Mennonites and the Green Partyby Ethan Bodnaruk
I appreciated Daniel Hertzler's TMail article "Congregational unity or the decision to vote?" I agree that the question of whether or not to vote should not divide a church, but I find it troubling that political differences do divide both individual churches and the Mennonite church as a whole.
So much of politics is rhetoric, spin, and coercion. Are we failing to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves? Aren't Jesus' teachings a clear enough guide for us as we wade through the ethical and political questions of our day, especially as Anabaptists who recognize the primacy of Jesus in the Bible?
I admit that if I had to choose one of the two political parties, I would say the Democrats come closer to representing the ideals of Jesus although both parties are off by a long shot.
The Republican Party is more extreme than ever and often denies or twists facts on climate change, spending, welfare and the poor. Democrats are moving farther right, hesitant to push hard for comprehensive and holistic change in energy, health care and climate issues. Both have been very hawkish, and both are heavily influenced by corporate interests, money and political action committees.
In my view, Christians can consider voting to be trivial if and when Christians in large numbers are carrying out the values and teachings of Jesus in practical, creative ways that (by definition) are disturbing to the status quo. However, I don't think the church is doing this (partially because of internal divisions), so questions of how Mennonites can faithfully engage in politics are meaningful.
Mennonites often speak of nonviolence as a third way, with the Mennonite tradition itself being a third way within Christianity (the other major "ways" being Protestantism and Catholicism).
Along these lines, I suggest that if Mennos want to be involved in politics, it could be a political third way: a party outside of the dominant two-party system.
I think the Green Party comes closest to the values of Jesus, with explicit values of nonviolence, grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom, social justice, decentralization and a focus on both economic and environmental sustainability.
Some of these words (nonviolence and social justice) are identical to words used by many Mennonites. Others are essentially secular versions of Mennonite values.
Grassroots democracy is similar to the idea of "the priesthood of all believers," ecological wisdom is similar to "creation care," decentralization is also similar to "the priesthood of all believers" combined with a suspicion for coercive authority or political structures, and economic sustainability is similar to simplicity, equality, and justice reflected in practices like the Jubilee and Sabbath.
I'm not saying that the Green Party is perfect or is a replacement or substitute for spirituality and a thirst for God. But it does separate itself from the corrupting influence of corporate donations and share many values in common with the Gospel. It can be a way for Mennos to get involved in changing and reshaping the structures that dominate this country.
It would also provide an environment where Anabaptist/Mennonite values are accepted and even considered the norm. If the party ever gives in to the temptation of power and coercion, Mennonites can stop associating with it. But in the meantime participation could mean a much broader discussion and possible path forward on very important issues that we face in this country.
Jesus wanted unity among his followers, but not at the expense of truth and following his commands or sharing in his spirit. Remember that He also said his message is a sword that separates and divides people within their family (Matthew 10:34-36). His message certainly separated him from his religious leaders and government which broadly speaking can be thought of as his "family" or "church."
This sword and separation is not violence; it is having different ideas and a different way of life that challenges hypocritical and unjust systems. When politics and the big questions of our day are dividing the church we also have to think if some of this separation is of the kind that Jesus supported and caused back in his day.
Ethan Bodnaruk is a Ph.D. student in Ecological Engineering living in Syracuse, NY. He was previously an active member of Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship in New York City. He lived for a year at contemplative Trappist monasteries in the United States and has intentionally spent two weeks living on the streets with the homeless. He is currently writing a book about science, spirituality and the future of religion.
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