Electioneering Mennonites

In 1960 when the presidential race was between John F. Kennedy, a man of the Roman Catholic faith, and Richard M. Nixon, a man of the Quaker faith, a Mennonite brother (?) from Lancaster mailed a letter “to Mennonite leaders throughout the United States to urge support for Richard M. Nixon for the presidency.” Other literature was enclosed which warned that if a Catholic president is elected it would be “the beginning of the end to a hundred-and-one liberties which are enjoyed” only where Protestants are in rule. It was further warned that religious freedom would then be replaced with religious tyranny.

A number of reasons were given why all Mennonites should register and vote for Mr. Nixon. “He is a Quaker in religion and we as Mennonites can be much more sympathetic to him than to his opponent who is a Catholic.” A second reason given was that “Nixon comes from a background that is closely identified with the simple Mennonite way of living.- The third reason was that “we as Mennonites who are opposed to war can in good conscience vote Republican because in the present century there has been no war in any of the six Republican administrations.”

But in spite of this, and other Mennonite electioneering for Nixon, he did not make it to the White House in January, 1961. Instead, his Catholic opponent took the Chair and governed the United States until his untimely death nearly three years later. And, so far as we know, when his office of the presidency ended, the fears of the electioneering Mennonites had not even begun to take place. Of course, we do not know what Mr. Kennedy might have done had he lived to win a second term of office — and we do not need to know. It is enough to “know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.”

In 1964 when the presidential race was between Johnson and Goldwater, again some Mennonite leaders and Mennonite periodicals “jumped on the band wagon” in favor of Johnson because he had a more wholesome approach to the war in Viet Nam. Barry Goldwater was “Trigger-happy” and would for sure blow things up if he were elected. And so Mennonites were again encouraged to register and this time to vote for the Democratic nominee, Lyndon B. Johnson. This time, although their vote did not make any difference in final result, the politically-minded Mennonites saw their man win the election. But Mennonites who felt it their responsibility to advise government were soon expressing their disappointment in President Johnson and sending him letters of protest to his Viet Nam position. And now, in reflection, they scorn him as having “turned Viet Nam into a major conflagration.” It is now quite clear that the Mennonite voters did not get what they thought they were voting for in 1964.

Came the 1972 presidential nomination and race, the politically-minded Mennonites now disappointed in Mr. Nixon, the man urged their people to vote for in 1960, turned on the heat against him in favor of Senator McGovern. A Mennonite Congregation in Massachusetts sent out letters to about 800 congregations of the Mennonite Church” militating against Mr. Nixon and electioneering for McGovern because his “stand is more consistent with our Christian concern for ... peace.

From the foregoing illustrations it is evident that Mennonites do not know any more than anybody else what aspirants for the States presidency will do if and when they sit on the Chair. (That Senate “dove” — George McGovern is credited with having managed several dozen successful bombing missions Germany in World War II). It is also evident that a proper concept of the church's calling in the world has been lost by politically involved Mennonites. It is being replaced by interest and involvement in the kingdoms of the world. When the multitudes about to take Jesus and force Him to be king, our Lord quietly slipped into seclusion for a period of prayer fellowship with His Father. He escaped from the political heat and appearance of the crowd and thus was able to move on to the cross and fulfill the purpose for which His Father sent Him to earth. Had He yield to the appeal of the crowd to become politically involved He would have failed in His high calling in this world.

There is much in Scripture telling the Church how to function and Christians how to live and behave and promote Christ's cause, and there is not one word directed to the State. Peter and Paul never offered one suggestion or complaint against the then current ruthless, tyrannical reign of terror by the Roman Government. Neither did they object to their collection of taxes for their satanic objectives. The State is part of the world and since God has no code of ethics or system of behavior for the He gives no directions to the State. It should therefore, be crystal-clear that just as Christ and the Apostles had to be “non-participants” in the affairs of the kingdoms of this world in order to fulfill God's will, so the Christian of today must also refrain from being involved in political affairs in order to fulfill his high calling in the world.

The present world kingdoms are destined to doom. Before Jesus Christ they will yet become like chaff of the summer threshing floors “...with no place found for them...” (Daniel 2:35). John the Baptist said the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire. Until “the king of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ,” let us keep ourselves uninfluenced by the appeals for involvement in their affairs lest we become a part of them and also perish with them.

– Aaron M. Shank

January 1973 The Eastern Testimony