Other Loves All Flee: One Family’s Journey from Legalism to Grace
by Leona Koehn Nichols
Westwood Books Publishing

"We wore no scarlet letter, yet we felt as conspicuous as though we carried a highly egregious mark of some kind visible upon us."

The author made a highly significant decision just over forty years ago. Born into one of the strictest, most tight-knit Christian sects in the United States, she and her husband rejected its rules and rigors in favor of a more open-minded, open-hearted approach to God. Both were raised well and happily in the branch of “plain people” known as Holdeman Mennonites. Mennonites generally are known and respected for various degrees of simplicity in their approach to Christianity. But in 1859, John Holdeman—an evangelical conservative Mennonite—perceived that even with their strictness, Mennonites of his time were drifting from the truth, becoming too liberal. He founded an even more restrictive, rule-based sect. Despite the many limitations, Nichols’ recollections of her Holdeman childhood seem idyllic. Her husband was the son of a Holdeman Mennonite preacher. Both families had migrated over time from the central part of the US to Southern California, where the couple met and were married.

The couple gradually began to feel the strictures of the Holdeman sect. At a yearly conference they attended, church fathers (for only men made decisions for the congregation) decided to ban the use of tape recorders among the membership, all the while recording the entire discussion for their own purposes. As parents, the Nichols could not allow their children to participate in sports, play musical instruments, or indulge in many other “worldly” enjoyments, narrowing their friendships and their activities mostly to those that were church-related. Children's education was, in most circumstances, curtailed after eighth grade. And few of these rules, it seemed, were based on the Bible’s teachings.

Nichols is a skilled writer who has given serious thought to every word of her remarkable memoir. She describes vividly the encounters she and her husband had with other, more spontaneous Christians just as their own doubts were weighing heavily. In the most moving passage of the book, she recalls the deep, direct experience of God’s love shared by the couple in a moment of prayer together. Suddenly, Nichols recalls, they could study the Bible for its truth and revelation without being told what to believe or how to express their beliefs. There followed several years of increasing divergence from Holdeman Mennonite practices. The couple was first shunned—made to sit apart from others at church functions and often visited by Holdeman clergy who criticized but rarely counseled them—and finally “excommunicated,” a practice that allowed for no return without absolute repentance. Her memories of that time provide the harrowing sense of rejection they were forced to feel, along with the growing realization that they were doing the best thing for their family. Through their new, less rigid view of God and the Bible, they and their children began to enjoy aspects of social and educational life that had not been available previously. The author even went to college, something she could never have done as a Holdeman female, graduating at age 53 with a B.A. in English.

Nichols recounts these events with admirable honesty, acknowledging the sense of relief and gratitude she felt as she came to understand her relationship with God and “no longer lived in fear of His punishment.” She offers poetry and other short writings composed over the course of her religious rebirth, concluding with her certainty that the departure from legalistic practice to open, accepting Christianity has brought continued benefits. Her powerful recollections can serve as an inspiration to others contemplating a similar change, as well as to those already convinced of the blessings of a religion based on human faith and divine grace.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home