by Mark Tooley
Neo-Anabaptists are the spiritual followers of pacifist absolutists John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, with Shane Claiborne representing the younger generation. (Here’s how they contrast with traditional Anabaptists.). They ferociously denounce the civil state as the wicked heir of Babylon and Rome that Christians must shun. Of course they especially reject the “violence” of the state’s police and military functions. But incongruently they often cheerlead for expansion of the federal welfare, entitlement and regulatory state without acknowledging that all state power is premised on the threat of coercive violence.
Recently a pro neo-Anabaptist (and United Methodist clergy) blogger for Huffington Post targeted Tea Party favorite Senator Ted Cruz’s militancy against big government. The blogger discerned the source of Cruz’s crusade against Obamacare in his preacher father’s “Christian dominionism.”
Interesting point. But why aren’t neo-Anabaptists and their kindred spirits who despise the armed state as Constantine’s legacy not enthusiastically aligned with Cruz, the Tea Party, and especially libertarians in combatting the encroaching tentacles of Babylon in Washington? If truly consistent in their witness against coercive violence, the neo-Anabaptists should mail checks to and preach sermons for the Cato Institute, the libertarian thinktank which which also shares their aversion to U.S. military adventures.
Shane Claiborne details the neo-Anabaptist view of the U.S. Government in his 2008 book JESUS FOR PRESIDENT. It describes the Whore of Babylon in Revelation as the Roman Empire, whose political whoredoms are replicated by modern America, which follows Rome in trying to “slaughter God’s love in the world.” Strong stuff! “Just as Caesar had his image on everything, America has its stamp,” Claiborne laments. “The world is branded with America.”
So why would neo-Anabaptists want the equivalent of the AntiChrist running health care, regulating food, trying to control the environment, micromanaging the economy and usurping the church and private charity with an unendingly expansive welfare and entitlement state? Who wants to receive food stamps from The Beast?!
The most influential of living neo-Anabaptists, Stanley Hauerwas, has indicated he voted for Barack Obama, supports nationalized health care, and favors a government imposed “living wage.” His views are typical for many if not most of his followers, especially as the lines blur among neo-Anabaptists, Religious Left and Evangelical Left.
Not all of the neo-Anabaptists have fully accepted that Caesar should direct every aspect of society except the police and military. Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd has warned “we have Christians on the right and on the left arguing over what Caesar should do about the poor – something Jesus never told us to do — instead of working together to serve the poor on our own – which is the very thing Jesus told us to do.” He added: “We’re too busy fighting over what Caesar should do about poverty,” which “will only change if we Christians stop thinking it’s our job to tell Caesar what to do and start to do what Jesus called us to do.”
At least Boyd clings to a somewhat more traditional Anabaptist separatist stance. The HuffPo clergy blogger accused Ted Cruz’s preacher father of the “hubris of thinking we don’t need a government at all to make our society run; our church can be the new government.” If Rev. Cruz actually has that view, which he surely would dispute, then maybe neo-Anabaptists could join his flock. Hauerwas likes to say, “I don’t have a foreign policy, I have the church.”
Neo-Anabaptists, at least rhetorically, like to pretend that government doesn’t matter, even while they still often demand much of it. Ardent Libertarians are similar, if at least politically more consistent.
In contrast, the state’s divine vocation to govern and protect without oppressing is central to historic Christian teaching, no matter what neo-Anabaptists or arch-libertarians might imagine or prefer.