Mennonites, the Gospel Herald, and the 1964 Presidential Election

Alec Loganbill

In early November of 2020, Mennonite Church USA asked pastors from across the country to share how their congregations engaged in community action during the 2020 Presidential Election. Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship in New York City hosted open mediations for peace before and after the election. Raleigh Mennonite Church in North Carolina focused efforts on “fair elections, poll watching, and get-out-the-vote efforts.” Joel Miller, the lead pastor at Columbus Mennonite Church in Ohio, served as a peacekeeper at the polls, ready to prevent, de-escalate, and reduce the violence that many feared would occur on election day. These leaders’ responses, published in Anabaptist World, described nine congregations that unabashedly valued political action inspired by their faith. In our unavoidably politicized world, it seems that the driving question for these and many other Mennonites is how does our faith lead us to participate in politics? Even in the very questions MC USA posed to their pastors (How are people in your congregation preparing to engage in community action?”), political participation was assumed. This assumption, however, was once a highly contested issue among Mennonites. The driving question that preceded our current query was at once more simple and more complex: does our faith lead us to participate in politics? This question came under severe scrutiny and reconsideration during the 1950s and early 1960s, as an emergent theological paradigm and the social and moral imperatives brought to bear by the Civil Rights Movement worked in tandem to forge among Mennonites a social conscience with critical political underpinnings. The arduous working-out of this nascent political identity was on full display during the 1964 Presidential Election.1

In the fall of 1964, The Gospel Herald, the denominational organ of the “Old” Mennonite Church, published an unprecedented degree of political coverage in the weeks leading up to the presidential election between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Republican challenger Barry Goldwater. The dozens of editorials, letters to the editor, discussion pieces, and official statements printed that fall revealed a complex religious and political milieu. In new and public ways, a Mennonite’s politics became a religious issue, and one’s spirituality became a political issue. Because political participation was still far from the modus operandi, Mennonites simultaneously debated the very practice of voting and, for those who would vote, the candidates’ merits. On all sides of these debates, Mennonite leaders and laity articulated religious and political arguments in their favor.

These divisions wrought by the 1964 Election were thrown into sharp relief that June when J. Lawrence Burkholder, a leading advocate of social responsibility in the “Old” Mennonite Church, suggested that the Committee on Economic and Social Relations (CESR) and the Peace Problems Committee (PPC) take a public stance on Barry Goldwater, a highly divisive Presidential hopeful closing in on the Republican nomination. Gravely concerned with Goldwater’s international and domestic policies, Burkholder suggested that a statement be published “help the Mennonites to form enlightened attitudes regarding Goldwater.” Such “enlightened attitudes,” Burkholder suggested, would reflect his view that Goldwater posed a serious “threat to the peace of the world.” Many of Burkholder’s and others’ arguments against Goldwater were founded in the Arizona Senator’s civil rights stance. His vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was ambiguous at best and deeply racist at worst. Many Mennonites were equally troubled by Goldwater’s foreign policy, shaped willingness to use nuclear weapons and his criticism and rejection of the United Nations. Burkholder certainly recognized the risk in making such an overtly partisan political statement but believed that speaking out in an official church capacity was in order. As he saw it, the differences of conscience between Goldwater and the Mennonite Church were stark enough to avoid significant controversy. Moreover, he thought such an opportunity could be used to “help our people to think politically on one of the clearest issues in many years.”2

J. Lawrence Burkholder and his wife, Harriet, 1971

There was some precedent for a church committee to speak on political concerns during a national election. In the presidential election of 1960, the Peace Problems Committee made an official statement advising “old” Mennonites not to give in to or become involved in the anti-Catholic propaganda aimed at the Kennedy campaign. Motivated and justified by the religiosity of the issue, the PPC urged its members as “peace-loving nonresistant Christians” to “hold aloof from all such lower-level proceedings,” such as being swayed by or participating in the campaigns of misinformation and lies, as well as any general “electioneering,” all of which violated official church doctrine. Voting, however, was another issue. Because the church did not “forbid voting” as they did “electioneering,” the PPC left the matter up to the individual, only advising that one’s conscience not be swayed by “the current political pressures.” The committee members who faced Burkholder’s challenge in 1964 were reminded of their previous work but were undoubtedly aware of the difference between the explicitly religious problem of 1960 and the partisan declaration that Burkholder was suggesting. Moreover, as Hershberger reminded his fellow committee members, the PPC did not take a position for or against either candidate in 1960.3

Among members of the CESR and PPC, Burkholder’s proposal was met with mixed support. On the one hand, many “Old” Mennonite leaders shared Burkholder’s personal fear of the political dangers of a President Goldwater. Carl Kreider, for example, wrote that Goldwater’s “election would be a disaster to American foreign policy as well as to our domestic program.” Clearly, these Mennonites had been following the election and held developed opinions about the candidates and what they would do for the country. Writing the week after the Republican National Convention, John E. Lapp, who was still in disbelief about Goldwater’s nomination, feared “war, militaristic tactics in the race question, and break with Russia” would be all but certain under a Goldwater administration. On the other hand, however, most members were hesitant to go so far as to publish an official statement supporting or rejecting a specific political party or candidate. Opening this epistolary conversation which would play out over the summer, Guy F. Hershberger suggested that they ought not to consider the reactions of church members, but rather “whether in taking such a step we would be true to our obligation to give a true Christian witness.”4

Lay perception, however, dominated much of the discussion. Conservative Mennonites, whether theologically or politically so, were the primary concern of committee members. These leaders worried that an expression of support for Johnson or the Democratic Party would upset the laity, either because they supported the Democratic candidate or because they entered political discourse in the first place. The vital question of does our faith lead us to participate in politics? was an undercurrent of the conversation, explicitly shaped by the institutional nature of Burkholder’s proposal. Orie O. Miller summarized the concern of many of his moderate colleagues, writing that such a statement would “be entering into territory for which we have no mandate and probably no clear church position as a point of reference.” Without direction and blessing from the MC General Conference for such a political move, no matter how vague or issues-focused a committee statement might be, it was inadvisable. On the other hand, several members agreed with Burkholder that the positions that the MC General Conference had taken on race relations and nuclear warfare—which opposed to Goldwater platform clearly enough—was a sufficient mandate to warrant a statement, especially if it remained on the issues, not the candidates.5 Moderate members proposed a compromise that was eventually adopted, suggesting that instead of these church committees articulating an official position in a formal statement, several members submit a message to the Gospel Herald as individuals.

However, the views of Republican Mennonites received far more attention than those of religiously conservative, non-voting members.Lapp, who gave full-throated support for a statement detailing the moral and political dangers Goldwater posed, was optimistic about the political views of the laity: “Now the conservative elements of the church may be inclined to vote for Goldwater, simply because he is a Republican candidate, but I can’t for the life of me see how any nonresistant Christian could support the man.” On the other hand, Paul Landis and others predicted that any move against Goldwater’s platform would be “interpreted as an attack against [his] personality” and “a position in favor of the Democratic Party.” This sort of overt political statement, Landis feared, would lead many “old” Mennonites to lose confidence in the committee and the church. Many leaders’ desire to make a political statement on the election was itself contradictory: they were deeply concerned about the prospect of a Goldwater White House, but while they were aware of the Republican leanings of many “old” Mennonites, few wanted to upset their partisan constituency.

The resultant statement, “Moral Issues in the Election of 1964,” which appeared in the Gospel Herald on September 22, reflected the moderate consensus. The three authors—Lapp, Chairman of the PPC, Hernley, Chairman of the CESR, and Hershberger, Secretary of both committees—made no mention of Johnson or Goldwater or the Democratic or Republican parties in explicit terms, but rather “the candidates” and “the coming election.” In line with official church doctrine, these leaders left the questions of voting and political participationup to the individual and chose to focus entirely on issues of the election and Christian conscience: “The present statement is not to say that members of the brotherhood should vote in the election of 1964. It is to voice the conviction, however, that Christians who do vote must, in making their choice, endeavor to find those issues which are most important from the viewpoint of Christian morals, and to discover which candidates are most responsive to the claim of Christ and His righteousness.” This choice, in the eyes of the authors, was clear enough, considering that the issues of civil rights and nuclear warfare deserved “most serious consideration,” briefly citing previous church action on these issues. Far from the explicitly partisan statement Burkholder wanted, these issue-based suggestions for voting Mennonites reflected the MC leadership’s political limits.6

“Moral Issues in the Election of 1964,” Gospel Herald, September 22, 1964

However carefully Hershberger and the other authors may have tread, readers had no trouble “read[ing] between the lines,” as one Elkhart Mennonite opined. “It seems the Peace Problems Committee might just as well have come out in the open, and endorsed the one party.” Bill Sauder penned an even more blunt criticism and missed (or ignored) the nuance entirely: “I find distressing the committee’s statement. . . in which they advise Mennonite church members to vote for the Johnson-Humphrey presidential ticket if they vote at all.”In the weeks between the publication of “Moral Issues in the Election of 1964” on September 22 and Election Day on November 3, fourteen Mennonites (a remarkably large number of respondents to a single topic) wrote to the Gospel Herald to weigh in, expressing everything from extreme gratitude and support to dismay and harsh opposition. 7

Facing this gambit of responses, John M. Drescher, editor of the Gospel Herald, grappled with how to present these issues to the Mennonite community. In a private letter to Guy F. Hershberger the week after “Moral Issues” was published, Drescher wrestled with the paradox of neutrality created in this contested theological and political space. Politically, some urged him to remain neutral and give equal coverage of all political and theological positions. In contrast, others demanded that he publicize whom he is supporting in the current election. On the theological axis, Drescher faced pressure to stay entirely out of politics by some and wholeheartedly enter into the political fray by others. These pressures, Drescher lamented, had been “heavy and hard” from all sides during this particular election season. Privately, while Drescher watched the political proceedings with great interest, he felt “that every election is basically the same” and was not particularly excited about either ticket. However, as the editor of the denominational organ, he strove to avoid partisanship and only discuss political issues when clearly “in the light of Scripture.”8

Even this distinction, though, was a bridge too far for several readers, who wrote in lamenting the publication of politically-focused material: “I would much rather read my political speeches in a public newspaper than to read it in what is supposed to be a church paper covering the religious aspects instead of the political.” Wilbur M. Wyse strongly advocated for an entirely non-political Gospel Herald, but he nevertheless held his own strong political opinions: “The thing that alarms me most is that so many of our Mennonite professors from our church colleges lean so strongly toward the Socialistic Party, or the Democratic Party, if you want to call it thus. . . .” (ellipsis in original). Indeed, most of the condemnation of Drescher’s handling of the organ came from political conservatives who desired more balanced coverage of the candidates and the issues. Concerning church involvement in politics, theological conservatism went hand in hand with political conservatism, while theologically liberal Mennonites (that is, those who advocated political action within the church) represented all angles of the political spectrum. It stands to reason, however, that those most likely to comment at length on the political issues covered in the Gospel Herald would be the most politically informed, while the non-participatory Mennonites would remain quiescent.9

Several weeks after the publication of “Moral Issues in the Election of 1964” and amid the ongoing debate in “Our Readers Say,” the Gospel Herald ran Paul Peachey’s “Faith, Fear, and the 1964 Elections.” Peachey, Secretary of the Church Peace Mission in Washington, D.C., and a former professor of sociology and church history at Eastern Mennonite College, took aim at the Goldwater platform but did so from an entirely different position than those that preceded him. In Peachey’s view, the rise of “New Republican Radicals,” led by Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and the Minutemen, was a reactionary movement to the “shattering” of the illusion of religiously-founded American exceptionalism brought on by the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. “The notion that America was. . . endowed with a kind of redemptive mission in the world, was clearly a distortion of the “chosen people” theme of the Bible,” from which Americans have incorrectly and dangerously viewed their “wars as righteous and holy.” His main concern was with this emergent radical faction that was gaining a strong influence over the traditional political left. Goldwater, Peachey argued, “posed a real peril to Christian faith.” Standing “firm in faith, [and] in witness and obedience in the face of communist evils” is one thing, he wrote, but it another thing entirely to follow Goldwater and “shoot the men who we think are disobeying God.” Thus, Peachey’s aim was not to condemn “the Republican party as such,” nor to endorse “the Democratic platform,” but rather to warn his fellow Mennonites of the dangers of Goldwater and “the Republican platform of 1964,” for its dangerous “idolatrous nationalism which seeks to play God among the nations of the world.” With this line of argumentation, he further blurred the distinction between the political, the religious, and the relationship between the two in the pages of the Gospel Herald.

Upon entering this discourse, Peachey received several statements of support in “Our Readers Say,” but also drew the same criticisms that Hershberger and his colleagues did: he was too partisan and too political in the public space of the Gospel Herald. Curiously, however, the center of the conversation remained centered around “Moral Issues” and seemed somewhat unaffected by Peachey’s bold article. Perhaps the most striking reaction to Peachey’s article came from Isaac Hershey, Jr.: “If Bro. Peachey is truly an alien here, he will not vote and aliens should not criticize the government under which he has permission to live. . . I count it a privilege to vote for Mr. Goldwater.”10

The final full-length article to address the presidential race appeared in the Gospel Herald on November 3, election day, and was written by none other than J. Lawrence Burkholder. Occasioned by a summer of political discussions in his home church, the Mennonite Church of Boston, and perhaps displeased with the direction the CESR and PPC took his suggestion that June, “A Congregational Discussion of Political Decisions” laid out the views of Burkholder and his fellow Boston Mennonites on the church’s responsibility in American politics and society. After prayerful study of the Bible, sermons, and campaign issues, these Mennonites agreed that political issues are indeed the church’s concern. As such, congregations and individuals should discuss the positions and qualifications of specific parties and candidates. They agreed with the reasoning of Hershberger, Hernley, and Landis, that the church should help its members face political issues and decisions “in the light of the Christian faith,” but pushed even further: “Moreover, when the church, through corporate effort, has reached a consensus on a political matter, it cannot remain silent, but must give witness to its decisions.” While they noted “the civil rights problem” and America’s global “responsibility” as the two most important political issues that confronted Christians, Burkholder made no mention of Goldwater or the Republican Party as he was so keen to do that summer. Published on election day, however, this cry for political discourse and participation in the life of the church took a forward-looking position that stressed the constant importance of political witness.

Alongside this statement from Boston Mennonites, Drescher gave considerable attention to lay voices in the November 3 issue, publishing ten politically-oriented letters in the “Our Readers Say” column. Here, as in previous publications, ordinary Mennonites issued their support or condemnation for “Moral Issues” and “Faith, Fear, and the 1964 Election” on theological and political grounds. In nearly every instance, readers demonstrated that they were acutely aware of the political issues at play and had formed developed personal opinions. Moreover, many folks grounded their political stance in their conception of Christian morality. In other words, they had done—and had been doing—what Hershberger and his colleagues were calling them to do. Ironically, and much to these leaders’ chagrin, most of these laypeople supported Goldwater and thus chastised “Moral Issues” whole cloth for its thinly-veiled liberalism.

Perhaps most demonstrative of this pattern is Maurice W. Landis. This Lancaster Mennonite expressed his gratitude to the authors of the September 22 article, complimenting them on “rightly alert[ing] us to the fact that there are unprecedented moral issues in the 1964 election.” Deftly, however, he flipped the statement on its head and wrote an extensive analysis of political issues in light of Christian morals that led to the support of Senator Goldwater’s conservative platform. He implored readers to evaluate each candidate on the moral issues that Hershberger’s statement failed to address, including where the candidates stood on “compromising with the enemies of God” and recognizing God and permitting the Bible to be read in schools,” as well as supporting “free enterprise as taught in the Bible.” Landis demonstrated his keen interest in the nuances of domestic and foreign politics and articulated them in terms of his own view of Christian morality. He was not alone in his views either; several other faith-conscious and politically-conscious Mennonites wrote in voicing their economic concerns and the importance of school prayer. Joni D. Yoder went so far as to say that “as far as a moral issue is concerned and as far as putting souls at stake, such things as the Supreme Court ruling against prayer in public schools. . . far outweigh[s] an issue of fear of nuclear weapons.” The efforts of Landis and his right-leaning brothers and sisters to sway fellow Mennonite voters underscores the fact that political participation based on Christian morality was not entirely a liberal movement, but a pattern that emerged on both sides of the political spectrum during this era. Moreover, the “old” Mennonite leaders’ decision to counsel their members on moral issues rather than specific candidates and parties opened the door for their original intent to be turned against them. As we have seen, though, this was a double-edged sword; their moderate position and vague language were still too radical for many conservatives.11

After the Johnson victory on election day, political discourse in the Gospel Herald fell silent. As the dust settled from these debates about the role of the church in political participation and discourse, it appeared that few minds had been changed. In one sense, the leaders and laity of the “old” Mennonite Church were still working through the thorny question of does our faith lead us to participate in politics? As the Gospel Herald‘s active readership demonstrated, however, the new issue of how faith directed political opinion and participation had emerged as an intricate and divisive issue for the church and its members. The fact that these two questions were inextricably linked and progressing at different speeds and in different directions throughout church adds to the layered complexity of this election-season eruption. Although these issues were in no way resolved, the fall issues of the Gospel Herald powerfully demonstrated that the age of public quietism was waning and that political discourse and participation was very much alive among Mennonites.

1. Mennonite Church USA, “MC USA Congregations Prepare for Bold Peacemaking Amid Election,” Anabaptist World, November 2, 2020, For the theological, social, and political changes during the middle decades of the twentieth century and the specific impact of the Civil Rights Movement, see Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994); Tobin Miller Shearer, Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

2. J. Lawrence Burkholder to Guy F. Hershberger, June 22, 1964, Guy F. Hershberger Collection, 1896-1989, MS 1-171, b. 21, f. 20, Mennonite Historical Library. The entire committee correspondence regarding Burkholder’s proposal is in this folder, hereafter referred to as GFH.

3. Peace Problems Committee, “A Statement by the Peace Problems Committee Concerning Involvement in the Religious Issue of the Current Presidential Election Campaign,” Gospel Herald, October 11, 1960, 890.

4. Carl Kreider to Guy F. Hershberger, August 12, 1964, GFH; John E. Lapp to Guy F. Hershberger, July 23, 1964, GFH; Guy F. Hershberger to Members of the Committee on Economic and Social Relations, July 10, 1964, GFH.

5. Orie O. Miller to Guy F. Hershberger, July 27, 1964, GFH. Some members of the CESR and PPC found precedent in the communications sent from the “old” Mennonite General Conference to President Kennedy, enough so to cite them in the statement they produced: John E. Lapp, H. Ralph Hernley, and Guy F. Hershberger, “Moral Issues in the Election of 1964,” Gospel Herald, September 22, 1964, 826. For a copy of the telegram commending Kennedy for signing the nuclear test ban treaty and expressing the church’s support of the administration’s position on civil rights and racial justice, see Arnold Cressman, “General Conference Meets at Kalona,” Gospel Herald, September 3, 1963, 787. Also, see Mennonite General Conference, “The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations” (Hesston, KS: Mennonite General Conference, 1955).

6. Lapp, Hernley, and Hershberger, “Moral Issues in the Election of 1964,” 826.

7. Harold S. Alexander, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, October 27, 1964, 942; Bill Sauder, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, November 3, 1964, 965.

8. John M. Drescher to Guy F. Hershberger, September 29, 1964, Guy F. Hershberger Collection, 1896-1989, MS 1-171, b. 21, f. 21, Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen, IN.

9. Wilbur M. Wyse, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, November 3, 1964, 965.

10. Isaac Hershey, Jr., “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, November 3, 1964, 965. For other reactions to “Faith, Fear, and the 1964 Election, see Wyse; Allan Eitzen, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, November 3, 1964, 965.

11. Maurice W. Landis, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, November 3, 1964, 966; Joni D. Yoder, “Our Readers Say,” Gospel Herald, October 6, 1964, 860.

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.


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,

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,

3 WhatTheNed, Twitter Post, May 29, 2020,

4 Adrienne Dunn, “Fact check: Images of witches, ‘Amish’ supposedly at Floyd protest are out of context,” USA Today, 19 June 2020,

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,

6 Britt Carlson, “At the Portland protests, I’m afraid the bread won’t rise,” Baptist News Global, 21 July 2020,

7 Ted Roelofs, “Michigan’s Amish seem to love Trump. But voting is another matter,” Bridge Michigan, 30 October 2020,; Tim Huber, “Ohio Amish Show Trump Support,” Anabaptist World, 2 October 2020

8 Gillian McGoldrick, “Was 2020 a breakout year for Amish voters? Here’s what the numbers show,” Lancaster Online, 30 November 2020,

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


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,

3. John H. Redekop, “Politics.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Accessed 05 Nov. 2020,

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.