of worrying about others co-opting your faith. It’s not really yours in the first place. One must allow for dissent and crackpottery in life. It’s what makes the world so beautiful.
I guarantee you that nothing would be done with you at MMS no matter how tiring you became. We would welcome your diatribes as an exercise in building tolerance. And that’s a good thing, for us and for you. There are no forbidden topics or viewpoints to freethinkers.
I would hope you could let go of the desire to bend us or anyone to your will. I’m not going to change your mind and you’re not going to change my mind. But by allowing ourselves to be exposed to weird new notions and ideas, we sometimes find we change our own minds. Slowly but surely.
Of course, not much of this really matters in relation to the big picture anyway. Most MMSers are panmillenialists — we believe everything is going to pan out in the end. (That’s a laugh line, by the way.) But seriously, we’re all going to the Same Place (if there is a Place). And we’ll have some laughs over the things we thought were important during this whisp of smoke called earthly existence.
To HondurasKeiser: I repent of calling some Mennonites “tubs of lard.” I can see I’ll never be able to live that one down.
To Keiser: Rejecting the trinity doctrine is NOT the creation of a new creed. It’s a statement of non-belief. There’s no authority or mandate behind it.
Rejecting the divinity of Jesus is NOT a new creed. It’s a statement which says, whoever Jesus was, he was not THAT. We do not list things to use them as qualifications for identification (as the church does with its creeds).
There are MMS members who affirm mainstream christian beliefs. Yet they share a distaste for litmus tests that exclude people based on those beliefs. It is possible to participate in MMS without agreeing with every jot and tittle in the manifesto. Because nobody’s being judged by the silly manifesto.
There are dissenters within the MMS ranks, people who dissent from our dissent. And that’s OK. We want to let go of religious orthodoxy, and the perceived need for orthodoxy. We’re not looking to create a new orthodoxy.
Listen, the MMS page has a limited appeal, as evidenced by our small numbers. Yet I think its existence is valid. And you are welcome to disagree with that.
I always love the term “free-thinker.” You never hear “that guy’s a free thinker” or “those people we disagree with are a free-thinking bunch.” It’s always used in a “we are” or “I am” context. I’ve never seen it any other way, ever, by anyone. Funnier still, to follow-up the term “free-thinker” with a “we won’t change our minds” statement. I know I can come off as brash, but do you look at what type? Truly, there’s nothing new under the sun. I’ve seen and heard this all before.
Dude, I didn’t say my mind can’t be changed. What I said was that YOU can’t change MY mind. Only I have the power to do that. And only you have the power to change your own mind. I can’t do it for you.
I repent of using the term “free-thinker” since that’s apparently a stumbling block for you.
I’m glad to hear you’re so worldly-wise that you’ve seen and heard this all before. And given that breadth of experience, you’ve chosen to remain within the confines of mainstream traditional christendom. Clearly the Marginal Mennonite Society is not for you. (We recognize it’s not for everybody.) And that’s OK.
Um, guys, (and I do mean males),
I think we may have done it again. I’m going to take a bit and back away, it might be time to for all of us to check ourselves for a bit.
But, Alan, these flame wars bring back so many fond memories. ;)
Has this been a flame war? Flame war has such negative connotations. I don’t regard this dialogue as having been negative at all. I’ve found it enlightening and enjoyable. But that’s just me.
Alan, thanks for that link which allowed me to become familiar with some background. I just added a comment to that thread, suggesting that YAR might want to establish a presence on Facebook, for one reason only: so that when something gets posted, people get notified by email. This would bring people back into the site when a new contribution appears. As things stand now (unless I’m missing something), folks come around to the YAR site mainly when they think about looking to see what’s happening.
I’m in full agreement with Brother Kraybill on that one.
The Facebook page thing that is.
OK, I see that in fact YAR does have a Facebook page. Not sure how I missed that earlier. I just liked the page, and hope everyone on here does the same.
I just posted a link to YAR’s FB page on the MMS page. Would love to see some cross-pollination between the two spaces.
There was no person Jesus of Nazareth; he is a literary character made up as a sort of parable to show what the Christian life should be about, to demonstrate to catecumens and non-believers what the tenets of the Christian faith entails. Interesting, though, that you think you are inclusive when it’s obvious that you are not. You can define yourself as a group, hence you have boundaries, and that means some are within your boundaries and some are without. Interesting, though.
You identify my position exactly. And to think that I’m a 80 year old PK.
I have had no interaction with the Mennonite church or the young radicals. Long story short, I was a hippie in the 60s, joined a radical Christian group, outside the institutionalized church system, and spent the next 35 years living in Asia, living on the road while evangelizing the locals. All “noninstitutional institutions” eventually become institutions with rigid formalized theology and actions, and entrenched leadership. Now I’m a gardener. It was so so refreshing to see your site today. I am very interested in your insights into this world, and your perspective on faith. I’m very excited about this.
Thank you for your Facebook Page. I’ve learned about a lot of historical figures I’d never heard of, from different religious backgrounda, who left a wonderful and lasting legacy – including Quakers, to which group I belong.
Charlie, thank you for taking the time to put words to these ideas. I love what you’ve come up with, and can happily identify as a Marginal Mennonite. Carry On!