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Monday, May 22, 2017

Mennonite Subculture

The dictionary definition for subculture is "a cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture." It's no secret that Mennonites and Amish are a subculture in North America, and even more so if they are conservative Mennonites or Old Order Amish who restrict their involvement in the larger culture. 
Since the beginning of the Anabaptist church in 1525, Mennonites have held beliefs which are counter to the larger culture and suffered much persecution as a result. Their distinctive doctrinal beliefs included believer's baptism, non-swearing of oaths, nonresistance, and the two kingdom concept separating church and state. They believed the Sermon on the Mount defined Christian living and was to be put into practice in everyday life. These things separated them from the larger culture in many areas from baptism to distinctive dress.
The larger culture is fascinated with conservative Mennonites and Amish. Tourists flock to see the Amish or read (terribly unrealistic) Amish novels. They admire the distinctive way of life but do not want to live that way themselves. 
While the lines of demarcation have moved as many Mennonites grew increasingly assimilated to the larger culture in the past 100 years, there are still some things any Mennonite will understand without explanation. An example of this happened on Saturday.
I was at a history conference at Lancaster. The keynote speaker was talking about the 1717 immigrants who settled in Lancaster County. The first settlers in that part of Pennsylvania were Mennonites who had arrived in 1710. Word was carried back to Europe that this was a desirable place to live. Three boat loads of Mennonites arrived in 1717 and settled in a circle around the 1710 cluster of settlers. After being there for seven years, they were established well enough to assist the new arrivals until their own log cabins were erected. The speaker said, "So they Mennonited their way," and everyone laughed. The lady who was sitting beside me didn't get it. She leaned over and asked,"What does that mean?" I told her it means they stayed with friends where it was free. See what I mean? We even have our own jokes that the "outsiders" do not understand. Or, as my mother used to say, "It takes one to know one."
In one of the workshops at the conference, I was seated beside a different lady. Something was said about a certain surname and this lady leaned over and said "the actress ______" was in that line. I had no clue who that actress was and don't remember the name. I just said, "I wouldn't know." I suppose she knew by the way I dress that I don't watch movies because she said, "Oh! I guess not." 
Those of us who grew up in conservative Mennonite homes don't find our way of life strange at all. We are comfortable with the way we live and not wishing to have the things the larger culture thinks are a normal part of life. The same is true for the Amish. Their way of life is strange and their reasoning does not always make sense to the larger culture. But they grew up that way and are comfortable with their way of life. 
I think the Mennonite subculture today is still based on the belief that the Sermon on the Mount is to be translated into every day living. Jesus teachings, including those on loving your enemies and returning good for evil, are to be practiced literally. That  runs counter to the dog-eat-dog mentality of the larger culture in which we live. As long as we live by those rules we will continue to be a subculture. I wouldn't want to be any other way.

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