Since the first couple of episodes of CBC’s Pure depicting Mennonites as drug runners from Mexico aired on Jan. 9 and 16, 2017, the temperature of our community’s righteous indignation has reached a fever pitch. The loudest voices so far are appalled at the conflation of two distinct groups (Old Colony Mennonites from Mexico and Old Order Mennonites in Ontario), poor research, a lack of accuracy and, perhaps most of all, strong objection to stereotyping us as drug-running murderers.
Others are angry and frustrated by the depiction and want to defend their communities or be defended by their church leaders. However, I think most viewers of Pure are sophisticated enough to recognize that, like any faith or ethnic group, there are good and bad elements in Mennonite communities.
One positive outcome for Mennonites of all flavours is that this show has the potential to make us more empathetic and sensitive to other groups subjected to stereotyping by the media and popular culture, such as first nations or Muslim peoples. Clearly, we are not immune to stereotyping other groups, so I hope Pure will help us reflect on what we are feeling. I hope it makes us more aware of our own assumptions of others.
A second positive outcome is that we may become more attuned to our own lapses of “purity” as a faith community. We don’t like to talk about leaders and pastors who have crossed inappropriate boundaries with church members, or about our involvement in Indian Residential Schools. We don’t like to expose the skeletons in our collective closets.
But where will silence lead us?
When the Mormon church was put under the microscope with the controversial play “The Book of Mormon,” they responded by meeting the audience at theatre entrances, explainer pamphlets in hand. They invited theatre goers to ask questions. They worked to put an alternative face on the controversy.
A third positive outcome is that we have an opportunity to share about our identity. While we may not like how our broader Mennonite community is portrayed in Pure, being in the public spotlight does give us the opportunity and perhaps a responsibility to engage our faith in unexpected ways. The intended audience of Pure likely knows very little about Mennonite faith or our various sub-groups. Annoyed, angry or defensive responses to inquirers—whether in private, in public, or on social media—will not serve anyone well.
Let’s walk through the open door this presents with the honesty, integrity, sensitivity and grace of the One we claim to follow. We ache to set the record straight. Let’s do it in positive ways.
I believe the accumulated positive weight of our faith and the reputation of our churches and organizations that help locally and internationally with aid, relief, disaster assistance, poverty alleviation, feeding the hungry—and more—will, in the long run, overcome any negative impressions that viewing Pure may generate.
Dan Dyck is director of church engagement-communications at MC Canada.