The legendary Vern Ratzlaff (right), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and preparing sermons for Sundays at the rural church he’s been the interim pastor for the past decade. This is an excerpt from a paper entitled “Worship and Power” that he wrote for the Baptist Peace Fellowship a few years ago:
Is it possible to be citizens politically while being exiles theologically? Those seeing themselves as citizens of G-d’s kingdom/empire, have tried a range of options; the church in Russia very intentionally attempted some of these. Tikhon, patriarch after the 1917 revolution, initially categorically opposed the Soviet regime, but felt that he could not really help his people when he was imprisoned. Other options were complete accommodationism, isolation/withdrawal, or critical evaluation and witness. (A fascinating treatment of how this worked with the Catholic church in China is found in “Keeping Faith”, Atlantic Monthly, July/August, 2007; Father Jin, now bishop of Shanghai, felt that the option followed by the underground church was not able to provide a stable spiritual home for Chinese Catholics, and that being part of the registered church, seen by the underground church as compromising, was the best way to provide spiritual care. In a BBC release, 19/7/07, it was announced that Father Joseph Li Shan has been elected by his Beijing diocese as the new Beijing bishop, without reference to Rome. China’s eight to twelve million Catholics are presently split between the Beijing-approved Patriotic Church and an underground church which is not registered and remains loyal to Rome’s canon-laws.) (A counter story to this is the experience of the Miserete Christos church in Ethiopia; at the beginning of the communist Mengistu regime, church leaders were imprisoned; at the end of the communist regime, without benefit of leadership being with the congregations, the church had grown from about 5000 to 100,000.) Brueggemann gives the examples of Joseph and Daniel (Christian Century, ‘How G-d’s People Challenge Empire’, March 6/07); Joseph ‘succumbs to the imperial account of reality and submerges his Israelite identity into the totalizing horizon of Pharaoh.’ Daniel negotiates with the empire and also maintains his Jewish identity with the reminder to the king that what is required is ‘mercy to the oppressed’ (Dan 4:27), the sacred triad; normative for Daniel is his concept of community, of worship (especially prayer).