What’s in a name?

Distinctive Christianity should never hide

Jan 13, 2020 by

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Taking the M out of MCC seems silly to even imagine. Besides turning Mennonite Central Committee’s name into one that sounds like a Communist Party leaders’ meeting, removing “Mennonite” would eliminate the core of one of the world’s most unifying Anabaptist organizations.

It’s all the more perplexing why a relief sale supporting that very organization would drop “Mennonite” from “West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale” after 52 years.

Organizers of the Fresno, Calif., event say the old name will remain for legal documents and some promotional material, but the name they now emphasize is “Celebration for World Relief.”

Relief sales succeed because of local ownership. Each sale’s board understands its unique local culture best, and the Fresno board is committed to raising as much money as possible for MCC. The heart is in the right place, but the optics of taking Mennonite out of the sale’s name the same year as MCC’s centennial are not so good.

Like “seeker-friendly” churches removing “Mennonite” from their name to avoid a stumbling block to getting people in the door, organizers claim one troublesome word made the general public think they weren’t welcome.

It is peculiar that this kind of thinking never applies to Amish furniture stores or homestyle Mennonite restaurants and bakeries. Why is Mennonite identity a marketable sign of quality for commerce but a confusing liability for church signs and relief sales?

There’s a constant refrain from certain sectors of Anabaptism claiming that due to horse-and-buggy misconceptions about Mennonites, more souls can be saved by blending into the nondenominational woodwork.

If someone you know thinks all Mennonite church members dress Plain and use single-horsepower transportation, and your Mennonite church is not that sort, that is not the other person’s fault but your own. The solution to misunderstanding of Mennonites is not to water things down to better match society but to do a better job of being known as Christians who don’t blend in.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).

Jesus never encouraged his followers to resemble the wider world or hide distinguishing characteristics so they wouldn’t appear strange. He promised the opposite, calling believers to be known for being different. The contrast might even start a conversation.


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