Ethnocentrism and DGR Mennonites

I found out recently that Klassen’s, Wiebe’s, Neufeld’s, and yes, Warkentin’s are not the only ethnic Mennonites. Let me explain…

At the M.B. study conference, Bruce Guenther, in his wonderful presentation on Mennonite history, helpfully challenged what has become a realistic hurdle for Mennonites in relation to their past; namely, ethnocentricity (the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own ethnic group or culture). In the historical complexity that defines Mennonite identity one of the legacies is a close identification between the Dutch-German-Russian (DGR) heritage that many members of Mennonite churches call their own. While there is incredible value in recognizing the distinctiveness of this ethnic heritage, the challenge is that these DGR’s are often referred to as the true “ethnic” Mennonites, with all others being “non-ethnic” or “religious” Mennonites (does that mean the “ethnic” Mennonites are not religious?). The obvious result has been an ethnocentricity that pervades Mennonite identity, which in turn creates unhelpful and often hurtful divisions between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside.” Now, do not get me wrong, the DGR heritage that has shaped Mennonite theology should not be ignored, but in the multicultural reality of the 21st century where membership in Africa has grown over 200% in the last twenty years (Leo Driedger, Mennonites in the Global Village), perhaps it is time to reconsider how we define who is a “real” Mennonite…

So next time you hear a Klassen, Wiebe, Neufeld, and yes even a Warkentin, claim that they are Mennonite on the sole basis of their ethnic heritage, perhaps you can take that as an opportunity to gently rebuke them. Then you call tell them of this snappy new acronym people are using all over the place in recognition of their heritage: “DGR!!!”

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