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In response to E-money’s comment June 3, 2005:
I appreciate the comment, and I agree with your interpretation of making disciples and sharing the Gospel as primary to following Christ, and that this involves following God, no matter the cost (John 21:18-19). This is of course what being a Christian means, to follow God before everything else. And in terms of you bringing up faith and politics – you have put your finger on one major debate between the majority of Western Protestant Christians and those who fall in the “radical reformation traditions,” the Anabaptists, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Basically the difference lies in understanding the Christian’s relationship to powers and structures; the protestant father Martin Luther called them the two kingdoms, the world and the church, others make a split in using distinctions like secular vs. sacred. This is best illustrated when John F. Kennedy, when he was being elected president he said that he would not let his being a Catholic have any influence over his presidency. In other words he was saying issues of faith and following Christ have no bearings on politics, political activism or critique of the “powers (to say powers is to refer to any and all structures that exercise influencing, and often negative, power in the world, the government, MTV, and the church are all powers in one sense – there is another sense in which we understand that each power is influenced by spiritual forces as Paul speaks of in Corinthians and Ephesians).” Recognize also that Luther came out of a time when the church was the state, or the state was controlled by the church in many ways – he wanted to split this apart because of all the corruption he saw taking place in the name of God.

I agree whole-heartedly with you (and the Scriptures) that say we should pray for the leaders, and that God is in control of powers and superpowers but this also stands in juxtaposition to OT stories such as Isaiah 7-8 where the king out right refuses to listen to the prophet (who carries to word of God to him) and thus Israel is made a slave to the very evil superpower Assyria.

I would like to add to our understanding of leaders and our responsibility in two ways:
A) we are primarily called to follow Christ – which involves carrying out his mission as see in Luke 4:17-19, which at times will lead us to advocate for those who are victims of the Government or other powers (i.e. the people who are taken advantage of by sweatshops).

B) We should not always submit to governments – as seen in WWII, not all governments are “put in place by God.” And in my mind Roman’s 13 submit has more to do with a Christian’s own predisposition to be peaceful (as the rule of Christ – Luke 22:49-51) in all situations no matter how out of control the situation gets (as also exemplified in Romans 12). When the Letter to the Romans was written, Christians were a minority in the Empire, being killed for their beliefs (which were perceived as anti-Rome) – and thus Paul tells them to remain peaceful. For a great explanation of Romans 13 read John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus,” who says, “Romans 12-13 and Matthew 5-7 are not in contradiction or in tension. They both instruct Christians to be nonresistant in all their relationships, including the social. They both call on the disciples of Jesus to renounce participation in the interplay of egoisms which this world calls “vengeance” or “justice.” They both call Christians to respect and be subject to the historical process in which the sword continues to be wielded and to bring about a kind of order under fire, but not to perceive in the wielding of the sword their own reconciling ministry (210).”

That long quote seeks to show how both the sermon on the mount and Paul’s treatise on government should be read together, and that our faith – if carried out will at times rub the government and leaders the wrong way (consider I kings 21 – and Ahab’s summation of the prophet Micaiah), but even so we are to maintain a Christ-like, peace witness to the world.

Early Quaker’s faith, such as George Fox or John Woolman, lived their lives to follow Christ, but accepted that there would be social outcomes of that living. Thus when Woolman (a great abolitionist) refused to wear any clothes made by slaves his belief that Christian’s should live simply took a political turn. Remember slavery, and the abolition movement was very much a political deal, but the important part is they didn’t do it to be political, they fought against slavery because of their theological beliefs about following Christ, and they believed that God created everyone as equal and mutual human beings. This was something they were killed for, and so in this sense I see them as taking up their cross and dying for their faith, not a political belief. It is just that in this case their faith had deep political ramifications.

This happens today when you or I, decide to not shop at stores that get their clothes from Sweatshops. Our faith teaches us that God cares deeply for the poor and marginalized and that in as best as we can we should help them – thus we decide to not by certain clothes. Well that is no problem, until you tell a friend who shops there why you don’t any longer, you will notice how the conversation inevitably will take a political turn, even though your original motive is out of faith – it has political ramifications.

So it is not that Quakers, or Anabaptists in general are a political church, rather we believe (and this is one view) that our faith-practices influence every aspect of life; thus in Luke 4:17-19 you will find Jesus say his mission statement, and then through the rest of the book everything he does fits on of those main missional statements from Luke 4 – even his eating with sinners and prostitutes was a point of following God for Jesus because it was sharing the love of God with the outcast. This is not to say other traditions don’t believe this, but where the struggle comes is when we say that JFK was silly for thinking that his faith would not influence his presidency. We as people of faith are primarily that, which means whatever I eat, drink, say, who I love, and serve, what I drive, where I hang out, what clothes I wear, how I carry myself, all are motivated by how my community of faith has understood the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to teach us to do those things (or what it means for today).

Finally – Luke 2:10-12 – Jesus is the son of David, Messiah, and Lord – all of these names are political – people understood the son of David as the one who the OT promised would reclaim the holy land with violence and power and make Jerusalem its own state. Jesus was killed because of his political beliefs (though on a cosmic level we know this is only partially true), the reason why the Romans crucified him was because they thought that he was “the king of the Jews” or in other words – a political threat to the system. So the main point, is that I believe that when we are faithful, making disciples and sharing the good news, that there is no way to distinguish a faith side of a person and a world (or political or social) side of a person – because ultimately Jesus’ own acts, and everything he said had theological and social implications. To believe in Jesus, to be saved, is not to just make an intellectual move, from not believing to believing, it is to truly follow Christ – too become Christ-like and live as he lived as best we can. A good question I ask myself from time to time is, “when I ‘bring someone to Christ’ what am I bringing them too?” I mean what kind of version of Christ will they come to know, how will they be formed, what will they look like when it is all said and done. So believing is to us crazy Quakers (and the like) more than an accepting of a doctrine or belief, because if that belief can’t be lived out in the real world, it’s a bad belief – and we know Jesus’ didn’t teach bad beliefs. Further consider Luke 9:52 and following to get a glimpse into Christ’s own evangelistic approach and how it had both theological and social implications.

This is not all there can be said, because as I mentioned earlier this has been a long time debate, the importance is dialogue over how we ought to understand it.

I’d like to hear what you think.
Blessings.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.