April 2007 In This Issue


If it is true, in a phrase adapted from William Shakespeare, that ?politics makes strange bedfellows,? then perhaps no one should have been surprised by a wire-service photograph from the 2004 presidential election that depicted a group of plain-garbed Amishmen enthusiastically greeting President Bush at an airport in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, standing next to a sign, embellished with an American flag, that read ?Veterans for Bush.? To be sure, groups within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition have always held a range of positions on the question of political involvement, ranging from strict separatism to cautious engagement. Yet traditionally, the Amish and other Old Order groups have been reluctant to participate in presidential elections. Long memories of persecution at the hand of the state, combined with deep convictions against military service and a sense of allegiance to Christ that transcends the claims of patriotism, have made many in the Anabaptist tradition hesitant to identify with the rituals of American democracy. These reservations began to break down among Mennonites in the United States during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, when some began to participate more actively in the Civil Rights movement or in protests against the war in Vietnam. By the late 1980s, the growing visibility of the Moral Majority convinced a different group of Mennonites to enter the political arena as well. By the 2004 election, a large percentage of Mennonites’and a surprising number of more conservative Anabaptist groups’were ready to participate in the presidential elections, the majority of them sympathetic to conservative candidates who spoke the language of ?family values.? Recognizing the potential of this new voter base, Republican organizers in Lancaster County initiated a focused effort to register Old Order voters and to enlist them in support of the incumbent, President George W. Bush. Indeed, the president made no fewer than three campaign visits to the Lancaster area in the months leading up to the 2004 election, and on at least one occasion held a highly-publicized conversation with a group of local Amish that concluded with his expression of gratitude for their support.

In the opening essay of this issue, two sociologists, Donald B. Kraybill and Kyle C. Kopko, offer the first systematic study of Amish and Old Order Mennonite voting patterns. Focused especially on Lancaster County groups during the presidential campaign of 2004, their study reveals some fascinating information: political participation seemed to be much higher in Lancaster County than in other Old Order settlements, yet even here the percentage who actually voted remained quite small; political participation tended to vary sharply from district to district, reflecting the influence of local leadership; and even though the number of registered voters in these communities increased sharply, the Amish vote itself did not have significant impact on the outcome of the election in either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Clearly, this topic will bear further watching in years to come.

Among sixteenth-century Anabaptists no issue troubled authorities more than their refusal to swear oaths. Oaths were the glue that cemented virtually all political relations in early modern Europe; thus, the Anabaptist rejection of oaths’based largely on Christ’s teaching against them in the Sermon on the Mount’heightened suspicions that their teachings were seditious. Craig Farmer provides a helpful introduction to this topic, focusing especially on the writings of Urbanus Rhegius, Wolfgang Musculus and Johann Faber’representing the Lutheran, Reformed and Catholic traditions, respectively. Particularly welcome is Farmer’s emphasis on the biblical hermeneutics that came into play in the discussion, along with a useful appendix that lists some fifteen contemporary pamphlets on this controversial subject.

Tom Harder extends the conversation on Anabaptist relations to the state by revisiting an argument closely associated with the theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder advocating the primacy of faithfulness over effectiveness in the Christian witness to the state. Harder challenges the notion that Yoder considered these to be mutually exclusive, and he traces an evolution in Yoder’s thought that moved toward greater nuance in the relationship between faithfulness and effectiveness.

We conclude this issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review with two shorter essays, each including several primary sources in translation. The first, by Emmy Barth, offers a glimpse into the lives of three Hutterite missionaries who were captured and imprisoned in Vienna in 1536. Barth translates several sources related to their arrest and interrogation, along with an account of faith presented by the group, and three letters by one of the missionaries, Jeronimus Kls, to contacts in Moravia. Some 350 years later, another Hutterite leader, Paul Tschetter, came to the United States as part of a delegation exploring the possibilities of emigration to North America. In the course of his trip, Tschetter passed through Chicago’still recovering from the famous fire of 1871?and was moved to compose a hymn that put the fire in a broader theological context. Rod Janzen sketches the historical background of Tschetter’s visit and the hymn, which Jean Janzen has translated into English.

? John D. Roth, editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review