When our youth several years ago made use of the initials WWJD, maybe we should have seized the moment to lead them into the 21st century instead of letting the initials be turned into T-shirts, bracelets or necklaces. Our youth were perhaps expressing our theology better than we do and in a more up-to-date form.
Realizing the danger of oversimplification, we present some Anabaptist givens: Anabaptist theology begins and remains centered in community and discipleship, always. The framework is, first, the words, example and Spirit of Jesus; second, the writings of the Apostles in the rest of the New Testament; third, the Old Testament; fourth, the experience of the first and second-century church; fifth, our 16th-century Anabaptist experience of attempting to recover the substance and spirit of early Christianity; and, finally, applying our Christian heritage to the current milieu in which we find ourselves.
We don’t live in an empire controlled by the Romans, the English, the Nazis or the Stalinists. We live in a democracy that may give us the freedom of choice and action our God so values. Consequently, in our time, fulfilling our understanding of discipleship includes participating nonviolently in civic affairs. Jesus would approve, since he himself engaged the powers in his day.
Mennonites have taken one of three or more approaches to civil politics. We jump in as the world does, in a partisan way. Or we become fundamentalist and participate like dogmatists.
Or we remain “pure” and don’t vote at all. Certain Mennonite thought leaders who have questioned becoming active in politics, even recommending taking a sabbatical from politics, might instead be inferring that we need to learn to politic in a WWJD way.
Historically, Mennonites are not known to be skilled in the art of governmental politics, given our inexperience. Maybe we need to go to summer camp, to use a football analogy, and practice, practice, practice. For our obligation to serve Christ includes the political perspective in confronting the powers, just as it includes the dynamic of love for one another and self-examination within the confines of a close spiritual community.
In a time of war, terrorism, imperialism, economic greed and materialism, our world, our country and our town need our service.
Perhaps our scholars, leaders, ministers and indeed all of us need to develop some guidelines for political participation. Here are some suggestions in this regard:
1. Keep in mind WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).
2. Expect full and equal participation for all members-in-the-faith—and all others as well—accepting each person where he or she is at the moment.
3. Consciously practice self-reflection and encourage others to do so as well.
4. Realize that winning is not everything—there dare be no compromise in the essential message.
5. Demand good stewardship in politics and government especially because it’s not “their” money, and “they” are affecting everyone’s freedom and well-being.
6. Emphasize the realities of sharing, peace and love, being aware of the pitfalls in the belief that “more is better than less,” of “winning at all costs” and considering “my interests first.”
The above points are simply food for thought.
Now the challenge—if not now, when? If not WWJD, what?
Caryl M. Guth is a member of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.