I am a flag-flying Mennonite. I don’t know if that sounds like a contradiction, but it is. The distinguishing characteristic of Mennonites, an Anabaptist faith, is pacifism (conscientious objectors, or CO’s). Mennonite history is one of persecution and immigrations in a constant search for governments which would tolerate their unwillingness to serve in the military. They were difficult to find. For a time in the 18th and 19thcenturies, the Russian government welcomed the German and Prussian natives, in exchange for a tax. Eventually the Russian political winds changed, and they were no longer welcome, setting off an immigration which changed American history with its introduction of winter wheat to the prairie states. The two World Wars challenged the new immigrants and their descendants, many of whom still spoke the language of their ancestral country which was now at war with their new homeland. Many found ways to serve their new country via alternative service, while others like my grandfather were not allowed to based on fears that their loyalty would be with the enemy. Decades later, I listened to stories in our church community of persecutions of Mennonites in America during World War II, including the tarring and feathering of a local man by a mob. His life was saved when the sheriff locked him up in the county jail until the mob cooled off. I remember as a child that my grandfather flew the American flag every day, but until I was an adult I didn’t realize this was his way of showing his patriotism, having been denied the opportunity to serve his country in the military. I also didn’t know until I was grown that the Mennonite faith doesn’t condone flying flags or even saying the Pledge of Allegiance, as these practices are considered too close to worshipping a nation instead of God. As I learned these aspects of my history, I faced my grandfather’s dilemma. I guess I have drifted too far from the purity of my ancestors’ faith: we fly an American flag. I do so partly for love of my country, but I think I do so as much a salute to my grandfather and to my heritage and to the multitude of immigrants this country was built on. And yet I remain a Mennonite…and a patriot.
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” —John F. Kennedy