“This area has had shifting boundaries. . . .” With that phrase Mark Jantzen begins his encyclopedia article on Mennonites in East Prussia, written originally for Mennonitisches Lexikon and shared here in English. Professor Jantzen’s “shifting boundaries” denote a geographical area, but for me that phrase resonates metaphorically as I have reflected on the contents of this issue, in which themes of Mennonite mission, social activism, and identity figure prominently. Mennonites arriving to East Prussia in the early 18th century would subsequently deliberate over social, ethical, and theological boundaries that marked their identity. For instance, what should be the boundary for Mennonites regarding economic integration into German middle-class life? Should a boundary be drawn regarding mixed marriages outside the faith? What about the boundary excluding military service, a boundary increasingly difficult to maintain after the founding of the German Reich in 1871 and its enforcement of the 1868 requirement that all Mennonites serve in the military?
What boundaries are helpful in preserving a coherent Mennonite identity? What boundaries should be reinforced, or shifted, or crossed, or removed entirely? Such boundary questions resonate in the contributions to this issue. Weldon Schloneger’s “Stories from the Petter Photos” samples the 3000+ photographs and stories from the archival record of Rodolphe Petter, a central figure in Mennonite missions with the Cheyenne people of Oklahoma. While that mission led Rodolphe and his wife Bertha Kinsinger Petter to cross cultural boundaries and encounter Cheyenne people in new ways, it also reinforced a mainstream American assumption that the Cheyenne should learn English, convert to Christianity, and reject their Native culture. Alec Loganbill’s “A New Responsibility: The Awakening of the Mennonite Social Conscience During the Civil Rights Era, 1950-1965” explores how a two-kingdom theology inscribed a boundary that kept most American Mennonites initially disengaged from civil rights activism, but changing theological commitments increasingly pushed them to step over that separatist boundary and offer a newfound prophetic voice to the broader culture. Yet another boundary crossing is the subject of Rachel Waltner Goossen’s “With All Deliberate Speed,” a sermon title borrowed from the Supreme Court’s civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. Much as civil rights activists then urged deliberate speed in integrating public schools, Goossen suggests the time has come to break down the boundaries that have marked exclusion of LGBTQ-identified leaders in Mennonite congregations. A principle central to both Loganbill’s study and Goossen’s sermon—that Mennonite identity and theology should engage contemporary cultural concerns—aligns with the purpose of the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest, which asks that students “focus on the application of the Christian peace position to contemporary concerns.” The two most recent binational award-winning speeches from that contest, by Jacob A. Miller in 2016-17 and by Sarah Balzer in 2017-18, also appear in this issue.
As I step away from the editor’s role, I wish to thank colleagues on the editorial board who have sustained the vitality of this journal: Rachel Epp Buller, Mark Jantzen, John Thiesen, and Melanie Zuercher. I am especially indebted to Melanie for her invaluable work as a professional writer, copy editor, and proofreader for this journal in recent years. I have depended greatly on her expertise, and I am delighted that she is stepping into the role of Editor of Mennonite Life. Thank you, Melanie.