My father taught me, and his father taught him, that an editorial is not a personal column. Traditionally, it is not even signed; the reader isn’t supposed to know who wrote it. It is the voice of the newspaper, not an individual.
But this time I’m breaking the rules. This is the voice of me.
Even when MWR ran unsigned editorials (until 1986), readers probably knew it was H.P. Krehbiel and then Menno Schrag and then Robert M. Schrag who wrote them. But if readers could identify their voices, it wasn’t because they wrote about themselves.
The fact that I and my colleagues have continued to observe the “don’t get personal” rule tells you something about MWR: Tradition matters to us. You don’t have to look any further than the top of the front page, with the MWR name in a Gothic font, to get a whiff of tradition — and the idea that this is a Serious Newspaper.
I’ll miss the Gothic font. I’ll also miss the newspaper format, and I know some of you will, too. One reader emailed, “I love newspapers. They beg one to sit down and read right away.” They’re organized to convey a lot of information quickly, even if all you do is scan the headlines.
But a magazine can do news well too, and Anabaptist World intends to prove it. Think of Time or Newsweek at their best — “newsy” but also “featurey,” with a sense of urgency to report the most important world events and add a depth of perspective beyond what the daily newspapers offer. Anabaptist World will be like that, telling the story of global Anabaptism every three weeks in print and daily online.
For a triweekly periodical, we believe a magazine is the best format. Its higher-quality paper and printing are suited for a longer shelf life than a newspaper’s more disposable product. Publishing 16 issues a year establishes a sustainable business model, settling on an approximate midpoint between MWR’s biweekly schedule and The Mennonite’s monthly.
Since I’m taking the liberty of getting personal, let me say: I’m doing OK. People have asked, and I appreciate their concern. They know the new organization is leaving behind some traditions — the MWR name, the newspaper format — that my father and grandfather upheld since 1925 and that I’ve been a part of for 32 years.
How is it that I am doing OK? For one thing, the staff and board members of Mennonite World Review Inc. and The Mennonite Inc. have been working on the merger for three and a half years, so all of us had a lot of time to get used to the idea. I’ve advocated for the merger since March 2017, when I suggested we consider it (see John Longhurst’s article).
But the most important reason is this: I believe the transition from MWR to Anabaptist World is not a loss to mourn but a rebirth to anticipate.
The Gothic font and newsprint are not the essence of MWR. Its mission, and that of The Mennonite, continues. Anabaptist World will carry forward The Mennonite’s purpose by striving to be the publication that members of Mennonite Church USA can call their own. The new magazine will continue the tradition of MWR by covering MC USA, and every other Mennonite denomination, from an independent point of view that sees all Anabaptists as one family of faith.
The merger is creating what we hope will be a more widely influential Anabaptist flagship publication, with thousands more readers in print and online than either former entity had on its own. We are swimming against the current of a publishing industry in decline, building a brighter future rather than one in which we would struggle to survive in diminished form, as many newspapers and magazines already are doing.
“Inclusive vision” is probably my favorite description of MWR’s guiding principle. “Beacon of unity” is another. Has the vision become reality? Has the beacon led anywhere?
The editors of The Mennonite thought so. In the Feb. 22, 2000, issue, they counted Menno Schrag, MWR editor from 1935 to 1969, among the 20 most influential Mennonites of the 20th century. They suggested that other than Civilian Public Service and Mennonite Central Committee, “nothing has done as much to link U.S. Mennonites of various stripes” than MWR.
Founder H.P. Krehbiel would have been pleased with that assessment. He had hoped to build a sense of Mennonite community, even spiritual oneness. But structural merger? The union of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church required a process of cultural change and building of trust that didn’t emerge until the second half of the 20th century.
MWR supported the MC-GC merger while it was being explored during the 1990s. On March 9, 1995, I wrote: “While MCs and GCs look toward the future, their conference structures look to the past — to differences that for the most part no longer exist. It is time for that to change.”
But MWR’s inclusive vision was spiritual, not structural. Menno Schrag wrote on Feb. 27, 1969: “I have learned that the many groups and divisions in the church are not an unmitigated evil.” He cited conservatives’ “preservation of the biblical principle of nonconformity” and progressives’ “broader application of the gospel.” MWR has respected Mennonite diversity while advocating for progressive causes like women in pastoral ministry.
The company’s managers and MWR editors have made mistakes and at times fallen short of their ideals. Printing Gerald B. Winrod’s Defender in the 1930s and publishing militaristic ads during World War II were low points.
While always antiwar, the editors were not as supportive of the Vietnam-era peace activists as they should have been. Decades later, I was slow to affirm LGBTQ Mennonites, taking a safer stance of calling for tolerance of diversity before clearly expressing support for them as equal members of the body of Christ.
Robert Schrag, editor from 1969 to 1996, once told me he didn’t agree with everything he wrote in the past, and I can say the same thing. Each editor learned and changed, although perhaps not as much as we should have. We can be grateful that Menno Schrag stuck with MWR and worked to expand its reach in the 1940s. Without his commitment, the paper might not have survived, given its limited resources at the time.
I am thankful for each colleague who has made it possible to “put the Mennonite world together,” as the longtime MWR slogan says.
I am thankful for all the readers whose support has sustained this unique enterprise for 100 years. The success of Anabaptist World will depend on you.
Thank you for reading my 936th editorial.
Today we “remember the former things of old” (Isaiah 46:9) and look forward to the new thing we believe God is doing.