Do Mennonite young people have ethics or faith?

Sep 8, 2015 by

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Recently a Bible professor at one of our Mennonite colleges said to me that when her Mennonite students talk about faith, it is all about ethics. It’s not about God or worship, but rather what we do, especially work for peace and justice. I’m afraid that these students may have learned their Mennonite lessons all too well.

Stanley Hauerwas has convinced me that many contemporary Christians are Kantians, whether they know it or not. This would include at least some Mennonites. Immanuel Kant wanted to be rid of religious myths (biblical narratives?) and replace them with universal moral principles (peace and justice?). He replaced theology with ethics. Which of course brings us back to our Mennonite college professor’s students for whom faith is about ethics, especially a concern for peace and justice — what I have come to call P&Jism.

I don’t want to be misunderstood: I am a big advocate for peace and justice. Our times call out for strong proponents of peace in a world seemingly with unending war; our land desperately needs economic and racial justice. But so often our concern for peace and justice takes the shape of advocacy for certain political positions, positions that really don’t cost us much.

More to the point, I’m just not impressed with my own interest in peace and justice, or anyone else’s, when it is not rooted in the narratives about ancient Israel, Jesus the Christ, and the early church, not propelled by a life of worship and prayer, and not guided by corporate discernment about what God is up to in the world today. We have failed as a people if we have not grounded our young people in that kind of vision for faith and for action.

Richard A. Kauffman, senior editor of the Christian Century, resides in Goshen, Ind., where he and his spouse, Suzanne, attend College Mennonite Church. 

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