I pastor a Mennonite church in Ohio. During the 2020 presidential election cycle, I received an email from a local Vineyard pastor who is a friend. The email contained a link that described Ohio Amish Mennonites parading for Trump.
He asked for my opinion: “Do you think this is legit? What’s your take?”
My reply was concise: “Yes.”
Perplexed, he responded, “I don’t understand. Isn’t this contrary to their historical view of the church’s relation to worldly authority structures?”
I explained that the Amish-Mennonite community has been drawn to the Republican Party platform, which promises legal protection for the unborn, religious liberty and common-sense small government. Republican talk show hosts have so influenced many conservative Christians that they believe Christianity in the United States depends upon Republicans being in office.
This led him to wonder about the position of a Mennonite pastor like me.
I explained what made me skeptical about the ability of the Republican Party, or any political party, to make a nation “Christian.” During my time as a student at Rosedale Bible College, I had the opportunity to meet two pastors from Indonesia who were visiting the United States during the Iraq War. This was not long after I had just become eligible to vote.
The Conservative Mennonite community I belonged to had been praying for the right person to be elected and thought prayer should be followed by voting. I had no doubt that George W. Bush, the pro-life evangelical Christian, was the moral choice compared to the pro-choice, global-warming alarmist, Al Gore.
However, when Bush initiated the war in Iraq after 9/11, I began to feel uneasy. Tens of thousands of people were dying in Iraq at the command of the man I helped to put in the position. I wondered whether my ballot was now tainted with the blood of Iraqis. Lord, have mercy.
My discomfort grew when I heard from my Indonesian brothers in Christ about the impact of the war. They noticed a change with their Muslim neighbors as soon as the U.S. went to war with Iraq. Their neighbors perceived the war as Christians declaring war on Islam. Why? Because they saw America as a “Christian nation.”
Several troubling questions stayed with me: How can the church separate itself from the actions of the state to maintain an effective global witness for Christ? Why did I help elect the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, who led our country into a war that would kill tens of thousands of people? How was this moral choice better than voting for a candidate who condoned the legal killing of unborn children?
God loved the Iraqis who were killed in the war just as much as God loved the unborn. God’s work of bringing redemption to Indonesia was being hindered by the message sent through the violence of war in Iraq.
If Anabaptism is to be saved from Christian nationalism, we need the help of our global brothers and sisters in Christ. When we grasp the beauty of God’s global kingdom (and the horror of what happens when we try to bring the kingdom through a violent state), we will recover our place as ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom. We will love the nation where we live, but our first love will be reserved for Christ. We will respect the Constitution, but we will obey the Sermon on the Mount. Without a global vision, the people perish.
Preston Yoder is pastor of Shiloh Mennonite Church, London, Ohio, a member of the Rosedale Network of Churches.