It has recently come to my attention that there are those among us who feel that the Mennonite Church leadership is not truly diverse.
You know who you are.
Faced with such criticism, I cannot help but think that these people have allowed themselves to become worldly and have forgotten – or, worse, never learned – the Mennonite understanding of diversity.
I shudder at this failure in our Sunday School curriculum.
It is true that most of the leaders in the national Church are middle aged (or senior) white men and some women. It is also true that there’s a certain sameness when one peruses the various crowd scenes of the Mennonite conferences, be they Gatherings or Assemblies. Yes, you see a lot of fairly dull-looking middle-aged white people in extraordinarily dull attire. It is also true that most of these people are cisgender and heterosexual. And, as I’ve mentioned before, in Canada many of us share a certain genotype.
None of this, however, means that there is no diversity. You’d be hard pressed, in fact, to find a Mennonite Church that doesn’t pride itself in its diversity. When we have to describe ourselves, it’s one of the first things that comes up.
We just define diversity a little bit differently than those of you steeped in the ways of the world.
We’re really quite diverse theologically. For instance, some of us wholeheartedly believe in substitutionary atonement, some of us can’t abide the idea, and others willfully skipped that week in their faith exploration/catechism class and can’t even bother to click through on a link to discover its meaning. It doesn’t end there, either. We have a wide spectrum of beliefs about scripture, the Lordship of Christ, and which of the Beatitudes is the best (just kidding, we all like the peacemakers one the most).
Diversity of Worship Style
We’re also diverse in our preferences for a worship service. Some of us barely tolerate drums in the sanctuary and others of us grit our teeth at the old timey hymns with oddly militaristic lyrics. Some of us are keen on the new trends in Biblical storytelling and others think that if God had meant us to read the Bible expressively, we wouldn’t have been given monotone voices.
Diverse Faith in Life Patterns
We all believe that faith affects the way we live our lives the whole week, but we vary widely in how we interpret this stricture. I know of some Mennonites, in fact, who actually cite faith as a reason to abstain from alcohol. As for me, I’m pretty strict about fair trade and buying ethical but there are others who will even eat strawberries off-season. The major lifestyle differences are usually across different branches of the Church and might relate to such divisive issues as women’s hats and bonnets. A couple generations ago, really diverse had both in the same gathering.
Diverse Attitudes to Church Authority and Discipline
This has probably been the greatest stickler point in our history, causing more schisms than sausage parties, real estate deals and same-sex marriage combined. And so if we have managed to keep under the same roof people who want a radical reduction of hierarchy with those who prefer a pastor who acts as a traditional patriarchal authority figure, we consider that no small feat.
To the outsider, it may not seem like there are huge differences between Mennonites who came from Flanders and those from Friesland but when they came together in the 1560s, they discovered quickly that the 250 miles that had separated them hid a huge trove of cultural diversity. And so they split. For a couple hundred years. But we have come a long way since that time. We now often welcome people into our congregations who have migrated from even more than 250 miles. Not only that. Russian Mennonites originally from different villages in Russia and from different migration waves come together, and the Swiss Mennonites and Russian Mennonites have learned to treat each other civilly. Mostly.
And so you see, we’re really very diverse.
I know this won’t satisfy all those among you who want more racial, gender and maybe socio-economic diversity in our leadership. That wasn’t my goal. I just hope I’ve helped you understand the blank looks that you’ve been getting from the Mennonites in your midst when you bring up diversity. It’s why we can think of an AngloAmerican pastor as a diversity hire and why we pat ourselves on our backs when someone named Schwartzentruber sits on the same committee as someone named Neustaedter.
That’s how it is in my corner of the Mennoverse, anyway. I expect diversity might mean something different in all those parts of the world that actually have more Mennonites than Canada but less of the cultural baggage. I don’t know, though. They might have their own diversity issues.
Let’s have a drink.
Today’s cocktail celebrates Mennonite diversity. It might appear to be a lot like many of the other cocktails that I’ve made. In fact, it uses several of the most common ingredients. They are, however, put together slightly differently than usual, showing the diversity that requires a trained eye to see or, in this case, a trained palette, to appreciate. It’s got brandy in honour of the Prussian Mennonite distillers of old, rhubarb because of the Mennonite literary magazine of the same name and a couple of the other common ingredients. Enjoy.
More of the Same
- 1.5 oz brandy
- 3/4 oz cranberry juice
- 1/2 oz rhubarb simple syrup
- 1/2 oz triple sec
- 1/2 oz lime juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with homemade maraschino cherries or whatever.