Because the Mennonite faith is so uncommon throughout the world, it’s even less common to hear about those who have chosen to leave the denomination.
But what is an ex-Mennonite, exactly? What does it mean when someone call themselves an “ex-Mennonite?” Most importantly, why do ex-Mennonites choose to leave in the first place?
I can only speak from my personal experience as an ex-Mennonite myself. But here are some of the answers.
1. What Is an Ex-Mennonite?
In the simplest terms, an ex-Mennonite is someone who was Mennonite at one point and is no longer.
Being an ex-Mennonite may be a pivotal point of that person’s identity, or it may be something that they rarely — if ever — consider about themselves.
Just like you have people who convert from different faiths or leave them completely, it’s also possible for a Mennonite to leave their church, denomination, or the entirety of Christianity.
Because the Mennonite faith is de-centralized — meaning there’s no “pope” of Mennonites and no “Vatican City” that they call home — there’s no official exit process or repercussions for leaving the faith.
Or at least there aren’t any repercussions that are recognized in the worldwide community.
Instead, repercussions are based on the context of your local community. That could run the gamut from kind-hearted uncaring to hard-hearted shunning.
It’s also important to note that “ex-Mennonite” can mean different things to different people. Some may consider themselves Mennonite for attending a Mennonite church, even if they haven’t chosen to be baptized into the faith. Others may be directly renouncing their baptism.
There’s no real guidelines to determine what does and doesn’t constitute an “ex-Mennonite.” It’s up to the person, how they identify themselves, and whether they want to carry the distinction.
So if it’s up to each individual person as to whether they’re “ex-Mennonite,” what does it actually mean?
2. What Does It Mean to Be Ex-Mennonite?
You probably won’t find an organized group of people who collectively identify as ex-Mennonite any more than you’ll find an organized group of people who collectively identify as ex-Firefly fans. It’s just not as big of a deal on a global scale, so people tend to move on with their lives.
(Although there’s probably a group of ex-Firefly fans somewhere in the world.)
As a result, the term “ex-Mennonite” really means that someone has a story. It could be their life story, it could be the story of a friend, and a whole lot more.
But at the end of the day, the people who identify this way all have their reasons for why they call themselves “ex-Mennonite.”
They could still attend a Christian church, they may have converted to another religion, or they could be atheist / agnostic. The choice in what to become — much like the choice to denounce the Mennonite denomination — is a personal journey.
Unfortunately, that means you won’t find a singular definition about what it means to be an ex-Mennonite.
But that brings us to the most important question — if the decision to become ex-Mennonite is personal, private, and variable, then why do ex-Mennonites exist?
3. Why Do Ex-Mennonites Choose to Leave the Mennonite Faith?
Mennonites believe a lot of things. The gist of their belief system is that people should be peaceful, kind, loving, and thoughtful.
But, like many of the world’s faiths, the details of those overarching beliefs become muddied with regional, group, and personal interpretations.
This is why even the Mennonite denomination, as insular and uncommon as it is, also has multiple sects. In addition, it’s why Mennonites are different from Amish.
In 2020, there are a few reasons why someone might be compelled to leave the Mennonite faith.
The Mennonite faith is, like many religions, largely populated by the people who are born into it and indoctrinated when they’re young.
This leads to generations of Mennonites in the same family holding the same values as a family tradition.
This sense of tradition then leads into another major reason why Mennonites choose to leave the faith. If someone doesn’t feel that they fit into the tradition of a Mennonite family, then they might leave.
Someone may feel excluded from the Mennonite experience for any number of reasons depending on the church and congregation. More often than not, they may feel they’re on the receiving end of discrimination.
Interpreting or Experiencing Prejudice
While tradition may sound pleasant, quaint, or even like a cause for celebration, the reality is that the Mennonite tradition holds onto some ideals that are considered antiquated or offensive today.
Increasingly, the concept of normalized gender roles is a pivotal point here, as many Mennonite churches require women to wear coverings — which are basically doilies that get pinned in your hair — to show their humility before God.
The men, however, don’t have to do anything.
That level of double-standard sexism — and it is sexism — is one of many core Mennonite beliefs that spiders out into further prejudice, like rallying against women in leadership positions, demanding they stay silent, or even isolating them from peer groups in abusive marriages.
(This isn’t descriptive of every Mennonite faith or every Mennonite woman. It’s an extrapolation of how far these beliefs can go in hurting someone.)
Needless to say, sexism is a common symptom of Mennonite beliefs, even if it’s not an explicitly-endorsed concept.
It’s also one of many beliefs that constitutes an overwhelmingly conservative viewpoint on just about anything.
Political Conservativism & Non-Compliant Views
Conservativism in the Mennonite ideology is common to the point of paradoxically conflicting with the core tenets of the faith itself.
In this context, “conservativism” refers to political and social views beyond almost everything else. By today’s standards, many of these views are considered antiquated at best and bigoted at worst.
The social norms mentioned above are just the beginning. There are also issues with racism, ageism, and more.
But, unfortunately, that’s nothing exceptionally different from America at large.
The issues start coming out when the conservative political beliefs require its participants to have values that are objectively incompatible with Mennonite beliefs.
The best example of this is war.
Military service, by Mennonite standards, is a non-option except in some rare cases for working in a non-combat role like a medic.
However, the conservative American political views celebrate soldiers and their volunteer participation in military service.
Regardless of whether this belief is itself right or wrong, it conflicts with the Mennonite belief in pacifism. And yet, in some Mennonite circles, enlisting and supporting the military are considered positive qualities.
There’s also the ideological conflict of Anabaptism — Christians who choose to get baptized instead of being baptized at birth — conflicting with practices like forcing women to wear a covering.
Mennonites generally celebrate the concepts of material poverty and spiritual wealth as well, though it’s nearly impossible to practice financial poverty in the modern American economic system. This can drive Mennonites in many circles to pursue the American dream of wealth and frugality to extremes.
Still, it’s worth repeating that all ex-Mennonites have their stories to tell, and no two stories will be the same.
Everyone has their reasons — and the reasons listed on this page are just the tip of the iceberg for ex-Mennonites who made the choice to leave their faith.
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5 thoughts on “What Is an Ex-Mennonite? (According to an Ex-Mennonite)”
To what extent is knowing and speaking Plautdietsch a part of being a Mennonite?
Great question! Plautdietsch can also be called Low German or Mennonite Low German, but learning Low German is ironically not a part of the growing-up experience for most Mennonites today. While being a Mennonite used to entail a large cultural element, most Mennonites today are fully integrated into the cultures of their home country. Some exceptions to this rule include the more conservative Mennonite denominations, such as Old Order Mennonites (you can read more about them here: https://gentsoflancaster.com/2021/01/18/what-are-the-mennonite-denominations-from-an-ex-mennonite/), and countries that persecute Mennonites.
There’s more to this answer than I can write in a comment, so I’m going to expand on your question with a new blog post in the near future. Thanks for asking, Martin!
Hello, this may be strange. There are many Mennonite values (non-violence, forgiveness, etc.) that align with our work and life in community with people with special needs. We are a little place in New Hampshire called Plowshare Farm (plowsharefarm.org). We do good, honest work together caring for the earth and each other. We are not into judging each other. Anyway I have often thought outs could be a good lifestyle for people who come out of Mennonite traditions, and we have a great need for another few people to join us in our shared work.
Is there a place that you can recommend that I could place a notice or ad to reach potential coworkers?
I thank you for taking the time to read this.
Is there a specific term to refer to ex-menonites for example a ex-angel is refert to as a fallen is there such a term?
Great question! There is not. Leaving the Mennonite faith does not include any form of ceremony or public procession, and it’s more of a personal decision compared to something like a Catholic excommunication. Ex-Mennonites tend to call themselves “Ex-Mennonites.”