What is a radical yea-sayer?
From the editorby Everett J. Thomas
Lost in the debate around Goshen (Ind.) College’s decision to play the national anthem before sporting events was an even more significant change: president Jim Brenneman's call for Mennonites to be “radical yea-sayers” alongside our tradition of "radical nay-saying."
In an address on Jan. 20, Brenneman cited early Anabaptists as the source of the expectation that Mennonites would say no more often than yes.
"They said no to the fundamental religious and civil order of the time," Brenneman said. “They rejected the church-state union, which had dominated Christianity for some 1,000 years. They championed human freedom and the separation of church and state. ... These early Mennonites/Anabaptists were also 'idealists' and 'perfectionists' for whom the word compromise was considered sinful."
The problem with Brenneman’s message is that few of us in the church are nay-sayers anymore. That leaves the call to be yea-sayers a moot point since we are already so acculturated.
This call to be radical yea-sayers also begs a question: On what societal issues shall we say yes, and on what issues should we say no?
Some of us think we should say yes to the new national health-care program. Some of us think we should say no. Those on each side of the divide may think their convictions are rooted in Anabaptist tradition and theology, making them "radical."
This lack of consensus about when to say yes and when to say no leaves us confused. Several years ago I had an experience as a member of the Goshen City Council that illustrates this confusion:
I enrolled in a 12-week Citizens' Academy course sponsored by the Goshen Police Department because I am the liaison between the council and the department.
I was impressed with the excellent level of training and deliberate care given to departmental policies—especially the city’s continuum of force policy. But I noticed a gap in the continuum that led too quickly to the use of deadly force. After using pepper spray or a baton to subdue a suspect, the police officer’s only option was his gun.
Because the city had no money for Tasers, I started a fund-raising campaign to purchase them. Within a year, each officer began carrying a Taser. Studies have shown that both law enforcement officials and suspects are less likely to be injured when Tasers are used instead of the other options in the continuum of force.
It was not until I heard the phrase "radical yea-sayer" that I thought of this effort to change our city’s policy. But some Mennonite sisters and brothers in the community were displeased with my efforts. The reason: My involvement made me complicit in a system that considers violence justifiable.
But I saw the change as one that grows out of our roots: care for the physical well-being of people around us. In one sense, it was also a form of nay-saying: We do not want our police officers shooting people.
Perhaps the best we can do is examine our personal intersections with the culture in which we live. When we find ourselves supporting or opposing some element of public policy, are we doing so out of our convictions as disciples of Christ? If not, then we are compromising our beliefs. The early Anabaptists would have called such compromise sin.
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