Outsider’s perspective

Apr 20, 2020 by

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I appreciated Glen Guyton’s reflections on his life journey from the military to executive director of Mennonite Church USA (“Outsider’s Perspective Shows Value of Belonging,” April 6). With no draft since the 1970s, it is people leaving the military on conscientious objector grounds who sustain this historic peace church principle. He suggests that white Euro-American members realistically accept their own ethnicity as they value the contributions of people of color.

In the past, we often practiced the opposite extreme — requiring “outsider converts” to adopt our traditional cultural forms. As a 7- or 8-year-old 75 years ago, I heard the first black Mennonite bishop, James Lark, and his wife, Rowena, speak at Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church. Seeing black people in the “plain” clothing that the Mennonite Church then required its leaders to wear made a lasting impression: If they are willing to wear our weird garb, these “outsiders” must really value something in our faith and way of life.

Another experience from 60-plus years ago left a negative impression. I knew a young white man, converted in a “plain” Mennonite group’s mission work, who wanted to date one of their young women. When her parents objected, she retorted, “But he’s a product of the mission work you support!” They replied, “He should marry another convert.” They wanted to preserve their family’s cultural purity.

Thankfully, Mennonites have significantly improved on this issue. As we attract people of color and people from other backgrounds — progressive Catholics, “recovering” evangelicals, young secular “seekers” — the newcomers enrich our spiritual lives, while our “cradle” Mennos provide institutional memory, like Gentiles and diaspora Jews in New Testament congregations.

Dan Leatherman
Fort Collins, Colo

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