The Church and Politics

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What is happening to our planet? Are we spinning hopelessly out of control? In these past few years, so many of us have considered politics our main concern: immigration, race, gender equality, the environment, poverty, and jobs. We have written letters, we have marched, and now we are canvassing for our candidates.

Most of us are struggling, though, with how politics and religion can or should influence each other.

Certainly, the early Anabaptists and martyrs were political. Living in an era of the juxtaposition of religion and state, they had no choice. What they espoused was treasonous. Thank goodness for today’s separation (sort of) of church and state.

The Anabaptists hoped they were returning society to the vision of the early Christians with a sense of fairness, community, and equality, where people helped each other. Sounds a bit naive, but I’ve long felt that we Mennonites have a consciously practiced naivete based upon a consciously practiced humility.

Recently, our Adult Forum at church answered questions posed by the Peace & Justice, Outreach & Service committee concerning a fresh visioning in these political times.  Our PJOS committee has provided us with a list of their monetary and physical involvements. We will continue our deliberations and plug ourselves in as our individual talents allow.

In October, I’ll be thinking about politics and the church. I have no easy answers, only curiosity.

What should churches do, and what should they not do?

How political should a church get, where should its resources be focused?

Why do so few people vote in primaries?

What are the costs women pay for unwanted attention?

Is there any way to harness or circumvent today’s partisan politics?

Immigration, jobs beyond the coal era, education, gender, a climate careening toward disaster . . .

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As my husband and I prepare for a long-overdue garage renovation, I have been going through boxes of my parents’ papers. Yesterday I found a letter by my mother to her parents, circa 1957, when Mom and Dad were at Mennonite Central Committee’s headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania. They were poor with three children to feed but committed to a vision of a better world. As I contemplate politics, I want to remember their shared world view, which honored ‘the least of these.’

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Here are some excerpts from the letter:

Christine Purves to Hobby (Carl) and Martha Habegger, 1957

‘We Mennonites are cooperating 100% with Church World Service in foreign aid, relief, medical programs, and so on. We don’t thing that God blesses only the programs—the Norman Vincent Peale’s and other big outfits, rich as all getup and always putting out the touch for members of other churches to contribute to them—same with Word of Life and so many other more flashy organizations. But we don’t want to feel contentious with them either. We don’t try to rival anybody. We just try to do what one person at a time can do, working with his fellow man over the world. Jesus encouraged disciples to go out two by two. The humble way–this inspires me most. Ask Dr. Mellon in Haiti how much appreciated the ordinary, everyday type of conscientious day’s work put in by this type of humble servant of God is.

I certainly don’t stay stop reading anything, I hope. [They had been writing to each other about books.] But all of us must be careful not to let our reading become a search for matter which supports our prejudices and hobbies and becomes one sided. It is educational, too, to keep in touch with what the total General Conference church program is, and to read new translations of the Bible such as the wonderfully interesting Phillips ones and to read of modern Christian martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died because he believed in the Sermon on the Mount and couldn’t accept Naziism’s race superiority. What a man like that believed makes educational reading. He didn’t feel that the Sermon on the Mount offended reason, nor was his writing one that could be understood by only a few.

Of course, I myself have a very hard time making my reading count for the best values. There just isn’t time, it seems, to search out all the best. I’d like to keep up with the Christian Century and its counterpart from the National Association of Evangelicals—Christianity Today, I think it’s called. My own church paper and the Bible are a good start because they make me a better disciple in my daily life.’ 

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Then, Mom wrote about her kids not being able to travel to Berne, Indiana, for a visit with the grandparents. $$$

‘—as you could see from our last letter, we are at rock bottom as far as funds are concerned for the summer. The girls would enjoy a week in July at our church camp here, Men-o-lan, that might make up for the disappointment at not coming Berne. I haven’t decided yet about Men-o-lan. It would cost us $10.50 each for the girls. Of course I wouldn’t have them to feed that week, either.’ 

Food or camp, not both—such was church service. I need to keep our parents’ willing sacrifices in mind as I think about political concerns.

I hope that somewhere people are writing about a future that is more loving, more equal, and less clamorous & selfish than the one we live in presently. Our churches will work to find their own positions in that future.

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I welcome your comments:

{Thank you to my niece, Addie Liechty, for taking the picture that is this blog’s featured image. Her blog is:}

Best wishes and have a good week.


Greta Holt

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