This letter to the editor was also sent to the USMB leaders who signed the letter to the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service: David Hardt, USMB Leadership Board chair, Tim Sullivan, U.S. Board of Faith and Life chair, and Don Morris, USMB national director. Sullivan has responded to the author.
I have spent time in prayer and contemplation on the letter that you wrote Nov. 8, 2019 to the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. I write to give you my prayerful opinion that your letter is very weak and did not do well in defending your position. As I read your vague response, I am assuming that your leadership is now advocating “Just War Theory.”
The Mennonite Brethren were invited to the MCC discussion as ones who share a “common core conviction that followers of Jesus should not participate as combatants in the military.” Your letter stated that you agreed with many of the convictions and quoted at length on places where you were in full agreement with the 13 Anabaptist conferences.
However, you state, “historically this has meant that we do not serve as combatants.” Why did you not say “biblically”? That is where our Anabaptist beliefs come from—not from history/tradition but as a sincere belief in Scripture, which you quoted yourself in the last paragraph of the first page. That appears to be pretty convincing biblical/Scriptural mandates, not just an historical interpretation.
In the rest of your letter, you take much effort (I’m assuming quoting from the larger Anabaptist statement) defending our pacifistic belief. There is only one statement stating otherwise: “Some Mennonites believe that certain carefully considered applications of violence are justified when they work redemptively to bring peace.” Based on this statement, it appears the Mennonite Brethren are now proposing “just war.” Is that to be our “historical” stance from this point on? Who determines a “just war”? Is that up to each individual? Will our local congregations make a decision on whether congregants should be drafted? Will our national Board of Faith and Life send out a missive on which wars are “just” and which ones aren’t? Who will determine whether congregants should be drafted for a “just war”?
If it is up to each individual, should there not be some counsel as to whether the war is just? What happens when an individual agrees to be drafted, then in the midst of war realizes they have now been moved from protecting people to protecting oil wells? Who will come to that individual’s defense at that time? Men, you are treading dangerous ground here on how this gets “worked out.” You are undermining many biblical truths to take this just war stance. May God help you as you see our people drafted and sent to fight as you have created a “fault-line” in our Anabaptist theology.
In the end, it is up to each individual to discern what God is speaking to them. All men can be drafted. It is up to the individual (along with their church) to defend the reason they will NOT participate, not the reason they will. Mennonite Brethren should hold high the banner of non-violence as Christ commands. Being “wishy-washy” in our theology does no one any good and definitely undermines any corporate support. You may think you covered that “base” by telling the National Commission on the Military that you support those who are conscientious objectors, but you left that “base” open to the interpretation with a lame support by essentially saying, “Let us have it both ways. Don’t put any expectations on us Mennonite Brethren. We’ll do whatever we feel at the time.” This issue is about being drafted. In a draft, many people are not wanting to go to war. There must be a powerful conviction and support from a larger body to defend our people from not having to take life. If a person feels that redemptive violence is needed, they can always enlist.
I am taking some literary expansion based on Don Morris’s article in the recent Christian Leader, Jan/Feb 2020, as it may apply to Anabaptists, at large: “Within this family God wants to shape us individually and together into the image of Jesus. Being deeply committed to Jesus occurs best when we are connected to a healthy family…. We can do it better together than alone…. Some don’t find value in our collective mission, so they don’t support or participate. For me, that is so sad. We can accomplish so much more if we do it together and even more if every church is involved…. I don’t get the desire and movement toward independence when it comes to churches. The body of Christ…functions as a body, with all the body’s parts doing their designed thing…. We need one another….We are a family of churches by the will of God, and we are united by one Spirit for the specific call to ministry.”
Let us not turn on backs on our Anabaptist theology. Yes, there are areas of disagreement within the broader Mennonite family, but let us add our voices WITH them, join WITH them and hold true to Christ’s calling to love our enemy and do good to those who persecute us, as we are able in this draft issue.
Max Lucado states, “Could it be that unity is the key to reaching the world for Christ? If unity is the key to evangelism, should we ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of PEACE?’…No where…are we told to build unity. We are told to KEEP unity. Unity does not need to be created; it simply needs to be protected.”
May you leaders help us keep the unity, not by compromise on “Just War” but by proclaiming Christ is Lord and following his example. You would have a very hard time convincing anyone that Christ would take up a sword for the Romans to go kill the people he gave his life for.
May God’s Spirit speak to you and what you are doing to our Anabaptist theology.
One post-script: You write, “We recommend that women not be required to register for Selective Service…. This grows out of our traditional understanding of women’s roles.” If a woman is single, never married, divorced or widowed, accepts the Mennonite Brethren stance that violence works redemptively and she has no male to “submit” herself to, why would MB leadership be opposed to such service? If the woman feels God is telling her to fight, why would you object to her being drafted? You will need to provide your scriptural basis for this “traditional understanding of women’s roles” or, at least, concede that “unmarried” women can be drafted.
For the sake of his kingdom,
This article has been posted by Christian Leader staff. The Christian Leader is the magazine of U.S. Mennonite Brethren.