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Speakers to examine Kansas Mennonite encounters with federal government

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Two historians with research interests in Mennonites in the 20th century, particularly in Kansas, will speak at the next Friends of the MLA lecture March 5 at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building chapel at Bethel College.

The talk is free and open to the public.

James Juhnke, North Newton, will talk about his most recent book project, which deals with Kansas Mennonites and politics since World War II. Robin Deich Ottoson, Hillsboro, will discuss her dissertation research, which focuses on Hillsboro Mennonites during the Vietnam War era.

The title of Juhnke’s talk is “Parade of Politicians.”

“From 1940 to the present, there have been 25 Mennonites from south-central Kansas who ran for state or national political office,” Juhnke said. “I will tell the stories of a number of them, and try to characterize the group as a whole.”

Lecture material is from Juhnke’s forthcoming book, A People of Two Kingdoms, Volume II.

Volume I, A People of Two Kingdoms: The Political Acculturation of Kansas Mennonites, was a revised version of Juhnke’s doctoral dissertation, published in 1975 by Faith & Life Press. It began with the immigration of Mennonites to Kansas in the 1870s and ended with the onset of the Second World War.

Volume II picks up the story with World War II and carries it into the 21st century, covering political involvement that includes civic identity, peace movement protests, anti-death penalty campaigns, church-state theology, growing dependence of Mennonite institutions on federal assistance, local celebrations of the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial and Juhnke’s own campaign for Congress in 1970, among other topics.

Ottoson has titled her lecture “Stories From the Heartland: Making Meaning in Hillsboro, Kansas, During the Vietnam War.”

“I’ll assess varied Mennonite responses in Hillsboro to church-state issues and why Hillsboro played an interesting role over the ‘long’ Vietnam War,” Ottoson said.

She is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Kansas State University who anticipates graduating in December 2015. The talk is taken from her dissertation, which explores how the pressures of an undeclared war in Vietnam and acculturation into the greater American society produced tension within the Mennonite colleges in Kansas.

“It also evaluates whether these forces eroded or sharpened [the colleges’] peace positions and those of their parent denominations,” Ottoson said. “The dissertation thus engages the ongoing dialog concerning the roots and interaction between the so-called secular peace movement and that of American religious activists in general, the Historic Peace Churches and, in particular, the Mennonites.

“Further lines of investigation will examine the impact of gender within Mennonite protests.”

Juhnke is professor emeritus of history at Bethel College. He is a Bethel graduate and earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University.

Ottoson has a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University, Upland, Indiana, and master’s degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and the University of Denver. From 2006-13, she was director of library services at Tabor College, Hillsboro. She currently works as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of History at K-State.

The Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) at Bethel sponsors these periodic presentations on topics related to Mennonite history and thought.

For directions or more information on the Friends of the MLA or the March 5 program, call 316-284-5360.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.