Resolution on Nationalism (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1968)
Resolution on Nationalism (GCMC, 1968)
We the members of the General Conference Mennonite Church in the United States and Canada are faced with a serious and increasing problem of false nationalism. Loyalty to the nation and loyalty to God are sometimes in conflict with each other.
I. Our Loyalty
The biblical position is that God has ordained the state for various functions (Romans 13:1) among which is the maintenance of order. A Christian, therefore, has certain responsibilities to the state. Those that have been stated by the biblical writers are prayer for the governing authorities, the payment of taxes, the giving of respect, and obedience (1 Timothy 2:1, 2; Romans 13:6, 7; 1 Peter 2:17). Even these responsibilities which a Christian has toward his government arise out of and are subject to the Christian's obedience to the will of God (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17). Thus on those occasions when a Christian is confronted by a conflict between what God requires and what the governing authorities require, the Christian must obey God rather than man (Acts 5 :29) .
Our nationalism becomes idolatrous when we make any nation-state synonymous with Christianity or the kingdom of God. When religion or God is used to justify a state's action and the church has become its captive, we have become idolatrous.
The loyalty to government sanctioned in 1 Peter 2:17 and Romans 13:1-6 is not just to a limited nationalism but recognizes the need of all men for order and authorities. Therefore, Christian prayer should include not only the government of the country in which we happen to reside, but all governments.
All of our action, life, and viewpoint is tempered at all times by our essential confession and loyalty "for the love of Christ controls us. . ." (2 Corinthians 5:14). This love transcends love of country which too easily becomes selfish love. We are constrained out of this love of Christ to give voice to our concern when the nation is tempted to follow that which is evil or idolatrous.
II. Our Call to Action
At this time in history, when threats to our national interest played up to extend the political power of military agencies and to promote military programs; when defense budgets have increased effects on education programs, research grants, and job opportunities that shape and channel the lives of our youth; and when international agencies such as the United Nations are hindered by the unwillingness of nations to cooperate to decrease war, hunger, and poverty; and when resources have been wasted in internationally competitive space programs, we call upon the members of our churches in the United States and Canada to demonstrate a biblical citizenship. We ask that members of the General Conference Mennonite Church accept the spirit of internationalism in which Christian citizens are responsible for their country's welfare but are not devoted to their nation's interests at the expense of mankind.
We further exhort the members of the North American brotherhood to discuss together how they can express concretely in action their concerns on these current issues where conflicting loyalties are acute and we may tend to a national idolatry. We suggest the following as possible subjects:
- Seek to encourage more honest accounts of Canadian and United States history in our public schools. Should we not acknowledge our national failures such as our part in colonial exploitation, our involvement in wars of aggression, our taking of land, and the failure to recognize the contributions of Indians, Negroes and other minorities to North American history?
- Seek to speak in loving admonition to those who abuse critics of national policies and who attack such critics with untruths or threats intending to coerce them into conformity.
- Examine and discourage the use of labels by which our nation is portrayed as angelic and other nations as demonic. Labels such as "free world," "democratic America," "capitalist," "iron curtain countries," "Red China," and "communist" may reflect prejudices and false assumptions.
- Encourage our legislators to support the giving of foreign aid that ministers to human needs and further encourage that such aid not be given unilaterally, but through organizations such as multi-nation banks and international agencies. This may help our country avoid the temptation to use aid and in other ways interfere in the affairs of other nations for our own advantage. In keeping with the Christian doctrine of love for the enemy, we urge that aid be distributed to all victims of conflict, such as aid to both North and South Vietnam or Jordan and Israel.
- Encourage our overseas workers to help us understand the aspirations and needs of other peoples and nations, and how they see us as North Americans (as did the Mennonite missionaries in Vietnam).
- Host visitors from overseas in our churches and homes so that they might share with us points of view which may be divergent from the typical viewpoints of our nations.
- Question the validity of permanently placing a national flag within a church when the church is to be a house of prayer for all nations.
- Study ways of fostering and manifesting true loyalty and patriotism and help our communities to find appropriate uses of the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, and prayer.
- Express concern to local radio and television stations for associating patriotism with militarism.
- Search our consciences on the question of paying taxes for military purposes; support generously international mission and service programs; urge churches to support those who by reason of conscience refuse to pay the percentage of taxes going for military purposes.
Context of the Resolution
This resolution by the Board of Christian Service was brought to the General Conference Mennonite Church delegate session held July 13-20, 1968 in Estes Park, Colorado. This was a year of great turmoil in the United States and the war in Vietnam. The convention also followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June. The vote on the statement itself followed a presentation to the delegates on Black history in the United States. The statement was approved by a vote of 1012 to 469.
Canadian members on the Board that brought the resolution included J. Winfield Fretz (Waterloo, Ontario); Peter G. Sawatzky (Saskatoon, Sask.), Leo Driedger (Winnipeg, Man.) and Edgar Epp (Prince Albert, Sask.).
General Conference Mennonite Church, Minutes, 1968, thirty-eighth session, July 13-20, 1968. Newton, Kan.: The Conference, 1968: 14, 25-26.
"False nationalism scored." The Mennonite 83 (August 6, 1968): 495.