Mennonites are in the news again in Canada. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way, and maybe both. The Canadian Mennonite, a periodical published by Mennonite Church Canada has been asked/warned by an agency of the government to refrain from partisan political activity. It referred to certain editorials and articles that covered political territory, including a few that encouraged readers to take certain issues to heart when selecting their candidates. The editor of this periodical is a professional and knows not to endorse any particular parties or candidates, but by advocating treatment of the poor and the environment as critical political issues, this government agency deemed it to be partisan political activity.
The Canadian Mennonite has gone public with the communication it has received. Much of the response has been supportive of the magazine and critical of the government’s action. At a political level, I agree that this attempt to silence anything that appears to be opposition is a step away from the freedoms we enjoy in this country. At a practical level, I agree that this activity did border on promoting partisan political interests.
As with almost every group in Canada, there is a broad political spectrum represented in Canadian Mennonite religious and cultural communities. All of the major mainline political parties will get votes from Mennonites motivated by their religious convictions. There are a number of elected and aspiring politicians across the political spectrum who are ethnically Mennonite and/or hold Mennonite/Anabaptist religious convictions. Driven by their stance on a variety of social causes, one could easily vote for any Canadian political party and still call themselves a rational human being. Any intellectually responsible person will admit they need to set aside some principals in the ballot box in order to hold up certain other principals.
Some might argue about which political party best represents our Anabaptist convictions. I’ve heard that argument. It’s either boring because everyone blindly agrees, or it’s futile because finding any common ground seems impossible.
Some might vocally defend our right to speak against government decisions. We have that right. We have those convictions. But rather than hearing why we should be allowed to speak against Harper, it would be more convincing to see the articles where we spoke against Chretien or Layton or May. Would any of them carry out the office of Prime Minister without contradicting Mennonite/Anabaptist principles? Where was this call for increased civic engagement when the Conservatives were on the political fringes?
All of this though is a distraction. The Anabaptist understanding is that we, as Christians, are Kingdom people. And so the political process in this or any other country is irrelevant to our primary pursuits. If your Kingdom call prompts you to feed the poor, then feed the poor, whether or not there is government funding to do so. If you want to promote responsible family and economic decisions, do it, but don’t expect our elected officials to be motivated by the same principals and seek the same ends. Encouraging people to vote, even if you’re telling them to take their Christian principles into the voting box, does not align you more closely with the original Anabaptists, it does quite the opposite.
Some are claiming that the Mennonite community is being punished for its non-conformist stance, but by engaging in the political dialogue at all, we are conforming to the societal norm. We can respond to this issue in a few different ways, but I worry that we will do it wrong. We could respond to this government decree with defiance and become more vocal and more specific about our political opinions. We could cower away and quietly avoid political conversations. In one, we could boldly become worse Anabaptists, in the other, we become better Anabaptists, but out of fear.
Our true allegiance is to the Kingdom. Artificial dividers like political or national affiliation distract us from our true callings. A wise man once said that mixing church and state is like mixing ice cream and manure, it has little effect on the manure, but it sure buggers up the ice cream. If we write off our government as hopeless they will ignore us. If we too eagerly embrace the opposition, we will compromise our allegiances. Either way, we lose our prophetic voice.