Do Mennonites drive cars? Famously, the Amish don’t, and the Amish are often considered similar to Mennonites in mainstream culture.
But do Mennonites?
The answer to this is somewhat confusing because it’s both yes and no.
In short, there are some Mennonite denominations that drive cars. There are others that don’t.
With that in mind, which Mennonite denominations drive cars, and which don’t? More interestingly, why is there such a big difference between denominations of the same faith?
We’ll answer all of that (and a little more) in the blog below.
1. Which Mennonite Denominations Drive Cars?
To start, let’s talk about the Mennonite denominations that do, in fact, drive cars.
Generally speaking, these are Conference Mennonites and Conservative Mennonites.
There are dozens of congregations beneath each of these umbrellas. But to speak generally again, Conference Mennonites are fairly worldly and mostly indistinguishable from other Americans in their dress, speech, and daily life.
Because of this relatively lax way of life, it’s common for Conference Mennonite teens to earn their drivers’ licenses at the same time as any other person. They may attend private Mennonite schools and smaller churches when compared to their religious peers, but they can still enjoy the luxuries of a life in the 21st Century to their fullest.
Conservative Mennonites, on the other hand, may stand out more by wearing plain clothing and primarily working in traditional trades, such as carpentry. They may also be farmers or another “off-the-land” occupation that also overlaps with the Amish.
Conservative Mennonites often earn their driver’s licenses and then additional licenses to operate the machinery and equipment that’s required of their work. While many of them continue through at least a high school to earn their diploma, few make the initiative to go onto higher education in the traditional sense.
Instead, Conservative Mennonites may live in areas where apprenticeships or career / technical education (previously “votech”) is more encouraged.
This, in turn, can push them toward more blue-collar employment opportunities than Conference Mennonites — but Conservative Mennonites will still have the need to drive.
Some Conservative Mennonite congregations may attach stipulations to driving as an activity, like dictating that your car must be black to avoid anything too flashy or proud.
But those restrictions don’t inhibit a congregation member’s ability to enjoy the perks of driving in general.
So with Conference and Conservative Mennonites almost certainly driving cars, which Mennonites choose not to drive?
2. Which Mennonite Denominations Don’t Drive Cars?
To speak generally yet again, Old Order Mennonites do not drive cars.
Old Order Mennonites are characterized by an ultra-conservative way of life that restricts what they can buy and enjoy in daily life. This includes cars, and most Old Order Mennonites are found driving horse-and-buggies that deeply resemble Amish carriages.
In fact, it’s quite common for Old Order Mennonites to be mistaken for the Amish. Their buggies are both colored black most of the time, and both denominations are famous for their headwear on both men and women.
The difference for Old Order Mennonites is that they’ll have sliding doors, electric lights, and other accessories dotting their buggies. Amish buggies are often stark with only battery-powered lights to keep them legally compliant with driving on the road.
Still, Old Order Mennonite buggies do not need to be registered with the Department of Transportation, they don’t require a license plate, and they don’t require insurance coverage to take on the road.
(However, some insurance companies do offer buggy coverage.)
So why are Old Order Mennonites different from their counterparts?
Generally speaking (yet again — we promise we’ll try to stop saying this so much), Old Order Mennonites live in rural and slower-paced areas of the world than other Mennonite denominations.
Old Order Mennonites maintain traditional gender norms (as damaging and unfair as they may be), and they generally keep to themselves. They tend to have “meeting houses” where they h old church services, they could have their own community schools, and they often don’t need to travel too far from where they live.
And if they do, they can probably call someone for a ride (because they do have phones).
But this leads us to a final question — why is there such a big difference in belief among Mennonite denominations?
3. Why Do Some Mennonites Drive Cars & Others Don’t?
We hate to admit it, but we don’t know.
And, believe us, we’ve tried to find a reason why.
But the fact of the matter is that with so many different Mennonite denominations, some of which embrace modern life and others of which shun it, each congregation can have its own reason for doing what it does.
The biggest reason that we’re comfortable claiming is similar to why anyone follows their ancestors’ way of life — it’s for sake of tradition.
Tradition is a powerful thing. Everyone is raised in a certain culture with certain values and certain expectations. Adhering to and completing those expectations is a major part of your life growing up, and those are the formative years that have an enormous impact on the adult you become.
So if you’re raised in a congregation that doesn’t have cars and you’re around people who are mostly like you, you probably don’t care that your family doesn’t drive.
In fact, you may feel that the lack of a family vehicle makes your family closer, as technology has a habit of complicating life, even as it makes life easier.
(Take smartphones, for example.)
So why don’t some Mennonites drive cars? The answer could be the same as the reason why Mennonites are still around after hundreds of years.
It’s just how it’s always been.
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