The holy paradox of modern Mennonite identity

January 11, 2023 | Editorial | Volume 27 Issue 1
Will Braun | Editor
Mennonite demographics have shifted greatly over the centuries. Perceptions need to follow. (Design: Betty Avery)

I grew up happily embedded in white Mennonite culture in rural Manitoba. Our family regularly travelled to Winnipeg and on the edge of the city we would pass a Chinese Mennonite church. I never visited, heard about, read about or asked about that church. I just saw that sign and wondered vaguely how we all fit together.

How did the subculture so familiar to me fit within the broader, diverse, often distant Anabaptist reality?

Even now, though I know most Mennonites are not white, and though many of the most compelling Mennonites I’ve met are from the Global South, on some level German-Russian Mennonites still feel like the most real Mennonites to me.

In the feature on page 4, Joon Park—the Korean-Canadian co-pastor of a Mennonite church in Edmonton that combines Liberian-Canadians and Euro-Canadians—offers a forceful challenge to do the work necessary to become a truly intercultural family of God.

Does this challenge feel like a threat to those of us who are white Mennonites? Does it mean we need to recant our identity, discard our cookbooks and sink into guilt?

What exactly is the work of intercultural integration and what exactly is the goal?

In my observation, the white folks who have the most authentic cross-cultural relationships are people who bring a lot of themselves. They listen and learn with sensitivity while also bringing their own stories, songs, jokes and ideas. They are rooted, humble, lively and not afraid of difference.

Stated another way, they don’t act like guilty white liberals apologizing for their existence.

White people are responsible for tremendous harm, past and present. Colonization, racism and imperialism stain whiteness a deep red. Those sins must be interrogated, denounced, addressed and redressed.

Yet, God made white people and God made them good. We are all imperfect children of God. And surely it is in this divine embrace that we encounter one another deeply.

Intercultural integration requires Euro-Canadian Mennonites to give up certain things: control of decision-making procedures, committee composition, the order of worship, budgets, magazine content, etc. (Fortunately such letting go is good for the soul.) At the same time, there is much in our heritage and teachings worth sharing: non-violence, simplicity, counter-cultural impulses, rollkuaken, harmony, etc.

Our work is to be grounded in the best of that, not to negate ourselves. It’s a paradox. We can own the worst and best of our heritage. By holding tightly to our identity, we can be more open. As Park notes, the grain of wheat that dies, bears fruit.

An analogy: I would not want to show up to a cross-cultural potluck empty handed, offering only an apologetic colonial deconstruction of Mennonite food (which could be done). I would want to show up with a caringly prepared family favourite, as well as an eagerness to partake of the offerings of others.

What then is the intercultural goal to which Park, and others, point? As I have learned, the goal is not diversity for its own sake. It’s not just noodles and numbers. It’s not just eating food from other cultures—though that can be profound—and focusing only on numbers of non-white people in pews and on committees. The goal is collective spiritual vitality—a more complete realization of the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

We’re hiring an Eastern Canada Correspondent. This will be a 0.2-0.4FTE position based in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Apply yourself or tap someone on the shoulder. Applications are due by February 10. For details, see

Senior Writer
Aaron Epp, who has worked as full-time online media manager, will shift his focus partially in order to devote two days per week to serve as senior writer. Aaron brings skill, curiosity and commitment to the church. 

Will Braun welcomes feedback at

Read more editorials:
Tuning out of Advent
2,000 years later in Bethlehem . . .
My prayer
3 lessons from a bumpy Sunday

Mennonite demographics have shifted greatly over the centuries. Perceptions need to follow. (Design: Betty Avery)

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