Religious Identity and Political
Participation in the Mennonite
Kyle C. Kopko
Abstract: This article examines religious identity and its effect on political
participation in the context of the Mennonite Church USA. Traditionally,
Mennonite doctrine discouraged political activity because of its “worldly”
nature. But it is uncertain if traditional doctrine influences the political
behavior of contemporary church members. This article seeks to determine (1)
to what extent there is a religious identity among contemporary Mennonites,
(2) does this identity discourage support for political participation, and (3) if
Mennonite identity discourages political participation, what is the substantive
difference in support for political participation between low and high identity
Mennonites? The analysis reveals that Mennonite religious identity is
widespread in the Mennonite Church USA and high levels of identity
decreases support for political activity. Despite this, Mennonites as a whole
are fairly supportive of political participation, regardless of their level of identity.
Although religion influences a variety of social behaviors, few studies
examine the effect of a religious identity on an individual’s likelihood
of supporting political activity. The Mennonite Church USA presents an
interesting case study in which one can examine religious identity and
its relationship with political behavior — specifically, one’s decision to
support, and engage in, political activity. The Mennonite Church USA
was formed in 2002 with the merging of the two largest Mennonite
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kyle C. Kopko, Elizabethtown College,
Department of Political Science, One Alpha Drive, Elizabethtown, PA 17022. E-mail: kopkok@
Politics and Religion, 5 (2012), 367–393
© Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association, 2012
doi:10.1017/S1755048312000077 1755-0483/12 $25.00
denominations in the United States — the General Conference Mennonite
Church (GCMC) and the (Old) Mennonite Church (MC). While the
Mennonite Church USA is a relatively new church organization, the
church can trace its roots to Mennonites that resided in North America
since the 18th century.
Historically, the religious doctrine of the Mennonite church, like
other Anabaptist denominations, encouraged a separation between
church and state, meaning that church members should avoid political
participation because of its worldly nature (Kraybill 2010, 168; Urry
2006, 3–4). Anabaptists traditionally thought of church and state as
two kingdoms — the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. This
worldview resulted from years of persecution during the Protestant
Reformation and interpreting the New Testament in a way that emphasizes
a sense of citizenship in the Kingdom of God, as opposed to the kingdom
Using data from the 2006 Mennonite Church Member Profile
(CMP) survey, I seek to determine (1) to what extent there is a
Mennonite religious identity among contemporary Mennonites, (2) does
this identity discourage political participation, and (3) if Mennonite
identity discourages political participation, what is the substantive differ-
ence in support for political participation between low and high identity
Although Mennonites may appear to be an isolated segment of
American society, as of 2005 there were 236,084 Americans who
claimed membership in a Mennonite-affiliated congregation. Of those
individuals, 111,038 were members of the Mennonite Church USA
(Schrag 2005, 761).
If contemporary Mennonite identity affects individ-
ual political behavior, then it is likely that other denominations with
similar religious beliefs could possess a religious identity with analogous
In the following sections, I provide an overview of social identity theory
and how a group attachment could influence individual behavior. Next, I
discuss the origins of Mennonite identity and church/state beliefs. I also
address instances of Mennonite political participation, and potential
reasons for political involvement. Then, I detail the research methods
employed to test if Mennonite identity influences individual political be-
havior. The findings that I present not only provide insights as to how con-
temporary Mennonites perceive political activity, but the results also
demonstrate the potential influence of a religious social identity on indi-
vidual political attitudes and behavior.
SOCIAL IDENTITY THEORY
According to Tajfel (1981, 251; see also Tajfel and Turner 1979), a social
identity is “that part of the individual’s self-concept which derives from
his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together
with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.”
Essentially, group membership provides an individual with benefits
(psychological or material) that affect social behavior. As a result of the
group attachment and benefits, individuals usually show favoritism
toward their social in-group or, at least, seek outcomes that do not harm
their in-group. In-group favoritism, along with group achievements,
leads to the psychological benefit of increased self-esteem (Rubin and
Hewstone 1998; see also Brown 2000, 755–756). Self-esteem and other
potential material or psychological benefits conferred by group member-
ship then provide incentives for individuals to maintain group cohesion.
Applying this framework to contemporary Mennonites, adhering to his-
toric church doctrine by abstaining from political activity may increase
one’s self-esteem, which reinforces group cohesion and promotes
further political abstention. While such behavior may seem plausible,
this assumes that a religious attachment constitutes a social in-group.
There is reason to believe that a religious denomination can function as a
social in-group and influence individual social behavior. For example,
Deaux et al. (1995, 228) sugges t that “social identity theory (would) be
most applicable to ethnic, religious, political, and some stigmatized identi-
ties.” Previous empirical studies confirm that racial/ethnic and political attach-
ments have s tr ong implica tions for political behavior.
W ilcox and Gomez (1990, 283) examined religiosity among African-
Americans using data from the National Survey of Black Americans and con-
cluded that black religion “is an important determinant of political attitudes
and behaviors among blacks.” Furthermore, when analyzing African-
American chur ch-goers in Washington, D.C., Wilcox (1990) found that par-
ishioners who identified with Pentecostal or charismatic denominations were
significantly more likely to vote as compared to parishioners in other black
churches. Religious identification also has implications for the types of politi-
cal participation believ ed to be a legitimate form of political action. For
example, in the edited volume, Politics and Pulpit (Smidt 2004), American
clergy who embraced a conservative interpretation of the Bible were typically
less likely to support protest marches and other non-tr aditional forms of pol-
Although limited, these studies pro vide examples of how
a religious group attachment could influence political behavior.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 369
In order for there to be a Mennonite identity that promotes a group men-
tality, there must be a “common characteristic or social experience” that
brings people together as a collective to establish a formal group
(Brewer 2001, 117). The Mennonite religious identity is one that is
rooted in a history of social stigma and persecution dating back to
1525, when a small group of radical Protestant reformers baptized each
other in Zurich, Switzerland, in hopes of establishing a Christian move-
ment that centered on the teachings and literal interpretation of the New
Testament. These individuals also sought to establish a “free” church
that was separate from state control, unlike many of the churches at
the time. The name given to these radicals was Anabaptists (meaning
re-baptizers, or to be baptized again).
For Anabaptists, the union of church and state was a core problem with
16th century Christianity. Once an infant was baptized, not only did it
signify membership in the church, but it also bestowed citizenship. The
Anabaptist practice of adult baptism “threatened the marriage of civil
and religious authority that had developed over the centuries … (Infant
baptism) gave civil authorities the power to tax and conscript,” thereby
asserting control over citizens (Kraybill and Bowman 2002, 8).
Anabaptists believed that the government did not have “ the right to inter-
pret and prescribe a Christian practice such as infant baptism … the Bible
(was) the sole and final authority” on this matter (Kraybill 2001, 4).
Religious purity was a primary concern to Anabaptist when they began
the practice of adult baptism; it signified a conscious, voluntary commit-
ment to Christ, and his teachings. They believed that only adults could
turn themselves over to Christ. Yet, there were political consequences
for this act of religious protest.
Within months of the first adult baptism, civil and religious leaders
hired private citizens to literally hunt down Anabaptists. Anabaptists
were labeled as heretics and persecuted well into the 18th Century for
their religious beliefs. They were “burned at the stake, drowned in lakes
and rivers, starved in prisons, or beheaded by the sword” (Kraybill and
Hurd 2006, 6). Because of this persecution, Anabaptists were forced to
flee the towns of Europe and seek refuge in the countryside. They
turned to an agrarian lifestyle to separate themselves from larger society
and they often held religious services in secrecy. Not only was separation
from the state a part of their religious beliefs, but it was also needed to
ensure their survival and freedom. This experience promoted a social
identity where fellow Anabaptists were the in-group, and their persecutors
and non-Anabaptists were the out-group.
Mennonites (named for an early Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons) did
not emerge from the Anabaptist movement until 1537. However, they
were persecuted with other Anabaptists for the religious practice of adult
baptism. While persecution was a key factor that caused Mennonites and
other Anabaptists to avoid involvement with the state, there were several
other factors that compelled separation. First, Mennonites and Anabaptists
historically interpreted the New Testament in a way that promotes pacifism;
any use of force is contrary to Christ’s teachings, and therefore sinful. But at
the same time, the state, by its very nature, must use force and coercion to
maintain stability and order in society. As such, Mennonites sought to
avoid entanglements with the state, thereby avoiding state-sponsored force
and coercion. To clarify, this did not mean that Mennonites and
Anabaptists believed the state was illegitimate. As Redekop (1989, 217)
notes, “Although they would not participate in the activities of the state,
Anabaptists did not deny the state’s legitimacy; rather, they submitted them-
selves to it in those spheres where it had legitimate existence. They recog-
nized that the state was ordained of God for the restraint of the evildoer
and the protection of the innocent.” As long as the state did not violate bib-
lical principles, Anabaptists were bound to obey it as an instrument of God.
This leads to the second reason for avoiding involvement with the state —
the interference with God’s will. If the state is an instrument of God, then
meddling in the affairs of the state and politics is tantamount to interfering
with God’s will. Third, according to the Schleitheim Confession of Faith,
an early Anabaptist religious doctrine that was also adopted by
Mennonites, Christians should not pursue political offices because it is con-
trary to the teachings of Jesus Christ —“(Christians) wished to make Christ
king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His father …
Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should
follow His steps” (Sattler 1527). Much of these sentiments were reaffirmed
in 1632 when Mennonites adopted the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, which
dedicated its Article XIII specifically to the subject of the authority of the
state and its legitimacy as an instrument of God’s will. Thus, Mennonites
emphasized a two-kingdom theology that encouraged a separation
between church and state from a very early period in their history.
Although Mennonite persecution occurred centuries ago, it could form
the basis of a Mennonite identity. Tajfel (1981, 258–259) explains that “a
social group can fulfill its function of protecting the social identity of its
members only if it manages to keep its positively-valued distinctiveness
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 371
from other groups.” For Mennonites, it seems that maintaining such
distinctiveness is possible because:
(R)eligion in general tends to promote the stabilization of individual and
group identity by favoring the preservation of old content (in the form of doc-
trine, ritual, moral frameworks, role expectations, symbols, and the like),
offering individuals a basis for reconstructing their identities within a stable
or very slowly changing universe of shared meaning (Seul 1999, 558).
Thus, if Mennonites preserved traditions that distinguished themselves
from others in society since the time of the Protestant Reformation, then
there is reason to believe that a Mennonite identity that discourages politi-
cal involvement may be present among contemporary Mennonites. The
question then is: did Mennonites take steps to preserve their identity
over the years? The answer to this question is yes.
For centuries, Mennonites and other Anabaptists took measures to pre-
serve their group identity. One of the most visible examples of this identity
preservation began in 1660 with the publication of Martyrs Mirror by
Thieleman J. van Braght. This text documented tales of Anabaptist mar-
tyrdom since the start of the 16th century. Many Mennonites and
Anabaptist to this day maintain a copy of Martyrs Mirror as a reminder
of the persecution their ancestors suffered throughout Europe in the
16th and 17th centuries.
This text had two primary effects on
Mennonites: (1) it helped to maintain a Mennonite commitment to the sep-
aration of church and state well after Anabaptist persecution ended, and (2)
it preserved a sense of common ancestral experience.
Even when many European Mennonites migrated to North America in
the 18th century, they continued to preserve their identity by reading
Martyrs Mirror and engaging in traditional Mennonite social practices.
Mennonites largely avoided political involvement by refraining from
voting or running for political office, even after there was no threat of
state-sponsored persecution (Miller 1996, 28). Furthermore, many
Mennonites continued their pacifistic practices by refusing conscription
into military service during World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Furthermore, while American Mennonites continued to officially
observe the principles of the Schleitheim Confession of Faith and the
Dordrecht Confession of Faith, they adopted other confessions of faith
throughout the years that essentially reinforced the tenants of these orig-
inal catechisms. The most recent doctrine, the Confession of Faith in a
Mennonite Perspective, was adopted by the MC and the GCMC in
1995 and it emphasized the same traditional Mennonite values regarding
the separation of church and state.
Article 23, titled “The Church’s
Relation to Government and Society,” reinforces the two-kingdom belief:
… As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for
our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no
violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of
Jesus Christ … In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the
world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in societies.
Such governments and other human institutions as servants of God are
called to act justly and provide order. But like all such institutions,
nations tend to demand total allegiance. They then become idolatrous and
rebellious against the will of God. Even at its best, a government cannot
act completely according to the justice of God because no nation, except
the church, confesses Christ’s rule as its foundation (Confession of Faith
in a Mennonite Perspective 1995).
The use of the Martyrs Mirror, adherence to Mennonite religious prin-
ciples, and the reaffirmation of original church doctrine through the
20th century all provide evidence that a Mennonite identity should be
present among contemporary Mennonites.
Looking beyond the Mennonite Church USA to other Mennonite
groups, there is evidence that the preservation of Mennonite identity
leads to low levels of political participation. Old Order Mennonites are
the best example of a Mennonite group that has maintained a strong
group identity. What is most interesting about this group is their highly
cohesive nature and commitment to the historic principles of the early
Mennonite Church. The preservation of this identity results in a lack of
political involvement, particularly voting (Kraybill and Hurd 2006, 52;
Kraybill and Kopko 2007, 192–193). Thus, Old Order Mennonites
provide evidence that if historic principles are preserved through
Mennonite identity, this will result in low levels of political activity.
Given that contemporary Mennonites have taken steps to preserve
Mennonite identity, it is possible that Mennonite identity among these
individuals would also result in low levels of support for political activity.
MENNONITE POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT
Although there is good reason to suspect that those individuals who
strongly identify as Mennonite will be less likely to support political
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 373
activity, it is important to note that the preservation of Mennonite identity
does not mean that all Mennonites will disapprove of political activity. In
fact, to varying degrees, Mennonites have been involved in political
matters for centuries. There are a number of reasons why Mennonites
may support and engage in political matters, even when political involve-
ment is traditionally discouraged. As Urry (2006) discusses in his study of
Mennonites in Europe, Russia, and Canada, early in the church’s history
some Mennonites negotiated with European and Russian political leaders
to secure privileges for religious freedom and the right to establish semi-
To these early Mennonites, interacting with
political leaders to secure religious rights ensured that members could
practice their faith peacefully without fear of persecution. While negotiat-
ing with political leaders for religious rights may not seem to be overly
“political,” it nonetheless indicates that Mennonites did not totally dis-
tance themselves from the affairs of the state, particularly when political
involvement could preserve their religious freedom.
Negotiating with political leaders is not the only form of political par-
ticipation that Mennonites have historically engaged in. Another form of
political participation is political discourse. For example, during the
1930s, the Canadian Mennonite newspaper Der Bote (The Messenger)
devoted more than 5% of its published material to discussion of the
National Socialist (Nazi) government in Germany (Redekop 1996).
Redekop performed a content analysis of articles printed in this newspaper
between 1930 and 1939 to determine how often this influential Mennonite
periodical discussed (positively or negatively) Germany’s National
Socialist government and found that 83% of the coverage of the
National Socialists was positive in nature (Redekop 1996, 83). While
much of the positive support for the National Socialist government was
the result of a shared German social identity and loyalties to Germany,
this still provides evidence that Mennonites early in the 20th century
were aware of international political developments and formed attitudes
in response to them.
Additionally, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, American
Mennonites have voted in elections, petitioned the government for
and occasionally sought public office.
(1975) study of Kansas Mennonites in the late 1800s and early 1900s
reveals that while many Mennonites did not vote or engage in political
activity before World War II, some Mennonites nevertheless voted and
became involved in the political process. As early as 1877, Mennonites
held local municipal office in Kansas, and in the early 20th century
Mennonites held numerous elected offices, including state representative
and county commissioner (Juhnke 1975, 36, 80).
political activity among Mennonites was not limited to Kansas.
Throughout the 20th century, political participation (i.e., voting, expres-
sing political preferences, working within the government, etc.) among
American and Canadian Mennonites was on the rise (Redekop 1983).
This observation is supported by data from the 1972, 1989, and 2006
CMP surveys. Based on the 1972 CMP, 40% of GCMC and MC
members in the United States voted in recent elections all the time or
most of the time, and 74% of respondents did not associate with or
prefer a political party. By the time of the 1989 CMP, 46% of GCMC
and MC members voted in all or most recent elections, and 25% did
not associate with or prefer a political party. And for the 2006 CMP,
only 11% of respondents did not associate with or prefer a political
These data represent a significant increase in the percentage of
Mennonites who regularly vote, and the data also demonstrate that
Mennonites are increasingly partisan in their political preferences.
While there are a number of potential explanations for increased
Mennonite political involvement throughout the 20th century, it seems
that acculturation, due to modernization, is a key impetus. In recent
decades, more Mennonites are living in urban areas, seeking higher edu-
cation, and expanding their social network to include non-Mennonites,
and even non-Christians. Exposure to these influences can affect an indi-
vidual’s self-conception and behavior. Kanagy (2007, 170–171) notes that
because of modernity’s influence, Mennonite perception of “worldly”
behaviors has changed sometimes dramatically since the first CMP in
1972. In comparing responses from the 1972 CMP and the 2006 CMP,
Kanagy found that 2006 CMP respondents were much more likely to
approve of dancing, gambling, the consumption of alcohol, and divorce,
among other “worldly” behaviors. In light of these changes, Kanagy
(2007, 170–171) stated that “the changes support the argument that
Mennonites are becoming more conforming to the values and attitudes
of the larger society — looking more like their neighbors and co-
workers than was true for Mennonites thirty-five years ago.” Bush
(1998, 12) made similar claims, observing that in recent decades
“Mennonites have rapidly discarded the patterns of speech, dress, and con-
sumption that marked their rural communities to adopt, nearly wholesale,
the trappings of larger American culture.”
There is empirical evidence to demonstrate the effects of acculturation
on Mennonite attitudes toward political participation. In their study of the
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 375
1972 CMP, Kauffman and Harder (1975, 281, 289) found that Anabaptists
with higher socioeconomic status and those who lived in an urban
environment were most likely to engage in political participation.
Kauffman and Driedger (1991, 238–243) obtained analogous results
when analyzing the 1989 CMP.
And given that the Mennonite Church
USA’s membership is becoming increasingly diverse,
it is highly prob-
able that similar patterns hold among modern day Mennonites. In short,
when Mennonites live, work, and are educated in environments where
they interact with non-Mennonites, this will help to foster some degree
of acculturation and potentially influence their views on political
Acculturation also has led some Mennonites to re-conceptualize the
church’s relationship with the state (see Bush 1998) and, in particular,
the Anabaptist two-kingdom theology. As Driedger and Kraybill (1994,
122) discuss, starting in the 1960s the two-kingdom view of the world
underwent a “paradigm shift.” Instead of the two kingdoms being separate
entities, both were now viewed under the “lordship of Christ,” where both
church and state were accountable to God. According to Driedger and
Kraybill (1994, 120), “The kingdoms of this world suddenly dropped in
esteem. They were now viewed sometimes as agents of rebellious princi-
palities and powers — disobedient to the high standards of God’s right-
eousness which God required of all under the lordship of Christ”
(emphasis in original). Under this new conception of the two kingdoms,
the church was superior to the state, and Christians could engage in “pro-
phetic witness” and hold elected officials to God’s high standards
(Driedger and Kraybill 1994, 122). Therefore, Mennonites could work
within the political process and hold public office for the purpose of pro-
moting Christian principles, if they so choose.
However, even though Mennonites in general have become more
accepting of some forms of political involvement, that does not mean
that those individuals who strongly identify and embrace the two-
kingdom Anabaptist theology will also support political activity.
Kanagy’s (2007) study makes clear that the average age of a Mennonite
Church USA parishioner is increasing compared to past CMP studies of
the GCMC and MC, meaning that fewer young people are remaining in
the church. It is possible that those individuals remaining in the church
will possess a strong Mennonite identity and will embrace the traditional
Anabaptist two-kingdom theology. In the next section, I discuss the
methods employed to test whether Mennonite identity diminishes
support for political participation.
I test my research questions using data from the 2006 Mennonite Church
Member Profile survey. The 2006 CMP is a 20-page mail survey adminis-
tered by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at
Elizabethtown College. To recruit respondents for the CMP, Mennonite
congregations were randomly selected from a stratified national database
that accounted for congregation size and location. Once a congregation
was selected, parishioners were randomly sampled from that congrega-
tion’s membership directory, and typically 30 members were sampled
per congregation. Initially, 3,080 parishioners were selected to participate
in the study. After follow-up mailings and phone calls, the 2006 CMP
yielded a final response rate of 76.33% (N = 2,216). The data is weighted
by respondent gender and congregation.
I use five different dependent
variables in logistic regression models
to analyze support for
Mennonite political participation. The dependent variables measure the
following: (1) should Christians avoid government participation, (2)
should Christians participate in politics to improve society, (3) should
Mennonites run for elected office, (4) should Mennonites vote in national
elections, and (5) did the respondent vote in the 2004 presidential election.
If historic Mennonite beliefs that discourage political activity are still
present among contemporary Mennonites, then I expect all independent
variables measuring Mennonite identity to be signed in the direction
that disfavors political participation. The first independent variable that I
employ is Mennonite Identity. This variable provides a measure of
group identification. In the CMP, respondents were provided with a list
of religious characteristics that potentially described themselves (e.g.,
Christian, charismatic, Mennonite, etc.) and instructed to mark all charac-
teristics that applied. If the respondent selected “Mennonite,” then this
variable was coded as 1, otherwise it was coded as 0.
The second independent variable, Strong Mennonite Identity, is quite
similar to preceding variable. After r espondents noted all the religious chara c-
teristics with which they self-identified, they were then asked to select the
two chara cteris tics that most closely described themselves . If the respondent
identified as “Mennonite,” this variable was coded as 1, otherwise it was
coded as 0. This particular variable serves as a measure of the intensity of
Mennonite identity. Those individuals who strongly identify as a
Mennonite should be most likely to select “Mennonite” as one of their two
identification possibilities. If Mennonite Identity or Str ong Mennonite
Identity equals 1, the respondent should be less supportive of political activity.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 377
The third independent variable is Distinctive Mennonite Beliefs. For this
variable, respondents were asked to rate their agreement with the statement:
“Distinctive Mennonite beliefs are very important to me.” This variable was
measured on a four-point scale where completely disagree was coded as 1,
mostly disagree as 2, mostly agree as 3, and completely agree as 4. As the
value of this variable increases, an individual’s support for political activity
should decrease. Although this variable does not explicitly measure
Mennonite identity, those individuals who highly identify as Mennonite
should be most likely to agree with the above statement. As such, this vari-
able acts as an indicator for Mennonite identity.
The fourth independent variable is Avoid the Worldly Kingdom. For this
variable, respondents were asked whether they agreed that “Christians
should avoid involvements in the kingdom of this world.” The variable
was coded on a four-point scale where completely disagree was coded as
1, mostly disagree as 2, mostly agree as 3, and completely agree as 4.
This is perhaps a more powerful indicator of whether an individual will dis-
tance themselves from the political realm. Again, as the value of this variable
increases, an individual’s support for political activity should decrease.
In addition, I control for a number of socioeconomic status and demogr aphic
variables, including the r espondent’s age, race, gender, level of education, and
lev el of income. I also contr o l for one other important facto r, the r espon dent’s
support of the Mennonite C entral Committee’s Christian witness efforts in
Washington, D.C. and New York City (variable denoted Support MCC).
The MCC engages in a wide variety of charitable and Christian mission oper-
ations thr oughout the world. As such, they are often in contact with inter-
national leaders to addr ess issues of humanitarian aid. Although the MCC
does engage in some political activity in order to carry out its humanitarian pro-
jects, it is not entirely clear that negotiating with government officials in order
to perform charitable work cons titutes political activity in the tr aditional sense.
Rather, this seems to be more along the lines of Christian mission work, which
is a component of the Mennonite faith. It is possible that some Mennonites ma y
approve of political activity because the y considered the actions of the MCC a t
the time of completing the surv ey.
The Prevalence of Mennonite Identity
Table 1 presents the frequencies of Mennonite Identity and Strong
Mennonite Identity. A majority of respondents (75%) identified
themselves as Mennonite. Although this is a large portion of respondents,
almost one-quarter of respondents did not identify themselves as
Mennonite. And less than half of the respondents (48%) expressed a
strong Mennonite identity. Table 2 presents the frequencies for
Distinctive Mennonite Beliefs and Avoid the Worldly Kingdom.
Regarding Distinctive Mennonite Beliefs, the vast majority of respondents
(87%) “completely agree” or “mostly agree” that “distinctive Mennonite
beliefs are very important to me.” Additionally, almost two-thirds of
respondents (63%) “completely agree” or “mostly agree” that
“Christians should avoid involvements in the kingdom of this world.”
It is apparent that a significant portion of contemporary Mennonites
identify with the Mennonite faith and support Mennonite beliefs.
However, there is a substantial minority of respondents (25%) who do
not identify with the Mennonite Church and a larger minority (37%)
Table 1. Mennonite identity
Mennonite Identity Strong Mennonite Identity
(N = 1,665)
(N = 1,069)
Not Marked 24.56%
(N = 542)
(N = 1,139)
Note: Data obtained from the 2006 Mennonite Church Member Profile survey.
Table 2. Mennonite beliefs
Beliefs are Very
Important to Me
Christians Should Avoid
Involvements in the Kingdom
of this World
Completely Disagree 3.11%
(N = 67)
(N = 129)
Mostly Disagree 10.29%
(N = 220)
(N = 621)
Mostly Agree 49.91%
(N = 1,069)
(N = 830)
Completely Agree 36.69%
(N = 786)
(N = 434)
(N = 2,142)
(N = 2,014)
Note: Data obtained from the 2006 Mennonite Church Member Profile survey.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 379
who disagree to some extent with the Mennonite distinction between the
Kingdom of God and kingdom of man. Despite this, it appears that there is
a Mennonite identity among contemporary Mennonites, and that identity
is fairly widespread.
The Effect of Mennonite Identity
The results of the five logistic regression models are presented in Table 3.
The variable Mennonite Identity attains statistical significance in three
of the five models, and the Strong Mennonite Identity variable is correctly
signed and statistically significant in each of the five models.
Much like the Mennonite Identity variable, the variable Distinctive
Mennonite Beliefs is correctly signed and statistically significant in three
of the five models. The final variable that taps Mennonite identity,
Avoid the Worldly Kingdom, is statistically significant and signed in the
proper direction in all five models.
One of the control variables does present an interesting result and is
deserving of further comment. The age of the respondent is statistically
significant in all five models. In four of the five models, increased age
decreases the respondent’s probability of supporting political activity.
Such a relationship makes intuitive sense because older respondents
have spent more time as a member of the Mennonite Church compared
to their younger counterparts. These respondents are likely to have been
influenced by Mennonite doctrine over the years and internalized it as
part of their self-conception. Interestingly, however, older individuals
were more likely to vote in the 2004 presidential election than their
younger counterparts. Although it is generally accepted that increased
age is a predictor of voter turnout among the general public, this behavior
is contrary to traditional Mennonite doctrine. It is perplexing that older
respondents were less likely to support of Mennonites voting in national
elections (model 4), but then these same respondents were most likely
to have voted in the 2004 presidential election (model 5). To offer one
potential explanation, it is possible that older Mennonites felt compelled
to vote in the 2004 election because of the perceived divide between
President Bush and Senator Kerry on moral issues.
However, this is
only a tentative explanation. The unusual relationship between age and
voting in the Mennonite Church USA certainly deserves attention in
Table 3. Mennonite identity logit and ordered logit models
Should Relate to
Government (1 =
Avoid, 4 = Actively
Participate in Politics
to Improve Society (1
Disagree, 4 =
Not Run for Elected
Office (1 =
4 = Completely
Not Vote in National
Elections (1 =
4 = Completely
in the 2004
Election (0 = Did
Not Vote, 1 =
(0 = Not
1 = Marked)
(0 = Not
1 = Marked)
(1 = Completely
Disagree, 4 =
Avoid the Worldly
(1 = Completely
Disagree, 4 =
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 381
Table 3. Continued
Should Relate to
Government (1 =
Avoid, 4 = Actively
Participate in Politics
to Improve Society (1
Disagree, 4 =
Not Run for Elected
Office (1 =
4 = Completely
Not Vote in National
Elections (1 =
4 = Completely
in the 2004
Election (0 = Did
Not Vote, 1 =
(1 = 25 and
6 = 66 and
(0 = Non-
White, 1 =
(1 = Female, 2
(1 = 8
9 = Doctorate or
(1 = $5,000 or
11 = More than
(1 = Strongly
4 = Strongly
Constant —— —— 0.63
Number of Cases 1,751 1,758 1,759 1,759 1,767
0.0559 0.0520 0.0632 0.0434 0.0699
*p < 0.10, **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01, two-tailed tests.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 383
Predicted Probabilities and the Implications of
To briefly summarize the above findings, the analysis provides support
that (1) a Mennonite religious identity is present among contemporary
Mennonites, and (2) increasing levels of Mennonite identity reduces
support for political activity. However, it is unclear whether high levels
of Mennonite identity result in a substantial decrease in an individual’s
probability of supporting or engaging in political activity as compared
to respondents with low levels of Mennonite identity. For this reason, pre-
dicted probabilities are presented in Tables 4 through 8 for each of the five
dependent variables analyzed in Table 3. Each predicted probability table
contains two respondent profiles. The first respondent profile, Low
Mennonite Identity, sets all identity independent variables set to their
minimum level, while the second respondent profile, High Mennonite
Identity, sets all identity independent variables set to their maximum
level. Each profile sets the control variables to their modal values.
After reviewing the predicted probabilities in these five tables, there are
two distinct patterns that can be observed. First, the profile High
Mennonite Identity is less likely to approve of any form of political partici-
pation compared with the Low Mennonite Identity profile. Second, even
though Mennonites with high levels of identity are the least likely
members in the sample to approve of political activity, they are supportive
of political activity to some extent. For four of the five predicted probabil-
ities, there is more than a 50% probability that high Mennonite identifiers
would support political participation to some degree.
In Table 4, which analyzes how Christians should relate to government,
there is a 97% probability that respondents in the Low Mennonite Identity
profile would state that it is acceptable to “actively participate in govern-
ment to improve it” or “ try to influence government to do what is right.”
There is a 54% probability that respondents in the High Mennonite
Identity profile would respond in the same manner.
Table 5 presents the predicted probabilities regarding Christian partici-
pation in government to improve society. Respondents in the Low
Mennonite Identity profile showed great support for participation in gov-
ernment. There is a 97% probability that these individuals would “comple-
tely agree” or “mostly agree” that it is acceptable to participate in
government to improve society. Respondents in the High Mennonite
Identity profile had a 52% probability that they would “completely
agree” or “mostly agree” with this statement.
Table 4. Predicted probabilities of how Christians should relate to government
Avoid Government and
Politics as Much as Possible
Cooperate as Needed, But
Don’t Get too Involved
Try to Influence
Government to Do What is
Actively Participate in
Government to Improve It
0.002 [0.0006, 0.003] 0.027 [0.012, 0.041] 0.275 [0.177, 0.374] 0.696 [0.583, 0.810]
0.051 [0.032, 0.070] 0.412 [0.358, 0.466] 0.465 [0.417, 0.512] 0.073 [0.053, 0.092]
Difference 0.049 0.385 0.190 0.623
Note: For “Low Mennonite Identity” all identity variables are set to their minimum level and for “High Mennonite Identity” all identity variables are set to their
maximum level. All other variables are set at their model category: Age = 46 to 55 years old; Race = White; Gender = Female; Education = High school graduate;
Household Income = $50,000 to $74,999; Support for the MCC = Support. Totals may not add to 1.0 due to rounding errors. The 95% confidence intervals are
reported in brackets.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 385
The predicted probabilities in Table 6 denote respondent agreement
with the statement “Mennonites should not run for any elected office.”
There is a 1% probability that Low Mennonite Identity would “completely
agree” or “mostly agree” with this statement, while there is a 51% prob-
ability that respondents in the High Mennonite Identity profile would
“completely agree” or “mostly agree.” This it is the only time in the pre-
dicted probably profiles presented in this section that High Mennonite
Identity respondents have greater than a 50% probability of opposing
The predicted probabilities in Table 7 measure support for the statement
“Mennonites should not vote in national elections.” Low Mennonite
Identity respondents have a 1% probability of answering “completely
agree” or “mostly agree” to this statement, while High Mennonite
Identity respondents have a 15% probability of responding in the same
Table 5. Predicted probabilities, Christians should participate in government to
Difference 0.066 0.379 0.118 0.563
*See note under Table 4
Table 6. Predicted probabilities, Mennonites should not run for any el ected
Difference 0.818 0.32 0.386 0.113
*See note under Table 4
Last, Table 8 presents predicted probabilities of voter turnout in the
2004 presidential election. Respondents in the Low Mennonite Identity
profile had a 96% probability of voting, while respondents in the High
Mennonite Identity profile had a 70% probability.
The analysis reveals several interesting findings regarding the relationship
between Mennonite religious identity and political involvement. First, the
descriptive statistics show that a large majority of parishioners identify
themselves as Mennonites. Seventy-five percent of respondents identify
as Mennonite, and 48% strongly identify as Mennonite. Additionally, a
large majority of respondents support distinctive Mennonite beliefs and
the two-kingdom Anabaptist theology. Thus, it seems that contemporary
Mennonites possess a religious identity and support traditional
Mennonite beliefs that should discourage political involvement.
The analysis also reveals that the four independent variables represent-
ing Mennonite identity generally have a negative statistical relationship
Table 7. Predicted probabilities, Mennonites should not vote in national
Difference 0.501 0.364 0.103 0.034
*See note under Table 4
Table 8. Predicted probabilities of voting in 2004
Voted Did Not Vote
Low Mennonite Identity 0.960 [0.931, 0.989] 0.040 [0.011, 0.067]
High Mennonite Identity 0.703 [0.635, 0.771] 0.297 [0.229, 0.365]
*See note under Table 4
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 387
with political participation. This finding comports with the historic tra-
dition of Mennonites avoiding political activity. It should be noted,
however, that in the two logit models addressing voting, the independent
variables Mennonite Identity and Distinctive Mennonite Beliefs were not
statistically significant. Such a relationship is unusual because voting is
an obvious form of political participation, and given historic Mennonite
beliefs, these variables, too, should be statistically significant and nega-
tively signed. One potential explanation for this unexpected finding is
that contemporary Mennonites do not view voting to be a highly political
act, especially given that some Mennonites have engaged in this practice
for decades. Casting a ballot in the privacy of a voting booth seems to be
much less political than running for office, making a contribution to a pol-
itical campaign, or actively working to bring about a policy change. In any
event, the relationship between contemporary Mennonite beliefs and
voting warrants further investigation.
While increasing levels of Mennonite religious identity reduces the prob-
ability that parishioners will support political activity, the predicted prob-
ability analysis shows that even those Mennonites with a high level of
identity have approximately a 50% probability of supporting political
activity. Historic traditions in the Mennonite church suggest that those indi-
viduals who highly identity as Mennonite would not engage in any sort of
political participation. But, this is clearly not the case among contemporary
Mennonites. Respondents with high levels of identity were moderately
supportive of political activity, as opposed to showing strong disapproval.
It seems reasonable to conclude that contemporary Mennonite political be-
havior does not necessarily reflect historic Mennonite teachings. Although
high levels of Mennonite identity reduce the probability of supporting
political activity, its effect is not so strong that it compels parishioners to
largely avoid politics. Perhaps one explanation for such results is the influ-
ence of acculturation and modernity.
The findings of this article are potentially generalizable beyond this par-
ticular group of Mennonites. As noted earlier, the Mennonite Church USA
is a part of the Anabaptist religious tradition. If the Mennonite Church
USA is open to political activity, it is possible that other mainstream
Mennonites and Anabaptist are also supportive of political activity.
Future studies of Mennonites and Anabaptists should move beyond
measuring levels of support for political involvement and instead seek
to analyze actual political involvement. Do Mennonites engage in cam-
paign work for political candidates? Do they contribute money to political
causes? Given their strong belief in pacifism and opposition to the use of
force, do they engage in anti-war protests? Specifying what forms of pol-
itical participation Mennonites engage in will help determine if the various
forms of political participation are dependent on religious identity.
Furthermore, by analyzing specific instances of political involvement,
researchers could determine if there is any difference between the political
involvement of Mennonites and those of the general public.
Last, the findings presented here also have implications for the study of
religion and politics. The results provide evidence that a religious attach-
ment can function as a social identity that influences individual political
behavior. Those individuals who possess a strong religious identity are
likely to internalize their religion’s tenants as part of their self-conception.
If tenants of faith influence how an individual perceives political actions,
and how an individual forms political preferences, then religious identity
could be an important factor in explaining and understanding individual
political behavior. As such, researchers should account for this influence
This article’s results indicate that Mennonite identity is present among
members of the Mennonite Church USA. Seventy-five percent of respon-
dents in the 2006 CMP survey identified as Mennonite, and 48% strongly
identified as Mennonite. Furthermore, as hypothesized, Mennonite iden-
tity decreases the likelihood of an individual supporting political activity.
However, contrary to historic church tradition, contemporary Mennonite
religious identity does not overwhelmingly suppress political partici-
pation. Respondents were fairly supportive of political involvement,
regardless of the strength of their Mennonite identity. Even respondents
who most strongly identified as Mennonite had approximately a 50%
probability of supporting political participation.
Perhaps it is understandable that contemporary Mennonites are not
totally opposed to political participation given the effects of acculturation,
a paradigm shift in the two-kingdom theology, and the changes in
Mennonite church membership in recent decades. It is difficult to
predict how Mennonite identity will influence individual political behav-
ior in the years to come, especially as membership in the Mennonite
Church USA continues to change. Still, barring a significant change in
the church, it seems likely that Mennonites will be supportive of political
activity at some level for the foreseeable future.
Religious Identity and Political Participation in the Mennonite Church 389
1. Generally speaking, the MC tended to be more religiously conservative than the GCMC (see
Redekop 1989, 39–41). Each denomination also had different geographic/ethnic roots. The GCMC
was of Dutch-Russian origins, while the MC was of Swiss-German origins. Because the Mennonite
Church USA was formed when these two denominations merged in 2002, this should result in
some variation in religious practice/beliefs among parishioners. Additionally, there is some variation
among members of the Mennonite Church USA in terms of their social practices and lifestyles. Some
members of the Mennonite Church USA strive to live a conservative, simple lifestyle, while others
embrace fashionable clothing and other luxuries.
2. Particular emphasis is placed on John 18:36 (NRSV) —“My kingdom is not from this world. If
my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over
to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
3. Members of the Mennonite Church USA reside in 49 of the 50 states, but the bulk of the mem-
bership resides in Pennsylvania (61,326 members), Ohio (21,080 members), Kansas (20,994
members), Indiana (17,083 members), California (13,984 members), and Virginia (11,994
members). Thus, any potential political effects of Mennonite identity would be particularly pro-
nounced in these locales.
4. As I discussed, Mennonites are part of a larger religious movement known as the Anabaptists.
Schrag (2005) notes that in 2005 the United States population of Anabaptist was 527,971, which
includes various Mennonite denominations, Amish, Brethren, and Hutterites.
5. For evidence of race/ethnicity operating as a social identity, see Dawson (1994) and Tate (1993).
Additionally, there is a body of literature that discusses partisan attachment as a social identity
(Campbell et al. 1960, 133; Green et al. 2002; Greene 1999, 402).
6. See also McVeigh and Sikkink (2001) and Sherkat and Blocker (1994) for a discussion on con-
servative Christian beliefs and political protest.
7. As a sign of its popularity among Mennonites, Juhnke (2003) noted that the Martyrs Mirror has
out-sold all other Annabaptist-Mennonite historical texts.
8. Perry Bush (1998) provides an excellent study of Mennonite reaction to military conscription. In
his study, Bush notes that a Mennonite draftee’s decision to serve as a conscientious objector during
World War II was likely influenced by level of education, urban/rural residency, and economic status
(Bush 1998, 97–105). According to Bush (1998, 98), as of 1947, 57.7% of GCMC and 29.9% of MC
draftees were classified as 1-A status, meaning that a draftee was eligible for regular military service.
Generally speaking, Mennonites who completed college or only received a grade school education
were more likely to serve as a conscientious objector, while those with only a high school education
were more likely to serve as a regular member of the United States armed forces. Bush argues that
those individuals with a college education or only an elementary education likely attended
Mennonite colleges or elementary schools, which helped to reinforce beliefs in pacifism. However,
individuals with a high school education likely interacted with others outside the Mennonite faith, typi-
cally in a non-rural environment, and were subject to acculturation. It seems that those Mennonites
who refused military conscription were likely to possess a strong Mennonite identity. Additionally,
financial considerations may have also enticed some Mennonites to serve in the military to earn
extra money for their families.
9. As noted, the General Conference Mennonite Church and the (Old) Mennonite Church merged
in 2002 to form the Mennonite Church USA.
10. These semi-autonomous communities would become known as the Russian-Mennonite
Commonwealth, because Mennonites exercised economic and political control over these communities
(see Urry 2006, 104; see also Rempel 1974).
11. Driedger and Kraybill (1994) provide an excellent examination of Mennonite activism, particu-
larly in regard to international humanitarian relief and peacemaking efforts.
12. For a discussion on Mennonites who have held or run for political office, see Redekop (1983,
96–99), Dreidger and Kraybill (1993, 190–191), and Groff (2008).
13. It is also interesting to note that author James Junhke is Mennonite and he unsuccessfully ran
for Congress in 1970.
14. Redekop (1983) also observed that nationalism was on the rise among Mennonites. While
nationalism is not the same as support for political participation, it does represent a break from tra-
ditional Mennonite beliefs.
15. The 2006 CMP did not ask respondents how often they voted in recent elections, but respon-
dents were asked for whom they voted for in the 2004 presidential election. Only 22% of respondents
reported that they did not vote for president, while 78% did vote. Given that approximately 60% of
Americans voted in the 2004 election (see McDonald 2008), there is likely some level of misreporting
by the CMP respondents. However, this does not undercut the fact that many contemporary
Mennonites regularly vote in elections.
16. Variations in education, age, and urbanization also resulted in differences in ideological/parti-
san preference in the 1989 CMP. Specifically, increases in urbanization and years of formal education
were associated with greater support for the Democratic Party, while increases in age were associated
with support for the Republican Party (see Driedger and Kraybill 1994, 204–209). This, too, suggests
that acculturation and modernization have influenced Mennonite political attitudes.
17. Based on an analysis of the 1972 and 2006 CMP surveys, 18% of GCMC and MC members
earned a college or graduate degree in 1972, while 38% of Mennonite Church USA members had a
college or graduate degree in 2006. Additionally, in 1972, only 0.5% of Mennonites were considered
of “non-white” racial background, but that has increased to 9% as of 2006. The growing percent of
non-white and college-educated Mennonites should foster acculturation.
18. For an overview of the Church Member Profile 2006 survey, see http://users.etown.edu/k/kray
billd/CMP_Overview.pdf (Accessed November 17, 2011). Further information on the methods and
procedures used to obtain responses in the CMP can be obtained from the Young Center for
Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College or the author.
19. Logistic regression (or logit) allows researchers to estimate, or model, the effect of several inde-
pendent variables on a dependent variable that consists of discrete ordinal outcomes. Models 1–4in
this analysis employ ordered logistic regression since there are four possible outcomes in the depen-
dent variable, and model 5 employs regular logistic regression because the dependent variable consists
of a binary outcome. For more information on logistic regression see Mendard (1997) and Borooah
20. To test the validity of this measure, I compared responses to this question with other survey
questions that related to important Mennonite beliefs (e.g., avoid service in the armed forces, avoid
swearing an oath, practicing non-violence, living a simple lifestyle, among others issues). While
there was some variance in responses, those individuals who reported that Mennonite beliefs were per-
sonally very important were most likely to take positions that were consistent with traditional
Mennonite/Anabaptist beliefs. In other words, the higher a respondent rated Mennonite beliefs, the
less likely they were to support service in the armed force and swear an oath, and more likely to
support non-violence and living a simple life.
21. Moral issues (e.g., same-sex marriage and abortion) were factors that increased voter regis-
tration and turnout among Old Order Amish and Mennonites in the 2004 election (see Kraybill and
Kopko 2007). It is possible that moral issues had the same influence on older members of the
Mennonite Church USA.
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dependent variable while holding the independent variables at a specified value. Each predicted prob-
ability profile that I estimate accounts for different values of the independent variables that measure
Mennonite identity, which allows for a clearer understanding of the substantive effect of the indepen-
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proxy for a type of respondent. Here, I compare the differences in behavior between two types of
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