Nearly 50 years ago, in the midst of the tumultuous events of 1968, Mennonite Central Committee opened the office here in Washington, D.C. The decision was controversial and led one observer to wonder whether Mennonites would change Washington more than Washington would change Mennonites. That is still a good question to be asking.
Of course, advocacy work by Anabaptists goes far beyond our small staff here. It extends to all of you, as Washington Memo readers and beyond, who engage with your elected officials on a range of issues. In these polarized times, it is more critical than ever to be aware of how advocacy can shape us in ways that do not reflect our Christian faith.
In the past year, our staff has been reading and discussing the book, Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures. The authors argue that one of the most vital elements of Christian advocacy is how we do it–in a spirit of humility and love, not demonizing others or putting them down.
The book quotes former senator John Danforth: “Our faithfulness in politics depends less on the content of our ideology than on how we view ourselves and treat each other. Faith in politics has more to do with the way faithful people approach politics than with the substance of our positions.”
It is disheartening when we see the opposite. Candidates and political officeholders who seek the label “Christian” sometimes exhibit few Christian values like humility, compassion and generosity. Some of them want to impose Christianity on society, rather than uphold the separation of church and state–a principle long held dear by Anabaptists.
Meanwhile, over the years I have observed many members of Congress and staff who quietly and respectfully work for the common good as a result of their Christian faith, but who are rarely publicly labeled “Christian.”
Unfortunately, this dynamic contributes to a warped understanding in our broader society as to what it means to be a follower of Christ. Christianity is reduced to a rigid set of values that must be imposed on others, rather than a living, Spirit-filled way of seeing the world.
As Christians we will have disagreements on the best ways to address the core issues facing our society. We may even disagree on what the most important issues are. But if we stay in relationship with one another, seeking God’s guidance and listening closely to those who have been marginalized by society, we will find a path forward that reflects Kingdom values.
In many ways, the times we live in today are no less eventful than they were 50 years ago when the office was established. As the famous prayer attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero says, our nation and our world are crying out for “prophets of a future not our own.” Let us be Christ-like in all that we do, shaped by humility, justice and love, whether we receive the label “Christian” or not. —Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach