Sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation—July 27, 2014—1 Samuel 8:10-18; Romans 13:1-4; Mark 10:42-45
I want to talk this morning about political philosophy. Now, I don’t suppose many Mennonite preachers today—or ever—have done sermons on political philosophy. But like I say to Kathleen when she asks, on occasion, what in the world are you doing, I say, I’m just trying to keep you guessing.
Actually, I think Mennonites should talk about political philosophy—and understand that we have important resources for political philosophy in our tradition. The key theme, I think, is authority. Mennonites are not nearly faithful enough to our Anabaptist heritage in relation to authority. Not that many Mennonites I know have been socialized to question authority—though doing so was essential in the beginning of our movement in the 16th century. I’d like to float a provocative thesis this morning—when we question authority we take a necessary step in developing what we could call an Anabaptist, or , to be more presumptuous, an authentically biblical, political philosophy—that is, to question authority can be an act of faithfulness.
A political awakening
But first, let me tell the story of the beginning of my political awakening. When I was a kid, I lived for sports. Sixth grade was when we first had school sports where we played other schools. After football and basketball, we’d have both baseball and track. In my eighth grade year, we thought we’d have good teams—I was excited.
Then, something terrible happened. I still remember the moment clearly. We walk into our classroom one morning and see this written on the board: “Students who wish to compete on the baseball and track teams must have crew cut haircuts. There will be no exceptions.” Now, Elkton (Oregon) Grade School in the late 1960s was not a hotbed of hippy subversion. I had only recently let my hair grow out from my standard crew cut, but it wasn’t even as long as my hair is now. Nor was anyone else’s. But there were several of us who believed this was an unreasonable demand and refused it. Continue reading
In 1998, I wrote a paper that brought together many of my thoughts about pacifism. When I was in college back in the 1970s, right at the end of America’s war in Vietnam, I had come to strong convictions that war was always wrong and that I could never participate in warfare or even support it. In the years since, this conviction had only only deepened.
The occasion for writing this paper was a conference at Bluffton University on Anabaptism and Postmodernity. The paper, “A Pacifist Way of Knowing: Postmodern Sensibilities and Peace Theology,” was published in Mennonite Life in 2001. I am finally getting around to making it available here on Peace Theology.
During this “political” season, characterized by powerful and wealthy people seeking to exploit our system to expand their power and wealth, this book by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, comes as a very welcome breath of fresh air.
As is likely obvious by the title and the publisher (Zondervan), Jesus for President, is written by two young Christians aimed at a Christian audience. And this book needs to be read by Christians. However, many people of good will who have written off Christian faith may find this book an eye-opener and inspiration.
Years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on by Jacques Ellul, the French Protestant social thinker and “lay theologian.” I still consider books such as The Presence of the Kingdom and Apocalypse: The Book of Revelationto be some of my most formative books. By the time his little book, Anarchy and Christianitywas published in English (1991) I had not been keeping up with this ever-prolific writer. I did buy a copy that year, but only this Spring did I finally read this book.
I am glad I read it; it helped me remember why I found Ellul a stimulating thinker. I don’t really regret not having read it sooner, though. It is not a very substantial book. And, like too many of Ellul’s books, it’s written in a pretty haphazard style.
However, this is an important book for not other reason than that it does remain one of the few works by a serious theologian who also takes anarchism seriously.