To “Mennonite” when we’re each other’s enemies

To Mennonite Blog #11

by Michael A. King, dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Salford)

Michael King
Photo provided by Eastern Mennonite University

Pondering what it may mean “to Mennonite” reminds me of a friend who leads a state agency serving persons with disabilities. Just returned from Washington, D.C., he reported a grim picture: the likelihood that a divided Congress won’t get its act together to release funds his agency relies on. Any cuts will hurt people with faces I cherish, because my friend has come to lead this agency as an outgrowth of love for his own children with Down Syndrome.

I found our conversation chilling. Has it come to this? Are we so divided we can’t find common ground even to support persons with disabilities?

This is not to minimize complexities; it’s appropriate to ponder the roles of, say, government versus church in caring for “the least of these.” But my friend works tirelessly to raise funds from church folk—yet they provide a fraction of the needed revenue.

So how have we reached a juncture at which even seeing some role for government to play in funding my friend’s agency—why should my taxes support those takers!—may pull me into the vortex of mutual hate which seems the only thing we now know how to build together?

My point isn’t to argue specifics of one more divisive matter. It’s to grieve what seems our loss of ability to work across legitimate differences to discern solutions. And it’s to suspect that an important meaning of “to Mennonite” in such bitter times is for us to learn and maybe model what love amid division can look like.

From our beginnings Mennonites have sought a “third way,” an understanding of Bible, faith, and life that doesn’t quite fit into Protestant or Roman Catholic categories though it can enrich and be enriched by both. Key to third-way understandings has been unusual passion to take Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount literally. This in turn has led Mennonites to believe that Jesus actually meant for us to love even enemies (Matt. 5:44)—here, now, concretely.

Perhaps our most prominent expression of such love has been through conscientious objection to killing enemies in wartime, and this remains a vital Mennonite conviction. Increasingly, however, I wonder if we risk so focusing on enemies out there that we fail to learn how to love the enemies we make of each other.

When we differ over today’s hot issues we seem ever more inclined not to treat persons who hold different views as fellow pilgrims seeking, with us, to hear God’s voice amid our common finitudes and frailties. We seem ever less inclined to trust that God could be threaded through any view other than our own. Rather, we seem ever more ready to believe that if you hold a view other than mine you are my enemy.

Maybe with so much alienation swirling, the one who is not my friend is, precisely, my enemy. But even if we accept such a troubling conclusion, to Mennonite our way through it may then be to ask what it means to love the viewpoint opponents we have made our enemies.

Amid my own limitations of vision, let me not offer a formula for navigating such complicated terrain. Yet let me at least suggest that to Mennonite our way through a time in which we turn even other Christians and Mennonites—not to mention, say, atheists or Muslims or Republicans or Democrats—into enemies is to find ways to repay even what we consider evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

When I was growing up, I saw my parents model what such Mennoniting might look like: no matter how much they might disagree with a person’s beliefs or choices, precisely because they always took seriously that even the enemy was to be loved, they always spied treasure in the other. It might be tarnished; it might need polishing; the light of Christ might barely brighten it. But it was there—and thus was something even in the enemy that could be cherished, learned from, not merely vanquished. I would like to try Mennoniting like that in today’s world and see where it takes me and us.

Our summer blog series will soon be wrapping up.  Have there been any insights that have touched you, made you think, connected with your experience?  How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)
Observing together what God is saying and doing (To Mennonite Blog #9)
Simple obedience (To Mennonite Blog #10)