Plain acculturation

Overseas, nonconformists look like Americans

Sep 30, 2019 by

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Head coverings, beards and limited clothing options aren’t always enough to set a people apart. In North America, these seem to do the trick. But conservative Anabaptists encounter deeper questions when they plant churches in distant lands.

Plain groups, such as Amish-Mennonites, find their separatism ­isn’t as obvious as they thought when the gospel they bring to foreign soil doesn’t look much different from the message their “worldly” North American neighbors preach.

In their new book, Amish-Mennonites Across the Globe, Cory and Jennifer Anderson warn their fellow Amish-Mennonites that international mission efforts can work, but not if they carry the arrogance of North American superiority.

“In our posh Western lifestyle, we are too often tempted to identify any place of poverty as a ‘stronghold of Satan,’ just on the basis of poverty!” the Andersons write. But, they continue, consider how we look to them: “Your home country [has] been called the same ‘stronghold of Satan,’ by bringing such misery on much of the globe through cultural, economic and militaristic imperialism.”

Even among separated people like Plain Anabaptists, evangelism can get infected by Western cultural influences.

And it doesn’t just happen far from home. The Andersons contend that evangelical influences have turned more progressive, “mission-minded” Plain groups against their more conservative cousins. The mission-minded ones might disparage the more conservative ones as backward or hopeless, like comfortable Westerners denigrating the people of a poorer country.

“Do they praise God, or do they have all of the answers?” write the Andersons. “Are they Americans or Amish-Mennonites?”

The Andersons identify periods of stagnation in international growth among Amish-Mennonites in the late 1980s and the 2010s. Both were periods of church difficulty and uncertainty. The present is a time of re-evaluating mission priorities and philosophies.

The Andersons ask questions relevant to all Western Anabaptists, always at risk, at home or abroad, of mirroring the culture in which we live.

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