This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Heritage, ethnicity are rural communities’ assets

I affirm Ben Goossen’s exploration of Mennonite complicity as agents of colonization (“Legacy of a Mennonite State,” April 11). I have long been mindful of my own ancestors’ roles as agents of colonization on behalf of imperial power, first in Russia and then in America when they came to the Great Plains in the 1870s. As Mennonites, we were not and are not as self-reflective as we must be about our choices in the various sojourns we made — and make in our current rush toward urbanization. We have seen ourselves as victims of the powers that drove us from one place to another and neglected to see the ways we displaced peoples and cultures and were used by the empires for their colonial aims.

However, there often is in these discussions an implicit rejection of our ethnicity in favor of the dominant culture’s values of individualism and tolerance that makes me uneasy. I was the pastor of four rural congregations, each of whom are local agrarian cultures shaped both by their ethnic heritage of faith and the constraints and opportunities of their local environment. These communities are the vehicles through which our faith heritage is transmitted from one generation to the next. They carry the generational wisdom that creates and sustains an enduring and productive agriculture.

I’m keenly aware of the ways ethnocentrism has often characterized these rural communities. However, the answer is not to disparage and abandon rural communities, or to call for their further assimilation into the dominant culture, or to purge ourselves of the cultural traditions of our ethnic heritage. I’m not sure giving up verenika or not playing “the Mennonite game” will do much to atone for our colonial adventurism. The answer instead is to create communities that stand in solidarity with other traditional agrarian cultures against the forces of imperial power that threaten them all. Rural communities achieve this not by abandoning their ethnicity and the faith heritage it bears but by understanding more deeply who they are while also celebrating and respecting the ethnic heritage of all other local cultures and collaborating with them in resisting the depredations of imperial powers.

S. Roy Kaufman
Freeman, S.D.

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