By Eric Schnitger, Fuller Theological Seminary
Over the last century, Mennonite participation in the economic life of the United States has changed drastically. These changes have occurred not in isolation but coupled with at least two other cultural and theological changes. The first has been a change in the self-identify of Mennonites who reside the United States, which Philipp Gollner has dubbed the change from ethnic Mennonites to white Mennonites. This shift entails seeing themselves not as their own ethnic grouping separate from the larger culture, but as a nonresistant Christian subset of the dominant white culture of the United States. Gollner writes, “Mennonite activists had learned to conform to what sociologist Steven Goldschmidt has called ‘the first commandment of American multiculturalism’ — namely, ‘thou shalt define thyself in terms we understand’ by resolving the paradox of being racially white while also being ‘nobodies’ without the power to shape culture, transcend tribalisms, and serve and improve the world that other white Protestants enjoyed.” Part of the meaning of this whiteness is a change in social strategy for the ills of the world. Gollner continues, “it is precisely the zeal to prove oneself as capable of fixing the problem, as redeemingly superior to those guilty of passivism, that the histories of white Christian progressivism and white supremacism are indeed historically intertwined.” This is a foreign social strategy to the historical Anabaptist theological options.
This paper was a finalist in the Intersect Project Ph.D. Student Challenge Symposium. The symposium facilitated broader discussion in the church and academy about the intersection of faith, work and economics.