Toward a (mostly) Mennonite politics

menno
Good ol’ Menno Simons.

Dear Rebecca:

The slogan of this blog is that we write from a “(mostly) Mennonite” perspective. It’s a recognition that we both have long ties to the church, while also acknowledging there are areas where we part with church orthodoxy.

And let’s face it: There are days when our minds are Mennonite, but our hearts aren’t. In our anger over the Florida school shooting of recent days, I think it’s fair to say we’ve both approached that state of being.

There’s nothing more Mennonite than pacifism, right? Here’s part of what the confession of faith has to say about that:

As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

As I say: I don’t think either of us are 100 percent on board with this. But I think we both largely are.

I wonder how the confession of faith would be written in today’s American political climate?

Our political debates are not usually violent, per se, but there’s no denying that — these days, at least — they’re extremely hostile. Mennonites used to sit politics out. Not so much anymore. But should we be witnessing against that hostility in our politics and political speech?

There are practical reasons to think so. For one, it’s clear that outside forces are using that hostility against us.

Moreover: One of my core beliefs is that almost nobody in life sees themself a villain. There are rare exceptions. But treating people like villains hardens hearts and makes progress more difficult in 97 percent of cases. So it seems incumbent on me to treat people like they believe what they say, even if I can spot what should be cognitive dissonance a mile away, even if what they say seems like transparent bullshit. Screaming and name-calling rarely produce solutions or consensus. Hostility only breeds more hostility. It almost never breeds justice. That’s true even if the hostility is utterly deserved.

And justice is the aim, right? Or, depending on where you’re at on the Menno spectrum, one of the aims, right?

I don’t just think this stuff because I’m a nice guy who can’t take his own side, though I know some folks think that about me. I also happen to think it’s true, and because true, the best path toward lasting justness and rightness.

I have fallen short of this standard, frequently, in thinking about our politics. All we can do is stumble, dust ourselves off, and resume the journey. And pray that we’re doing it right.

We fall short sometimes. But this is my statement of purpose.

–Joel

Author: joeldermole

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.

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