When faith and politics intersect

November 5, 2014 | Editorial | Number 22
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

Among other shifting sands in the Mennonite world is how we view our relationship to the state, moving from a stance of a nonviolent witness but not participation, to one of entering its ranks to influence policies for its betterment in the areas of justice, creation care and peacemaking. We are becoming participants, not only witnesses.

In our main feature, I asked 10 different persons across the country who have either served in the varied roles as government officials or have run for election. To my surprise, this intersection of faith and politics has been ongoing for several decades, as shown by the experiences of Carl Zehr as mayor of Kitchener, Ont., and Ray Funk as a federal Member of Parliament from Saskatchewan. Both have served with distinction.

To a one, they say they bring their Anabaptist-Mennonite core values to the political arena and have the support of their congregations in doing so. Their claim is that their actions and political decisions are well-known to their constituents and colleagues, and that they are not “hiding their values under a bushel.” They insist that the public knows their agenda and, for the most part, are in step. Good for them.

However, when posed with the questions, “How did you resolve the issue of being first and foremost a citizen of God’s kingdom and secondly that of ‘Caesar’s?’ ” and, “How did you resolve the conflict of using the sword, if necessary, to maintain order, as opposed to God’s rule of love in Romans 13:10?” there were mixed responses. Some struggled with the issue, some didn’t.

Which is a concern. If we, as a body of believers, have self-consciously moved from the Apostle Paul’s admonition in his Letter to the Romans, to use, instead, the Jeremiah 29:7 passage by the ancient prophet, who instructed the Israelite exiles to seek the welfare of the city—“for in its welfare you will find your welfare as our guiding light”—that is one thing. But if we, as an acculturated people, have unconsciously accommodated ourselves to the self-serving interests of the political structure, or worse, been lured into its self-glorification, this might be a slippery slope.

All of our interviewees seem clear that their character, their integrity in governing, their Christian values and their decisions, and the different way they conduct themselves in office, are rooted in their faithfulness as followers of Jesus and as members of a distinct faith community. Here’s hoping, too, that this self-identity includes the consciousness that, as often as not, we find ourselves as “exiles” in a political structure that tends toward domination and force to bring about “order.”

The current Canadian government’s emphasis on law and order, rather than restorative justice; its downplaying of climate change, rather than a high consciousness of creation care; its sacrificing of medical and mental health and immigration matters to “economic development”; and its rush to arms in international conflict, are usually not a part of local municipal duties, but in joining the political establishment, these priorities can subtly become a part of the “order” to which they take an oath to protect.

It wouldn’t hurt for each of these Mennonite politicians or aspirants to have as their primer, if they haven’t already read it, the late A. James Reimer’s Christians and War, in which this former professor of religious studies at Conrad Grebel University College struggles with the church’s responses to war and peace, and can be understood only through the church’s changing relationship to culture.

And to pay attention to the words of Ernie Regehr, founder of Project Ploughshares, whom Reimer quotes: “Churches are not prepared to say that it is never appropriate or never necessary to resort to the use of lethal force for the protection of the vulnerable. This refusal in principle to preclude the use of force is based not on a naïve belief that force be relied on to solve otherwise intractable problems, but rather on the certain knowledge that the primary consideration must be the welfare of the people, especially those in situations of extreme vulnerability.”

Our prayers of blessing go out to the many persons of our faith community who will bring their Anabaptist Christian values to bear in the halls of power across the country.

—Posted Nov. 6, 2014

See also:  

'Seeking the welfare of the city'

For discussion: 'Seeking the welfare of the city'

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