Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is the story of changing attitudes and relations between Mennonites and the state during the middle of the 20th century. The story is intentionally limited to the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC). The dominant theme of the story is the steady movement away from isolation and separation to one of more active involvement. This movement has a number of different stands, among them: nonresistance to political activism; nonconformity to acculturation; noninvolvement to service; and subject to citizen. Underlying these radical changes is a steady constant--the search for ways to strengthen and maintain pacifism defined as refusal to participate in the military. As Perry Bush tells the story, the Mennonites begin with a two kingdom theology that envisages two separate societies, the church and the state, with a minimum of interaction and ends with a view that the church is differentiated from the state primarily in its commitment to peace and service.
Whether this difference is sufficient to be called a two-kingdom view is not clear, nor does the author commit himself on this point. He ends the work with the observation that
it is very hard to draw the line [between the church and] the state (p. 275).
As the story unfolds it displays a grand variety of themes, many of which are clearly laid out and copiously documented, and all of which are well worth contemplation. Some of the more helpful include:
War as a major catalyst of change and clarifier of issues
- The way total war makes all citizen either combatants or enemies.
- The consequence of seeing the primary role of the state as providing welfare rather than keeping order.
- How the need to be seen as good citizens fostered the service ethic.
- How the perceived need for equity impacted the design of alternative service
- The use of fundamentalism to maintain older nonconformist practices, with the consequent weakening of commitment to nonresistance.
- The search for a third way
combining an evangelical concern for the soul with a liberal concern for peace and justice(p. 263).
The book tells a single story showing that the experiences of both the MC and GC churches can be seen as a unified story. The differences between the two communities are made clear and are well documented but in the end it is the overwhelming similarities that predominate. In this regard the book is very timely and useful as the process of MC/GC transformation comes to a climax.
All in all, this is a very readable book that provides a great deal of material for thought. It should be near the top of the list of books to be read by those who are interested in the identity and future of the Mennonite venture in America. Its copious documentation provides a wealth of material for further study. In many ways Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is the historical counterpart to the sociological Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism by Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill. The two books tell the same story in different ways.
All stories are told from a certain point of view, this is unavoidable and useful. It is clear that Perry Bush views the changes in the Mennonite self-understanding as positive. There is a fine line between acknowledging ones own biases and denigrating the contrary views. Bush comes too close to this line for this reviewer’s taste with such value laden descriptions as
complacently complied (p. 182),
meekly encouraging (p. 258),
timid and reserved Mennonites (p. 268),
devoting themselves merely to preserving,
meekly voiced (p. 270), and
a group huddled toward this escape hatch (p. 271).
A more subtle aspect of the author’s point of view is his need to portray the change from quietism to activism as a recapturing of a lost aspect of the Anabaptist vision (pp. 68, 118, 152, 183, 247, 271). This claim is certainly debatable, at least when it is used to support activities designed to change the political order. Bush does try to give an account of the purported Anabaptist activism. He rightly points to the early Anabaptist critique of the emerging Protestant establishment, and their stubborn refusal to conform (pp. 11-12), but neither of these characteristics implies a political end. In fact, he seems to destroy any connection when he says of the early Anabaptists,
Rejecting the state church conceptions of both Catholicism and emerging Protestantism, they called for a voluntary association of believers (p. 19). The repeated claim that the new Mennonite identity is a recapturing of an original vision needs much more documentation at best.
Another consequence of the author’s point of view is a relative neglect of the importance of the work of John Howard Yoder. Much of Yoder’s work is too supportive of the conservative point of view for comfort, especially as detailed in The Politics of Jesus. It is significant that this book is not even included in the bibliography. In fact, Yoder appears in the notes only a couple of times with references from early and minor works. In the end Bush tries to dismiss the importance of Yoder by saying,
Yet in the service of not just Yoder’s vision but of a larger Anabaptist whole, (p. 273). Giving credence to the weight of Yoder’s thinking would apparently have required a more sympathetic treatment of the conservative point of view.
The liberal bias that is apparent here is equally apparent in Mennonite Peacemaking. We still await an account of this crucial transition period in the American Mennonite experience that is more sympathetic to the values and goals of the conservative point of view. If the Mennonite academic establishment could find a way to provide such an account, it may well be very helpful in the long road to true integration of the MC and GC peoples.
There are a number of interrelated concepts central to the story of Two Kingdoms. Concepts such as two kingdoms, witness, lordship, nonconformity, nonresistance, separation, responsibility, civil disobedience, protest, etc. All of these are susceptible to fairly different meaning and nuance. In such a fluid field of ideas it is easy to lean heavily on one dimension of a term’s meaning to make a favored point while leaning on a different dimension to avoid some threatening tension in one’s argument. Further progress in describing and understanding the various interpretations of the Anabaptist vision will require careful concept clarification and more precise definitions.
Take as an example the idea of two kingdoms. The simple view that there should be two different worlds that shall never meet is not a possibility and probably has never been advocated as an ideal. There have always been many aspects of the
world that Anabaptists have been willing and anxious to participate in. The bare idea of pacifism contemplates a kind of qualified obedience to the state.
In but not of the world tries to specify a particular relationship between church and state. The relationship contemplated by the two kingdoms idea has necessarily been more complex than simple separation, or nonparticipation. This implies that it is not enough to show that a
two kingdoms people is entering into a new relationship with the state in order to establish that the two kingdoms view is breaking down. What is required is a more specific account of what sorts of things are to be resisted, what sort of nonconformity is desired, what things one is not to be responsible for, etc.
Or take the idea of witnessing to the state. In one sense any words or deeds that are directed to the state or to some requirement of the state are a kind of witness. Taking the concept of witnessing in this broad sense tends to blur and hide a number of crucial distinctions. On the one hand there is a distinction between informing (answering questions, stating likely consequences, detailing views on what is expedient or moral) and doing (performing service to the oppressed, refusing to participate in expected public rituals, civil disobedience for conscience sake). There is the distinction between speech and action that is its own end and speech and action that is directed toward some further end. There is the distinction between speech and action that is not intended to coerce or have political effect and political speech and action. All of these distinctions are subject to indeterminate cases and tend to overlap in complex cases. Nevertheless, it is this kind of careful distinction that people of conscience must necessarily struggle with in trying to be faithful.
In the course of his account Perry Bush suggests that the central hinge point of change was the acceptance of the idea that there is a single moral law for both state and church (pp. 68 & 201). Here Bush has almost certainly put his finger on the key ethical/theological issue. The question of a single moral law deserves a good deal of investigation, conversation, and study. Does one want to claim straight out that the Sermon on the Mount should apply directly to the national state? Is it our view that non-Christian peoples are morally obliged to obey the Sermon on the Mount even though they do not acknowledge Christ as Lord? If one holds that Christians have no higher obligations than the state, there would seem to be little ground for a two kingdom theology. Here again one will want to make some more careful distinctions.
All in all, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is an important book. It is a book that people who are interested in the question of the future of the Mennonite idea would be well advised to read.
North Newton, Kansas