This is the second in a four part series. The third will foillow later today, the fourth tomorrow.
Earlier this week I posted a story from the Winnipeg Free Press on Facebook about Mennonite children being removed from a Mennonite community in southwestern Manitoba because they were being assaulted by their fathers, and in one case a mother too. Three men and one woman are charged with assault and assault with a weapon. Few would argue a cattle prod is not a weapon, but I know many even in my generation that would smirk, sneer, or sigh, about “a strap” being a weapon. “It’s so last century,” I imagine I hear from the contemporary Mennonite chattering classes.
Brad Fraser, playwright, and gay activist was the first to repost, then Wayne Tefs “same old story, let the kids dance!” and then from my friend Ted responding to my query about whether anger and personal discipline might serve as another worthy taboo theme for Rhubarb magazine.
Possibly the most interesting response was Armin Wiebe’s repost of “Christian Domestic Discipline.” It’s hard to believe this is not a joke, encouraging fundamentalist husbands, as head of the household to exercise authority over all others in his home (like “Christ over his church,” is usually the cited proof text) with spanking (wives included) a common element of the good Christian husband’s repertoire.
What struck me was that no Mennonite was willing to cast the first stone and suggest that these Old Order Mennonites (the real name of “horse & buggy” Mennonites) were committing crimes. Sure it’s a big word, sure we don’t know the details, but come on, horsewhips? Cattle-prods?
It was good to read in yesterday’s Free Press that it was somebody from the still unnamed community (publication ban to protect the kids) that went to the police, with implications later in the story that severe discipline had been used to try to correct some “other” difficulties in the community and that the approach had failed.
The comments from the Mennonite establishment on this story have been interesting. While not ever ceding punishment of this scale as suitable in any situation, every sound bite I heard included an immediate disclaimer that this was an anomaly, that something had gone horribly wrong, because Mennonites were peace-loving people, and didn’t do this sort of thing. Corporal punishment was only to be applied when the administrator was not angry, if ever.
The sense of embarrassment and even shame was palpable. How to include our brethren, loving and inclusive, while distancing ourselves from an incident or practice we know is not acceptable in contemporary society and contrary to accepted Mennonite theology. The kicker being that this was happening right here, right now, not in the backwaters of Bolivia or Paraguay last century.
This story caught my attention, because, like most assimilated “progressive social-justice” Mennonites, I had assumed this kind of stuff had stopped in our generation, and makes me wonder how common corporal punishment is in Manitoba in the 21st century, whether there are rural/urban differences and whether the more the repressive the Mennonite theology, the more severe the beating.