Biblical and Anabaptist Views On Government

 

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.

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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.

 

Helping Youth Talk About Hard Issues

This is part 1 of 2 blog posts this week that Rachelle Lyndaker-Schlabaugh brings from her work as the Director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington office.

 

In this election season, it is tempting to go to either of two extremes. Many identify strongly with one particular party or candidate, feeling that only that party or candidate will govern in ways that are consistent with our values and beliefs. In those moments, we should take a deep breath, read Psalm 146 (which reminds us not to put our trust in princes, but to trust in the Creator of heaven and earth) and remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God alone. Every political candidate and party will inevitably disappoint us.

The other extreme is to just withdraw from the political process altogether. This is an understandable impulse, but equally unhelpful. Whether we like to admit it or not, government policies affect all of our lives. Those who are on the margins of society are often affected the most. If we avoid politics completely, by default we are supporting the status quo.

Rather than going to either extreme, we can have respectful, thoughtful engagement in politics. As Christians, if we take loving our neighbor seriously, we must learn about candidates’ stances on issues and try to discern who we think will make the best decisions for the common good, not just for us personally. (You might find this election resource from the MCC Washington Office to be helpful. Our office also provides regular updates and legislative action alerts throughout the year.)

One of the things that I lament most about the current state of politics in our country is that we seem unable, whether in Congress or in our local communities, to have respectful, substantive discussions between those who lean ‘red’ and those who lean ‘blue.’

The church should be a place where we can have those discussions, rather than avoiding hard topics or assuming everyone agrees on them.

How might you help lead such a discussion for youth?

Here are a few suggestions: Arrange chairs in a circle (or several smaller circles, if you have a large group). Select an issue that is being discussed in the election, such as immigration or terrorism. Let them know that this is not just about sharing their own perspectives, but also listening to others. Take turns sharing. One way to do this is to pass around a “talking piece,” such as a stone – whoever has the talking piece is the only one allowed to speak, with no interrupting allowed.

Encourage youth to share a personal story or experience that has shaped their views, as well as how Scripture shapes their views on the topic. As a youth leader, you can help model this for them. It’s also fine for youth to pass or just say, “I’ve never really thought about that!” After the initial round of sharing, allow some time for silent reflection. Then, invite participants to identify areas of common agreement and areas of disagreement. Did they hear anything that made them think differently about the issue? What concrete actions might they want to commit to as a result of this discussion? At the end, ask participants to join hands in a circle and close with prayer.

 

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.

For the Sake of Our Neighbors

I never intended to live in Honduras for four years. The reports of violence alone keep most people from even booking a flight, and I wasn’t convinced I could eat tortillas three times a day. I certainly never imagined I would ride on the back of a motorcycle through the winding hills to meet with small groups of women–shy about speaking to the gringa, but keen to learn new skills for small businesses of their own.

What started as a one-year commitment turned into an experience that has profoundly shaped my worldview. Working in small business programs for women opened a window for me to understand the influence of government in helping or hindering progress. I believed strongly in the small business support I was part of, but there were many structural problems and systemic injustices that worked against the women at every turn. It is out of this experience in Honduras, along with my current advocacy work, that I now see public policy and citizen engagement as crucial components of stronger, thriving communities; and healthy government as a necessary tool to reach these goals.

In the Anabaptist tradition, there is much debate about participating in government, versus holding government accountable, or just staying out of the debate all together. But we have a wealth of biblical wisdom to draw on–examples of people who advocated for their families and communities, demonstrating that wise policies can make a difference in people’s lives and seem to be looked on favorably by God.

Coming from the United States, it was eye-opening to immerse myself in a country that lives in the shadow of our superpower. Hondurans understood the consequences—intended or otherwise—of U.S. policies that were affecting their economy, the country’s security forces and their elections. Friends in Honduras would share exasperation, anger and fear over the changes brought by increased militarization in response to gang violence and drug trafficking. But as we would lament the state of affairs, they would say, “It’s your government that funds all this. Go home and tell them this isn’t the kind of help we need!”MCC logo

And so the journey took me to Washington, D.C. and my current work as a legislative associate for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Rooted in MCC’s work and partnerships overseas, we advocate to change U.S. policies to be more just towards our neighbors, both at home and abroad. We also share information with churches in the U.S. to help them understand government policies and speak out on issues important to them.

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It is slow work and often hard to see progress on a short-term basis. But it is necessary for Christians to hold government accountable for harmful practices and policies—especially when they are easily tucked away in the complex accounting of the State Department or the Department of Defense. I encourage people regularly to find out more: read more, google more, diversify your news feeds. Talk to people who directly experience the impact of U.S. foreign policy and tell your representatives you are paying attention. We have avenues to speak to our government, to influence policies, and

we can’t be silent.

 

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Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.

Webinar with John D. Roth, “Faith & Practices: Uncovering Practices that Navigate the Divide”

jesus-on-politics

This month, The Gathering Place is thrilled to have Dr. John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen College provide a webinar on, “Faith & Politics: Uncovering Practices that Navigate the Divide.”  In today’s crazy political extremes, how should Christian faith find expression in the public square?  How are our Mennonite beliefs and practices relevant to politics?

In this seminar, John expounds on three practices for Mennonite and Anabaptist’s to engage politically:

  1. Voting is not only a right but a rite
  2. Our church is a ministry of reconciliation–practice of empathy
  3. Seeking the welfare of the city

Keeping Correct, Poltically

 

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

 

Let me begin with a confession: I like politics. I like politics for many of the same reasons why I like sports. I like the conflict that results when several teams work for a goal that only one can achieve. I like the campaigns, the strategies, and the speeches. I like the debates, the decisions, and the drama. I like picking a side and then reading and listening to people who agree with my choice. Yes, I like politics, especially when my side is winning.

I write this as a confession because, in election years, my passion for politics easily leads me away from the passion of Jesus. In election years, we are tempted to believe that the key to our security, prosperity, and freedom hinges the election’s outcome. We are tempted to give our worries, hopes, and fears to a candidate who simply wants our votes.

We are tempted to do exactly what Psalm 146 warns us against – to put our “trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”

Faced with these temptations, one response would be to abandon politics altogether. However, if we did that, we also would be abandoning our confession of Christ. When we confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, we pledge our allegiance to him and renounce all other powers and principalities that lay claims on our bodies, minds and souls. Loving enemies, giving to the poor, offering hospitality to immigrants, seeking justice for the oppressed, and healing the sick demonstrate our faith in Jesus.

While Jesus does not equip the church with the power to run nation-states, he does equip the church with the power to proclaim and practice the politics of a new kingdom.

Elections matter. Elections have consequences for us and for people we are called to love. But, as Christians, we have to speak and act more clearly than our votes. And so, if election-year politics tempts us away from our faith yet our faith compels us to practice politics, how can we navigate a season fraught with so much peril and possibility?

Four years ago, two friends and I helped to organize a project called Election Day CommunionImage result for election day communion

We were concerned that Christians in the United States were being shaped more by the tactics and ideologies of political parties than by our faith and unity in Jesus. We created a website to communicate this simple invitation: “Join us at The Lord’s Table on Election Day to remember, to give thanks for, and to witness to our faith in Jesus.”

In a little over two months, almost nine hundred congregations — representing all fifty states and twenty-five denominations — accepted our invitation.

It was beautiful, and I am happy that MCUSA’s Peace & Justice Support Network will provide leadership for Election Day Communion this year.  (Keep your eyes open for details!)

In a season that so easily divides us, I think preparing for communion on Election Day can help us stay grounded in our practice of politics. After all, the Lord’s Supper is the meal of memory.  As we eat and drink together, we remember that all things fall under the lordship of Christ.  We remember that God has lifted up the humble, filled the hungry with good things, and chosen to reveal God’s strength through our weakness.

Image result for election day communionWe remember that the power to redeem, to save, and to transform comes not from atop the seat of power but from within the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

And we remember that what we believe about Jesus must be matched by how we act on those beliefs with both neighbors and enemies. In a season that so easily divides, may we find that the Lord’s Supper cannot be separated from the politics ingrained in its preparation and practice.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.

Psalm 146:5

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Mark Schloneger is a pastor of North Goshen Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resisting Political Polarization

Here we are trudging through the muck and mire of another presidential campaign.  The words are mean and ugly.  The statements are hyperbolic.  Groups are painted with a broad brush.  Demonized.  Online posts attempt to sway my  opinion for a particular candidate.

The ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (NIV), is on hiatus.

Jesus followers are siding with each of the two main political parties playing tug of war over values, policies and trustworthiness.  Stop the world I wanna get off!

So how do we talk about politics with youth without ending up in the gutter?  We are all being shaped by the political conversations around us.  It’s not possible to avoid the conversation nor is it responsible for the church to ignore the topic.  My desire is that both youth and adults can tone down the rhetoric while disagreeing over political issues and remember it is Christ that unites us: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, urban and rural, immigrant and citizen, college educated and high school educated, conservative and progressive, Republican and Democrat.

One way to refocus the conversation is to remember our primary allegiance is to Jesus and our citizenship is in the kingdom of God.  As citizens in God’s kingdom we are to possess the values of love, self-sacrifice, kindness, peace, justice, patience, gentleness, self-control, hospitality, humility and generosity.  The kingdom of the world as demonstrated in our political process demonstrates glimpses of God’s kingdom but it remains woefully incomplete.  As we notice each other’s speech slipping from God’s kingdom into the kingdom of the world let’s gently remind each other where our allegiance lies.

History shows us that governments can cause great pain and others can do tremendous good.  But the church remains the primary agent of transformation in the world.  The church not the government is God’s instrument of change to influence the powers of this world to be under the reign of Christ.

Just as Jesus was tempted to control all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4) we are also tempted to do this by gaining control of political parties. temptation

Constantine created Christendom when he wed church and state.  We have seen versions of this in our political history.  Politically conservative Christians have successfully joined together to create the a voting block to be courted with the hope of gaining power in the political process.  In recent decades politically liberal Christians have also organized with the goal of gaining power and influence in the government.  Both are attempting to create a new version of Christendom.

As Anabaptists we should be suspect of this temptation to grab power whether it be from the right or the left.

Finally, both parties have good qualities and both parties have policies that don’t align with kingdom of God values.  Sojourners’ bumper sticker is a good reminder, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat”.  God’s values transcend the values of the political parties of this nation.  When we snuggle up too closely with one of the parties, we risk identifying  first with a political party rather than with Jesus.  This begins the wall of separation between us and other Jesus followers.

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Anabaptist Christians can be a prophetic voice in our politics by questioning both candidates, challenging the status quo of culture and advocating for the least of these in society without being forced into the binary choices of Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal or Red or Blue.

May our allegiance be first to Christ not to a candidate or political party and our politics be rooted in love for God and each other.

 

 

Discussion starters for youth:

 

 

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Cedric Roth has served as the Youth and Young Adult Minister for Franklin Mennonite Conference since 2007. Along with his wife Lora and two daughters Moriah (8) and Lydia (5), they live in Chambersburg, PA and attend Marion Mennonite Church. He enjoys fantasy football, traveling, watching and playing basketball, Penn State football and the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Politics of Care

I’ll be honest, I have never cared for politics. For a long time, I thought voting and sending advocacy letters was a waste of time. I was skeptical on how that would make difference. It wasn’t until I met Christians from Philadelphia, New York, and Allentown who cared about their local community and were actively making a difference that I began to change my mind.

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And I’m not ashamed to admit that Parks and Rec had a part in that as well. The show made local government feel more accessible and important to be involved in. The main character, Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, was so determined and focused to make a difference in her community that it gave me hope there could be politicians like her in my community.

This 2016 presidential election has been both eye-opening and scary to watch. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I have noticed that the candidates have magnified the great divide between Republicans and Democrats. The bumper sticker “God is not a Republican…or a Democrat” has been around for a while, but I still like it. It reminds me that God does not choose a side. It also serves as a reminder that

God’s agenda is not the same as our political agenda.

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And lastly, that the U.S. is not equivalent to the kingdom of God. In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd writes these important words in regards in setting aside political differences and focusing on the kingdom of God:

Jesus did not allow the world to set the terms for what he did. For instance, he called Matthew, a tax collector, as well as Simon, a zealot, to be his disciples. Tax collectors were on the farthest right wing of Jewish politics, zealots on the farthest left. In fact, zealots despised tax collectors even more than they despised the Romans, sometimes even assassinating them.

Yet Matthew and Simon spent three years together while following Jesus. In the accounts of Gospels, we never find a word about their different political opinions. Indeed, we never read a word about what Jesus thought about their radically different kingdom-of-the-world views.

This silence suggests that they had something in common that dwarfed their individual political differences. To be sure, Jesus’ life and teachings would undoubtedly transform the trust both had in their political views if they would allow it. At the very least, the tax collector would no longer cheat his clients—as they often did—and the zealot would no longer kill. Yet Jesus invited them to follow him as they were, prior to their transformation, and their widely divergent political views were never a point of contention.

What are we to make, then, of the fact that the church is largely divided along political lines?

While Jesus never sided with any of the limited and divisive kingdom-of-the-world options of his day, the church today, by and large, swallows them hook, line, and sinker. Indeed, in some circles, whether conservative or liberal, taking particular public stands on social, ethical, and political issues, and siding with particular political or social ideologies, is the litmus test of one’s orthodoxy.

When this happens, it is evidence that the church is co-opted by the world. It means that we have lost our distinctive kingdom-of-God vision and abandoned our mission. It tells the world that we’ve allowed the world to define us, set our agenda, and define the terms of our engagement with it.

Now in my late twenties, I am more aware of what is happening in this nation and in my community. I want to advocate for the marginalized and mistreated in my community and transform systems that do not reflect the kingdom of God. I love the quote by Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” When we love God and love others (Matt. 22:36-40) we witness to the kingdom and God’s presence is made known in our community.

As youth pastors, we need to help our youth navigate this world and help them understand how our faith effects the way we live and how we care for others in our community.

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Danilo Sanchez  lives with his wife Mary and two girls in Allentown, PA. He serves as the Lehigh Valley youth pastor and works with Whitehall, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel. He also works part-time for MCC as the Summer Service National Coordinator.

October Study Circle

no-limitsFaith Reminds Us of the Limits of Politics.”

Tuesday, October 25 at 3:30pm EDT/2:30pm CDT.

Politics has limits? These days it is easy to get the impression that everything rises and falls on the impending election. What do you think? Does it?

“Perhaps part of the reason for growing political cynicism is that too much hope has been (mis)placed in government,” writes Cherie Harder in this blog post.

How much hope can be placed in government? How does our faith in Jesus inform our political advocacy? What are the limits of that advocacy? For me, advocating to government leaders on behalf of Pastor Max Villatoro has provided lessons on where I put my hope.

As a person of faith and a faith formation leader, what issues stretch and confound you about this election? Let’s talk about it!

Read this blog post by Cherie Harder, skim Article 23 of our Confession of Faith, and if you really want to dive deep, check out Anabaptism and the State: An Uneasy Coexistence by Sandra F. Joireman. (That is totally optional!)

Then, join the conversation on October 25.  I’m looking forward to it! Sign up today!

Shana 2014

 

 

 

 

~Shana

Webinar with John D. Roth

“Faith & Politics: Uncovering Practices to Navigate the Divide”

with Dr. John D. Roth, Goshen College

Friday, October 14, 1pm EDT/12pm CDT

 

 

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“In today’s crazy political extremes, how should Christian faith find expression in the public square (including the 4-year election cycle, but beyond it as well)? How are Mennonite beliefs and practices relevant to politics?  John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen College, will share some practices and disciplines that could help church leaders navigate through deep political divides that exist even in our Church, reminding us of where our ultimate loyalty lies.”

  Sign up for this conversation today!

John D. Roth is professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College, where he also serves as the editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review, and the director of the Mennonite Historical Library. He is the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College, secretary of the MWC Faith and Life Commission, and is currently focusing on several projects related to the global Anabaptist fellowship.  He and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of 4 adult children (including 2 granddaughters) and are active members at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Ind.

tGP Podcast: “An Interview with Ron Sider on Reconciling Faith & Politics”

11801166_10204319839099439_1681985075_oronIn this month’s interview series, John Stoltzfus interviews Ron Sider, who is known worldwide for providing leadership to the movement of evangelicals who recognize not just the spiritual, but also the social and political implications of a high view of Scripture. His book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was lauded by Christianity Today as being among the top 100 books in religion in the 20th century and the seventh most influential book in the evangelical world in the last 50 years.

In addition to Rich Christians, Dr. Sider has published more than 30 books, including:

Christ and Violence

Cry Justice: The Bible on Hunger and Poverty

Completely Pro-Life

Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel

Living Like Jesus

Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?

Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement

I Am not a Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda

Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget

The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

Churches that Make a Difference

Saving Souls, Serving Society

The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World?

Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Churches Have Never Really Tried

In the 1970s, Dr. Sider played a key role in the drafting of the historic Chicago Declaration, which helped set the direction for evangelicals concerned about the Bible’s social implications. He is the founder and President Emeritis of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), which for more than three decades has provided an organizational outlet for Christians committed to holistic ministry. ESA is a program of the Sider Center at Palmer Seminary.

An ordained minister in the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches, Ron has lectured at numerous educational institutions, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Oxford.