The writer Malcolm Gladwell is hardly naïve about Mennonites. In Kitchener, Ont., I once gave a sermon with him in the congregation. He is well positioned to comment on how Mennonites treat outsiders, as his family moved to a Mennonite community from outside.
Gladwell says Mennonites have a “low power distance” culture that avoids the aggressive pursuit of status markers. Tim Nafziger observes (see page 33, “Of quilts and power”) that Mennonites do have status markers. I agree with Nafziger that it would be better if people abandoned the aggressive pursuit of status markers.
However, claiming a culture and a religious inheritance does not necessarily mean we are arrogant and intolerant. Christianity has always been about beliefs transmitted through cultural practices. You can’t just remove them and find a pure core. My faith story is rooted in the Russian Mennonite experience, with its food, language and history. These aren’t accidental add-ons. They are how the faith was made known to me. My faith was enriched by and entwined with them.
The problem with cultural markers isn’t that they exist. It is when we forget they are constantly changing. I have a rich cultural and faith inheritance. The next generation will have a different one. My church has adopted a statement of inclusion, which is printed in the bulletin every Sunday, and we have placed rainbow stickers on the building. Young people have told me they would not consider attending a church without such a statement. This has become a new status marker.
The joy of newcomers isn’t that they discover pure Christian ideals. It is that while they stumble into our cultural practices, we stumble into theirs, and we both grow and adapt. This doesn’t always go well, but that’s the challenge of living in community.
Ramon Rempel, Winnipeg, Man.
Gladwell did not dig very deeply into the local Mennonite community, or else he missed our Old Order community. Or, perhaps, it takes one (as I am) to see the levels of power that do exist, such as: being the person who made the top-selling quilt at the Mennonite Central Committee auction; owning the largest house or barn; bidding the highest price for a farm; being born into the right family of European Mennonite descent; being the right kind of Mennonite. We may pride ourselves on the fuel-efficient and modest vehicle we drive or on the old harness we use on our horses. False humility isn’t really humility.
Osiah Horst, Cobden, Ont.