A Little Left of Center

My first contact with Dan Hertzler was in the early 1960s. I sent an article to Christian Living magazine. No answer. Months later came a check for $5 and some tattered remains. Editor Hertzler had chopped out the few sections he wanted to use and returned the rest. So this is how editors work, I surmised. But my next articles were published whole, and my relationship with Dan thereafter was always generous.

Although he is best known as an editor, Dan’s wide-ranging ministry has included work as theologian, church leader, minister, Bible teacher, world traveler, and more. His ministry with Mennonite Publishing House (MPH) covered thirty-seven years, seventeen as Gospel Herald editor.

As his memoir shows, his Amish Mennonite origins were an unlikely heritage for his lengthy editing career. He could claim no ancestors as models. His call to MPH forced him to decide between becoming a farmer, a teacher, or an editor.

A privilege of retirement is to explain decisions from the perspective of age and greater wisdom. Education, Dan sees, has been an important lifelong quest. He never finished high school yet earned several bachelor’s degrees as well as a Ph. D and did post-graduate studies. Learning has been a goal in itself. He does admit to participating in one college “stunt.”

Other factors that affected his development were his mother’s early death and watching his father struggle to keep the family afloat. He saw his father as a man of principles.

Dan’s ministry has been anchored in the Mennonite Church. Steadiness has marked his career. He knows the denominational shibboleths and loves the people. He has worked through many boundary-maintenance issues. Readers with similar backgrounds will resonate with his perplexities about the difference between recommendations and tests of fellowship, such as labeling paying honest debts a recomendation but not smoking cigarettes a test of fellowship.

Through his many years at MPH, Dan witnessed a more flexible approach to discipleship arise as Mennonite emphasis on rules eroded. He saw many changes in journalism, from shifts in printing technology to the emergence of editors with formal journalism training (not the case early in his career). Mennonite journalism standards rose under his leadership.

In this memoir Dan admits where he stands on certain issues like distinctive attire: “I have no great enthusiasm for it.” He allows himself no self-justification for criticism of material he edited. His Amish Mennonite background has engrained in him not to push himself. Dan sees himself “a little left of center” for a Mennonite audience, especially on issues like behavior, church/state relations, violence, environmental concerns, and women’s ministry. He has carried few flags; he admits he is more likely to report on than walk in a march.

As an editor Dan was forced to recognize how carefully readers peruse church publications and that some tolerate no departure from tradition. He and fellow editors wrestled with how to keep circulation up through interesting material—thus paying expenses—without compromising principles. Wryly he admits that “editorials, like sermons and the evening news, are eminently forgettable,” yet he hopes his editorials may have moved readers along. This book will also move readers along in their understanding of Mennonite journalism.
Katie Funk Wiebe, Professor Emerita, Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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