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Trapped with Mennonites

By Ivan B ~

Reading various stories on has been very helpful to me as I realize that there are many other people who are going through the same experiences and thoughts. I do not feel so alone although in my day-to-day life I basically am very alone. I would like to share my story and elicit your comments and suggestions.

Throughout my life, I have had many epiphanies. My learning style is: Get curious, go to the library, read, read, read, read, think, think, think... epiphany! For some reason I have difficulty making sense of the smaller facts that accompany a concept until the missing piece drops into place, and voila! I have the whole picture.

I have learned many things this way-- concepts of science, business, human relations. One thing I did not learn this way was my Christian faith. I learned it from my mom. And from other folks in the Mennonite church that I belong to and have attended basically every Sunday for my whole life. I learned it slowly and tediously. I was indoctrinated with the fear of hell from a very young age, and since I was very curious, I learned a lot of the church doctrine at a young age. But I remember having lots of thoughts of skepticism, even as a pre-teen.

However, I was lulled to sleep for over a decade since then with the teaching of the church elders. They taught that questioning is wrong. One time when I innocently asked a question I was told that “The apple that is too high, you let it hang.” One really horrible thing that they believe and teach is that everyone who does not believe as they do is eternally damned. I mean even all other Christians. The belief that Jesus existed is not enough-- no, you have to believe all of his teachings according to the interpretation of this church. If you don't believe in a woman's head covering, you're a gonner. You will be in question if you own a TV or play anything competitive (sports, games) or wear anything non-conforming to the unwritten dress code.

These people talk about the hypocrisy in other churches a lot, and so it was not hard for me to believe that there is nothing substantial to the other churches. The Catholics are wrong because of this, and the Amish are wrong because of this, and so on. I am almost ashamed that it took so long to realize that the group I am in is no different. I excuse myself by saying that it has been a tough nut to crack. I had to figure it out for myself.

I have always been a regular at the library, which is a little odd for a Mennonite youth. I was often accused of being lazy because I spent a lot of time reading. I was also told that my reading was not “profitable”. I read very little fiction (that is highly discouraged), but rather non-fiction. I self-censored myself in that I avoided subjects such as biology, feeling it would be displeasing to God. I did not pursue a post-secondary education as that was also discouraged. I began to become very guilty for reading “un-profitable” non-fiction. So, with completely pious intentions, I read all the “approved” church books I could-- huge musty tomes of fine print such as Menno Simon's Complete works and Martyrs Mirror (not to mention regular reading of the Bible all along).

As I read these books and learned more, especially of the history of the Mennonite churches, I began to see more and more conflicting information. As I read these books and learned more, especially of the history of the Mennonite churches, I began to see more and more conflicting information. I began to become afraid of this other literature, and decided that I was safe with the Bible only (because it's straight from God, you know). The same bible that I had read over and over, believing that everything in it harmonized and was perfect, began to reveal more and more contradictions. Strangely, that just made me read it even more. I was in a frenzy, looking for the truth, trying to figure this out, and praying as hard as I could for light, guidance, understanding. I spent a lot of time thinking about it all as I went about my work. I was meditating on the Word of God. And then I had an epiphany. I awoke.

That should be the end of the story, but sadly it's not. I am still a member in good standing among my fellow Mennonites, am a hymn leader, and am responsible for some of the administrative work in the church, although an agnostic within. Why have I not made my true beliefs known? When I leave, I will be excommunicated and shunned by the church, including by my closest relatives. Thankfully, I am not married. When I am thus shunned, they will not hug me, eat with me, or agree to any exchange of gifts or money in either direction. I know that this is what's ahead of me. However, I operate a business on the premises of another church member, and basically it's for my business that I'm still in the church. I love my work and I love my customers and it's my dream job.

It is almost inevitable that I will have to give up my business. I am renting from these folks because I can't afford to buy my own farmland that I would need to carry on. It is not a type of business that is easily moved, or I would move it. I will not get my investment out of it if I liquidate it now. There is a slim possibility that I could sell it as an operating business. If I would openly share my beliefs and be excommunicated now, the conflict between me and my landlord would be unbearable. To evict me would be against their beliefs, however, to make my life miserable is not against their beliefs. They would not do any business with me (collect rent, etc.), so essentially in the eyes of the community I become a huge squatter taking advantage of them. I want to somehow get out of here without totally destroying my reputation. So in the meantime, I'm thinking. I believe in the power of the human mind. Just being able to share my story is helpful, because it's difficult to hold my true self inside. I have not told anyone in my real life, because I don't want anyone in the church to become suspicious. I don't want to get called in by the elders to be examined. I have better things to do, and when I leave, I want to leave on my own terms when I am ready. I don't want to be booted out. In the meantime, I need a shoulder to cry on sometimes. Thank you for listening.