While leading a study tour in his native Egypt for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, professor Safwat Marzouk stood before the oldest surviving written mention of Israel. On a 1 200 BC stone inscription, Pharaoh Merneptah boasts about his imperial conquests. “Israel is made non-existent,” he gloats after raiding Canaan.
Merneptah was wrong.
Through tiny Israel, God would bring a Messiah to save the world.
God had promised Abraham and Sarah that through their descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God seeks to bless, not manipulate or coerce.
It was tempting for ancient Israel seek power with a king like other nations, but that ended in catastrophe.
It is tempting for Anabaptists today to seek political might. But we follow Jesus, who relinquished privileges of power to humble himself and serve. While we must never use Jesus’ example of submission to deny rights to oppressed people, we should not use power to dominate.
In a multi-religious world, Anabaptists appropriately bear witness from a position of political weakness. Other 16th-century reform movements in Europe tried “top-down” ways change society, persuading with force if necessary.
Following Jesus’s example, most Anabaptists rejected such use of power. Instead, they witnessed through loving relationships at the margins.
Anabaptists today should reject “dominion theology,” which attempts to advance the gospel by placing Christians in positions of social and political power. People with such ideas burned Anabaptists at the stake. Christian nationalism led to the death of millions of native people in the Americas.
While Christians surely can serve in many roles in society, we should not want a “Christian” government any more than a government based on another religion.
Pharaoh Merneptah could not have imagined how powerless Israel would change the world. We cannot know how humble service, love of enemy and gracious invitation can do the same.
—J. Nelson Kraybill is president of MWC. He lives in Indiana, USA.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2021.
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