Across the street from Mennonite Central Committee's Washington Office, construction workers labor 24/7 to enhance security at the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol. For many Americans, the prospect of additional Sept.11-like attacks is not a question of "if" but "when."
In this climate of fear and aggressive U.S. response, a simple question divides the church: "What do we do with Jesus?" What do we do with the things he taught? With the way he lived? With the way he responded to violence?
Most Anabaptists would agree that Jesus is the standard for the church's life and teaching. We are to love and feed our enemies. We overcome evil with good. We do not go to war. The issue that divides our congregations is whether God also intends Jesus to be the standard toward which the nations are called. Is the way of Jesus only for the church? Or is Jesus also for the nations?
Some would say, "Of course the church is the primary bearer of the standard of Jesus. But God also expects institutions, corporations and governments to move toward policies and practices that reflect compassion, mutuality, nonviolence and justice." Others would argue that it is pointless for the church to waste energy witnessing to governments about nonviolence, because God has given governments a different code of conduct-based on something other than the life and teachings of Jesus. Indeed, the church has plenty of work simply getting its own act together without telling governments what to do!
So why not just focus on the part of the equation on which we agree-that Jesus is the standard for the church? Why worry about witnessing to government?
We do so, in part, because our sisters and brothers around the globe regularly call on the church in North America to speak to the U.S. government about how its policies and practices have life-and-death results in their countries. Witnessing to government has also been our theological trajectory as an Anabaptist community during the past 50 years. This view is rooted in fresh biblical understandings about the implications of Jesus being both "head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18) and "head of every ruler and authority"(Colossians 2:10).
Indeed, the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) leans in this direction. Article 23<http://www.mennolink.org/doc/cof/art.23.html> of the Confession begins with a focus on the church's life and practice: "We witness to the nations by being that 'city on a hill' which demonstrates the way of Christ." But it continues: "We also witness by being ambassadors for Christ, calling the nations . . . to move toward justice, peace, and compassion for all people."
We should give our primary attention to being a faithful church-living like Jesus. But we should also remember that Jesus was critical of the misuse of government power (Mark 10:42) and engaged the rulers of his day (John 19:10-11).
Especially in a time when our nation feels vulnerable and is tempted to respond violently, the church will do well to point our governing authorities in a better direction.