Ray Kauffman of Albany, Oregon, is a retired high school history teacher. He has served as Pacific Northwest Conference historian and, earlier, as director of the MCC Pax program in Europe.
First, let me join many others in expressing gratitude to you and Goshen College for your coming to the Northwest. Your message was very well received and grounded in the faith of our Anabaptist/Mennonite fathers, and the Scriptures.
Now with a few days gone by to let your stimulating lecture simmer and settle, I would like to respond. I really like and agree with Part I , the diagnostic and historical analysis of how we got to where we are. The nonresistant-separatist tradition vs. the activist-pacifist position. I grew up with the former, and often still think in terms of the two kingdom ambivalence you described. But one reason I am now more critical of our government is because the context has changed and the U.S. is seen now as more an empire builder than a republic. My bias is that the neo-cons are imperialists. Our leaders refuse to honestly answer the question "Why do they hate us?" and the populace is uninformed.
My reservations are more on Part II "What should we do, or not do?" and your application of the 5 year sabbatical. I wish I could rephrase my Sunday evening question on social responsibility. My question to you would be "Is there ever a time the prophetic voice of the Christian Church should remain silent (take a sabbatical)?" The church is called to be salt and light (conscience) to the nations of the world. History judges the Christian church (and Mennonite church) in Germany: "Where were you during Hitler's rise to power and during World War II?" That wasn't a good time to be on sabbatical. Some paid dearly for resistance--Niemöller, Bonhoeffer--in that dictatorship but supposedly dissent is welcomed in our democracy. What is our Christian duty as citizens? We need to speak the truth in love.
Which leads to a second question, which you noted: Do we expect the government to live by New Testament Christian ethics? No, we do not. But let me ask, was God's purpose and will carried out when the U.S. military invaded Iraq? Is it too much to ask that our leaders be truthful and not use deceit and propaganda? We don't want Condy Rice's job nor do we want to disrespectfully boss the president, but we don't need to know everything about national security to suggest something has gone wrong when our country acts unilaterally and disregards our allies, international bodies, and treaties and agreements our nation has signed on to such as the Geneva Convention and treatment of prisoners (and I did appreciate your acknowledging the latter Sunday evening). Should the notion of preemptive war go unchallenged by the church?
You do offer many valid suggestions and initiatives in part II: developing spiritual disciplines, meeting local needs first, working through MCC, etc. And I wish partisan politics could be avoided. However, if the system is to be changed for the better in nonviolent ways we are stuck with the two party model. And I guess my bias would challenge your assertion that both the left and right in our country are two peas in a pod, equally guilty of using evil means to different ends. I do fear the extreme right more, and for many reasons I will not elaborate now. Every election is crucial, I suppose, but the coming elections hold out the possibility of change and I wish we could head in a different direction. Should we not work at all levels to at least attempt change? And I do recognize my position is more liable to compromise and is not as idealistic as yours is.
And I certainly do respect your well reasoned, Biblically based approach to the problem as you see it manifest in the Mennonite church.
Thanks for listening.
May 5, 2005
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