In her “Mennonites have a long history of environmental activism” letter to the editor on page 12, Joanne Moyer questions whether it was fair to hold Menno Simons to account for a lack of concern for climate change and broader concerns of the earth.
“A 16th-century church leader can hardly be expected to comment on a climatic phenomenon that scientists only began to notice several centuries later,” she writes. In an e-mail follow-up conversation with Moyer, I said she reinforced a point that I apparently didn’t develop sufficiently for proper understanding.
So let me try again. In citing Menno’s pietistic language in his famous statement of “true evangelical faith,” I was attempting to say that even though the core of the gospel is enshrined in his oft-quoted passage that formed the basis of our Anabaptist faith, the issues for application change over time. Of course, the scientists of his time had next to no awareness of climate change as we have come to understand it in the 21st century.
Nor were the 16th-century Anabaptists engaged in justice issues of the time. They were too preoccupied with trying to keep alive and out of sight of their religious persecutors when they had the courage to break away from the powerful Catholic church and distinguishing themselves from other Reformers of that time.
But today, Anabaptist Christians are living in a global village where as many as 70 armed conflicts are going on simultaneously around the world, where poverty, sickness and political turmoil are the daily plight of millions, while we in the western empires of power go about our daily lives safe, quiet and protected, many of us unaware of, or unconcerned about, the complicity of the “powers” in much of this suffering.
And with many of our parents being immigrants from Europe and Russia, we should have special sensitivity to the immigrants coming to our shores from these places of distress, rather than aligning ourselves with policies that treat these people as “terrorists.” Both the Mosaic law and Jesus’ extension of “welcoming the stranger” are core beliefs and practices that should guide our actions.
Herein lies the tragedy. Rather than being clear about the core of our Anabaptist beliefs, these issues of creation care, nonviolence, working at justice and peace, and assisting immigrants, have been politicized to the extent of hijacking our scripturally based beliefs to the fear-based causes of militarism, security, law-and-order, and a slavish priority to economic development based on a high level of consumerism to thrive.
If Menno Simons was alive today, he would likely use some different language in delineating his manifesto about “true evangelical faith.” I can’t imagine him being indifferent to the issues with which we grapple today as modern Anabaptists.
Even some of our theological concepts are changing. Our view of atonement, say our leading theologians, for instance, should be based more on God being “nonviolent” during the history of his people, thereby questioning the tra-ditional view of “substitution” (Jesus’ death on the cross required to satisfy God’s demand to forgive human sins).
“His enemies’ murder of Jesus,” writes Tom Yoder Neufeld, “became God’s love offering. Their murder of God’s messenger and son became God’s own sacrifice on their behalf. This is truly ‘news,’ very good news, euaggelion.”
While some of our scriptural understandings may change over time, the verities of our place in society as citizens of God’s kingdom first and country second do not change. “The claims of Caesar (government) are to be measured by whether what he claims is due to him is part of the obligation of love,” wrote John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus. “Love in turn is defined (Romans 13:10) by the fact that it does no harm.”
This is the foundational core to our belief in nonviolence and the peace we practise as Anabaptist Christians. Unlike other issues, such as creation care, which change with the aging of our planet, the call of Jesus to love our enemies, rather than kill them, and love our neighbours as ourselves, are foundational for all time and place.
It is these enduring precepts to which we should adhere as a faith community, not the changing winds of political persuasion that dominate our lives through 24-hour media news and the noise of talk radio.
Let us not allow the ubiquity of the news media to hijack the “still small voice of God” as that divine Word of the Lord coming to us in quiet, sometimes mysterious ways.