John Steward of Jesus
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Mennonites, Anabaptists, & Armed States

March 12, 1991

As one drawn into Mennonite circles by the testimony of “the radicals,” I was grateful for your (The Mennonite) March 12 Editorial. I too have wondered who among us today endorses their thinking.

But, I wonder also whether Anabaptist thinkers can have genuine harmony with armed rulers, who killed many of their spiritual ancestors.

 Jesus and the apostles didn’t experience much harmony with armed rulers either.

I am sympathetic with the many Anabaptists who have questioned the wisdom of political participation. I believe that appealing through political processes only enhances powers which are based on armed force.

As I struggle with issues related to armed states, it is helpful for me to distinguish the general concept of "government” (structure, system, order) from the specific concept of an armed “state.”

I think of a “state” as a political corporation whose members (citizens) approve the use of armed force by its executive for the implementation of its decisions and the protection of its members.

With this understanding, I recently tried to summarize a Biblical attitude toward armed rulers as follows:

(1)    People are dependent subjects. They are not independent sovereigns. Everyone must have a ruler and protector.

(2)    People choose their rulers. Rulers become legitimate when they are chosen or accepted by their subjects.

(3)    God offers himself to people as their lord. Other spiritual beings and human beings also offer themselves as lords.

(4)    God desires to govern his people directly as their only king, rather than through armed human rulers. Armed human rulers offer no desirable benefits to God’s people which are not available to them either directly from God or through his church.

(5)    When his people choose armed human rulers for themselves, God holds them accountable to the rules of submission. Such human rulers become God’s servants. This is an arrangement of accomodation and toleration, not of God’s choice.

(6)    When it is possible, Christians are encouraged to claim their freedom from all coercive human masters, including political authorities. Those whose citizenship is in heaven do not need citizenship in human political corporations. Nor are they obligated to participate in the affairs of such corporations.

(7)    Among the people of the kingdoms of the world, God’s people are called to live as foreigners--aliens, strangers, pilgrims, sojourners, and ambassadors of Christ, whose allegiance is directed to the lord of another kingdom. Among the nations of this earth, they are called to live as a supranational community, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God.