I’m not big on politics. Actually, that might not exactly be true because I follow them somewhat closely. But I don’t align myself with a particular party or with state or national candidates. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most powerful has to do with my Anabaptist understanding of Christian discipleship. Recently, I was involved in a Facebook discussion and an old friend (a very old friend – unless I’m forgetting an encounter, we last saw each other when we were maybe 8 or 10) articulated some of these things so well that I wanted to share them, with his permission.
[The Anabaptists] drew their moral code from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Mainstream society didn’t, and still does not, have a place for people like that, so they defined a brand-new category. They stood apart from all the other ideologies of their time, “Christian” or otherwise, and witnessed to the invasion of a new kingdom they believed was destined ultimately to sweep away all others, not through violence and force, but through the power of love and a pure conscience.
That’s why Anabaptists were viewed as anarchists in sixteenth-century Europe. They stood outside all the systems and spoke truth into them. They denied that the government had any business serving as a handmaiden of the church to legislate anyone’s version of Christianity on people who didn’t want to serve Christ.
One of the most influential early Anabaptist leaders, Michael Sattler, stated publicly, and repeated under questioning in court, that if he believed violence to be right, he would sooner bear the sword for the Muslim Turks threatening Europe from the east than for any of Europe’s “Christian” rulers. The Turks, he said, were at least true to their own claimed beliefs, whereas Europeans claimed to follow the Prince of Peace while acting just like the Turks. Is that right wing, or left wing? You tell me.
Today, there are many of us who are appalled by the mass slaughter of unborn children, and equally appalled by our government’s slaughter, displacement, and starvation of innocent men, women, and children in other nations, mostly with the vocal support of so-called born-again Christians. Is that right-wing or left-wing?
Many of us believe homosexual relationships are sinful, but have no interest in giving the government veto power over the marriages of consenting adults – a power, incidentally, that’s been used by Christian governments against people like us in the past. Is that right-wing or left-wing?
I think Soviet communism has been a failure everywhere it is tried, and I much prefer the freedoms we have in the USA. But I have spent much of my adult life living in and promoting common-purse Christian community. Am I right-wing or left-wing?
What if the whole left-right polar choice is a clever deception of the devil (or, if you prefer … a sneaky manifestation of Murphy’s law) to prevent critical thought, divide us up into tribes, and exclude the real solutions from respectable conversation altogether?
More from Anthony:
Ultimately, I suspect that the constant increase in Federal Government power is going to lead to a total collapse of the union, as ever-larger numbers of people give up hope that their own interests and values will ever be represented by the national government. One could argue, in fact, that this process is already underway with the Trump phenomenon and its virulent counter-protests. The collapse of an empire is an unpleasant experience for those inside it, and the only hope for this society is that those of us who really are committed to human decency and definite moral principles will hold the fort of decency and civility until the tide of barbarism ebbs again and we can rebuild something new from whatever is left.
That’s why I focus my efforts on inviting people into another kingdom. I think all the world’s power structures are ultimately doomed by the laws of history and human nature, and that a new society, build from the ground up on a whole different premise, is the one way forward for humanity.
Mainstream “born-again” Christianity has a pretty poor track record on [showing that their moral system produces better real-life results than the one they are attempting to disprove]; which is why I don’t really have much to say in defense of it. However, I do believe that in the rare instances where Jesus’ teachings are actually lived and practiced by groups of people, they produce the nearest thing to an ideal human society that this world can boast. Among the members of these families of faith are intellectuals, including atheists and agnostics; and in almost all cases I have heard of, it was not a cleverly-formed argument that first opened their minds to the truth of Jesus’ message, but the unprecedented love and grace they observed and experienced among the members of Jesus’ family.
If Jesus’ message is to be taken seriously by atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions, then those of us who claim to be his followers need to demonstrate the power and superiority of his teachings by being world leaders in justice, equality, fidelity, honesty, grace toward enemies, and all the other virtues we claim Jesus produces in the life of believers.
As a religion, I’m afraid we’ve largely flunked this test. But if you’re interested, I could introduce you to pockets of people here and there, historically and in the present, who try to live radically by the teachings of Jesus and are contributing to human thriving in important, perhaps unparallelled ways.
Forgive us Christians for our failings, and keep challenging us; we are broken like everyone else, and we need Jesus as much as any atheist.
One essential step for any curious unbeliever – that doesn’t require adopting any new intellectual propositions, recanting one’s existing philosophy, or praying the “sinner’s prayer” – is to simply study the historical record of Jesus of Nazareth, listen to what he is said to have taught and done, ponder his influence on humanity, and try, with an open mind, to come to definite conclusion regarding the significance and meaning of his life. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are, without any overstatement, some of the best-attested, most thoroughly documented events in ancient history; and in my view, that extraordinary life forms the single most potent argument for the existence of a truth that transcends human intellect and a Father who would love to have us to pull up a chair and get acquainted.