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The Mennonites are members of certain Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland (which today is a province of the Netherlands). Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. The early teachings of the Mennonites were founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus, which the original Anabaptist followers held to with great conviction despite persecution by the various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. An early set of Mennonite beliefs was codified in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith in 1632, but the various groups do not hold to a common confession or creed. Rather than fight, the majority of these followers survived by fleeing to neighboring states where ruling families were tolerant of their belief in believer's baptism. Over the years, Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism.In contemporary 21st-century society, Mennonites either are described only as a religious denomination with members of different ethnic origins or as both an ethnic group and a religious denomination. There is controversy among Mennonites about this issue, with some insisting that they are simply a religious group while others argue that they form a distinct ethnic group. Historians and sociologists have increasingly started to treat Mennonites as an ethno-religious group, while others have begun to challenge that perception. There is also a discussion about the term "ethnic Mennonite". Conservative Mennonite groups, who speak Pennsylvania German, Plautdietsch (Low German), or Bernese German fit well into the definition of an ethnic group, while more liberal groups and converts in developing countries do not.
There are about 2.1 million Anabaptists worldwide as of 2015 (including Mennonites, Amish, Mennonite Brethren, Hutterites and many other Anabaptist groups formally part of the Mennonite World Conference). Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from "plain people" to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. Mennonites can be found in communities in at least 87 countries on six continents. The largest populations of Mennonites are to be found in Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India and the United States. There are German Mennonite colonies in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Paraguay, who are mostly descendants of Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites who formed as a German ethnic group in what is today Ukraine. Today, fewer than 500 Mennonites remain in Ukraine. A relatively small Mennonite presence, known as the Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit, still continues in the Netherlands, where Simons was born.