Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Bible and Politics, pt. 6.5

This is the final week for our class, and the final installment in the lesson on theological approaches to the use of the Bible in politics. This post talks about recent moves in Anabaptist theology (Anabaptist denominations include Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, etc.). The final post will look at a few Anabaptist theologians' treatment of our issue.


In the last 50 years or so, Anabaptist theologians have made their church’s distinct approach to religion and politics known to the rest of the church. John Howard Yoder and Gordon Kaufmann are perhaps the best known recent Anabaptists, and their students Stanley Hauerwas, Duane Friesen, and Glen Stassen have popularized their treatments of the issue beyond the confines of Anabaptism.

Central to the Anabaptist approach is attention to the church as a primary location for discipleship. In regards to our question, an Anabaptist asks first, ‘How can the politics of the Bible be lived out in the community of the church’ well before asking, ‘How can the Bible be used in political situations outside the church.’ This church-first stance means an Anabaptist response to racism, ecological disaster, or poverty will rely heavily on the church’s own use of the Bible in those situations.

Viewing the church in such a way implies some sort of separation between the church as a political unit, and other political units (such as the U.S. government). This separation is precisely what Anabaptists want, and, indeed Anabaptists were among the first to propose a doctrine of the separation between church and state. Part of the reason for such a separation is Anabaptism’s historic stance as a peace church. Because Anabaptists (usually) reject violence, they (usually) reject some degree of participation in any state that uses violence. (Various Anabaptists define ‘participation’ differently, but for most this means not running for office.)

When it does come time to interact with political entities outside of the church, many Anabaptists are pessimistic about using language that is not deeply rooted in Christian tradition. This pessimism comes about from a deep conviction that, through baptism, a Christian’s identity is first and foremost derived from the church. In other words, the primary language of Christians is explicitly Christian, and to attempt a translation would invariably lose much of the meaning that makes Christianity’s politics work. However, because of the priority of the church and it separation from the state, Anabaptists do not go out of their way to tell the state what to do—in biblical or any other terms—and mostly focus on the church’s responsibility to live out a different kind of politics.


1) How do you feel about Anabaptism's prioritization of the church? Is the church political? Can political change happen within the church?

2) What do you think about the claim that Christians' primary identity is as Christians? Does this affect how you view your ability to use non-biblical language in politics? Can Christian (and biblical) language be translated for use in politics?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jesus would not polarize the church.
St. Paul said we should lead a quite life.