Political Theology of American Mennonite Pacifism

Unlike Quakers (Friends, or Friends of Reconciliation [1]) or Jehovah‘s Witnesses which confronted the state power and military actions everywhere, American Mennonites have “enjoyed” their relationship with the U.S. government. Make no mistake: for centuries, Mennonites adhered to a strict two-kingdom theology, owing their supreme allegiance to the divine kingdom which serving as loyal, law-abiding subjects of the state in all matters that did not contradict their religious beliefs. Basically, Mennonites saw state affairs as none of their business [2].

Challenges to Mennonite peacemaking came from the two world wars, in which whole nations were mobilized to engage destroying enemy nations. However, after a sense of trauma from the relatively short period of the First World War [3], Mennonites found a way out by voluntary participation in conscientious objector labor camps. It worked well during the Second World War period: America’s entrance of the war was nonetheless accepted as necessary to recover the world order. By providing meaningful service in Civilian Public Service camps, young Mennonite men displayed loyalty to the state and the general public at the same time maintained their faith of peace.

Perry Bush [2] reveals that Mennonites could keep their own identity of peace faith during the war time mainly because of their relatively isolated rural environment. However, along with the post-war “modernization” or urbanization of the American society, including the Mennonite community, the Mennonite political-theology has experienced structural transformations. As Robert Wuthow observed, “If religion has been restructured, this restructuring has been possible because religious organizations have had the resources with which to respond to the challenges set before them.“[4] For the Mennonites, the adopting the process of social change in a fashion that sustained their own viability in American life was not without sacrifice of their evangelical peace heritage and identity. Young anti-war Mennonite’s being sentenced in prison was regarded a tragedy, rather than a light in the darkness of our time. During the “Cold-war” period, the distinction between the Mennonites and the mainstream American Christianity became vague [5]. For example, there was not serious challenge from the American Christianity to Billy Graham, who utilized God to serve the state and himself [6].

Any organization, religious or not, should have the ability of self-criticism, self-adjustment, self-correction and self-revolution. When American Christians under democratic rule, by their own free will, elected a liar and murderer of mass destruction to be their President, how could any Christian testify Jesus as Lord of peace? Instead of evangelism going out, isn’t much more important for every Christian in the U.S. to transform the only military super power, the only threat to the world peace [7], into a peaceful country?

In the summer of 2003, I went to Lincoln Glen Church (http://www.lincolnglen.org/) office and had a constructive dialog with the church’s two pastors. The purpose was to finish my eleven-year long fellowship with Christianity, and I was very much relieved that they fully respected my spiritual development. I sincerely thank them and the church, which still regard me as a member of this Mennonite community, even though I no longer regard myself a Christian.

I am proud of my association with Mennonites, and I hold hope with Christianity because of the sincere faith of the Mennonites, the Quakers, the Witnesses, and other faith communities. I would like to conclude by citing a reader’s letter to the recent Mennonite monthly _Christian Leader_: “When I pick up a newspaper or read the most current news on my web browser, I get the sense that the world is about to explode.” “This continuous tension keeps me dealing with the questions that affect my daily life and how I live it. My allegiance is always being challenged.” “My journey has taken me to this point, and today my allegiance is not to any nation, not to any heritage, not to any flag or any confession except this one only: It is to the good news that God loved the world, that Jesus Christ died for all.” [8]


[1] Silicon Valley’s active peace and justice organization, San Jose Peace Center http://www.sanjosepeace.org/, also belongs to FOR worldwide network.

[2] Perry Bush, _Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America_, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1998.

[3] American Mennonites at first stressed their Germanic heritage and identity with their fatherland.

[4] Recited from [2], page 272.

[5] For example, John Howard Yoder, _The Politics of Jesus_, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003 (second edition from the first edition published in 1972).

[6] His autobiography _Just as I am_ (HarperSanFrancisco & Zondervan, 1997) is a plain testimony that he was “king of kings” (the spiritual mentor of every American President in his time).

[7] American official records are misleading but instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. If Christians living in the empire do not feel secure, who else in the world have security?

[8] Steve Goossen, “Making peace with God’s call to love the world”, _Christian Leader_, January 2004.

Jing Zhao

_Comparative Policy Review_ http://cpri.tripod.com January 2004