Enculturation?

In some recent research that I’ve done over the past semester of school, I’ve come across some things that have really interested me regarding the early church versus our political situation today.

This all stems out of a paper by Ted Grimsrud entitled “From pacifism to the just war: the development of early Christian thought on war and peace.” The title is really pretty self-explanatory. Grimsrud claims (and I’m inclined to believe him, since he’s way smarter than I am) that the early church writers advocated a completely pacifist lifestyle. This held until the century leading up to Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. The gradual enculturation of the church forced the development of theologies that treat violence, specifically state-endorsed warfare, as acceptable. Since the church was Rome’s religion, it had to be able to excuse Rome’s actions.

Right off the bat, this raised one huge question for me: a recent(ish) survey demonstrated that in the United States, Mennonite voting patterns in the last presidential elections very closely mirrored the voting patterns of the greater non-Mennonite population (apologies that I can’t cite the specific survey). What are the implications for the Mennonite peace stance if over 50% of our voting body is willing to vote for a candidate who has openly declared himself “a war president?” Will we see it erode over the next decades? And if it does, will there be anything keeping us from eventually being subsumed by the greater Christian Right?

But then again, perhaps I’m just being overly reactionist. Thoughts?

P.S. For those of you from outside of the ‘States, I apologize for the U.S.-centric nature of this post. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Comments (4)

  1. eric

    overly reactionist? not a chance. for starters you’ve apologized for nearly everything in your post. :)

    all i can say about that survey is: wow. so much for the anabaptist difference.

    Dear World,
    We know we used to say bad things about you, but we promise we don’t mean it – at least not as a group – it’ just something we have to say to feel good about ourselves. And those of us who disagree promise to censor ourselves so no one finds out what we really think. Please let us in. Please let us be one of you. We love you forever.

    Your good friend,
    Mennonite

    Reply
  2. Lora

    John, you’re right. I believe that Saint Augustine (354-430 CE) was the first Christian to articulate a just war theory. Richard B. Hays says that just war theory was “neither derived nor derivable from the New Testament”(The Moral Vision of the New Testament), but rather developed for exactly the reasons you state.

    As for voting patterns, that gets trickier. I imagine that Mennonites mirror the broader culture in more ways than just voting patterns, but the point is well-made. I would guess that any Christian who votes “pro-life” would say that the desire to protect innocent life figures strongly into that. (The fact that George W. Bush’s language resonates so much with evangelical Christians only helps him, or did, anyway; how could be someone who seems so godly be wrong?) It seems like we Mennonites have many loyalties besides (and perhaps before) the Mennonite church…

    And on that note, it’s back to writing papers.

    Reply
  3. TimN

    John, there’s a lot of other people who think this voting pattern is a bit odd too. One of the movements that gives me hope is the Post-Christendom movement in United Kingdom that comes out of the Anabaptist Network there. They are suggesting that the end of Christendom in the UK is an opportunity for Christians to reverse that acculturation you describe. They’ve written three books on it as part of a series called After Christendom. If you don’t have time to go out and get the books right now, this page. has a pretty good summary of the three.

    I think Mennonites in the US could learn a lot from Anabaptists in the UK on this count. And their strengths go beyond a shalom (or peace) centered theology. They suggest that instead of fighting battles to try to preserve Christian symbols back into the center of society (i.e the campaign to get retailers to say Merry Christmas), we should embrace our role on the margins and look to the early church and the Anabaptists as examples. Unfortunately, for many Mennonite churches in the US, besides the obligatory Martyr’s Mirror on the shelf, the early Anabaptists are hardly known at all, let alone inspirational.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Amishmen for Bush « Justin Nisly

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