There is a poster from the 1975 Festival Players Presents that has been on my mind lately. The poster commemorates the 450th anniversary of Anabaptism. The poster comes as a removable full spread insert in the magazine, designed to be handed out for theater-goers in Lancaster.
There is a church in the background, with buggies pulled in front—slightly out of focus. In the foreground, a hand pump stands out. At the bottom, the legend stands out: “He who has no people has no God.”
My first reaction was “but of course.” I am Mennonite by ethnicity and conviction. My home in Lancaster is within five miles of two homesteads my Mohler ancestors moved into when they immigrated. The Mohler family church is not any farther. I have also come out of 22 years in a Mennonite home, 17 years of Mennonite schooling, and six years of membership in a Mennonite church, with a strong desire to live out the values of my faith: discipleship, nonviolence, and community.
My personal identity, my view of my history, and my faith tradition are all integrally tied together. The claim, “He who has no people has no God,” makes intuitive sense.
But then I start to worry. And I start to reflect.
This view, which I find so easy to accept, is also deeply exclusive. It is ever so hard to join a new people—it is almost impossible. After years, one can become familiar with songs, food, and rituals and take them up. Names can be changed to disguise outside origins. But I know that this is never enough to feel at home.
As I have conducted my history research this semester, I have seen a constant litany played out across Mennonite church publications. A litany of people who have been attracted to the Mennonite faith by the same values I hold, who want to belong but do not feel welcomed.
This is not how the Church should be. The Mennonite people are not the people of God, no matter what we would like to tell ourselves. If we want to find God, we must be willing to let go a little, but not of our values which come from the Gospel.
We can still do the things we enjoy and relish, but we need to let go a little so that we are open to what others bring. This acceptance is an important step moving towards God’s inbreaking kingdom.
Co-Editor in Chief
Joel recognizes he does not address the gender exclusionary language, nor blatant discrimation by church against broad swaths of the world’s population.