Teaching Mennonite History in “Historic Times”

As a historian, I am well aware that all times are in some sense historic, that every time period and every surviving source worthy of study, and yet, like so many of us, I have been well aware that the events of the past year—the Covid-19 pandemic, the protests for racial justice and against police brutality that spanned first America and then the globe, and the end of the Trump presidency—are events that my descendants will ask about, in the same way that I have been curious about my grandparents’ experiences of World War II. Likewise, I am confident that future students taking Mennonite history courses will want to know how Mennonites and other Anabaptists were affected by and responded to these events—as in fact, did my current students, who brought up some of these topics in their online discussions. This, then, is the beginning of a modest collection of contemporary links, in the hope that they might serve as useful primary sources for future Mennonite history instructors and students writing term papers as they attempt to make sense of the past year.

Covid-19

When it first became evident that Covid-19 would spread virtually unchecked across North America, I couldn’t help but think of the Amish and Old Order Mennonites who refuse both private and government-run health insurance might be affected. Would they be more reluctant to seek medical care for Covid as a result? Moreover, how difficult would it be for them to maintain social distancing without many of the technological solutions that the rest of us have used to fill the gap?

I was intrigued by this post from Penn Medicine, which discussed health outreach efforts among the Amish by Lancaster General Health, useful as a way to see how Amish communities in Lancaster County have been affected and how health care workers have tried to provide Covid safety guidance in culturally appropriate ways.1

This CBC news article detailed how, a month into the pandemic, Hutterite and Old Order Mennonite communities in Canada were adapting to restrictions on gatherings.2 The better part of a year after these restrictions have been put in place, the cost of isolation is felt even more keenly.

Of course, anyone seeking to learn how more assimilated Mennonite churches have weathered the pandemic is faced with an embarrassment of riches, as more churches than ever have recorded sermons and even full services and shared them online over the past year.

Black Lives Matter

During the protests following the murder of George Floyd, an image and video quickly circulated featuring a group of people in plain dress, singing hymns and holding signs that read “Justice for George Floyd,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill Anyone,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Standing Against Systems of Oppression.” Twitter users quickly identified the group as Amish, and tweets about Amish support for Black Lives Matter quickly proliferated. One such post, by Twitter user @nedwhat, garnered over 400, 000 likes.3 In fact, these protesters were not Amish at all, but members of the Church of God (Restoration), a church with no Anabaptist affiliation based in Greenville, Ohio.4

Though the actual Amish do not appear to have participated in Black Lives Matter protests in any great numbers, other Anabaptists did. On June 1st, Mennonite Church USA released a statement on racial injustice that forcefully repudiated white supremacy and state violence and encouraged Mennonite congregations “to lament and pray together…to stand in solidarity with communities of color, walk alongside them and, indeed, be led by them.”5 My own city of Portland became a particular point of national and international media attention, and several members of Portland Mennonite Church participated in peaceful protests across the city. Britt Carlson, our pastor of community life, also wrote a reflection on the citywide protests for Baptist News.6

Members of Portland Mennonite Church participate in a protest for racial justice. Photo by Art Wright.

The 2020 Election

As journalists and political strategists attempted to determine which candidate might carry the swing states in the Great Lakes region, several outlets published pieces about the political sympathies of Amish communities in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Many of the Amish interviewees had a broadly favorable opinion of Trump’s presidency, particularly his support of deregulation and his perceived support of businesses.7 Amish voter turnout remained low in the 2020 election, but opposition to restrictions on businesses and religious gatherings designed to curb the spread of Covid-19 appears to have motivated at least some younger Amish voters.8 The ongoing work of Steve Nolt and Kyle Kopko of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College will no doubt help to clarify how Amish turnout in 2020 compared to past year.

We are, of course, in the midst of these events still. It remains to be seen just how various Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities will have been shaped in the long term by the events of the pandemic, the ongoing work of racial justice, and the increasing political polarization in the United States (and indeed in many parts of the world). I welcome additional links and resources in the comments as well, in the hopes that this collection might continue to evolve as the situation does.


1 Mary Beth Schweigert, “How Amish Communities are Staying Safer from the COVID-19 Pandemic with Help from Good Neighbors at Lancaster General Health,” Penn Medicine News Blog, 1 September 2020, http://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-blog/2020/september/how-amish-communities-are-staying-safer-from-the-covid.

2 Karen Pauls, “’We, too, are part of this world’: How Hutterites, Old Order Mennonites are responding to COVID-19,” CBC News, 1 April 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/hutterites-covid-mennonites-1.5515797.

3 WhatTheNed, Twitter Post, May 29, 2020, https://twitter.com/NedWhat/status/1266515656037588992.

4 Adrienne Dunn, “Fact check: Images of witches, ‘Amish’ supposedly at Floyd protest are out of context,” USA Today, 19 June 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/19/fact-check-viral-photos-dont-show-witches-amish-floyd-protests/3195430001/.

5 Mennonite Church Executive Board Staff, “Mennonite Church USA statement on racial injustice

By Mennonite Church Executive Board staff,” Mennonite Church USA, 1 June 2020, https://www.mennoniteusa.org/news/mc_usa-statement-on-racial-injustice/.

6 Britt Carlson, “At the Portland protests, I’m afraid the bread won’t rise,” Baptist News Global, 21 July 2020, https://baptistnews.com/article/at-the-portland-protests-im-afraid-the-bread-wont-rise/#.YAqfxuhKjIU.

7 Ted Roelofs, “Michigan’s Amish seem to love Trump. But voting is another matter,” Bridge Michigan, 30 October 2020, https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/michigans-amish-seem-love-trump-voting-another-matter; Tim Huber, “Ohio Amish Show Trump Support,” Anabaptist World, 2 October 2020 https://anabaptistworld.org/ohio-amish-show-trump-support/.

8 Gillian McGoldrick, “Was 2020 a breakout year for Amish voters? Here’s what the numbers show,” Lancaster Online, 30 November 2020, https://lancasteronline.com/news/local/was-2020-a-breakout-year-for-amish-voters-heres-what-the-numbers-show/article_f77af684-32a7-11eb-b3ec-13a56697652f.html.

Reevaluating the Relationship Between Anabaptism and Evangelicalism

Regina Wenger

In Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, she argues that white evangelical support for Donald Trump was not an aberration, but the culmination of more than fifty years of evangelicalism’s increasing affinity for militant masculinity. The recent riot and invasion of the US Capitol by persons displaying Christian nationalist slogans adds a tragic concreteness to Du Mez’s claims.1 While Du Mez does not explicitly discuss Anabaptism in her narrative, she presents a definition of evangelicalism in America behind Trump’s ascendency that I believe needs to be wrestled with in historical discussions about Anabaptism’s relationship with evangelicalism after World War II.

Du Mez offers a cultural definition of white evangelicalism specifically tied to consumption. A white evangelical consumer culture exploded in the postwar period with books and resources (e.g. Focus on the Family, Mars Hill Church), Christian Contemporary Music (CCM), and films like the God’s Not Dead series. “Rather than seeking to distinguish between ‘real’ from ‘supposed’ evangelicals,” Du Mez contends, “…it is much more useful to think in terms of the degree to which individuals participate in this evangelical culture of consumption.”2

Du Mez’s definition of evangelicalism runs counter to those of a more theological and doctrinal nature offered by people such as David Bebbington and Thomas Kidd.3 The scholarly conversations about how to best to characterize modern evangelicalism open a Pandora’s Box too extensive to discuss here. Nonetheless, Du Mez’s conceptualization of evangelicalism as participation in a broadly shared Christian consumer culture represents a notable contribution to discussions on the topic.

One of the things that struck me in Du Mez’s description of the diffuse nature of evangelical consumer culture was her observation about its effect on her own Christian Reformed denomination. “My own upbringing in the Christian Reformed Church, a small denomination founded by Dutch immigrants, is a case in point,” she states. “For generations, members defined themselves against American Christianity, but due to the onslaught of evangelical popular culture, large swaths of the denomination are now functionally evangelical in terms of affinity and belief. Denominational boundaries are easily breached by the flow of religious merchandizing.”4

Du Mez’s observation mirrors my own experience as a pastor and lifelong member of various congregations within Mennonite Church USA. Out of both personal and scholarly experience, I think that the pervasiveness of evangelical consumer culture, and its abilities to transgress denominational boundaries, present an intriguing angle from which to evaluate the relationship between evangelicalism and Anabaptism.

Two books, written decades apart, display two distinct approaches for understanding the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelicalism. The first, Norman Kraus’ Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (1979), generally views the two traditions in tension rather than compatible.5 Conversely, Jared Burkholder and David Cramer’s The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (2012) sees the traditions more as able conversation partners.6Additionally, as my Anabaptist Historians colleague Devin Manzullo-Thomas pointed out, there has been an “Anabaptist Turn in Recent American Evangelical Historiography.”7

What Du Mez’s definition of evangelicalism and her personal aside reveal is a new paradigm for historically interrogating the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelicalism. Have congregations and persons in the Anabaptist tradition become “functionally evangelical”? If so, how and when? For example, would a historical examination of purchasing patterns of Christian education materials in Anabaptist-related congregations shed light on this phenomenon?

One of the reasons I think this relationship needs reevaluation—utilizing Du Mez’s approach—is the extent to which she ties evangelicalism to militancy and Christian nationalism. Our post-2016 conversations about the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelicalism need to more readily grapple with Anabaptism’s positions on peace and nonviolence in conjunction with the rising militancy in postwar evangelicalism that Du Mez charts. The power and pervasiveness of evangelical consumer culture can overwhelm efforts from both the pulpit and denominational publishers.8

I expect new explorations of the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelicalism using Du Mez’s insights would not reveal a doctrinal declination of the former in its interactions with the latter; in that assessment I concur with Burkholder and Cramer.9 However, I also suspect, particularly related to examining matters of war and peace, that the incompatibility that Kraus sees between the two traditions will come to the fore as well.10 And it is because, as these and other texts illustrate, postwar evangelicalism has interacted with Anabaptism in various and complex ways that Du Mez’s culture of consumption definition of evangelicalism can offer insight into histories of contemporary Anabaptism. It is an exploration in which I invite the readers and contributors of Anabaptist Historians to join me in undertaking.


1. “…the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such…” Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (New York: Liveright, 2020), 3. For a recent and more thorough explanation of Christian nationalism, see: Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).

2. Du Mez, 8.

3. Bebbington lays out his influential “quadrilateral” description of evangelicalism as characterized by belief in conversion, activism, cruci-centrism, and biblicism in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730 to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989). Kidd’s most recent and developed definition of evangelicalism may be found in Who Is an Evangelical?: A History of a Movement in Crisis (New Haven, Yale, 2019).

4. Du Mez, 7-8.

5. Norman Kraus, ed., Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1979), reprints are available from Wipf and Stock. In Kraus’ opening chapter, he described an early 1970s “shift in public opinion” regarding evangelicalism, “…heralded by the ‘Honor America’ celebration on July Fourth, 1970, when Billy Graham was featured as the star speaker along with Bob Hope and John Wayne…” Kraus, “What is Evangelicalism?” in Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 16-17.

6. Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer, “Introduction,” in Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer, eds., The Activist Impulse: The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 5.

7. Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas, “The Not-So-Quiet in the Land: The Anabaptist Turn in Recent American Evangelical Historiography,” The Conrad Grebel Review, 33, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 359-71.

8. Du Mez, 8.

9. Burkholder and Cramer, 3.

10. In addition, to Kraus, Ted Grimsrud critiques what he sees as an assumption in Burkholder and Cramer that does not strongly consider “the problem of evangelical Christianity (and, actually, Christianity in general) actually tending to influence people to be more violent, not less violent.” Ted Grimsrud, “Anabaptist Evangelicalism?” Thinking Pacifism, blog, July 8, 2012. See also: Ted Grimsrud, “The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism,” The Conrad Grebel Review 31, no. 3 (Fall 2013).

Edgar Metzler’s “Let’s Talk About Extremism” (1968).

Let’s Talk About Extremism

Edgar Metzler

Originally published as Edgar Metzler, Let’s Talk About Extremism. Focal Pamphlet Series No. 12 (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1968).

© 2021 by Edgar J. Metzler. All Rights Reserved. Introduction © 2021 by Maxwell Kennel.

Edited by Maxwell Kennel

Editorial Introduction

In 1968 a Mennonite pastor and peace worker named Edgar Metzler published a short booklet in the popular “Focal Pamphlet” series published by Herald Press – a series that includes other more widely read works by Mennonite historians and theologians like Harold S. Bender and J. Lawrence Burkholder. The brief preface on the inside cover gives some indication of its purpose and audience in the context of the American Mennonite experience during the late 1960s.

This pamphlet is prepared to stimulate the Christian’s peace testimony. Christians need constantly to return to the Bible to discover the message of the gospel. This message must be translated into living terms by every generation. The S. F. Coffman Peace Lectures are sponsored by the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns of the Mennonite Church. They are financed by an individual who has an interest in the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to the social needs and the international tensions of the world in which we live.

Metzler’s text is situated amidst the international tensions alluded to above, particularly racial tensions and violence in the United States during the Vietnam War era. The pamphlet is titled Let’s Talk About Extremism, but what the author means by the term “extremism” calls for explanation, some of which the author provides in the first section of the text below.

Although other pamphlets in the series were more widely read, Let’s Talk About Extremism has only been cited a few times since it was published – most recently in a survey of definitions of radicalism and extremism.1 The lack of scholarly or public engagement with the text in the years since it was published is a problem that I hope to remedy in this edition.

In short, the argument of the pamphlet is that how we think about the relationship between extreme or opposed positions – whether they are political, religious, social, or a combination of all three – matters deeply. For Metzler, ways of thinking and knowing, or what scholars call “epistemologies,” are just as important for the Christian peace witness as more visible manifestations of violence like killing or war. Whereas Metzler refers to “extremism,” today we tend to refer to the problems he addresses by using the term “polarization.” In response to these problems, Metzler calls his readers to consider how hard oppositions between liberals and conservatives are clarified when we think about not only what we think, but also how we think, and how we express what we think.

But rather than staying within the bounds of the liberal-conservative opposition, Metzler enjoins his readers to reframe their vision of extreme positions by measuring ways of thinking against a different standard, asking: “Is this way of thinking closed or open?” Drawing attention to the presence of closed-mindedness at all points on the political spectrum (a pattern recently explored by Francois Cusset), Metzler advocates for openness. Against racist, nationalist, and religious prejudices, Metzler values a kind of open-mindedness that is able to listen to the other, take in new information, and charitably engage with “extreme” perspectives. By contrast, the closed mind is reactive, reliant on questionable second-hand sources, and unable to be moved. This is not to say, however, that Metzler advocates for a kind of passive middle way that sits between extremes and attempts to remain neutral on matters of justice. Rather, Metzler helps his readers to avoid the pitfalls of both polarization and neutrality.

One further benefit of how Metzler frames his argument for openness is that he leaves open the question of how this openness is authorized or validated. For Metzler himself, it is the peaceful figure of Jesus Christ who is the model for a more open epistemology. But Metzler leaves open the possibility of taking on his perspective without confessing Christian faith. Metzler’s resistance to oversimplification, selectivity, black and white thinking, appeals to fear, authoritarianism, and so forth, are critical values that can resonate with the priorities of Christians and religious ‘nones,’ secular and confessional Mennonites, and anyone who is concerned with the problems of our shared world. For this reason, perhaps anachronistically, I would characterize Metzler’s work as “postsecular” – where “postsecular” names a way of thinking that challenges the claims to superiority made by both religions and secularities.

One final point that makes Metzler’s work important today is his critique of conspiratorial thinking. His conversation with an alienated congregation member, as described in the final pages of the pamphlet, is a model for how to openly and critically engage with those who are given to conspiratorial thinking, while seeing through the content of such arguments to the narratives of rejection and victimhood that lie beneath. In a time when conspiracy theories are becoming more influential, concomitant with a decline in public trust and trust in expertise, I think it is essential to consider Metzler’s reminder that beneath the “extreme” positions of those who believe in conspiracy theories is often a common human desire to be heard and recognized. Again, this is not to say that Metzler’s work is a resource for those who would, in the name of ‘free speech,’ give an open platform for hate (for example, the conspiracism and violence of far-right groups). Instead, his concluding comments point to the deeper social roots of present political problems, and provide practical ways of challenging violent ways of thinking.

Editorial Note

In the digitized edition below I have made very few editorial interventions. I have left the original text entirely unchanged. My only additions are the footnoted references for the quotations provided by Metzler and some references to resources. Paragraph breaks, headings, and numbering have been preserved, along with older usage (ex. ‘catalog’). References to original page numbers appear in square brackets.

I am especially grateful to Edgar Metzler and his son Michael Metzler for their permission to publish this online edition of the pamphlet, and I want to acknowledge not only their support but also their conviction that this historical document still has much to teach contemporary readers.

Original Author Note

“Edgar Metzler was born in Masontown, Pennsylvania, where his father, A. J. Metzler, served as pastor for a number of years. He was graduated from Eastern Mennonite High School, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and received his BA and BD degrees from Goshen College and Goshen College Biblical Seminary, Goshen, Indiana. The latter degree was received in 1961. During 1966-67 he studied at the Graduate School of International Affairs at American University, Washington, D.C. Before he became pastor he served for two years as associate executive secretary on the National Service Board for Religious Objectors, Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the ministry in 1957 when he became pastor of the First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ontario. where he served until 1962. He was Executive Secretary of the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section from 1962-66. In 1967 he with his family joined the United States Peace Corps as Program Officer in Nepal. He has served on the Peace Problems Committee, later the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns of Mennonite General Conference. He has written curriculum for Uniform Sunday School Lessons and articles for various publications in the areas of peace and social concern.” 2

Introduction

Have you ever called anyone an extremist? Or have you thought that someone was one? What did you mean? Likely you meant that he had certain ideas, patterns of thought, styles of expressing and discussing ideas, or actions which you considered to be unreasonable or irresponsible.

But that’s your judgment. He may think the same of your ideas and the way you support and express them. Extremism is thus not a very useful term. It is vague and difficult to define precisely. It is relative. One man’s extremism is another man’s moderation. Nevertheless, the term is in common use in our society. The term usually appears in the discussion of political and social policy and programs. In church circles the discussion may be intertwined or overlaid with religious and doctrinal issues.

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Mennonites and politics, for better or worse

Front page of the Gospel Herald Nov. 11, 1920

“We thank God that we are living in a land where the voice of the people is respected without thought of armed opposition. There were exciting times, at places— some “mud-flinging,” bitter disputes, charges and counter-charges, etc.; — but no sooner had the people spoken than there was a general acquiescence in the result. This is something to be encouraged, a condition for which to be thankful.”1

These are the opening words from Daniel Kauffman’s editorial in the November 11, 1920 edition of the Gospel Herald. On November 2, 1920 Warren G. Harding was elected president by a landslide, earning seven million more votes than his opponent James Cox.2 Reading these words a century later, it seems that politics has not changed much (although this election has seemed especially fraught and contentious). The relationship between American Mennonites and politics, however, has greatly shifted in the intervening hundred years. The recent presidential election in the United States has demonstrated the depth of division in political perspectives in our country. The 1920 election emphasized a different divide for Mennonites–that between the church and the world. 

The relationship of Mennonites and politics has a complex and nuanced history, but it is fair to say that historically Mennonites have eschewed politics, seeking to be “in the world, but not of the world”, a calling rooted in New Testament verses including John 15:19, John 17:14-16, and 1 John 2:15.  John Redekop states in his article “Politics” on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) that, “Concerning politics, the traditional Mennonite stance, despite some deviation and exceptions, may be described as separationist or apolitical.” But after discussing major shifts in attitude during the twentieth century, he concludes at the end of the article that, “the spiritual descendants of Menno are well on the way to becoming part of the general political establishment. Increasingly, in these free and prosperous lands, as they move up the socioeconomic scale, Mennonites are learning, for better or worse, to take political activism seriously.”3

Despite the difficult experiences of many Mennonite COs and the hardships of World War I, the 1920 presidential election seems to have been observed with detachment by many Mennonites. Daniel Kauffman, Gospel Herald editor, exhorts his readers to, “be equally zealous in their support of the cause of Christ and the Church” as the cause of a political candidate or ideal.  He writes that, “In comparing issues, the most striking issues of the recent campaign were as nothing compared with the great issue of salvation.”4 A recurrent theme in the article is that to put stock in the world is to rely on things that are temporary, transient, and tenuous, but to place one’s allegiance in God is to ensure eternal salvation. 

The intervening century has brought enormous change and challenge, and at each turn Mennonites–particularly those in MCUSA and other similarly progressive bodies–have taken steps toward engagement with the world and with politics. In this recent election many Mennonites in good standing with their church campaigned for, voted for, or donated money to candidates and causes they believed in. To abstain from politics in our current political climate smacks of privilege; an acknowledgement that because of your race, religion, or socioeconomic status the success of either political party would have little to no impact on your life. 

 It is tempting to put our faith in civic action and political candidates, hoping that if only we could elect the right people they would promote peace and justice in our country. But Mennonites will never be fully in step with American politics, and American politics will never fully support Mennonite ideals. The national support for the military, focus on unlimited economic growth and consumerism, and the American myth of rugged individualism all run counter to core Anabaptist values of pacifism, economic and ecological stewardship, and community.   

We have come too far as a nation and a church to return to the 1920 stance of detached observation, but we should remember that to become too comfortable in the world is to lose sight of our unique perspective as Anabaptist Christians. Perhaps it need not be the either/or dichotomy put forth by Daniel Kauffman in his 1920 editorial–in the last one hundred years many Mennonites found ways to genuinely engage the political world without sacrificing their faith.  But when the election cycle has run its course, we shouldn’t forget that politics is just one avenue for change.

Daniel Kauffman wrote that “The essential difference between the Christian and the worldling- The first makes spiritual matters his first concern, counting the things of this world secondary. The second counts the things of this world first, making spiritual matters secondary.”5 We must continue to push for peace and justice in every aspect of our lives and remember that we are driven not by the highs of political victory but by humbly following Christ in daily life.


1. Daniel Kauffman, “Editorial,” Gospel Herald 13, no. 33 (11-11-1920): 641.

2. Eugene P. Trani, “Warren G. Harding: Campaigns and Elections,” U.S. Presidents, Warren Harding, University of Virginia Miller Center, 2019, accessed 09 Nov. 2020, https://millercenter.org/president/harding/campaigns-and-elections.

3. John H. Redekop, “Politics.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Accessed 05 Nov. 2020, https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Politics&oldid=167135

4. Daniel Kauffman, “Editorial,” Gospel Herald 13, no. 33 (11-11-1920): 641.

5. Daniel Kauffman, “Editorial,” Gospel Herald 13, no. 33 (11-11-1920): 641.