In This Issue
In his original introduction to the interview with James Juhnke, Ben Ollenburger wrote,
The topic of “Civil religion” has recently emerged as an issue of concerned debate among Mennonites. A recent Christian Leader printed two articles on the topic which generated a sustained and impassioned response from Mennonite Brethren readers. There are perhaps two principal reasons for the current interest in civil religion. First, Mennonites have traditionally seen themselves as removed from, if not opposed to, the government or state. Practices such as the refusal to take the oath, non-resistance, and, at times, abstention even from voting, created clear lines between the church and civil government. Secondly, this is the year of the bicentennial of United States independence. The celebration accompanying this event is impossible to ignore and must be responded to in some way. Among Mennonites there are various ideas as to how the church should respond. Mennonite Brethren have tended to divide between those who favor a traditional Mennonite or Anabaptist stance to civil government and those who favor participation in the celebration, insisting that there is no contradiction in affirming one’s national citizenship and one’s Anabaptist-Christian identity.
This describes the occasion and the reason for this entire edition of Direction. How do members of the Kingdom of God also live as citizens of the kingdoms of the world?
The traditional debate centered around the relation of the church to the state. In his article, Richard Unruh summarizes the by-now-classical categories which scholars have used to describe the positions which emerged before, and during, the Reformation. Paul Toews clarifies for us the newer form of the debate, that which centers around the topic of “civil religion.” John Redekop argues that Canadians may be immune, in large part, from this attempt to make the state itself a form of “church.”
The last two articles on this topic reflect the efforts of two individuals to discover a Christian stance toward the earthly kingdoms in which we live. James Juhnke speaks as both a scholar and practitioner of politics. John Regehr, in Hearing the Word, goes to the gospel of Matthew for insights.
In another vein, Direction intends to present reports from the sponsoring schools twice a year. These essays will reflect some of the debates which arise as the schools attempt to fulfill their mission in these times. The first of these is by the Dean of the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, George Konrad.