Being in Pennsylvania, I meet lots of people that either consider themselves Mennonite, or at least were raised that way. One of the most well-known aspects of Mennonite belief is their unwavering commitment to pacifism (or, as a commenter corrected me below, the Mennonite “doctrine of nonresistance”). Hanging out with one of my new raised-Mennonite friends the other evening, she showed me (with pride) the above picture that has hung in one of their family’s houses for a long time. It struck me as beautiful as well, especially the second quote. Here it is, nicely typed out for optimal readability and convenience:
“It is our fixed principle rather than take up Arms to defend our King, our Country, or our Selves, to suffer all that is dear to be rent from us, even Life itself, and this we think not out of Contempt to Authority, but that herein we act agreeable to what we think is the Mind and Will of our Lord Jesus.”
–Thirteen Mennonite Ministers of Pennsylvania, May 15, 1755
The specifics of “the doctrine of nonresistance” are still murky to me as it pertains to the power of the State vs. the power of the individual, and what are the limits of the State’s “power of the sword” (and whether Paul writes that as merely descriptive of how State’s function in the world or if he is laying out a theological prescription of their God-given duties, rights, and responsibilities). (I’ve written before about that Scripture and it’s implications for governmental power [PART1] [PART 2])
But even though these specifics remain unclear to me, the sentiment in this picture resonates with me deeply and strikes me as far more “Christian” than the modern three-way marriage of Church, State, and Military and the seeming fetishness with which so many evangelicals worship our military (and politics in general).
The fact that more churches set aside special time and entire services to “bow the knee” on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, and not do the same on Martin Luther King Day (for example), is both very sad and very telling of where the modern evangelical church’s priorities and allegiances lie.
I’ll be honest with you: except for understanding “blessed are the peacemakers” to mean something very different than what was probably in the mind of Jesus when he said that, and maintaining a particular interpretation (that is one among several valid interpretations) of Romans 13, I can really see no New Testament case for Christian’s blind support of military use or engagement in armed conflicts (or admittedly, self-defense).
Yes, there are practical, pragmatic, and philosophical justifications for governmental/personal force that are very rational, make a lot of sense, and have been the only system we’ve known since the dawn of human conflict. But as soon as I think of these things, I’m reminded that this is why Paul says that the Gospel is the “foolishness of God”.
If the implications of your idea of the Gospel don’t (at least) at times seem imprudent, unwise, unreasonable, illogical, and impossible to imagine living out or following through on, then I fear that your idea of the Gospel is not the Bible’s idea of the Gospel.
I remember as a freshman in college sitting at Red Robin (a burger chain in the South) with some old friends of mine from high school that had gone off to Liberty University. They were preparing to move to a super-poor neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina to live communally and make (amazing) music and serve the poor and hurting around them there. I remember one of them coming to me and telling me,
“Hey Paul, let me ask you something. Say you have a wife and kids someday, and all of them are Christians. One night, a murderer breaks into your house. He is standing over your wife and kids ready to kill them. Remember: they are Christians; they will go to Heaven. This man is not a Christian. You have a gun.
Do you kill him? What does it mean to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ there? What do you think Jesus would do if he had the gun? What did he do when faced with the violence and injustice in the world? How did he conquer it?”
I’ve never forgotten him saying this, nor the intensity with which he said it. It’s sort of haunted me ever since. This sort of talk was new to my Southern Baptist ears and sounded like heresy (the hushed tones in which he said it didn’t help, either. After all, he was the son of the Executive Pastor of our church).
For just a moment, forget what “freedom” or “right” you may think you have in that situation (God-given or otherwise). Is the call of the Christian first and foremost to “exercise their rights and freedoms” or is it to love?
What is most loving in that situation?
I’m still trying to figure it all out.
As time has gone on, I’ve seen this conversation seep more and more into my thinking, first as I thought about Torture (and what Catholics said about it) and, more recently, the Death Penalty (another follow-up post here).
Like I said, I have no idea what this looks like at the State level or what this would mean for my voting or the responsibilities of a Christian in office in light of this (although I’ve tried to think through some of it before). All I know is that something seems incredibly wrong with the way things are now and incredibly true about that quote above.
And so, at least where I’m at right now, I’ll throw my chips in with the Mennonites.
What do you think? How would you answer my friend’s hypothetical? What/Who has been most influential in getting your thinking to where it is today?