I have been slowly working through the talks from the 2015 Anabaptist Identity Conference held very near to me in Indiana (and I didn't find out about it until after it was over. Sadface.). Some are very delightful like the talks from David Kline, an Amish farmer who has a wonderful if wandering way of telling a story and seemingly accidentally making a point. Some are troubling, more on that later. I was just listening to a panel discussion titled The Turtle Wins on the way home from work and one of the panelists (David Bercot maybe?) said something interesting. I will paraphrase a bit here: What keeps our children in the church also keeps others out.
As I listen to these talks, one thing that kept popping up from these largely conservative, even "Old Order", Anabaptists was the concern about keeping their kids in the tradition. The world, including the religious or even the Christian world, is always beckoning kids away from a simple lifestyle and into the latest and greatest fads and innovations. We see this all the time among our Amish friends and community so I understand their concern. I also wonder about what the speaker said so simply but powerfully. It has been our unfortunate experience that in more conservative Anabaptist circles it seems to be more important to keep kids in than it is to welcome new people from the outside. I am not talking about welcoming someone to a Sunday service or a potluck or a singing. I mean meaningful, integrated fellowship in the community that comes without a bunch of strings attached or hoops to jump through.
I don't blame the conservative folks (and it is weird for me to talk about other people being "conservative" when I am pretty conservative myself but that term holds specific connotations in the Anabaptist world) for their concern about protecting their kids but I wonder if many groups are concerned that this often means keeping others out, making their community inherently less rich and diverse. Have they had these conversations?
So speaking more broadly, how do we (or should we) maintain standards for the church and our families while still being open to new converts, seasoned fellow believers on a new path and those who seek fellowship with us? This is one of those questions that I have no answers for.