July 1981 · Vol. 10 No. 3 · pp. 48–68 

The Interaction of Economics and Religion: The Case of the Mennonite Brethren in Canada

John H. Redekop

In his impressive and definitive monograph, The Economics of Anabaptism, 1525-1560, Dr. Peter Klassen convincingly documents his assertion that “From its beginning, Anabaptism was characterized by an emphasis upon practical Christianity that embraced all facets of life”. More specifically, “Propagators of Anabaptism considered their economic views a natural and necessary part of the Christian life, which they conceived of as discipleship.” 1 Professor Klassen observes: “Nothing is so strikingly basic to their attitudes towards economic factors as the firm conviction that all . . . of life constituted an indivisible unity that must be permeated by the spirit of Christ. There could be no compartmentalization of the faithful disciple—his whole being, as well as his possessions, must willingly be placed at God’s disposal.” 2 To that end they emphasized certain principles. Though constantly stressing voluntarism—Menno Simons said that “there was no compulsion save the compulsion of love”—they deemed meaningless any protestations of spiritual fraternity and sensitivity which did not simultaneously recognize a fraternity of need. 3 Their statements frequently refer to stewardship and accountability to God. The welfare of others, even of non-Christians, was similarly a continuing concern.

Given the emphasis on unity of the believers and the bond of love, it is hardly surprising that they minimized individualism. “Felix Manz, first Anabaptist to be martyred by the followers of Zwingli, when accused of advocating the abolition of private property, denied the charge but insisted that a Christian had no right to use his possessions without regard for the needs of others.” 4 However, as Menno noted, the early church in Jerusalem abandoned its practice of having a community of goods and there was no point in trying to establish a policy which had been rejected by the apostles. 5

Though the early Anabaptists made no virtue of poverty and, in the main, never stressed that any particular vocation was more {49} honorable than another, they were fully “prepared to abandon any trade that they felt to be at variance with New Testament teachings.” 6 Economic matters were always subordinated to Christian obedience.

Menno did not hesitate to challenge the leaders of the established churches, or even public officials, who seemed to live by a concept “of Christianity that permitted a believer to enjoy complacent self-sufficiency with no regard for the need of others.” 7 Thus he exclaimed, “where are the naked whom you have clothed, the hungry you have fed, the needy whom you have put up?” 8 Significantly, leaders such as Conrad Grabel “never suggested that a citizen might refuse to pay taxes if the government misused funds.” There seemed to be general agreement that “when a government levied a tax, the obedient citizen was not personally accountable for the method of disposition of these funds.” 9 Much more could be said about the specifics of early Anabaptist views about economics, but let the above suffice. The sixteenth century Anabaptists were, by and large, unflinchingly committed to apply to economic matters the New Testament ethics as they understood them.

Given the focus of this paper it is noteworthy that when, in 1860, the Mennonite Brethren broke away from the larger Mennonite body, they explicitly asserted their unity with the basic sixteenth century Anabaptist views. Thus the January 6 secession document contains the following statements: “d) In the articles, we are in agreement with our dear Menno, according to our convictions from the Holy Scriptures”, and, again “k) In all other articles of our confession, we are in full agreement with Menno Simons.” That they consciously accepted the early Anabaptist emphasis on a transformed economic ethic is clear from the P.M. Friesen account. 10

After the migration to North America, as chronicled by Dr. John A. Toews, the Mennonite Brethren at first “experienced a continuous struggle for economic survival,” but eventually, especially after World War II, they experienced great material progress. 11 Professor Toews comments, “In Russia, many Mennonite Brethren viewed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent confiscation of all property as God’s judgement on Mennonite materialism. May history not have to repeat itself in America.” 12

How have economic factors affected Mennonite Brethren in Canada? Have the norms of society shaped their historical beliefs? Have these beliefs had an impact on society? Are these beliefs changing? What do Canadian Mennonite Brethren believe today?

The above questions bring us directly to the topic at hand. It is not {50} easy to deal with this subject. There is very little analysis of any kind and, aside from a few relevant North American references in Kauffman-Harder study, 13 virtually no hard data at all. Accordingly, I decided to undertake a field study. In September of 1980 I mailed out 355 questionnaires. With two or three exceptions the names were selected from the 1979 Canadian Mennonite Brethren Yearbook as follows: pastors and associate pastors (158), conference employees (7), most church moderators of congregations larger than 100 or so (68), and an additional 122 selected on a random sample basis, but avoiding duplications, from the remaining lists of church officials and Canadian conference boards. Of the 355 questionnaires, 28 were sent to women and 327 to men. By province/region the return rate was as follows: B.C. 86 of 111 (77.5%), Alberta 32 of 41 (78%), Saskatchewan 32 of 50 (64%), Manitoba 74 of 86 (86%), Ontario 55 of 60 (91.7%), and Quebec and Nova Scotia 4 of 7 (57.1%) for a total of 283 of 355 (79.7%). We should note at this point that while the total figures in the summarized responses include the Quebec/Nova Scotia input, that region is not listed in the more detailed tabulation because of the low numbers involved.

In setting the 8 personal and congregational information questions and the 66 personal evaluation questions, I had the following general questions in mind:

  1. To what extent do Canadian Mennonite Brethren leaders still hold to the early Anabaptist views on economic matters as spelled out in the sixteenth century and re-asserted in 1860?
  2. What do Canadian Mennonite Brethren leaders think about various economic issues significant in Canada today?
  3. Does Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership response to economic matters vary according to the age of the leaders?
  4. Is Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership response to economic matters different for clergy than for laity?
  5. Does Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership response to economic matters vary according to region?
  6. Does Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership response to economic matters vary according to the socio-economic status of the respondent?
  7. Does Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership response to economic matters vary according to type, size, socio-economic status or socio-economic trends of the congregation? {51}
  8. How great is the range of responses for each question?

Because of the space constraints, as well as the nature of the responses, I included in my Winnipeg paper only the responses according to age, church employment, and location. My original paper included these more detailed responses for all 66 questions; here I am providing only four examples.

THE QUESTIONNAIRE (Total responses = 283)

The first two parts, both very brief, elicited personal and congregational information. The results, with the percentages in parentheses are as follows.

A. Personal Information

  1. Age:
    1. 35 and under, 35 (12.4%)
    2. 36 to 50, 151 (53.4%)
    3. 51 to 65, 84 (29.7%)
    4. over 65, 13 (4.6%)
  2. Church Employment: Pastor, minister, or other salaried church/conference staff or employee (including part-time if the part-time is at least 50%)
    1. yes, 136 (48.1%)
    2. no, 146 (51.6%)

      no resp., 1 (.4%)

  3. Location:
    1. B.C., 86 (30.4%)
    2. Alta., 32 (11.3%)
    3. Sask., 32 (11.3%)
    4. Man., 74 (26.1%)
    5. Ont., 55 (19.4%)
    6. N.S. and Que., 4 (1.4%)
  4. Social-Economic Status: In terms of social-economic status in your community, would you consider yourself to be in
    1. the lower class, 10 (3.5%)
    2. the middle class, 255 (90.1%)
    3. the upper class, 18 (6.4%)

B. Congregational Information

  1. Type: Is your congregation
    1. mainly rural, 49 (17.3%)
    2. mixed rural-urban, 93 (32.9%)
    3. mainly urban, 141 (49.8%)
  2. Size: Indicate the approximate size.
    1. 100 or less, 57 (20.1%)
    2. 101 to 250, 91 (32.2%)
    3. 251 to 500, 113 (39.9%)
    4. over 500, 21 (7.4%)

      No resp., 1 (.4%)

  3. Social-Economic Status: In terms of social-economic status in your community, which of the following best describes your congregation?
    1. mainly lower class 9 (3.2%)
    2. mainly middle class, 269 (95.1%)
    3. mainly upper class, 3 (1.1%)

      No resp. 2 (.7%) {52}

  4. Social-Economic Trend: Would you consider most of your congregation to be
    1. generally fixed in social-economic status, 126 (44.5%)
    2. generally rising in social-economic status, 150 (53%)
    3. generally declining in social-economic status, 2 (.7%)

      No resp., 5 (1.8%)

Most of this information is strictly factual; however, since no specific guidelines were provided, the responses dealing with socioeconomic factors involve a good deal of subjective evaluation. Clearly, the vast majority of Mennonite Brethren see themselves as belonging to the middle class. Given the well-known sociological fact that most people tend to understate their objective socio-economic status in society, it is probably safe to say that the average Canadian MB is middle to upper middle class in socio-economic status. In the aggregate we are a prosperous, apparently above average, economic group. More than a few of the subsequent responses, including many written comments, seem to substantiate such an assessment.

The questions were presented very simply, as indicated below. For each question the respondents needed only to circle a number and make such comments as they wished. Very few respondents left any questions unanswered. In total there were 2,010 written comments provided by 184 of the respondents. Most of these were included in the more complete report presented to the symposium in Winnipeg. The questions appeared as follows:

C. Personal Evaluations

(For each statement circle one number) 1. Disagree (D) 2. Tend to Disagree (TD) 3. Undecided (U) 4. Tend to Agree (TA) 5. Agree (A)

I. Significance Factors: D. TD. U. TA. A.
1. Mennonite Brethren theology in Canada has been significantly affected by economic factors.
Comment: ______
1 2 3 4 5
2. Economic factors have significantly affected the Canadian MB “way of life” (values, desires, priorities, etc.).
Comment: ______
1 2 3 4 5

With the data provided in sections A and B, and the responses circled in section C, it was obviously possible, using a computer, to come up with a vast assortment of tabulations and cross tabulations. Four relatively simple response depictions involving only items 3, 4 and 5 are reproduced here in the manner that all 66 response depictions were presented at the symposium. Since percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number, the figures do not always add up to 100%. (The “No Responses” have been deleted for this article.) {53-55}

View response depictions



Given space limitations, I shall provide responses to the 66 Personal Evaluation questions in the following manner. The “Disagree” and “Tend to Disagree” will be combined to provide the first percentage, the “Undecided” will constitute the second, and the “Tend to Agree” and “Agree” will be combined for the third. I have again rounded off the percentages, but I have not included “No Response” column. While my original paper included a large number of 2,010 written responses, only a small sampling can be provided here. The questionnaire allowed space for a brief comment after each item.

C. Personal Evaluations

I. Significance Factors: Disa. Un. Agree
1. Mennonite Brethren theology in Canada has been significantly affected by economic factors. 31 6 62
2. Economic factors have significantly affected the Canadian MB “way of life” (values, desires, priorities, etc.). 1 1 98
3. It is important that our churches should address themselves to economic questions. 9 7 85
4. Generally our churches have given adequate attention to economic questions. 69 15 17

There can be little doubt, on the basis of these responses, that Canadian Mennonite Brethren believe strongly that economics has had a major impact on their church and that it deserves more attention. Comments included the following: “Faithfulness to theology has been much affected.” “We tend to do theology through the eyes of the capitalist system.” “We are affluent and don’t know how to cope with it.” “I myself have hardly addressed myself to these issues—because of feeling of inadequacy to do so” (a pastor). Numerous pastors and laymen made similar comments. The following comment reflected a broad concern: “Most are afraid of antagonizing wealthy contributing members.” A minority observed, concerning Question 3, “I see no great need. Economically we are doing well.” “Not a high priority.” {57}

II. Source Factors: Disa. Un. Agree
5. The influence of the years of poverty in foreign countries, or as a result of immigration, or during the great Depression of the 1930’s, has significantly reinforced the desire for economic security. 10 6 84
6. Our church members tend to acquire their economic values more from their church than their place of work. 55 18 26
7. Our church members tend to acquire their economic values more from their church than from the media. 54 17 28
8. Our church members tend to acquire their economic values more from their church than from the education system. 48 23 29
9. Our church members tend to acquire their economic values more from their church than from society in general. 70 12 18
10. Canadian Mennonite Brethren have largely accepted North American capitalism. 2 4 94

Clearly, the general thrust of the responses in this section is that most Canadian MB’s acquire their values more from society than from the church. Some typical comments follow: “The church members are influenced by the media and give sanction to one another.” “Except for MCC influence, little difference.” “A sad equation: Evangelical = Capitalism.” “The ‘Joneses’ now live in churches.” “Most are swept away by the ‘flood’ of media, etc.” “MB’s have tended to be capitalistic, even in Russia.” “No significant differences between MB’s and society.” But a few comments struck a different note: “We feel that God is restoring to our congregation a simpler lifestyle.” {58}

III. Congregational Factors: (trends and values) Disa. Un. Agree
11. In terms of economic values Canadian Mennonite Brethren are still becoming more like the general Canadian population. 5 5 90
12. Our relative prosperity has, on balance, strengthened our family unity. 84 9 6
13. Our relative prosperity has, on balance, strengthened our congregational unity. 81 11 7
14. Our relative prosperity has, on balance, strengthened our denominational unity. 75 15 9
15. The wealthier half of our congregation is generally more given to a life of Christian love and obedience than is the less wealthy half. 71 20 7
16. A congregation in which there is comparatively little disparity in wealth or income is closer to the New Testament. 54 18 26
17. Our churches have some responsibility for the way in which individual members spend their money, especially money not spent on the usual living expenses. 10 5 83
18. If Canadian Mennonite Brethren suddenly experienced major and widespread financial setbacks, our congregations would probably become more committed to spiritual matters. 12 12 76

This section focused mainly on the consequences of prosperity as reflected in congregations. There was virtual unanimity that economic assimilation is extensive and is continuing. Representative comments included: “There is a growing awareness of checking our lifestyle.” “Striving for material possessions scatters families.” “Too self-sufficient to realize the need for each other.” “In our congregation Christian love and obedience are not related to economics.” “Poor people can be as greedy as the rich.” “The wealthier are more individualistic. All are striving for wealth.” “We must be careful not to say more than the Bible does about equality.” “Very little preaching and teaching in our congregation in this regard.” “Nichts ist schwerer zu ertragen als eine Reihe guter Tage.” “Hard times do not always bring renewal.”

IV. Economic Success Factors: Disa. Un. Agree
19. The fact that a Christian has become wealthy is generally a sign that God looks on him with favor. 83 7 9
20. The hard-working, honest, diligent Christians tend to become the relatively well-to-do Christians. 30 9 60
21. Thriftiness is one of the important Christian virtues. 22 9 68
22. The accumulation of wealth is important because it enables us to do more good deeds. 60 14 25
23. Financial success usually correlates positively with spiritual success. 90 7 3
24. Widespread Mennonite Brethren affluence is an indication that God is blessing the denomination. 60 14 25

Is prosperity to be desired? Is it a virtue? A blessing? Responses to questions 19 and 23 question the value of wealth; the other responses give a mixed reading. The comments were diverse. “Too often thriftiness is a cover for greed.” “Thriftiness is not necessarily Christian.” “The good deeds are important. Accumulation of wealth brings added responsibility.” “Good deeds do not hinge on wealth.” “Affluence is a {60} blessing of God.” Br. Unruh once said, “Gerechtigkeit bringt uns Reichtum and dann frist der Reichtum die Gerechtigkeit auf.” “Often the gains are ill-gotten.” “God is giving us an opportunity to prove ourselves as good stewards.”

V. Economic Effect Factors: Disa. Un. Agree
25. A wealthy person has difficulty communicating the Gospel to a poor person. 37 9 54
26. A poor person has difficulty communicating the Gospel to a wealthy person. 34 11 54
27. Our relative affluence has generally made it more difficult to communicate the Gospel to our society generally. 50 14 35
28. Our relative affluence has made it more difficult for our denomination to communicate the Gospel to poorer people. 35 14 51
29. Our relative affluence has made it easier for our denomination to communicate the Gospel to the middle and upper classes. 18 19 62
30. Economic status does not significantly affect communication of the Gospel. 43 11 44
31. Our relative affluence has weakened our zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. 21 13 66
32. Our relative affluence has weakened our commitment to a life of Christian discipleship. 20 5 74
33. Our relative affluence has increased our interest in overseas missions and services. 62 15 21
{61} 34. Economic prosperity has generally increased our congregational sensitivity towards the needy and exploited people in Canada. 70 11 18
35. The fact that we live in a mainly free enterprise economic system makes it more difficult for us to love Christians living in a communist economic system. 53 15 30
36. The fact that we live in a mainly free enterprise economic system has given us a heightened awareness of the dignity of human beings. 42 19 35
37. Our economic opportunities in Canada have generally had a negative effect on the willingness of Mennonite Brethren young people to undertake voluntary Christian service or missions assignments. 27 13 59
38. Our general familiarity with Canada’s vast natural resources and their development has enhanced our sense of Christian stewardship concerning those resources. 63 21 14
39. The extent of our church’s economic assistance to the economically needy bears little relationship to our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. 56 15 26
40. Our general economic progress and prosperity in Canada has, on balance, been good for our denomination. 29 32 35
{62} VI. Economic Values Factors: Disa. Un. Agree
41. A society, or country, in which there is comparatively little disparity in economic status is closer to the Christian ethic than one that does not. 52 16 27
42. The principles of Christianity have more in common with capitalism than with socialism. 63 22 12
43. Economic socialism shares many ethical values with New Testament ethics. 15 18 63
44. As Christians we should accept less financial assistance (pensions for the blind, family allowances, farm subsidies, unemployment assistance, etc.) from the government than we now accept. 58 19 22
45. Our strong desire for economic security is ethically good. 43 16 37
46. A church should give at least tacit support to the free enterprise system. 25 27 45
47. The free enterprise emphasis on competition is ethically good. 30 19 50
48. The free enterprise emphasis on profit is ethically good. 36 19 43
49. The free enterprise system on individualism and individual responsibility is ethically good. 23 13 61
50. The free enterprise system on resistance to more governmental welfare programs is ethically good. 23 22 51
{63} 51. In Canada there are already too many welfare programs. 21 21 55
52. In Canada most of the poor people are poor because they don’t want to work or don’t like the kind of jobs that are available. 43 15 40
53. The Christian church has a definite financial responsibility towards the needy in our society. 6 2 91
54. The Christian church has a definite financial responsibility towards international refugees and starving people in foreign lands. 3 0 96
55. The emphasis on economic responsibility for oneself, on economic individualism, has a Biblical basis. 20 11 65
56. There is no basic conflict between business ethics and Biblical ethics. 19 8 70
57. Democracy (political freedom) and capitalism (free enterprise) can be properly described as two sides of the same thing. 30 21 46
58. The development of labour unions has, on balance, been good for society. 24 16 58
59. Mennonite Brethren should not hesitate to participate in labour unions. 53 24 22
60. Labour unions in Canada today are too powerful. 6 6 88
61. Labour unions in Canada today are too greedy. 6 4 88
{64} 62. The development of business corporations has, on balance, been good for society. 25 19 54
63. Mennonite Brethren should not hesitate to participate in business corporations. 26 23 48
64. Business corporations in Canada today are too powerful. 12 16 71
65. Business corporations in Canada today are too greedy. 7 13 78
66. Because of current economic conditions in Canada, the government should keep immigration figures low and generally make it difficult for foreigners to migrate to Canada. 78 16 13

Obviously Canadian Mennonite Brethren leaders hold widely differing views on these 26 questions. I found the responses to questions 42 and 43 particularly interesting. The widely perceived similarities between certain socialistic emphases and certain Christian emphases surprised me. However, the responses appear not to be entirely consistent; responses to question 46 suggest that the free enterprise system merits our support.

“Utopian socialism is reflected in the lifestyle of Jesus.” “Christianity is not tied to political systems.” “Capitalism may lead to greed but socialism may lead to indolence.” “Socialism and N.T. ethics are poles apart in their method, agree on intent.” “Socialism is forced, Christian giving not.” “We should not make demands but accept what is given.” “Should cheat less to acquire this assistance.” “The church should be open to the Biblically based good of all systems.” “Competition not bad, jealousy is.” “Exploitation, rather than profit, is evil.” “We are too individualistic.” “Welfare contributes to laziness.” “No individualism has a biblical basis.” “He that will not work, shall not eat.” “We also have a corporate responsibility.”

“My honest opinion is that it is very hard to be a successful businessman and adhere to strict Biblical ethics.” “Political and economical democracy go together.” “Labour unions have gone past the point of being good.” “They have helped to serve the working class.” “Most of our MB capitalists are very hard on the working class.” {65} “I believe unions and corporations are out of hand.” “Business partnerships—not with unbelievers.” “The profits reaped today tend to be exorbitant.”

Has widespread prosperity aided the church in carrying out its mission? On balance the respondents appear to think that it has not done so. Thus we encounter the basic anomaly. Apparently we strive for wealth, or at least economic well-being, even though we profess to believe that it is not generally good for us! “Being wealthy is not the key issue—love and caring is.” “Communicating the Gospel is not determined by economic success. I don’t believe that affluence has anything to do with it.” “Too often prosperity is accompanied by a drop in spirituality.” “Our wealth may affect what aspects of the Gospel we proclaim.” “Affluence leads to complacency.” “Many positive exceptions.” “We are afraid to let discipleship touch our economics.” “It is easier to give money than be really concerned.” “We have not increased giving according to income.” “Love and economics are two different things.” “Many young people are turning against materialism.” “Was economic prosperity in Russia good for the Mennonites?”

“Others sacrificed for us—we must sacrifice for others.” “We should be just as interested in underdeveloped Canadians as in underdeveloped foreigners.” “Should be more selective—to keep out potential problems.” “We should not transplant people; we should help them where they are if possible.” “We still have an obligation, both humanitarian and Christian.”


Having surveyed the data and the representative comments, let us return to the questions we raised in the introduction.

  1. The vast majority of Canadian MB leaders still seem to support the traditional ideas but many, probably most, respondents have concluded that most people no longer actually practice them. The data seems to support such a conclusion, though not overwhelmingly so. In general there seems to have been an increase in individualism and a decline of mutual aid and economic sharing. There may be more ethical compartmentalization.
  2. Within the Canadian Mennonite Brethren leadership group we find vastly differing views on most economic and economic-political issues of the day. The majority seems to {66} identify with a conservative, pro-business, and at least mildly anti-labour union perspective. This group is critical of various parts of our present welfare system and socialist endeavors generally. A vocal minority, however, sees much value in a simple life style, various assistance programs (both government and private), and is generally critical of what is seen as a widespread preoccupation with profit, financial security, and financial advancement. Significantly, both groups claim a biblical basis for their positions. My assessment is that this disunity is increasing and, if it is not dealt with, could cause trouble in future years. Of course, on this issue as well as others, diversity and healthy tension may be energizing and productive.
  3. In general, the response to economic issues does not vary greatly from one age group to another. However, there are noteworthy differences. Older people see relatively less impact by economic factors (Q1) (though Q.7 and 9 seem to point in the other direction), are less inclined to have the church address economic issues (Q.3), and in general place less confidence in economic success (Q. 13, 15, 18, 19, etc.). Older people also see less virtue in thriftiness (Q. 21); however they tend somewhat more strongly to equate affluence with divine blessing (Q. 24) and do not see wealth as an obstacle to communicating the Gospel (Q. 25, 28, 30, 35, etc.). Older people tend also to support the free enterprise system (Q. 36, 41, 42, 44, 47, etc.). Older people seem also to favour self-reliance (Q. 52 and 55) and to be very critical of labour unions (Q. 59); conversely, they are most supporting of business corporations (Q. 63), though with qualification (Q. 65). The younger people seem to be more critical of wealth (Q. 22, 23, 24 and 34), are more negative about our treatment of the earth’s resources (Q. 38), are more critical of capitalism (Q. 42, 47, 48, 49 and 50), and less critical of welfare assistance (Q. 51, 52, etc.). They also give less support to individualism (Q. 55).
  4. Do the responses differ significantly between clergy and laity? In the main, the differences appear not to be very consequential, let alone divisive. However, here too there are interesting differences. The clergy are more concerned about the impact of economic factors (Q. 2), believe more strongly that the churches should address economic questions (Q. 3, 4, 17), are somewhat reluctant to see wealth as a sign of blessing (Q. 19, 24), feel economic status does affect communication (Q. 30), feel affluence has weakened our zeal {67} and Christian commitment (Q. 31, 32, 33, 34, etc.), and tend to see free enterprise as more of a problem (Q. 36, 37, 47, etc.). The clergy is somewhat more critical of the desire for economic security (Q. 45) and less critical of the contribution of labour unions (Q. 58), though more critical of present union ethics (Q. 59, 60, etc.). Clergy support for big business is less strong (Q. 62, 63, etc.).
  5. Do the responses differ substantially from one province to another? In general, the differences are not extensive nor consistent. Sask. sees a greater impact of economic factors (Q. 1), Ont. feels churches should speak out more (Q.3), Alberta is more positive about the “wealthier half” (Q. 15); though surprisingly it also feels most strongly that affluence has weakened zeal (Q. 32). Manitoba is the most critical about the value of wealth (Q. 22, 24), Sask. is less convinced that affluence has increased interest in missions (Q. 33), Manitoba and B.C. are strongest in associating free enterprise with awareness of human dignity (Q. 36). Ontario is least concerned about economic egalitarianism (Q. 41) but also sees relatively little connection between Christianity and capitalism (Q. 42). Sask. is significantly more supportive of government assistance (Q. 44) but less of church assistance (Q. 54), while Alberta is least positive about free enterprise competition (Q. 47, 48, 55, 57). Alberta and Sask. are the most critical of labour unions (Q. 58, 59) but, perhaps surprisingly, are also the most critical of business corporations (Q. 62, 63). Fortunately all provinces support an enlightened immigration policy (Q. 66), though B.C. is least supportive and Alberta the most.
  6. Though the paper does not contain the data, the variation in response according to social economic status was not great. However, since almost all respondents identified themselves as middle class, the data does not tell us very much. My own conclusion is that a substantial number of upper class people misidentified themselves as middle class.
  7. Responses tend not to vary greatly according to type of congregation. Region, age, and church employment are more significant variables.
  8. Concerning most of the questions I was surprised at the wide range of views. In sum, on economic questions the MB’s are not a homogeneous brotherhood. Fortunately this diversity {68} seems to be matched by a good measure of toleration, openness, and a desire to be Biblical in practice. With such an orientation the substantial differences need not become divisive.

Finally, as I review once again all the quantitative data and the thousands of comments presented in the 283 questionnaires, as I scan the stack of graphs and correlations which the computer has provided, and as I ponder the numerous personal verbal reactions arising from this research project, I am totally convinced that economic questions loom large in the minds of Mennonite Brethren leadership. Moreover, indications are that economic questions, in relationship to the Biblical requisites, will become even more significant. The MB Conference of Faith may not reflect this fact, but lifestyle and personal priorities do. Individualism, self-sufficiency, and assimilation are well advanced. The situation is challenging and perhaps also disquieting. The great diversity of views and values would indeed be ominous were it not for the overarching fact that in their general Christian perspective, Mennonite Brethren leaders appear to be united in fundamental orientation, in dialogical community, and in ultimate purpose. Therein lies hope and optimism.


  1. Peter Klassen, The Economics of Anabaptism 1525-1560 (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1964), pp. 28, 29.
  2. Ibid., p. 115.
  3. Ibid., p. 48.
  4. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
  5. Ibid., p. 49.
  6. Ibid., p. 89.
  7. Ibid., p. 47.
  8. Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, trans. J. C. Wenger (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956), p. 167.
  9. Klassen, Ibid., pp. 102-103, 116.
  10. P. M. Friesen, The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), translated by J.B. Toews, et al (Winnipeg: Christian Press, 1978), pp. 231 and 232.
  11. John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975), pp. 335-337.
  12. Ibid., p. 338.
  13. J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Scottdale and Kitchener: Herald Press, 1975).
John H. Redekop is Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario.