To hear the religious right talk, speaking out against Donald Trump is a sign that you’re driven by witchcraft and demons. However, one very large segment of evangelicals didn’t get that memo–namely, Mennonites. Many of them have been pushed into the growing resistance to Trump by his extremist policies on immigration.
Mennonites are best known as close theological cousins to the Amish; they actually shared the same faith before the stricter Amish broke off in the 17th century. While many Mennonites dress in the same kind of plain clothing as the Amish do, most of them dress in the same manner as ordinary Americans. For many years, they were best known for two beliefs they shared with the Amish–staunch pacifism and keeping their distance from politics.
However, there is one other tenet that Mennonites have, in the words of New York University and George Mason University adjunct professor Michael Skank, “baked into their psyche”–helping immigrants, and especially refugees. This isn’t just an abstract thing. According to Skank, a Mennonite who has written extensively about the interaction between Mennonite faith and politics, Mennonites in this country know how it feels to be in the shoes of many of today’s refugees. After all, their ancestors were chased out of Europe in the face of harsh religious persecution.
Those memories have driven a number of Mennonites to speak out loudly against Trump’s immigration policy, particularly his controversial travel ban. To many Mennonites, it runs counter to everything they have been taught all of their lives. Indeed, many of them have felt compelled to end a lifetime on the political sidelines as a result.
Take Mary Beth Martin and her daughter, Lindsey Corbo, for instance. Their family was one of many Mennonite families who emigrated from Germany to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the 1700s–a big reason why this county is considered the heart of “Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” Although they are registered Democrats, for years their involvement in politics didn’t extend beyond voting. Martin said this was because Mennonites believe their first allegiance is “to Christ, not our state.”
But that changed with the rollout of the travel ban. When Corbo heard about it, she broke down and cried at the thought that this country could be so “incredibly mean” to immigrants and refugees. She knows a number of refugees personally, and described them as “good people” caught in the middle of a terrible crisis. Her mother does a lot of work with Church World Service, which helps resettle refugees in America. She was appalled that there are people out there who want to help these refugees get a fresh start, “and still our government won’t allow them to happen.”
Partly as a result, Martin and Corbo took part in the Women’s March on Washington. But that was just a start. Corbo joined the Lancaster County Democratic Party, and started an organization to research and track refugees and immigration groups. She has 20 people helping her, most of whom have “no political background.” In early March, Martin and Corbo joined 100 others outside a local chamber of commerce breakfast where freshman congressman Lloyd Smucker was one of the guests of honor. They greeted him with a sign that read, “Lancaster values immigrants.”
They aren’t the only ones. Back in 2015, Mennonite pastor Matthew Bucher was so dismayed at the language that Republicans were using to refer to immigrants that he put a sign in front of his church, Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It read, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”–in English, Spanish, and Arabic. Others took up the cry, and eventually Bucher and other area Mennonite pastors helped design a multicolored version of what has become known as the “Welcome Your Neighbors” sign. Check out the result here.
— WelcomeYourNeighbors (@NeighborsSign) February 7, 2017
Reaching out to immigrants isn’t a new thing for the Mennonites. The Mennonite Central Committee, a relief agency serving the Mennonites and their two sister faiths, the Amish and Brethren in Christ, has spent the better part of half a century standing up for immigrants. For Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, director of the MCC’s Washington office, it’s a matter of faith; her organization believes they are simply living out Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as we love ourselves.” Hmmm, perhaps they ought to deliver that message to Trump.
(featured image courtesy Immanuel Mennonite Church via Jerry Holsopple)