We've gotta stop shooting at our own people!
by Tom King (c) 2011
Not likely. Mennonites have long been a pacifist, separatist religion but not an unpatriotic one. Similar in belief to their spiritual brethren, the Amish, though without the funny hats and rejection of electricity, the Mennonites came out of war-torn Europe to settle here, hoping to live in peace. They are hard-working, keep neat, well-ordered farms, live lives of service to their fellow man and they are good neighbors wherever they settle. They are total conscientious objectors and have a traditional cultural abhorence of violence and war, which is understandable given the violent persecution they experienced at the hands of their Christian brothers in Catholic and Protestant Europe. They are good Americans and contribute much to their communities.
While their beliefs sound like those of the socialist left, even to the point of sharing terminology like "social justice" and "peace-making", the Mennonites don't believe in sitting on their duffs and letting the government do all the work for them. They believe in full-bodied Christian giving and service - the way Christian charity ought to be done.
The school has not played the Star-Spangled banner since 1957, until recently when, for a time, it has been allowed as an instrumental piece to be played at some sporting events. The move was likely a response by some Mennonites to the polarism in this country and to a desire in the midst of all of this to demonstrate publicly that they are, despite their pacifism, deeply patriotic Americans. The imagery of the Star Spangled Banner, however, likley proved too much for the old line Mennonite culture and some of the more left-leaning on campus. It is very Mennonite to avoid causing controversy within the faith or the school over the issue. The school, therefore, has asked staff and students to choose other patriotic songs with less war-like imagery to express their patriotism. At any rate, the school will work out the issue among its own people and perhaps some of those who wish to play the anthem will challenge the ruling.
But none of Goshen's internal dialogue on whether they should play the national anthem or not should have garnered the anger and outrage we've seen coming out of the conservative right in the past few days.
While we may disagree with the Goshen board's views on the national anthem (and I do) or on the need for a strong military, one thing we absolutely must do is defend the right of a Mennonite school to choose for itself how it will express its patriotism. Mennonites are good people. They follow the Golden Rule as well as anybody does. They are good Americans by the evidence of their day to day lives. They value honesty, loyalty, fidelity, charity, peace, love and duty as most conservatives do.
If we do not grant the right to speak, worship and express patriotism in their own manner, unmolested to a people who worship God carefully and reverently (as they do), then we become no better than the socialists who would bring everyone's conscience under the iron thumb of government and shout down anyone who objects. If we feel we must shout down, ridicule and threaten those who act according to their conscience and disagree with us a little, maybe we've been spending too much time among the liberal/progressives. We may just be picking up their bad habits.
I spoke to a friend today who lives in Germany. He has had a long career in the US Army and now works for the Corps of Engineers. He describes US Army communities over there as virtual "prisons", not with just razor wire, but with walls and bars and elaborate intrusive security. He says we are incrementally giving up our freedom in exchange for a false sense of security. And as that government intrusion is allowed to grow and expand its power and to become more and more invasive, the whole system becomes more and more corrupt, with legions of fat bureaucrats making themselves fat draining the lifeblood of American taxpayers to support their lavish lifestyles. My friend says the level of waste and corruption is truly appalling.
If we pile on the Mennonites, who mean us no harm and whose fundamental beliefs support values far closer to those of the right than the left, then we succeed only in driving away more allies in the war on tyranny. Me I'd rather stand and fight to defend the right of a peaceful people like the Mennonites to live peaceably, worship peacably and sing whatever songs they want to sing. I don't care that they never pick up a gun. God bless 'em for it. We've got no business criticizing good people for refusing to kill their fellow man. If I am called to fight upon the wall to protect such people, I will call it my privilege and honor as King David did, knowing full well that there is a price that soldiers pay for taking up arms. David, himself, was a great defender of the people, but God would not allow him to build the temple because he was a "man of war". David suffered great personal losses in his wars - even to losing sons, but he did it all for his people and accepted the cost of doing that in order to protect his family and his people from the consequences of being a warrior. For their sacrifice, we bless the warriors, but at the same time we must NEVER curse those whom they protect! To do so would be to disparage and minimize the warrior's sacrifice for his brothers at home.
Let's save our righteous indignation for the ones that are really out to do us harm. God bless the Mennonites for trying to find a way to express their patriotism while remaining true to their deeply held beliefs. And shame on us for criticizing them for it.
Just telling you what I think.