Don’t leave your hat at the door

By Karla Braun, associate editor, Mennonite Brethren Herald

There have been – increasingly so – “Mennonite” names and members of Mennonite churches among Members of Parliament. For example, Jake Epp from Provencher, the representative for the riding where I grew up, was the first cabinet minister of Mennonite heritage. But I’ve always felt a certain ambivalence about any involvement in the political sphere; after all, Mennonites are “a people apart.” Didn’t we come to Canada to be free of government intrusion on our lives? Why then would we choose to intrude on government?

As I grow older, becoming more aware of experiences of the world very different from my own, more passionate about God’s call on his followers to care for his creation – be it human, animal, or vegetable – and more informed about how laws and government policies shape and can be shaped by citizens, I realize it’s not as straightforward as staying away from politics. In fact, as followers of Jesus who pursue peace and justice for ourselves and our neighbours, we have very good reasons to exercise our democratic rights to hold government to account.

IMG_6659So I jumped at Mennonite Central Committee’s invitation to visit Ottawa with other editors of Anabaptist publications to learn about Christians working in the advocacy landscape in Canada.

That the advice “In politics, leave your religious hat at the door; in religion, leave your political hat at the door,” is considered wise is unfortunate, said Dennis Gruending. The MCC Ottawa Office had arranged for the journalist, former Saskatchewan MP, and practicing Catholic to speak to our group at TWU’s Laurentian Leadership Centre. This approach “fails to recognize the whole person and the process of formation,” Gruending said. After all, what good is a faith that doesn’t permeate every area of our lives?

Furthermore, as religious orders have often demonstrated, our gifts “are not just for our own use but also for wider society.”

Citizens for Public Justice director Joe Gunn repeated this call for an outward-looking perspective. As citizens, particularly as Christians, we need to “advocate for something that serves a greater purpose – the community good – even if it doesn’t directly serve me.”

Our desire to share our gifts with others gives Mennonites a compelling reason not to avoid politics. When MCC’s workers “witness to government” on behalf of their development partners, programs, and the voiceless, they’re simply following the second part of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37–39): to love our neighbours as ourselves.

The church is well-placed for long work of advocacy not merely because of our “people power” or the strength of our institutions, but because of our recognition of who ultimately controls history, and our call to reconciliation modelled though the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Rooted in Jesus; “we don’t just chase after flashy issues of the day,” says MCC Canada communications director Rick Fast. “The gospel is our frame.”

MCC Ottawa Office director Paul Heidebrecht recognizes he may not see major change resulting from his efforts. “Advocacy is long-term work; it’s generational,” he says. Regardless of the rate or direction of change, he doesn’t despair; after all, “The universe is in God’s hands, not those of politicians.”

No longer “the quiet in the land,” Mennonites desire to see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and we’re raising our voices in all kinds of spheres – even political ones – to participate in God’s work to that end. Humbly and respectfully “intruding” in politics (keeping an eye on our guide, Jesus), I’ve learned, may be exactly what faithfulness might look like for a Mennonite today.

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