Lancaster’s changes

Apr 23, 2018 by

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In response to Richard Sho­walter’s take on why Lancaster Mennonite Conference left Mennonite Church USA (March 26), I’ll add a few observations. More than 75 years ago I became a baptized member of LMC, and in those days there were strict Rules and Discipline that governed one’s membership. I wonder how many members of the present conference would have passed the R&D tests of 1945 — 1 percent? 5 percent? What is not in question is that in certain nonconformist aspects, LMC has evolved. But there were giants in those days who informed us what was going on in the larger Mennonite community — H.S. Bender, J.C. Wenger and Orie O. Miller.

John Ruth’s The Earth Is the Lord’s captures the sweep of change within LMC. He noted disagreements leading to various groups splitting, some of these dealing with nonconformist practices no longer strictly observed. Other factors underlying LMC’s leaving MC USA deserve careful study:

  • LMC’s polity of top-down bishop oversight versus a congregational polity of more freedom in decisions regarding membership.
  • Influence of fundamentalism via radio, TV and books.
  • Cultural and political aspects; Lancaster County voters are predominately Republican.
  • Resistance to certain types of change, especially those involving women in leadership roles, and cultural aspects of sexual and gender orientations.
  • Possible loss of a historical consciousness — remembering LMC’s split-prone history but also the marvelous leadership of Amos Herr and other able leaders of the 19th century financially aiding Russian Mennonites to come to the U.S.
  • A tendency to be independent, to go it alone.

As an adoptee, my sociological and spiritual roots were nurtured among Mennonites in Lancaster County. It is with considerable sadness that although years ago LMC provided a home for rootless “out-of-season” babies, it now seems to have difficulty accepting people who don’t fit the mold of conservative believers.

Carl S. Keener
State College, Pa.


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