… but responsibly so, says Congressman John B. AndersonJohn B. Anderson, a member of First Evangelical Free Church, Rockford, Illinois, has been a congressman since 1960 and chairman of the House Republican Conference since 1971. He holds the J.D. degree from the University of Illinois and the LL.M. from Harvard Law School.

In a Declaration of Evangelical Concern signed by fifty-three evangelical leaders in Chicago in November, 1973, the following statement appears:

As evangelical Christians committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the full authority of the Word of God, we affirm that God lays total claim upon the lives of his people. We cannot, therefore, separate our lives in Christ from the situation in which God has placed us in the United States and the world.

An appreciation of this point should compel us to participate in rather than be passive toward the political process.

I recently attended an international meeting at which the global crisis was summed up as an outcry of the 70 per cent of the world that lives at or below the subsistence level not only for freedom but for greater equality among mankind. To those who would answer that human beings are not born equal, the great Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset had an answer:

That element of Democracy which is in Christianity is the only one which cannot be argued out of existence. Against all talk of equality there remains the irrefutable objection that human beings are not equal—one is a coin of copper, another of silver. Christianity meets this objection by maintaining that all of them are minted with a King’s picture on them.

Many Christians have taken to heart St. Paul’s admonition and reminder that all human beings are created of one blood and are therefore equal in the sight of God. They have correspondingly rejected racism and the idea that some people bear a badge of servitude because of the color of their skin. However, economic inequality can condemn people to lives blighted and shortened by inadequate nutrition, education, and health care. Poverty can be as devastating to the growth and development of the human personality as racism.

In this Bicentennial year, American Christians need to remember that our Declaration of Independence begins with the idea that “all men are created equal” and that all are endowed by their Creator with those inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And yet we accept inequality very matter-of-factly and assuage our conscience by paying taxes and giving alms. As Christians we readily see the moral content of social issues like abortion, drug abuse, and pornography. We write letters protesting the income-tax provisions that permit corporations to deduct as a business expense advertisements for alcoholic beverages. However, I rarely receive a letter from one of my Christian friends seeking tax reform and the elimination of loopholes for the rich so that we can enjoy greater equality under the law.

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Christian involvement in the political process requires a far greater degree of understanding of what the really basic issues are in this final quarter of the twentieth century. I venture to say that most evangelical Christians not only are economic illiterates but don’t spend five minutes a week worrying about it. As a result they incline toward excessively simplistic political judgments because they can’t begin to know when Politician A is making sense and Politician B is really insulting their intelligence.

The 1970s were launched with some fanfare as a decade when the “quality of life” would be accented in what government would do. The emphasis was to be on improving our physical environment—a highly commendable goal. Yet I believe that an aim of Christian involvement in the political process should be to put the letter “e” in front of that word “quality.” That ought to be the emphasis of the Church—to make the crooked straight, to let justice mean something in the area of distribution, not only retribution. Then, in the words of the prophet Amos, justice would roll down like a mighty flood, cleansing us from the hypocrisy of a system founded on equality but flourishing amid the grossest forms of inequality.

How shall we involve Christians in an effort to reform the political process that has permitted this to happen? Not, I believe, through a separatist movement to form its own political faction. This would be offensive to our constitutional tradition. One such movement just recently announced its formal demise; it was doomed from the outset. I think the task can be done within existing institutions. However, it must begin with a conscious effort to encourage Christians to become far better informed on a wide range of issues that bear upon the need for basic reform of our society.

The director of the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission has called for Bicentennial programs that will do more than simply culminate in a celebration of the date when we achieved our independence. They should somehow carry seeds of new ideas that will provide inspiration for the century to come.

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The churches, with seminars, study groups, and commissions, could mount a great educational effort on the local level to examine our society and see where we have fallen so far short of our original noble goals. A truly informed Christian electorate could provide that spiritual dimension so lacking in our national life today.


… not necessarily, explains Professor Achie PennerArchie Penner is professor of religion at Malone College, Canton, Ohio. He holds the M.A. from Wheaton College and the Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Mennonite Church.

Biblical pacifism, in contrast to political or humanitarian pacifism, seeks to base its conclusion squarely on the Scriptures. “Pacifism” is a biblical word. It comes from two Latin words, pax and facere (“peace” and “to make”) and is therefore equivalent to the Greek, eirenopoioi, translated “peace-makers” in Matthew 5:9. Whether the content of the position described by the word is indeed biblical must be determined by sound exegesis.

Politics, as popularly viewed, is that function and activity which concerns promoting and seeking public governmental office, along with the exercising of the power and privileges of that office. To the question of whether Christians ought to be involved in the political process, some individuals and groups within the tradition of biblical pacifism respond in unconventional ways.

Christians agree that all of life, therefore also the political aspect of it, is ethical to the core. But how are ethics for the Christian determined? The biblical pacifist takes the proclamation of Christ, in word and action, including every dimension of his life and death, as constituting both the content and the finality of a Christian’s ethics (1 Peter 2:18–25). He does not see this as an escape from the Old Testament. Rather, he feels he has accepted it as it should be accepted, namely as interpreted and exemplified in Christ. He bases his ethics on the ethic of Jesus’ love, a love which will not return evil for evil, but which forgives in every domain of life and relationship. Therefore, both his social and political responsibilities can find their expression only within the sphere of for-giving, agape love. He does not need to see this as a withdrawal strategy, but rather as an involvement within those limits imposed by this concept of love. In fact, this love impels him to social participation.

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Also, the biblical pacifist does not recognize any differentiation between a private or personal and official ethic. There is only one ethic, the ethic of love which is expressed in Jesus, for every relationship and responsibility.

Pragmatic demands for social action or participation, determined by human reason and dictated by the situation, and not subjected to the will of Christ and thus to the ethics of Jesus, are invalid for the biblical pacifist. He, too, believes in relevancy, but it is the relevancy of a given social or political action to the divine purpose, not a relevancy to human goals selfishly formed and executed. He would consider ill advised the claim that the fact of participation itself already spells relevancy. Could not non-participation in social action at times be far more relevant than participation which demeans and destroys?

The biblical pacifist believes in justice. He desires it. He works for it. In fact, true agape produces true justice. But what he cannot do and remain consistent with his concept of the love ethic, as C. H. Dodd puts it, is to take part in the administration of a “retributive system of justice.” If it is argued that this retributive system is necessary in the structures of social and political relations, and that this necessity is indeed the justification for participation in the system of retributive justice, the pacifist would object. It surely would not have been justifiable for a follower of Christ to have participated actively in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, even though Christ’s death was by far the most necessary action in all of history (in the light of human sinfulness and the love of God).

In summary, the love ethic of Jesus applied in all human relations at every moment of history dictates the sphere, the amount, and the kind of action and participation which the biblical pacifist considers alone legitimate in his endeavor to please his Lord. The ethical code of the pacifist believer can be described as “kingdom” ethics, relevant today. Or, to state a parallel to C. H. Dodd’s realized eschatology, we can call it realized ethics.

It has been necessary to describe some essentials of the ethical positions of the biblical pacifist in order to understand his specific view on social and political involvement. The principles have led to various applications.

First, there are those in the tradition of biblical pacifism who avoid as best they know how all direct involvement in the political scene. At the same time, they generally accept some aspects of social responsibility.

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A second approach strongly emphasizes social and political involvement in terms of practical expressions of agape: help the needy, feed the hungry, and minister in the entire context of human needs congruent with scriptural standards. Politically, there must be the dynamics of moral influence in terms of requests, referendums, appeals, persuasion, and the like, but primarily because of the governmental “sword carrying function,” neither office holding nor the use of the ballot are acceptable.

However, a third approach for the same reasons of ethics would argue that the use of the ballot, different from actually holding office, does not organically make a person responsible for those functions of the state which contravene a voter’s ethics. Consequently, the ballot becomes this pacifist’s responsibility. Admittedly, the gap between pulling a lever and participating personally, even with a passion, is a narrow one.

Political office holding, a fourth option, presents another problem. Many who adhere to kingdom ethics, feel there is much of a positive nature with which the biblical pacifist has no quarrel, and to which he can be related effectively as an incumbent of any one of a number of political offices. However, because political offices by their nature are organically bound up with coercion and retribution, he must refrain from office holding. This school of thought would agree with Brunner’s statement that coercive action “of the state is a contradiction of the law of love.… [It] is contrary to love; it is sinful.”

Yet others would argue that an office holder is not compromised by offensive decisions and actions if he personally is not involved in them. Therefore, he can hold political office and apply his ethics, characterized by forgiving love in every one of his decisions and actions. But the incongruence of these with the necessity of coercion and retribution, either in actuality or principle, could spell his unacceptability at any time.

The biblical pacifist’s position would seem to demand the greatest social responsibility. However, it must not be demanded of him that he contravene his ethics. In fact, it is precisely at the juncture where his ethics are contravened that his responsibilities cease.

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