An Email Exchange With A Mennonite Pastor
The following is an email exchange between me and a Mennonite pastor that took place months ago. I am removing any identifying details because this was a private correspondence. As someone that appreciates many of the views and practices of Mennonites/Anabaptists, I initiated this email exchange because I wanted to know more about where Mennonites stand on the issue of using force to protect loved ones. I knew that many or most of them advocate for absolute non-resistance to evil, because they think that is the way to interpret the Lord’s command to turn the other cheek, but I wanted to know their thoughts on the sensitive subject referred to in the exchange. After asking him the question, he responded in brief, then sent a more detailed email shortly thereafter. His words are in blue, and I broke his email into sections and responded to each section in black. The correspondence was left in its actual form without making any grammatical corrections.
It is Sunday evening and I have some time to reply in more detail to your question on the matter of defending your wife or children.
I will share a few verses and my thoughts on each one.
Greetings David. I hope this email finds you doing well.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts in your previous email. It lets me know where you stand. I also have some thoughts to share, and I pray that you accept them in the goodwill spirit in which they are being written. You and I, no doubt, would agree on many things. I despise the concept of war. Not that I can say that “war” is always evil, for God himself mobilized Israel in ancient times to do battle with various people groups. But that was God. The Lord is not leading any nation today as he was the nation of Israel in those days. Without hesitation I declare that war among the nations today is immoral and always evil, for none of the Heads of State, or governing bodies, are following the holy, loving, and just God. They are serving their own interests, using the citizens of the nations as their cannon fodder as they seek to amass wealth and more power. Nationalism and militarism are the idols of many professing Christians.
On a more individual level, I believe that the initiation of violence against anyone is always wrong. There is simply no excuse for initiating physical aggression against one of our fellowmen. However, I find nowhere in the Bible that God condemns a man for protecting his family from harm, to the contrary, I find much to support the view that it is not only acceptable, but also expected. I will respond to the sections of your previous email, with your words in blue.
Matthew 5:44-45 "... but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
~If Jesus didn't mean what he said, then his words don't mean anything.
I believe that the Lord Jesus meant what he said, but I don’t believe that he meant what he didn’t say, and he said nothing about the issue of someone in our family being physically attacked. Yes, we are to love our enemies (seek their well-being), bless them that curse (Thayer’s - to imprecate curses upon, Strong’s – to execrate, to doom) us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use (Strong’s – insult, slander, falsely accuse) us and persecute (Thayer’s – in any way to harass, trouble, molest one) you (See Matthew 5:10 – for righteousness’ sake). His words mean everything, but meanings attached to his words can be incorrect.
But he said "love your enemies." How can we use physical violence on someone if we love them?
God loves everyone in the world, yet at one point he destroyed all human beings except for Noah and his family. Did this mean he did not love them? Christ ran people out of the temple with a whip. Did this mean he did not love them? Evidently in the Bible a person can behave in such a way that his actions call for forceful intervention because of the harm he is causing to others. More on this later.
~Jesus tells us to pray for those people...
In the context of people mistreating us for our faith, we should not respond with aggression, we should pray for them.
~Notice especially how the thought began in verse 44 continues in 45. This is very powerful! "... THAT YE MAY BE THE CHILDREN OF YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN:"
Isn't Jesus saying that if we do not do the things spelled out in verse 44, we cannot be his children?
Yes, I agree with the Lord’s words of course, but not all interpretations of what is being referred to in verses 44 and 45. We are to be peacemakers and willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Like Moses we are to (choose) “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” We must choose to follow Christ and endure opposition and suffering rather than pursuing sin and comfort. This still does not refer to a physical attack against one’s wife or children as if we are to allow a murderer or rapist to have his way. It is also significant that Paul stated in Romans 12:18: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men (emphasis mine).” What could Paul mean by the words “If it be possible” and “as much as lieth in you?”
~concerning the idea of praying for those that despitefully use us, prayer is powerful! I know a pastor in Costa Rica whose house and family has been directly targeted numerous times by sataists. During these attacks they prayed and sang and the Lord has always protected them. One instance their house was surrounded by attackers. Suddenly everyone of them scrambeled to leave the place as if they couldn't get away fast enough. Some fleeing on motorcycles and others on foot, obviously fleeing for their life from something. Did they see a host of angels coming to fight against them and protect God's children inside the house?
That is great! I believe that God at times intervenes in response to prayer, but not always. I believe he has created a world in which freewill creatures are able to make choices. Love must be freely chosen. For it to be freely chosen, the opposite must be possible – people can choose evil and hate. For choices to have meaning they must have consequences. This does not mean that God willed for terrible things to happen to anyone, but it does mean that he expects us to alleviate suffering as much as possible.
James 5:6 Ye have condemed and KILLED the just; and he doth not resist you.
~the context of verses 1-5 is of the ungodly living for their own selfish pleasure. and verse 6 then is also a result of their actions. If we take Jesus' teachings literally (and I think we need to) there may be times when the just will even be killed for their faith. but the important part is that we do not resist.
~the phrase 'and he doth not resist you' seems to me as if this is exactly what God expects of those who truly are his followers.
James appears to be stating what was happening at the time of his writing this, it was not worded in a way that made it a command for every situation. They had no recourse due to the societal oppression they were under, and they were killed. But let us assume that the interpretation is that they did not resist being killed and this is a command for everyone for all times. 1. Since he is speaking of the “just”, this refers us back to the idea, which you acknowledged (the just will even be killed for their faith), that this was for righteousness’ sake. I agree with you. However, to be sure, this does not address the matter of a violent criminal attempting to murder or rape a family member. 2. To be consistent, to forego resistance would mean that one would have to submit to being killed. But Paul resisted being killed by fleeing, and even Christ avoided being taken until it was his time.
~Read these verses prayerfully and ask yourself the question "can I fight back to protect my family and follow these verses?"
To answer your question, yes, absolutely. I can bless those who persecute me for my faith, and I can forego execrating them. I can obey the following command: “recompense to no man evil for evil.” Here is where things become even clearer for me. Please consider these two points.
First, I disagree that protecting someone from harm is evil. I make the claim that it would be immoral NOT to protect someone in our household from harm. There are instances in the Bible of individuals protecting someone from harm, or making preparations to do so, with the Lord being directly involved. It should be noted that unlike some who do not agree with God that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I do not believe that Christ changed the divine moral ethic even one time in the NT. He certainly corrected the abuses of the Pharisees, but his admonitions in Matthew 5 (for example) are clearly found in the OT as well. In one example of someone defending another person, we are told that Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11-15). He killed the Egyptian. It is interesting to read the words of Stephen in Acts 7:25 which I highlighted in bold type - Acts 7:22-25: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.” In fairness, we do not read where God condoned these actions, but it is noteworthy that there is not one word of condemnation in the OT or the NT, and in fact, immediately following what happened, God used Moses to deliver the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage.
Number two, and perhaps more importantly, there are clear and undeniable instances in the Bible of an action that is generally condemned but is praised in certain circumstances. Let us assume that the view that physical force is always wrong, or evil (which I do not agree with). I am sure you would agree that lying is wrong. Generally speaking, it is, according to the Bible. I can name several instances in the Bible where someone lied (something generally considered to be evil) and show that God blessed the individuals for it. I will refer to two only. When the Hebrew spies were being pursued by unjust aggressors, Rahab hid them. When she was asked where the spies were, she lied and said they had left. The Bible tells us in James 2 that her actions were the actions of faith and that she was justified by these works. She feared God and protected two men from unjust aggressors, and her actions were praised in James 2 and Hebrews 11. Were her actions unloving? Of course not. In the other example, the Egyptian midwives were instructed by Pharaoh to kill the newborn Hebrew males. They did not obey, and when they were asked, they lied and said the Hebrew women were more lively and they did not have time to carry out the evil deed. “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives:” They did something that was generally considered wrong, but they did it to protect innocent life – therefore God dealt well with them! All of these women showed courage. They resisted by doing something that was generally considered wrong and they were blessed for it because of their motive – protection of others. This cannot be denied. In like manner, a man that uses force (something generally considered to be wrong by some) to protect his innocent wife and children is no way in the wrong.
Matthew 26:52 Then Jesus said unto him, put up again thy sword into his place; for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
~Jesus was not going to use force to protect himself. He was willing for God to use this situation for His larger plan.
The Lord told Peter to put his sword in its place, not to get rid of it. In fact, the Lord told the disciples to sell other items in order to obtain a sword. The argument that this was for “wild animals” is sheer wishful thinking. I do agree that Christ did not protect himself, but that is because he had a unique purpose – he was to be a sin-offering for the world. This in no way implies that we are to give way to an attacker so he can have his way with our wife and children.
~if I use "force" for protection and it ends in the death of an attacker, would I not be responsible for sending a soul into eternal hell fire where he can never experience salvation from his sins for whom Christ also died?
God himself put people to death for their actions. It happened in the OT and NT. Those people are condemned to the lake of fire and the second death. Are they responsible for this? Or is God responsible for this? The wicked are of course. Certain doctrines cause people to erringly reverse their logic, however. In the same way, if a person were to attempt to murder or violate a woman or a child and a loving husband protected them and the attacker died, the attacker sealed his own fate, not the husband who stopped his evil.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
~this verse does not say that all things that happen are good, but that all things work together for good.
~it can be hard to trust that God is in control, but a lack of trust on my part does not change who God is.
God is in control, but this does not mean that everything that happens is his will. This also does not mean that we let evil have its way and do nothing. God is our provider, but he commands us to work. Those who do not work should not eat. 1 Timothy 5:8 says: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Am I not to provide resources and protection to my family? The Bible says this too: “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” God says there is no guilt in this situation and this isn’t even about protecting a wife and children – it is referring to property!
When we are insulted (a reference to being slapped on the cheek, but not a life-threatening situation), sued, harassed, bothered, inconvenienced, we are to turn the other cheek. If this was referring to murder or sexual violence, we would have to conclude that we are supposed to not only go along with it but give up even more to the assailant. That is evil.
I also believe that as we "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25) God can give us direction in a time of crisis like this. I have never faced any situation like this and pray I never will. But the grace of God is real and he gives us of that grace for the moments of need.
Yes, God can give us direction and help, but I refer back to my previous comment. I pray that neither of us ever face anything of this nature.
I hope this answers some of your questions you have had. It is a common question that many people have and is good to contemplate on what God would have us to do.
You said you have twelve children. That is wonderful. My wife and I have 7 children ages 15 yrs to 22 months. It would be great to meet you sometime. You are certainly welcome to come look us up sometime and attend our church service. We are in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula.
We wish you and your family the blessing of God.
Emanuel Yoder /Sterling Harbor Mennonite Church
I don’t expect to change the mind of someone, on this matter, that is in the Mennonite tradition. I read the words once, of someone I thought was a Mennonite, and it was said that this person opposed the initiation of aggression (something I would agree with) but the person would use force to defend or protect someone such as a loved one from an unjust aggressor (which I would agree with). I do not believe that protecting loved ones is vengeful in any way. I wanted to know where you stood, because there is a lot to appreciate about the Mennonites, however I cannot agree with the stance you have advocated. I hope that you see, even if you disagree, that I get my view from the Bible. May the Lord lead you and guide you, David. I hope we are both the better from our correspondence.
Response from the pastor in a separate email:
It was good to hear from you. It can be valuable to hear from others on scripture. I take your thoughts with goodwill as you desired. While I still maintain my thoughts about not using force in a time of attack on a loved one, I in no way feel superior to you and leave your feelings on the matter between you and God.. I will have to give answer to God someday for my life and how I lived, not for another person's. I believe there can be differences in a persons' conscience on some issues without invalidating our salvation through Christ. I also acknowledge that if a person suddenly finds himself in a time crisis like the scenario discussed in the first email, he may react differently than what he may have thought he would. Knowing this subject is of interest to you, you might be interested in reading the book "A Change of Allegiance" by Dean Taylor. This book is the true story of a young man and his wife who both served in the US Military in the early 90's and how the Lord convicted them of being in the military. It details their journey to understand what the Bible has to say about war and peace. Dean and his wife Tania made an in depth study of the biblical and historical teachings of war and peace. While the majority of the book has to do with the Bible teachings on war, it does discuss the issue of self-defense and defending a loved one that I'm sure you would find interesting. Dean gives a detailed account of their searching of scripture and how God worked in their discharge from the military. I am attaching a pdf (I hope it's readable) of the cover of the book and also the forward written by Dean. I bought a book for myself, then later a friend gave me one as well. So I have two books. I would be glad to mail you my extra one that is in very good condition if you would like to read it. And you could keep it for yourself as well. No problem if you're not interested. Wishing you and your family the blessing of God as you live for Him. Emanuel Yoder
My final response:
Thank you David. I am glad that our correspondence was cordial. I wish you the best in all you do. May the Lord bless you and your family, and may he protect you from the evils of the world. I don't know how I ever could be, but if it's possible for me to ever be a help to you, please don't hesitate to reach out.