The Common Good

Three voices for Three voices for prophetic politics

Date: July 4, 2005

The Christian right's ascent to political power has placed the relationship of faith and politics at the center of public awareness.

For Mennonites, the prophetic voices of John D. Roth, Jim Wallis and Ron Sider can help us meet the challenge of making Christ the Lord of our politics in a time of war abroad and cultural conflict at home.

Roth, a history professor at Goshen (Ind.) College, recently sparked discussion with a suggestion that Mennonites take a five-year break from partisan politics. (See link below to read Roth's remarks.)

Wallis, a leading voice for progressive evangelicals, has gained a following among Mennonites with his call to rescue the Christian faith from current political distortions.

Sider, a Mennonite and president of Evangelicals for Social Action, promotes a political agenda of peace, life and justice beyond labels of left and right.

A sample of what these three are saying can give Mennonites a better understanding of ourselves and a clearer vision of how to submit our politics to Christ's Lordship.

Roth, in lectures this spring, described two tensions at the heart of Mennonite identity.

First is a tension between church and state. This tension exists partly because of a belief that while Christians should reject violence, the state will use violence. Second is a tension between the "nonresistant separatist" tradition and the "pacifist activist" tradition. The former says we should not expect the state to live by Christian standards. The latter says we cannot remain silent in the face of state-sanctioned violence.

Today, Roth says, Mennonites who identify with the political right have adopted "the same logic that Mennonite activists on the left have been pursuing since the 1960s": that we should use all means available "to bring our moral convictions to bear in the public square." The difference, however, is that these two groups bring "very different set[s] of moral and religious priorities to the political arena."

With Mennonites now active across the political spectrum, Roth believes "our apparent inability to distinguish our political witness from the deeply entrenched red/blue divide is an embarrassment to the church." Thus he proposes a five-year political sabbatical. During this time "Mennonites should consciously develop disciplines that will keep our political witness clearly anchored in the church and in the language of our commitment to Christ."

Roth doesn't expect a groundswell of support for a break from party politics. But his idea could, as a South Bend (Ind.) Tribune reporter wrote, "spark a reimagination of Mennonite political involvement, especially if it softens some of their certainties and the strident language that now divides them."

Like Roth, Wallis and Sider want the body of Christ to be united by a countercultural witness.

Wallis writes in God's Politics: "In a political and media culture that squeezes everything into only two options of left and right, religious people must refuse the ideological categorization and actually build bridges between people of good will in both liberal and conservative camps."

The place from which to do that is outside both camps. In Genuine Christianity, Sider describes a biblically balanced approach that refuses to conform to a one-sided agenda: "The God revealed in Scripture cares about the poor and the family, about the sanctity of life and peace, about the unborn and creation, about freedom and justice."

Mennonites can set a unique example politically: Historically persecuted, we value separation of church and state. Conscientious objectors, we believe in protecting minority rights. Non-violent, we avoid the deceptions of nationalism and militarism. Abhorring the taking of life, we oppose abortion and capital punishment. Blessed by community life, we seek to strengthen marriages and families. Taught to serve, we care for the poor.

If we live up to these ideals, our politics will have a soul of faith. Our loyalty is not to a nation, politician or party, but to Jesus Christ.