Feel free to use the reflections offered below as a starting conversation with your youth on their view of how our Anabaptist lens informs our view of government.
We usually don’t read Scripture with an eye to what it says about political engagement. But it is there, time and time again, throughout the Biblical text.
These include: the warning in 1 Samuel 8 on how a king will act, Jesus’ distinction between what is given to Caesar and to God (Mark 12:17), Paul’s declaration that governing authorities are instituted by God for the purpose of bringing order (Romans 13), his instruction to pray for elected officials (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and the sweeping declaration in Colossians 1:15-17 that all rulers and powers are subject to God.
Throughout Scripture there are also examples of people of faith advocating against unjust policies and calling on government authorities to uphold justice and fairness. Elijah called King Ahab to account for his unjust seizure of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Esther pleaded to the king to spare her people (Esther 7). John the Baptist lost his head as a result of his challenge to the ruler Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).
Anabaptists have long had mixed views of government. Some early Anabaptists articulated a clear distinction between the church and the world, such as in the Schleitheim Confession, which declared that Christians cannot serve in government. Others, such as Pilgram Marpeck, worked as a government employee. Many Mennonites who migrated from Europe to the United States chose to be “the quiet in the land,” not wanting to get involved in government affairs as long as they were left alone to live out their beliefs. But Mennonites did engage with the government when their own interests were at stake, particularly on the issue of conscientious objection.
When we as Anabaptists engage with governing officials, we must do so out of our lived witness as a church. In other words, if our congregation is not doing anything to address poverty locally or around the world, we probably shouldn’t be telling the government how to do it. But when we are actively engaging issues of justice such as poverty and race in our churches, we quickly realize that these are deeply systemic issues which need to be addressed—not just at the personal or congregational level, but also within our society by calling for more just policies.
This gives our witness to government both integrity and humility—recognizing that there aren’t easy answers, but that we will continue to work faithfully toward a more just and equitable society.
Ask your youth what “lived witness” is happening (or needing to happen) in your own congregation or local community. What creative ideas or suggestions do your youth have in getting involved in this pressing need?
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach serves as Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. She leads workshops, writes and speaks on U.S. policy toward the Middle East and meets regularly with congressional offices and Administration officials to convey MCC’s perspective on public policy. She also speaks to groups about the intersection of faith and politics from an Anabaptist perspective.
Rachelle worked at the MCC U.S. Washington Office from 1998-2003, before returning as director in 2007. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and is a graduate of Goshen College.