On Saturday, the Student Government Association posted the results from their idea drive on Facebook. Tucked amid the requests for a campus puppy and campus improvements was this note: “Military Support! Some people here love and support the military and need that support from their student body.”
It is true there is no flag on campus, no presentation of the national anthem before athletics, no visible symbols of our nation. There are no military recruiters on campus at present, nor is there a functioning reserve officer training corps. Instead, it is common to hear of nonviolent workers and the trauma associated with violence. Support for the United States and its military is different here.
To understand how campus has reached this point, it is important to understand the Mennonite tradition.
One of the key distinctions between Mennonites and other denominations is a firm emphasis on non-resistance, an absolute refusal to use violent means. This is linked to the teachings of Jesus, when he refused to let his disciples use swords, or even protect themselves.
Such a commitment reflects trust in God to protect and provide and fulfill Isaiah 2:4: “The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
“They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” (New Living Translation) Because this has been made real with the emergent Kingdom of God, Mennonites believe that there is no legitimate excuse to use violence.
The Mennonite understanding of the military is also connected to the view of the state. Early Anabaptists saw their role as one obedient to the state—in terms of paying taxes and obeying laws—as long as the laws did not contradict the commands of Christ, a position of obedient non participation.
John Howard Yoder, the most celebrated modern Mennonite theologian, noted that the church has a moral obligation to witness to the state, helping it behave in a more Christian manner.
But he also retained two fundamental assumptions: that the Christian cannot threaten the life or liberty of another person, and that society can not be expected to maintain social order without the use of force.
On the basis of the tension between these two points, Mennonites do not feel the military can be supported while faithfully serving Christ.
As a Mennonite institution, it is not surprising that EMU as a community generally follows in this same tradition. However, there is room for those who recognize and support the possibility of a military option; this support just looks different from mainstream support of the United States’ military.
One of these different perspectives can be seen in the “whole government approaches” promoted by 3P Human Security directed by Lisa Schirch, a research professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
Schirch’s work with national security recognize the importance of defense while also promoting more extensive use of diplomacy and development.
While this is not unqualified support, it is an example of nonjudgmental accommodation of those who do support the military while sharing many of the values that emerge from the Mennonite position of nonviolence.
–Joel Nofziger, Co-Editor in Chief