When Bad Exegesis and Goofy Religious Traditions Mess up Your Life

From the Hip&Thigh Archives

When I was a kid, my family lived in the little Missouri town of Salem, population (at the time) of roughly 4,200 people. On occasion, my family would travel to Rolla, a bigger town, population (at the time) of about 8,500, about half an hour northwest of us.

Rolla had a McDonalds, so after we endured my father’s hours long visits to the hardware store to pick up supplies for his electrical business, we would head over to the McDonalds, which for a 9 year old, was the finest dining to be had anywhere in the world.Every once in a great while, as we were out and about in Rolla, we would come across these strangely dressed people. The men always wore black slacks and a white shirt and some of them had beards with no mustache. The women wore long, concentration camp style dresses with something like an apron tied around the front, but even more strange was the little white hat pinned to their hair that reminded me of those classic nurses hats you see in old time Life magazine advertisements. I remember the family would ride together in a yellow butter colored Plymouth Valiant.

My parents would just tell me, “Their Mennonites. They believe different things. Don’t stare.”

Much later in life I learned the Mennonites were a sect formed out of the Reformation that had their connections to an Anabaptist founder named Menno Simons. The Quakers and Amish also have roots with Simons and his Anabaptistic beliefs. Primarily they are known as the more liberal version of the Amish. I think they let their teenagers stay out as late as seven PM on Fridays and they drive cars, albeit ugly cars. They are also pacifists.

One of the more nutty beliefs held by some of the more devout Mennonites is the idea that photographs are sinful. That is because they believe taking a picture of someone steals their life force and holds their soul captive.

No. I’m just kidding.

They believe photography violates the second commandment of making no graven image (Exodus 20:4).


In other words, if a Mennonite has someone take his picture, he is essentially making a graven idol for worship. Such a belief is utterly absurd, because the prohibition is against making an image that represented the true and living God for the purposes of worshiping it. There is nothing in Scripture that prohibits the painting of pictures or creating sculptures of people, or even taking a family portrait.

If a person read the Bible carefully, it becomes apparent that God has no problem with images for the sake of images, because He gives specific directions as to how the tabernacle was to be constructed, including the furniture, and the furniture is ornately engraved. For example, the golden images of cherubim sitting on top of the Mercy Seat.

On the surface, it is terrifically bad exegesis that doesn’t necessarily harm anyone. It’s the kind of stuff tourists to Amish and Mennonite areas of the country may find quaint in the same way a National Geographic writer may view the superstitions in a village of half-naked pig spearers.

However, what appears to be quaint superstitious religious convictions may eventually bring the person holding those convictions smack dab into the wall of reality. Then the decision must be made to either hold onto the silly, utterly indefensible tradition at the risk of incurring personal difficulties, or recognize the silly, utterly indefensible aspect of the tradition and reform your Christian conviction to become more biblical.

For example, the shunning of photographs can be a problem if you like to drive butter colored Valiants, because you must be licensed. It used to be that states accommodated the silly little beliefs like this of religious sects who hold them, but more and more in our technological age, especially one where security is necessary, that  is coming to an end. A good example of the Mennonites’ belief running head long into the wall of reality is currently in the state of Missouri where they are now requiring all driver’s licenses to have a photo I.D.

Mennonites to move over photo I.D.s

That has caused a big stir among the Missouri Mennonite sects, so much so, that several families, choosing to adhere to their silly traditions, are pulling up shop and moving to Arkansas or other states so as not to have to comply with the new law.

I am sure there are a handful of well-meaning Christians who wish to cheer these dear Mennonite folks on for staying true to their convictions, but if their convictions are derived from sloppy exegesis and application of the biblical text, and is not supported at all by the truth of Scripture, all the cheering is going to do more harm than good.

Just a closing question. We do live in a more technological age where security cameras are nearly ubiquitous. Does a Mennonite believe he is involved with graven image making if his picture is taken at Wal-Mart or in any other area where there is a high concentration of video cameras? Just wondering.


2 thoughts on “When Bad Exegesis and Goofy Religious Traditions Mess up Your Life

  1. Wow I’ve never knew this about Mennonites. Maybe there’s a reason why our very own MennoKnight has an interesting profile picture…nah jk.

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