Tag Archives: Mennonite

Terry Smith: Are You Watching PURE?

by Terry M. Smith

In case you’ve missed it so far, the six-part CBC drama series PURE set in Canada focuses on a Mennonite minister dealing with drug-running within his community.

Some people are concerned that the practices of some Mennonite groups are being confused or inaccurately depicted. Still, pointing out inaccuracies does little to communicate effectively with some non-Mennonites who think Mennonite groups considered “conservative” and “traditional” are confusing and odd. I am content to let others spend their energy on this.

Another concern: Mennonites who deal in drugs—even if, in reality, a tiny group—should stop. The drug trade from Mexico to Canada harms Mennonites and others who are not involved in it. Violence does happen. We should support efforts to reduce the involvement and the violence.

I will watch the entire short series. The central concern of mine, as a minister, is how the series will ultimately portray the Christian faith. Will the series continue an all-too-common Canadian media portrayal of the Christian Church as outdated, powerless, and with morally ambiguous figures? Such a depiction conveniently reinforces values of secular Canadians, and is used to say that the Christian Church has lost the right to call people to conversion.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Will preacher Noah and his family, in the end, give up their faith or will a chastened leader and congregation continue to serve Jesus Christ?

The script is putty in the director’s and producer’s hands, but given that Jesus, the most important figure in human history, rose from the dead after being rejected, the real value of the Christian Church, with its message and its community, is decided by Him.

Layton Friesen: You Are a Pacifist and You Called the Police?

by Layton Friesen

If someone broke into your house, wouldn’t you call the police?” This question is often used as a handy trump card to dispense with pacifism, but it actually presents little problem to Mennonite pacifism.

Our broad Anabaptist tradition—with the notable exception of Balthasar Hubmaierhas had the moxie to claim that while the good of society may sometimes need the use of force, and while we may even depend on military or police defense for our own well-being as pacifists, we ourselves will not swing the sword. Others will.

The Anabaptist pacifist tradition, until recently, has not been absolutely anti-war or anti-police. Read the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It says the sword is “ordained of God” and “punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good.” So far, that’s basic just war thinking.

We cannot appeal to the tradition here to denounce every military or police action. Mennonites have generally assumed that a certain amount of killing is necessary to keep evildoers from ruining the world.

An Elite Special-Task Force

But while Mennonites have not called for the abolishing of armies, they have also seen that you cannot announce God’s good news while killing people. Mennonites have thus seen the Church as an elite, heroic, special task-force unit within God’s wider providence sent on a limited mission. We do not claim to be the totality of everything God is doing in the world, and we do not claim to know exactly how God is using our special mission within his Kingdom, but Christ has told us to exempt ourselves from killing in order to evangelize the world.

Our pacifism does not claim to be the solution to all the world’s immediate problems. It is a gesture towards the Kingdom of God that is in lock step with Jesus now redeeming the world—that’s all. In order to carry out this special task within the larger providential care of God for the world, we give up the right to kill people even for reasons of social order.

Try this analogy. Many countries recognize that doctors, politicians, clergy or others need to be exempt from combat in order to maintain the long-term viability of society. If all doctors are sent to combat, the nation will be crippled by disease; thus they can be exempt from fighting. A similar claim is made by Mennonites. God has a destiny of reconciliation in store for the world that someone needs to proclaim and live towards. Those on this mission have no weapons but love and forgiveness. It does not even occur to us that you could do what Christ leads us to do by killing people.

Short- And Long-Term Solutions for Evil

God has both short-term and long-term solutions for evil. War is apparently a necessary short-term solution to keep a lid on chaos. To simply abolish killing is naïve, for now. But killing will never redeem the world—it’s a bloody mess that only breeds more hatred. It’s only a stop-gap measure given by God to create a measure of time and space for the Church to proclaim the Gospel.

But the Church has a specific vocation within God’s long-term plan of ridding the world of evil for good. In order to be faithful to this long-term project, we have to free ourselves from some parts of the short-term plan. By preaching the gospel, by creating church communities of vulnerability and forgiveness, by working to restore justice in a zillion ways, and by refusing to kill, we put on a drama, quite the theatre, of the Kingdom of God, overcoming the world and its war—eventually.

We are the shape, the figure of Christ in the world, Gethsemane-bent in suffering love. That is our elite mission, our heroic task in the providence of God: watching, waiting, worshipping, praying, loving, evangelizing and suffering in union with the Saviour.

Our Mission is Not God’s Sum Total

And our mission is not the sum total of what God is doing in the world. God’s hands move within the world in hidden, dark places, outside the Church. In his mysterious wisdom states, kings, and armies end up doing God’s will. Their own hell-bent idolatry and savagery and God’s calm use of them seem to coexist in God’s providence. Wars can be a servant of God’s will, though again, it is foolish to draw too clear a line from the war to the will of God.

The NT Basis for Missional Pacifism

The New Testament basis for this missional pacifism is simple. First, the sum total of our existence as humans is now to preach the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:31-33). Second, Christ bids us to follow him in the total abandonment of killing even for the benefit of society—that’s what the Kingdom looks like right now in its hidden fruitfulness within the world (Luke 6:27-31; John 16:20-22). Third, the New Testament never condemns the state’s use of the sword. In fact, the sword in the hands of the state is praised and appealed to by Christians themselves as an instrument of God to bring justice to the world (Acts 23:16-24; Rom. 13:1-4).

Implications

This does not mean that Christians cannot be involved in government, though some Mennonites have drawn this conclusion. The New Testament forbids Christians to kill; it does not forbid them to take leadership in their communities where this can serve the Church’s mission. Our modern welfare state provides many good ways to serve the world without being directly involved in killing.

This does not mean we cannot actively oppose unjust wars, military actions, or police brutality. God has not given governments a blank cheque to kill whomever they will. It may be that as the human community develops better methods of justice and conflict resolution, war will become like slavery, useless and stupid.

We should use whatever wits we have to find more peaceful, humane and effective ways of resolving conflict. For example, “restorative justice” is in many cases a vastly better form of justice than brute punishment. Capital punishment is an antiquated, ineffective, brutal way of solving crime. Romans 13 does not require us to keep it on the books. There’s no reason we can’t point that out in public.

When we do oppose a military action though, we should not simply say, “Christians do not kill; therefore neither should the military.” We should know the situation in, say, Syria, and point out exactly how a military action there will be useless or unjust. We have to provide factual knowledge of a specific action, not just general condemnations about armies and swords.

There will always be grey areas, murky places where discernment is hard and we are not sure how the Church’s vocation and the world’s sword relate. That in itself is not a weakness—any true Kingdom ethic will sync with society in fits and starts. I would rather be inconsistent than wrong.

This pacifism makes no sense if the Church is not proclaiming Christ to the world. It is not merely an “ethic” or a “moral,” though it is that. Pacifism is one of the necessary conditions of the Church carrying out the Great Commission.

There are other pacifisms, but this older Anabaptist version seems to me to deal with both the place of the sword in the state and the rejection of killing that Christ bids his followers to do. I invite all to join me in discerning this vocation of the Church. Can this be sharpened, pointed and fueled more fruitfully?

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

Layton Friesen, ThD (candidate), is an EMC minister who has served as co-pastor of Crestview Fellowship and as senior pastor at Fort Garry EMC. He is a columnist within this magazine and is our conference’s representative to the Mennonite World Conference. He lives in Winnipeg.

Don Plett: An Ill-Advised Resolution Against Israel

By Don Plett

At its recent Assembly, the Mennonite Church Canada passed a resolution calling for boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) measures against Israelis.

Specifically, the resolution called on Church bodies and members “to avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories,” and called on the Government of Canada “to support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions).”

As a Mennonite, I am extremely discouraged to see any Mennonite conference in Canada take this stance.

Ever since scripture was translated into common language, over 500 years ago, it has been explicitly clear that the nation of Israel was given a land known as Canaan and that the gift came directly from God himself.

As Christians, we know that biblical text is the written word of God. The message of God when it comes to support for Israel and the Jewish people is abundantly clear, and is illustrated in several examples of scripture.

In Genesis 12:3 (NIV), God is speaking to Abraham as he says: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Many Christians believe that history has shown that those nations who have blessed the Jewish people have received the blessing of God; while the nations who have cursed the Jewish people have experienced the curse of God.

Likewise, scripture tell us that Christians are indebted to Jews, as their contributions gave birth to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul recorded in Romans 15:27 (NIV), “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”

And, of course, the Bible confirms that the Lord Jesus Christ was a practicing Orthodox Jew.

However, most Christians’ support for Israel goes well beyond scripture. The historical legitimacy of Israel, in all of its territory, as a nation is indisputable. And, as it stands today, Israel is a nation of democratic choice, individual freedom and modern thought standing alone in the middle of backwards, regressive dictatorships.

It goes without saying that there will be times when we, as Christians and as individuals, will have ideological differences with the political leaders of Israel, as we will with any nation’s government. However, Mennonite Church Canada has taken an extreme position against Israel, which I maintain is in direct contradiction to the written word of God.

We need to remember that, with the exception of Israel, all nations were created by mankind. Israel was created by an act of God. This is something that needs to remain sacred, and on our support for Israel, Christians need to remain consistent.

Senator Don Plett
Don Plett, member at Prairie Rose EMC

As a Mennonite and as a Christian, I would like to make it explicitly clear that, despite the name of the conference, Mennonite Church Canada does not speak for all Mennonites in adopting this ill-advised resolution.

Editor’s Note: A reply was issued by Dan Dyck, Director of  Church Engagement Communications, Mennonite Church Canada. It can be found here