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Retired professor to look at Mennonites, U.S. Bicentennial, in Bethel lecture

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A well-known writer and historian as well as retired Bethel College professor will give the next Friends of the MLA (Mennonite Library and Archives) lecture at Bethel.

James C. Juhnke, Wichita, Bethel professor emeritus of history, will speak on “Ambivalent Celebration: Kansas Mennonite Response to the Bicentennial of 1976,” Tuesday, April 10, at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building chapel on the Bethel campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.

“It will be a PowerPoint slide show,” said Juhnke. “I gathered information from the MLA, the Goessel Heritage Center and the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Hillsboro, as well as from interviews, church bulletins, newspapers and other sources.

“My comments will be drawn from an essay I wrote for a festschrift for Robert Linder, long-time history professor at Kansas State University. This material will also, I hope, appear in some form in a book I am writing about Kansas Mennonites and the political order, a sequel to my earlier book A People of Two Kingdoms.”

Juhnke went on to explain: “Many Mennonites embraced opportunities for Bicentennial celebration and performance. The combined Bethel and Tabor choirs sang at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. My mother, Meta Juhnke, demonstrated home cheese-making at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And so on.

“Meanwhile, Mennonite denominational official statements, as well as articles in Mennonite papers, warned about the idolatrous potential of civil religion and spread-eagle nationalism. At Tabor College, some students boycotted the homecoming parade because the floats were too nationalistic. They also set up a special peace display on Hillsboro’s Main Street to counter militaristic traveling museums created by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and brought in by the local Hillsboro Centennial Committee – which was chaired by a Mennonite, Carol Wiebe.

“I’ll try to show and tell about some of these 1976 Mennonite Bicentennial celebrations and conflicts.”

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

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 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 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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