Monthly Archives: July 2010

Is Pacifism Ever an Idol?

Ted Grimsrud (January 2010)

As a young adult in the 1970s, I found a strong sense of clarity to realize that I could never participate in war.  Then I discovered Mennonites—Christian pacifists with a strong tradition to back them up.  Then, I discovered surprising ambivalence about pacifism among Mennonites, even to the point where some Mennonites have charged that the church has made pacifism an idol.

What is in mind in this linking of pacifism with idolatry?  I think at least some of the following points may be present.  Pacifism could be seen to be an ideology, a human-centered, rigid philosophy similar to, say, Marxism or Libertarianism—and as such actually in competition with God as the center.

Or pacifism could be understood to be at best something we add to the core message of the gospel, perhaps valid in an optional kind of way but a problem when it is seen as too central.  When pacifism becomes too central it almost certainly will distract us from the main concerns of the gospel such as personal evangelism and the call to holiness.

Or pacifism could be seen to have become a badge of Mennonite identity, something that separates us from and elevates us over other Christians, an occasion for pride.

Or, finally, pacifism could be seen as making a human philosophy the basis for limiting God’s sovereignty.  With pacifism we may be telling God what God may or may not ask us to do.

I believe, though, that properly understood, Christian pacifism can never be an idol. Continue reading

Mennonites and Homosexuality

Welcoming But Not Affirming: The Logic of MC USA’s “Teaching Position” on Homosexuality

Ted Grimsrud—July 2010

[Author’s note: This essay was drafted shortly after I taught my Introduction to Theology class, which included a unit on homosexuality. I wanted to get some of my thoughts onto paper while they were fresh. I have not yet been able to develop the argument in this essay as thoroughly as I hope to. However, due to other commitments it may be some time before I can return to fleshing out my thoughts. Especially, the paper’s final section needs significant expansion. In the meantime, I am posting the essay here on Peace Theology in hopes that some may find it helpful—and that I may receive constructive criticism that will help me when I return to the essay. For a pdf version of this paper go here: Mennonites and Homosexuality. A slightly revised version of this article was published as “The Logic of the Mennonite Church USA Teaching Position on Homosexuality” in Brethren Life and Thought 55.1-2 (Winter 2010), 10-23.]

Numerous times over the past twenty-five years I have entered into conversations concerning issues related to our churches’ response to the presence in our midst of gay[1] Christians.  These conversations remain as challenging and seemingly unresolvable as ever.  But they also remain as interesting as ever.  And I keep learning as I engage in such conversations—about my own views and deep-seated values, about the dynamics of the conversation, and about the perspectives of my conversation partners (especially those with whom I disagree).

Certainly the conversations are complex and viewpoints are almost infinitely varied.  We all bring a mixture of motivations, ethical resources, political agendas, social locations, levels of education, personal experiences, and so much more.  However, as a trained ethicist, my tendencies run toward trying to provide some kind of conceptual order in analyzing these conversations.  This leads me to suggest various ordering categories—not (heaven forbid!) as stable slots into which to fit various actors (so I will avoid the word “type” and instead use terms such as “tendency,” “way of arguing,” and “inclination”)—as aids for growing in understanding (the proverbial “heuristic devices” as artificial categories that have educational value but must be held lightly).

The first set of categories I will use is meant to give us reasonably neutral terms for the two sides in the debate, focusing on issues centered in the churches.  These terms are “inclusive” and “restrictive.”  These two terms focus on the specific question of whether a church participant’s “gayness” per se should play a role in the level of involvement this participant will be allowed.

The term “inclusive” conveys an approach that would not limit the involvement due to whether the people are gay or not (this view could easily hold that the church should restrict the involvement of all people who are involved in sinful relationships, heterosexual or homosexual—the point being, though, that heterosexual couples and homosexual couples are held to the same standards).

The term “restrictive” conveys an approach that would limit the involvement of people who are presently in intimate same-sex relationships (or perhaps also those who are open to entering into such relationships).  The degree of restrictiveness might vary greatly among different churches, but in all cases the basis for restriction is the gayness of the participants. Continue reading

Book Reviews

America’s Shame

Tim Weiner. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Anchor Books, 2008.

This is both an illuminating and frustrating book. Tim Weiner is a long-time reporter for the New York Times whose beat has been the American intelligence community. This book won numerous rewards, is engagingly written, and draws on a remarkable selection of sources—including direct interviews with many involved in intelligence work and wide-ranging examination of archival materials.

Weiner probably is uniquely qualified to write this book. To his credit, he names names, cites his sources, lays the materials openly on the table. I think we should, to a large extend at least, believe the tales he tells. And hair-raising tales they are. Weiner shows us that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Central Intelligence Agency has from its beginning in the aftermath of World War II been a force for incredible evil in the world.

At the same time as we learn of the CIA’s mostly uninhibited zeal for murder and mayhem, generally in the context of the denial of self-determination for innumerable peoples around the world, we also learn of the extraordinary failures of the Agency. Most notably, the CIA utterly failed to gain understanding of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. In the first couple of decades, the CIA left the American government pretty much completely in the dark concerning Soviet activities and intentions. It’s amazing and extremely distressing to realize that the entire first generation of American cold warriors, who shaped our nation in tragic ways toward domination by militarism, beat the drums of warning against the Soviet threat with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of what was actually going on with the Soviets. It truly boggles the mind.

Then, at the end of the Cold War, with the CIA continuing to feed its political masters the analyses that were desired to sustain the Cold War that had become so profitable for the American Military-Industrial Complex, our “intelligence” service complete missed the signs of the impending collapse of the Soviet system. Continue reading