Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essay #c.8
[Published in Mennonite Quarterly Review 78.3 (July 2004), 341-62.]
Heirs of the Radical Reformation continue to face basic questions about citizenship. What does it mean to be “in the world and not of it” (John 17:14-17)? What in our lives should we give to Caesar and what should we give to God (Matthew 22:15-22)?
Anabaptists living in the United States are challenged by these questions in complex ways. We find ourselves, on the one hand, in the land of freedom. The first Anabaptist generations in the 16th century, facing severe persecutions, sought desperately for safety; many groups migrated widely in this quest. Beginning in the late 17th century, many established communities in the United States. Despite periodic flaring of wartime persecutions, we may now look back with gratitude for our forebears’ opportunity to find a safe home in America.
We have a great deal to be grateful for in terms of religious toleration. We also, not coincidentally, have opportunities totally unimaginable for the 16th century Anabaptists to participate in political life in one of the world’s pioneering democracies. That is, not only are Mennonites tolerated, we may vote, run for office, speak out, serve on school boards, be fully participating members in American democratic processes.
On the other hand, American Mennonites are also tax-paying citizens in one of the world’s greatest-ever empires, if we define “empire” in terms of a country’s exercise of domination over many other parts of the world. Perhaps the US does not overtly possess foreign colonies in the manner of old empires such as Great Britain. However, in terms of the actual expression of power over others, the US surely greatly surpasses even the largest reach of the British Empire. America is now the world’s one great superpower, spending more on our military than just about all the rest of the world’s countries combined.
The Anabaptist tradition early on expressed a strong suspicion of empires, power politics, and trust in the sword. Present-day Mennonites surely are being faithful to that tradition when we refuse to participate in, or even support, the wars of America.
However, what about the “good America,” the America of religious freedom and participatory democracy? Is the traditional Mennonite “two-kingdom” stance adequate for determining our understanding of citizenship today? In our time, people throughout the world plead for participants in American civil society to seek to influence American foreign policy to be more peaceable. Do American Anabaptist Christians have responsibility aggressively to seek to take their pacifist convictions into the public square in a way that might influence our government? Continue reading