Monday, November 15, 2010

Are Mennonites Becoming Too Influential?

At The American Spectator, Mark Tooley writes an article mocking Mennonites for their victimhood and for the perniciously liberal influence they're having in evangelical circles. He writes:
"All these neo-Anabaptists denounce traditional American Christianity for its supposed seduction by American civil religion and ostensible support for the 'empire.' They reject and identify America with the reputed fatal accommodation between Christianity and the Roman Emperor Constantine capturing the Church as a supposed instrument of state power. Conservative Christians are neo-Anabaptists' favorite targets for their alleged usurpation by Republican Party politics. But the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state commandeering health care, regulating the environment, and punishing wicked industries."

First: Tooley never really grapples with whether Mennonite pacifism is theologically correct. I think that's telling. Who wants to argue that Jesus wants us to drop fragmentation bombs on foreign countries?

Second: Tooley's right that martyrdom -- literal and metaphorical -- is at the foundation of the Mennonite story. He neglects that that's true of pretty much the entirety of Christianity. The founder died on a cross so that his followers could live! It's silly to act like Mennonites are particularly vulnerable to the self-pity that accompanies the theology.

Third: as has been much-noted, I'm no longer in the church. If I were to return to Christianity, though, I'd probably return to the Mennonites. And though it's not really my place to make this observation, Tooley might have a point that many active peace-and-justice Mennonites have put too much faith in politics, and in the Democratic Party in particular, to bring about a just world they believe Jesus points to. (It's not a uniform leaning, though. I grew up partially in the Mennonite Brethren church, where most of the people who surrounded me were far more interested in supporting the GOP's pro-life policies than the Dems' anti-war positions. I don't see Tooley complaining about that. )

I don't think that means Mennonites should absent themselves from politics. I think it's good to have a segment of society that offers principled resistance to American hawkishness. But Mennonites shouldn't expect to find salvation in politics. None of us should.

UPDATE: A friend suggests should make the point I made on my Facebook account, in response to the Spectator's "Mennonite Takeover?" headline: "Today, rural Kansas! Tomorrow: slightly more expansive areas of rural Kansas!" Demographically, Mennonites aren't and never will be all that strong a force. But I don't want to discount that Mennonite ideas can seep into the broader discourse without being joined to Mennonite identity, which still tends to have a very strong ethnic component. (Apologies to all my Desi Mennonite friends.)

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