A name worth keeping

'Mennonite' should be celebrated, not abandoned

Mar 12, 2018 by

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What’s in a name? For Tim Unruh of Hillsboro, Kan., it’s more than a hill of beans. His decision to name his Menno Beans coffee roasting venture after Menno Simons is an ode to his faith heritage and an ice-breaker to conversations with people who don’t know Mennonite from macchiato.

Unruh’s choice is countercultural, both in secular terms and the Anabaptist realm. As names go, Mennonite identity is in a perilous state.

Mennonite World Conference is evaluating a switch to embrace the broader umbrella of Anabaptism, which makes sense due to membership of Brethren in Christ groups. Other changes seem more designed to put distance between a group and the M-word.

Since at least 2016, Conservative Mennonite Conference has debated a name change. A switch to “Rosedale Network” was introduced last summer, when CMC executive director Brian Hershberger said “Mennonite” creates confusion by being associated with plain Anabaptists or progressive theology.

The large and influential Weaverland Mennonite Church in East Earl, Pa., made the switch last year to Weaverland Anabaptist Faith Community.

When it rolled its seminary into Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University less than a decade ago, the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Breth­ren Churches changed the name from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary to Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. Many MB congregations don’t have a reference to Mennonite or Anabaptist in the name, and the multisite network of congregations in Utah has USMB blessing to claim on its website to be nondenominational.

It seems every group that shifts away from using the word does so to escape the specter of strangeness. Do Christ’s followers — called to lives of nonconformity, citizens of a kingdom not of this world — just want to blend in?

There is nothing wrong with a church being weird. We’re called to it. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ gave Christians a road map for being considered strange by the rest of the world. Compromises made by the church to gain contemporary acceptance and power — be they in the time of Constantine or Trump — prove the admission isn’t worth the price.

Talking about passions isn’t tricky. But for some reason, it’s easier to evangelize on Facebook about a favorite caramel-swirl mocha frappuccino than to rave about where we go on Sunday morning that starts with an M. Unruh’s beans show us a way to have our coffee and drink it, too.

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