pure-review-image-2There was a scene, back in episode 1, when Bronco Novack proudly identified himself to Noah Funk as a detective. Noah was, appropriately, unimpressed.

If episodes 1 and 2 set up the difference between the Mennonite and the secular communities, episodes 3 and 4 make valiant efforts at bridging the gap through the unlikely alliance of cop and pastor.

Here we might expect the classic Church vs State conflict. We’ve already established that Noah is a good man, so gentle he is kindhearted even toward the mice in his barn. Bronco, on the other hand, is only good in comparison to the truly vile. If it weren’t for Eli Voss, a crooked cop, and now the biker gang (I wonder if biker gangs watch their portrayal on TV and get as bothered as we do), we could imagine CBC’s Pure moving in the same direction as Murder in the Cathedral or even Romero, where a good man of the Church is pitted against the compromised secular authorities.

Oh, how we’d love to see our people star in a story like that. These stories are about civil disobedience and standing up for what’s right. They feature people speaking truth to power or at least doing good in the face of overwhelming opposition. We adore that kind of hero almost as much as the hero who rescues their persecutor.

And with good cause. Mennonites were some of the first people to call for the separation of Church and State. We did this long before the Enlightenment made the notion popular and our version is a little different than the mainstream that developed since.

See, in our version, the state is pretty much always somewhere between moderately and over-the-top completely evil. We like to think of ourselves as subversive, tirelessly toiling away at building an upside down kingdom in opposition to the prevailing cultural norms that are dragging the world to hell in a hand basket. We follow higher laws than those of the nation state and, upon migrating to a country, typically negotiated our rights to flaunt those of the nations’ laws that conflicted with ours. They don’t often conflict; but we know they might at any moment. And we’re on guard for that eventuality.

Like with everything else, our attitudes toward the state and the law vary across different groups. The Old Colony Mennonites and others from the Latin American diaspora – the ones who originally inspired the Pure story – are probably the least tied in their allegiance to any particular nation-state, expressing what one Menno scholar described as detached citizenship. It doesn’t mean that they don’t follow the laws of the nations, but it means that the law-abiding impulse isn’t bolstered by any strong emotional flag-waving emotionalism.

We don’t actually broadcast the image of ourselves as subversive too broadly. In fact, we mostly just present ourselves as good, law-abiding folk. Which we pretty much are most of the time. The Canadian Mennonite‘s first response to CBC’s Pure was to reiterate this general image, asserting even that no Church-going Mennonite is involved in the drug trade – a statement the author could not possibly know with any certainty. Though it is true that drug trafficking is not one of those areas of law we typically see ourselves subverting.

Near the end of episode 4, Noah’s seventeen-year old son questions his father about the ordnung – the set of rules that the community lives by. As the kid implies, there’s a sacredness to these rules. They are owned by the community and by submitting to them, the members of these conservative Mennonite groups give up their will to God’s as expressed through the community.

The ordnung as a law code stands in contrast to that of the state and to the law of Eli Voss and his people, which is just the law of force. By the end of episode 4, neither the Church’s law nor the state’s seem particularly robust. Noah has had innumerable crises of conscience and cannot even answer his son’s simple question; the police force is corrupt and unreliable. I imagine we will emerge over the next two episodes out of the current state of lawlessness. It remains to be seen whether it will be worth the time and effort.


There exists a cocktail called the Scofflaw and the name actually refers to people who scoff at the law (the prohibition law in this case). As I have tried to explain, Mennonites don’t actually scoff at the law. We like to think we would stand up to it in the face of injustice, but our history shows we are more likely to try to negotiate exemptions from the government or move to find a regime amenable to negotiating exemptions.

And anyway, “scoffing” seems much more prideful than schputting. I could see us schputting about the law from scofflawtime to time. The recipe’s the same; but since Mennonites might not want to admit to scoffing at the law, I thought a name change might help.

  • 1.5 oz Canadian rye whiskey
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 3/4 oz lime juice
  • 1 dash orange bitters (ok, if you’re really feeling Mennonite, go ahead and sub in those rhubarb bitters again)

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel. Drink subversively.