Last Saturday, when I was getting revved up for a full day at a fake Mennonite relief sale, I made the mistake of logging on to Twitter.
Even before I could see if anyone else was tweeting about MCC or speculating as to when hymn-singing would be allowed again, I saw that the word Amish was trending.
Pushing past my growing sense of dread, I clicked through and saw that the tweets were all about a plain-dressing group who attended the Minneapolis protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
I saw at once that the group did not look like any Amish or Mennonite sect that I knew of, but I was mostly just pleased to see that there was no great Anabaptist scandal in the air and no new TV series.
I spent a few minutes searching the various Mennonite groups in Minnesota to see if it could be any of those.
I wondered idly if they might be plain-dressing Quakers and then went back to my business preparing for my big day of relief-ing in absentia.
I was halfway through mixing the batter for apple fritters and had just logged in to the virtual quilt auction when I received a Direct Message from the only plain-dressing Quaker of my acquaintance. She was busy telling people on Twitter that, no, that plain group of protesters were not Quaker.
She wondered if I knew who they were.
Not encumbered with the heavy tasks of listening to an auctioneer while deep frying, my Quaker Twitter friend conducted a more thorough internet search and hypothesized that the group was from the non-denominational Church of God, Restoration. Not affiliated with the Mennonite or Anabaptist family of Churches at all.
This was soon confirmed by the protesters themselves.
I tweeted it out, my Quaker friend tweeted it, and various other Mennonites on Twitter corrected the record.
But still, even a week later, long after the fritters were eaten and the last quilt sold, when I log into Twitter, I still see the same pattern over and over again.
It starts with someone exclaiming that even the Amish showed up at the protests. Usually with a picture of the Church of God people. It’s a moment of celebration and hope – the presence of the supposed Amish showing the breadth and depth of the movement to end police violence against Black people.
That is invariably followed by someone replying that the people in the photo are not Amish but rather Mennonites. Sometimes there’s a condescending “I know it’s really hard to tell…” statement accompanying the “correction.” Sometimes the mennosplainer goes further and insults the people they were correcting, calling them “stupid” or “idiots.”
There are so many of these exchanges that I have started to wonder if some of these accounts are bots, designed to stir up controversy to distract away from the real issues of racism and police violence.
But, I dunno. I have interacted with a few of them now and they seem pretty real.
After correcting to Mennonite, sometimes an exchange follows that “explains” the differences between the Amish and Mennonite. They claim to have looked it up or done research but I’m doubtful of that and I’m pretty sure that not a one of them read my little treatise on the subject.
If they had, they would know that Mennonites are not an offshoot of the Amish with laxer rules about technology, that Amish are not (currently) a branch of the Mennonite Church, that Mennonites are not a branch of the Amish faith, and that some groups of Amish do use buttons now.
But, sure. Whatevs.
It is still a message of hope because the presence of the presumed (Old Order) Mennonites would have been almost as impressive as the presence of the Amish. So a few people just changed their tweets to read Mennonite instead of Amish, trying to respect our differences and give credit where they thought it was due.
Which was sweet, really. I would have felt really touched by the effort if it had actually been Mennonites.
It didn’t stop there.
The New York Post wrote an article about the “Mennonites” at the protest, citing and correcting, as so many others had done, someone misidentifying the group as Amish.
We even made it into a Stephen Colbert monologue, with him quipping, “Mennonites think America’s too racist and they live in 1840.”
We prefer to think we live in 1525.
Because it was around 1525 that Mennonites (Anabaptists, then) started opposing police violence. That’s right, before there were even police, we were opposed to their use of violence.
Not consistently, of course, but never mind about that. If we Anabaptists are anything, it’s inconsistent.
Some of the tweets that piled on their love for us after noting our supposed presence at the Minneapolis protest went on to highlight our long history in anti-racism first through abolitionism and then through civil rights work.
Well, now. That’s a little complicated, too.
Yes, we can be rightly proud that the Mennonite Churches in America all saw slave-owning as anathema, part of the Abomination of the world that they shunned, and a legitimate cause for excommunication. It is apparently hard, though not impossible, to find evidence of any Mennonites who owned slaves.
Still, we weren’t active abolitionists like the Quakers and only a few Mennonites are known to have opened up their homes as shelter along the Underground Railroad.
As for the civil rights movement, yes, Mennonites were there but their work was controversial even in liberal, progressive Mennonite communities. As for the more conservative Mennonites, I could be wrong but I don’t think there were a lot of bonnets and straw hat wearing Mennos in the protest crowds of the 1960s.
So yeah, it would have been impressive if the Old Order Mennonites had broken their commitment to isolationism for the sake of attending the George Floyd demonstrations.
Mennonite Church USA has issued a statement saying “Now is not the time to be the Quiet in the Land.”
Ironically, the reason that the Church of God video went viral was because the people were perceived to normally be the Quiet in the Land. These not-Mennonites inspired and offered hope to so many simply because their attendance was exceptional.
I’m sure there were Mennonites at the protests in the US as well. Those would be the progressive Mennonite Church USA Mennonites who don’t wear plain dress and who have been attending protests for decades — it’s not so controversial now as it was in the civil rights era. These ones haven’t been the quiet in the land for a very long time.
The Church of God folks, themselves, don’t seem to mind the confusion. While we Mennonites were busy trying to give credit where it was due, the Church of God twitter account was tweeting out images and videos of themselves at protests and adding the hashtag #Amish. And they weren’t bothering to correct all the people tweeting about them.
Maybe they think there are more important matters to discuss than the names of our groupings and the distinctions between us.
This cocktail is part of a long tradition of cocktails that bear just a bit of a resemblance to real martinis but that anyone with any knowledge of martinis could tell at a glance are not really martinis.
- 1 oz pickle juice
- 2 oz gin
- A handful of parsley
Muddle the parsley in the bottom of a cocktail mixing glass with gin. Add the pickle juice and stir with ice until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a cucumber ribbon and more parsley.