The politics of engagement, religious-style

A few months ago, my husband and I were visiting relatives in the Washington, D.C. area. We were able to read hard copies of the Washington Post. It is always a treat holding those big pages at breakfasts and ‘solving’ the problems of the world with good friends. (We get the online version only now,  but at least we haven’t had to give up the paper whose Watergate investigations accompanied us through Tim’s military service in D.C.)

There, on the ‘Acts of Faith’ page, we saw the story of Jess King, a Democrat and Mennonite running for Congress in Lancaster County—the largest cluster of Amish and Mennonites in the country—running against a (Lloyd) Smucker. ‘Values’ is her key word. Imagine, she says, our values impacting Congress. By values, she means faith, she means ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ and introducing that concept to politics. ‘It’s similar to church — the values, the sense of connection.’

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

Julie Zauzmer, the article’s author, found that Republicans have taken the lead in naming religion as central to their beliefs (remember the Reagan Dispensation last week,) even though Pew research finds that 85% Democrats say they, too, believe in God. They just don’t talk about it as much. The 2016 Presidential election shows how well that turned out.

Jess King did voluntary service, she attended a religious high school and college (Eastern Mennonite) and her husband is a pastor. She is a Progressive—single-payer health care and reduction of the cost to attend public colleges—and has been endorsed by none other than Bernie Sanders.  She knows her area: farm technology, small group commitment, and kindness, the absence of which, in Trump’s diatribes, makes Lancaster people nervous, even if they voted for him.

This October’s The Mennonite dedicates some of its articles to politics. On page 14 (hard copy) there is an excellent interview by Tim Nafziger (administrator of MennoNerd’s The Anabaptist Collective) of Jonathan Smucker, ‘a Mennonite political organizer and author of Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals. He is working in his hometown of Lancaster, Pa., with Lancaster Stands UP to support Jess King, a Mennonite candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.’ Jonathan Smucker teaches people how to canvass for their candidates.

Note: a longer version of this article can be viewed on The Anabaptist Collective and

Why not just read the Bible and pray, why become soiled by politics? Smucker says that in reading the Good Book, he has found ‘tension between faith and effectiveness.’ I think he means that faith itself has called him to action. He admits to having a martyr complex when young, which many of us can identify with, but he says that through political involvement ‘the story [doesn’t] have to end with the righteous people losing.’ He’s moved beyond the martyr narrative. When Tim Nafziger asks him about pacifism’s emphasis on community vs the demands of efficacy, Smucker replies that empathy helps people understand and persuade each other. He adds perhaps wryly that sympathetic comprehension helps you defeat them politically. By working to understand others, you do not mock them, and you do take them seriously. (Read today’s character defamations in place of substantive policy discussions. How well we know that much of this is the fault of those on either side who cheer spitefully.)

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

This week, I got down to reading September 24th’s Mennonite World Review. There were two articles about my conference (the Central District) restoring the credentials of Isaac Villegas, the pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. Villegas had been sanctioned by the Virginia Mennonite Conference for officiating—‘with his congregation’s blessing’—a same-sex wedding. Rather than holding onto Villegas’s punishment, the Virginia conference, citing the Forbearance Resolution among its reasons, relinquished the pastors credentials, the result being that the CDC could restore them in a different conference. As Glenn Guyton, new executive director of MCUSA, said ‘…conferences and congregations hold a great deal of authority…’ It seems a generous, combined effort to save a good pastor, but it’s not the end of the story. The topic does not ‘fit neatly into our current polity,’ according to M. Danner, director of MCUSA’s Office of Leadership Development. Thus, it must be discussed this year by the Constituency Leaders Council and the National Area Church and Conference Ministers (MCUSA) and Mennonite Church Canada.

Ah, politics, defined as having a definite policy or system of government. We can pretend to live beyond or above it, but we know are pretending.

Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash


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.




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Greta Holt


  1. Mary Liechty on October 12, 2018 at 11:42 am

    I have struggled with empathy vs manipulation. Am I truly being empathetic, or am I simulating it to sway a view? Where does one stop and the other start?
    It seems that to truly have empathy I must also be willing to be changed by listening. I need to learn at the feet of people like Smucker.

    • Greta Holt on October 12, 2018 at 11:45 am

      Me, too. I can’t stand to feel manipulated, but I can manipulate with the best of them.

  2. Diane Gottlieb on October 12, 2018 at 11:52 am

    Interesting post, Greta! My favorite line is this quote: ‘the story [doesn’t] have to end with the righteous people losing.’ Let’s hope–and pray!!

    • Greta Holt on October 12, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Finding a middle ground between martyrdom and evil behavior becomes the mission–joining with politics without losing one’s soul.

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