Recently, J. Denny Weaver spoke of his conversion from “passive” non-resistance and two-kingdom theology to an active stance against evil (reflection: can Mennonites use the term “evil”?) in Wisconsin. http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-4/articles/Protesting_and_the_reign_of_God
While I approve of his stand, I must disagree with the theological conclusions of his article.
In speaking of two kingdom theology, Professor Weaver emphasizes the passive inaction of the theology. That it has nothing to say to oppression, that God is the God who empowers violence and the non-resistant have nothing to respond to injustice. Perhaps this is the form of two-kingdom theology that Professor Weaver learned, and I can see with a title like “non-resistance”, a theology might be prone to inaction. Certainly passivity is a concern among many who are raised “non-resistant”.
But two-kingdom theology is not about passivity. Certainly there is a passive aspect to it, even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.” So there are actions that those of Jesus’ kingdom do not take. However, the foundational law of the kingdom of Jesus is active: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love isn’t passive, but active. Like the Samaritan in Jesus story, the one of Jesus’ kingdom cannot look at one hurt in the gutter and not act.
When I learned two-kingdom theology, I did not learn it as J. Denny Weaver did. Dr. William Higgins, former teacher of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference and currently pastor of Cedar Street Mennonite Church summarizes two kingdom theology thusly: “The church is a separate social entity from the rest of society which is ‘the world.’ These two kingdoms have different standards. You are either among the people of God or you are a part of the world. There is no neutral ground. This is a rejection of the Christendom conception of a church that is fused together with the state into one social entity, living by one standard.” http://26anabaptistdistinctives.blogspot.com/2008/09/distinctive-14-two-kingdoms.html
This idea of two kingdom theology is not about passive inactivity at all. Rather, it is saying that since the world is about violence, greed, polytheism and lust that its principles cannot operate in conjunction with the principles of people who live according to Jesus’ rule. It states that any attempts to fuse the ideals of Jesus and the ideals of the world end at best with compromise and at worst a hypocritical church. Two kingdom theology implies that the will of God cannot be accomplished by the methods of the world. That human systems of government, bureaucracy, power structures and oppression are inadequate to the task of producing the justice and mercy of God. This must be done by God’s people. Finally, two-kingdom theology implies that any church that works in tandem with the systems of this world are a part of the world, not the kingdom of Jesus. The two kingdoms are exclusive and we must choose one or the other.
The main criticism that two-kingdom theology would bring against Professor Weaver’s promotion of non-violent resistance is that the Professor’s theology assumes that justice can be accomplished by systems as they currently stand. Even more, he assumes that it is the only way that justice can be accomplished. Two kingdom theology is much more revolutionary than that. Two kingdom theology insists that justice and mercy must be accomplished in spite of the governments and bureaucracies of this world, which, in the end, only perpetuate one oppression or another. To think that simply “resisting” a system will change it to create justice is naïve, and misunderstanding the deep corruption of the powers.
Perhaps instead of speaking of “non-resistance” which implies passivity– which clearly neither Jesus nor the early Anabaptists held to– perhaps we should speak of two kingdom theology as “positive action.” This implies two things: First, that we refuse to take action that is negative: action that harms another or acts in a disrespectful way to authority. When Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil one”, he was speaking of responding in an evil way to evil. To be a person who refuses to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” or who actively participates in violence is a part of the world’s solution, not Jesus’. Thus, the citizen of Jesus’ kingdom refuses to participate in those actions.
Second, the citizens of Jesus’ kingdom act positively toward justice, using the methods of peace and mercy, without the aid of the systems of this world. The primary method is by creating communities which act in justice despite what the powers say or do. Because the citizens of Jesus’ kingdom have as their primary law, “Love”, they will love even when the governments, churches or bureaucracies of this world command them not to. They do not bow to the forces of oppression, nor do they expect them to necessarily change. Thus, the citizens of Jesus must create the change they must see.
How does this actually work? Well, in all humility, I propose the example of my own church, Anawim Christian Community. We are a community church for an oppressed minority, the homeless and mentally ill of Portland, Oregon. Because of the help of the Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference and local churches, we have been able to organize day shelters for the homeless and night shelters when the weather is dangerous and when there isn’t shelter permitted by the city. We do this to provide sanctuary for the oppressed from the police and stakeholders of the local government who oppress the homeless. We do this to provide mercy for those considered unworthy of assistance by the majority of our community. We do this to make the dehumanized human again, and to help those who wish to become active citizens of Jesus’ kingdom because they have been rejected as citizens of the community they were raised in.
This is two kingdom theology in action. Yes, it is a quiet revolution. But we consider it more effective and immediate than picketing city hall. We do not participate in violence, in protests or even in anger. But we act. And because of our acts, people eat, receive shelter, receive protection and live to see another day.
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