“No space for such people”?

In the last few days I have become aware again that “Mennonites” are a minority in Germany. Hardly anyone knows what Mennonites really believe and how they live, and the diversity that exists among us Mennonites.

A recent WDR news report about dozens of COVID-19 infections at a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Euskirchen was illustrated with an image of American Old Order Mennonites wearing bonnets. Also included were videos about Mennonites in Bolivia and links to the more mainstream AMG German Mennonite denomination. Then a WDR journalist called me at Die Brücke’s editorial office and wanted to contact the Mennonite Brethren in Euskirchen.

I initially followed the reflex to point out that the Mennonite Brethren in Euskirchen do not belong to the AMG denomination (for which I produce Die Brücke magazine and on whose behalf I also publish mennonews.de) — but that falls short.

Yes, I think it would be good and helpful for people to learn a few details before they write anything. It could be so simple if they just don’t mix up Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde (Mennonite Brethren Church) with Mennonitengemeinde (Mennonite Church).

Only a short time later, negative comments and emails arrived at my editorial office because “we Mennonites” have not kept to the rules and “such people” have no business in this country.

I noticed that it is not a question of who exactly the hostility is aimed at — just because I am not MB does not make me immune to the hostility. There were ranting and threats, and we were asked to leave the country. According to an anonymous commentator on Mennonews, there is “no space for such people.”

And that crossed a line for me. I live my faith differently than the Mennonite Brethren in Euskirchen. I might have a different understanding of what being Mennonite means, I might have a different view of the world than these spiritual siblings.

But I want to emphasize that they have every right to live their faith the way they choose after studying the Bible. I exhort them fraternally to follow rules and mandates intended to curb this pandemic, but above all I wish them wisdom in dealing with the pandemic and the press, and I wish them health and God’s blessings.

I am grateful we have religious freedom in Germany today. I want to protect these freedoms and show solidarity with those who get pointed out. Mennonites have long been “silent in the land.” Let’s be loud when the freedoms of others are attacked!

Benji Wiebe is editor of Die Brücke, the magazine of Associated Mennonite Churches in Germany (AMG), and Mennonews.de.

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