Friday, September 12, 2014

The Anabaptist dilemma

Anabaptism is fashionable among the Evangelical Left these days. A safe, abstract Anabaptism. Not the stuff of martyrs.

There's a striking tension in traditional Anabaptist theology. On the one hand, Anabaptists deplore "Constantinian Christianity." They deplore "Christendom." 

They think Christians should eschew politics. That's too compromising. A Christian in government is inevitably complicit in the Constantinian paradigm. The use of force, coercion. The acquisition of power. Punishing wrongdoers. National and institutional self-preservation. 

On the other hand, they think we should be merciful to our enemies. Love our enemies. 

For them, affirming the latter means disaffirming the former. The Constantinian paradigm and the Sermon on the Mount (as they understand it) are antithetical. 

So where's the point of tension? Well, by eschewing political office, Anabaptists are reduced to individual acts of mercy. Little deeds of charity. A Christian should love his enemies. Be merciful to his enemies. 

But when you think about it, that's a very small scale enterprise. Very piecemeal. At best, that only affects a smattering of enemies. 

Ironically, the only people who are actually in a position to show mercy to enemies on a massive scale are people in authority. Individuals who wield great power over others. Heads-of-state. Generals. To exercise mercy on a large scale requires commensurate authority. 

By absenting themselves from government and the military, Anabaptists forfeit the opportunity to be benevolent or forbearing to the enemy in large numbers. They cede the prerogative to others. 

For instance, I'm sure Anabaptists deplore the nuking of Japan by the Truman administration. But, of course, by refusing to serve in government at all, much less high office, Anabaptists leave that decision in the hands of policymakers who don't share their sentiments. 

Or take Gen. Sherman. After the Civil War, he turned his attention to the Plains Indians. Presumably, Anabaptists would be appalled by his policies. But only a man in Sherman's position would be in a position to adopt a more humanitarian policy. That takes power over others. By disempowering Christians, Anabaptists lack the power to show mercy on a grand scale. They can only show clemency to mere handfuls of people. 

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