Either deliberately or because of gross negligence, Hannaford completely distorts a quote from a document we distributed to our members a decade and a half ago. His aim is to paint a picture that we allegedly do not report crimes because, as his carefully excerpted quote seems to imply, matters within the community are not “the proper province of the corporate State and its investigative, police and judicial services.” First, of course, four men are in prison right now because, despite Hannaford’s “oversight” in reporting the fact, we exposed and we reported their crimes to authorities. This fact alone should provide sufficient evidence that Hannaford’s spin has something majorly wrong with it.
Despite Hannaford’s best efforts to fit reality into his own story line, it was not our “tall, imposing, bearded” leader who established the position contained in our document “Resolution on the Limits of the Use of the Authority of External Compulsion.” For those like Hannaford who apparently are not familiar with Scripture, it was the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 (a scripture specifically cited in the document as the basis for the Resolution) who laid out the guideline in question. (It is our understanding that Paul was neither tall nor imposing, though he may have had a beard.) In these verses, Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for suing one another in courts of law: “Does anyone of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law . . . ? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another” (1 Cor. 6:1, 7, NASU). Our “Resolution” was not passed in some Continental Congress or any other secular setting, but rather within our church to set forth the Biblical position on suing within the church, or attempting to settle any personal disputes by having them legally adjudicated. It has nothing to do with criminal acts but with civil lawsuits and personal grievances between believers. It was not a statement denying the rightful, legitimate place of civil authority, which we fully recognize, appreciate and respect (as we’ll see shortly in quotes from elsewhere in our literature), but a statement establishing our agreement with Scripture that members of the church cannot sue one another to settle disputes.
The Resolution was written fifteen years ago, well before our community had ever experienced any criminal activity or had ever been accused of such activity. The Resolution simply did not contemplate criminal charges, such as sexual abuse. The Resolution clearly says that it seeks “to make explicit in the relationship of this church to its members and the members to the church a dictum of Scripture concerning the use by believers of the power of State compulsion against one another.” We then cite 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 and Matthew 5:40 which forbid lawsuits. And again, the fact that we reported the crimes of sexual abuse of children to the authorities certainly exposes the fallacy in Hannaford’s interpretation.
But Hannaford wants his readers to believe that we have bound ourselves, not simply from suing one another, but from reporting crimes. Again, the four perpetrators of child molestation that we exposed and we turned over to authorities disprove this bizarre theory. Further evidence against Hannaford’s rather fantastic tale is found in such facts as on March 1, 2009, immediately after we encountered this crime for the second time and, for the second time, reported such a crime to authorities, we even emphasized to our entire congregation that anyone committing such crimes would in fact face enormous jail time. We even spelled out the sentencing guidelines. We told everyone that any such criminal behavior placed them outside of any covering that the church could extend and that they would be handed over to authorities. Again on October 13, 2009, we told everyone the consequences of such a crime.
Hannaford simply lacks the depth of understanding of Biblical doctrine necessary to recognize what is quite obvious to all of us within our community, that is, that the Bible forbids lawsuits among believers—it does not forbid reporting crimes. To people who lack understanding of religious beliefs, especially those beliefs of minority religions such as Anabaptism, it is unfortunately all too easy to jump to prejudicial conclusions.
Also notice that Hannaford fails to note the specific reference to the State power that we identified as illegitimate. We specifically referred to “totalitarian States” such as “the former USSR or Nazi Germany.” Hannaford has reshaped our Resolution to fit his story. And we are quite sure that Hannaford himself believes in limits to State intrusion into his chosen profession. He probably “religiously” believes in freedom of the press. But when we speak of “limits of the use of the authority of external compulsion,” we are evil.
A quick review of even a small portion of our church’s literature underscores our belief in the legitimacy and necessity of police and military power. Even though we, as nonviolent Christians, cannot ourselves participate in those legitimate functions, we nonetheless consider them worthy of the highest respect when carried out in an honorable manner.
We write in Education Exodus that churches such as our own view “as legitimate any State authority limited to valid police powers such as protection of public health, safety and order.” Since we have many Jewish people in our church community, some of whom have had relatives lost under the Nazi regime in Europe, we remain sensitive to how easily the State can move beyond legitimate boundaries. So we often do refer to “limited” authority and “valid” power that the State possesses, rather than any authority it may claim.
We write in Beyond Violence, Beyond Pacifism, “Jesus straightforwardly laid out the limits to the use of force by those in His kingdom. As His agent of wrath, He has given into the State’s hands the legitimate power to utilize the sword of the flesh and, worthy of note, He did so as He stood before the tribunal that would sentence Him, the innocent Lamb of God, to death by crucifixion. God has given into the hands of the church, however, only the sword of the Spirit, not of the flesh (John 18:10-11, 36; 2 Cor. 10:3-4; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16; Isa. 49:2; 11:4; Hos. 6:5; Matt. 26:51-53; Mark 14:47-48; Luke 22:49-53; 9:51-56, NKJV).” Again, we do not believe that the church has the power or right to coercively persecute others who might disagree with its doctrines and practices, nor do we believe that the State has the right to compel conscience.
In Beyond Violence, Beyond Pacifism, we further declare that the “limited, negative function of restraining evil—including police and military action—in order to protect the vulnerable, sacralized community of God is one of the legitimate functions of the State in exercising its authority as the ‘agent of wrath to bring punishment on the evildoer’ (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:14, NIV, NKJV).”
In our Apologetic Handbook on Violence and Nonviolence, we write, “Just as Jesus recognized and accepted Pilate’s authority (John 19:10-11), Paul recognized that the police and the military have a legitimate role in fallen society. Likewise, we can call upon them to perform their role in the order of a fallen society. This has nothing to do with our conviction that God has separated coercive power from the church and from Christians. We do not deny that an ‘element of justice’ is necessary in such a world, but we do deny that God has called the church to be that agent of compulsory justice.” Hannaford has simply twisted our beliefs to fit his prejudiced view of us.
Finally, a careful reading of the document reveals that the restriction imposed by the document does not merely limit individual members from suing the church or other individual members. It also binds the church from suing individual members.