by Marla Pierson Lester
AKRON, Pa.- Earl and Pat Hostetter Martin grew up in Mennonite homes where politics remained separate from their parents’ lives, where voting was not considered a duty and where existence was grounded in the kingdom of God, not of the world.
But the suffering and death they encountered as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers in Vietnam in the 1960s convinced them that the faith they had been taught – combined with the atrocities they were witnessing – forced them to speak to their government.
“When you see the effects of government policies, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘I will be silent in the face of this destruction,'” Earl Martin said.
Since then, the couple has continued to speak to the “principalities and powers.” They will join a selection of scholars, theologians and pastors exploring the intersection of faith and politics at a Sept. 23-25 conference, “God, Democracy and U.S. Power: Believers Church Perspectives,” in Harrisonburg, Va., and Bridgewater, Va.
Held at EMU and Bridgewater College, conference sessions will explore how Christians in the “Believers Church” tradition understand their witness for God and their relationship to political authority in light of living in a democracy that is the world’s dominant power.
Churches usually associated with the Believers Church tradition include Adventists, Baptists, Brethren, Disciples of Christ, Mennonites, Methodists, Pentecostals, Plymouth Brethren and Quakers.
The conference focuses on the meaning of citizenship in the United States, said Steve Longenecker, professor of history at Bridgewater College and planning committee member: “The planners observed that the United States currently possesses and exercises unprecedented influence on a global scale. The conference is designed to clarify what it means to be both citizens of the state and members of the body of Christ.”
Sessions approach the topic from biblical, historical and theological perspectives, with speakers from academic circles and the broader church. Presentations will range from biblical sermons to academic papers to autobiographical narratives. Critical analysis will be interspersed with reflective worship, integrating scholarly, pastoral and activist perspectives.
The Martins will present their autobiographical reflections in “Believers’ Journeys and Politics.” Other conference sessions include “Believers as Sisters and Brothers in the Church Worldwide,” “Theological Perspectives on Political Authority,” “Believers and Political Authority in History” and “Believers and Political Authority in the Bible.”
Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, will address the conference Friday night. Edgar served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by a 12-year tenure as president of Claremont School of Theology. An ordained United Methodist elder, Edgar has also been pastor of several congregations, a college chaplain and a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The conference, the 15th in a series that addresses Believers Church issues, is sponsored by EMU, Bridgewater, the MCC U.S. Washington Office, the Baptist Joint Committee Washington, D.C., and Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office.
To register or to learn more, see www.emu.edu/churchandpolitics. Early fees must be postmarked by Aug. 27.
Marla Pierson Lester is a writer/editor for MCC Communications.