The Dec. 17 editorial, “Two Trends to Watch,” highlighted the was “loss of trust in institutions.” This should be understood as a deeper loss of connection to institutions. There is an epidemic of loneliness, alienation and isolation throughout the world. We live in societies where jobs and opportunity draw us out of established community networks built on common history and kinship. Mennonite institutions are no exception.
Some of this loss of connection has been self-inflicted. The last decades have witnessed Mennonite Church USA engaging in “brand repositioning” (the marketing term). Declining market share as historical Mennonite churches lose membership forces us to bring in “new voices.” Self-identification as Anabaptist is supposed to be the new glue to bind membership in community. This emphasis on “Anabaptist values” has come with a cost to the historical/cultural foundation of the church — namely, ethnic Mennonite history and kinship. “Cradle Mennonite” is a term of disparagement, as is the “Mennonite Game.” Many urban churches suppress Mennonite history and kinship to reach out (market) to those with a non-Mennonite background. We see this in the trend to drop the word Mennonite completely from church institutions or hide it under initials.
In an effort to grow, institutions have downplayed the value of Mennonite ancestry and historical Mennonite communities. They have effectively removed one component of connection to the community.
I say this as a quasi-“cradle Mennonite.” (My mother was Quaker Methodist. My husband is a Syrian Christian from Kerala, India.) The Mennonite tradition has much to offer society, and I hope Mennonite institutions will thrive with a faithful, enduring constituency.
Ruth Anne Abraham