I’m very excited to announce a project that myself and several authors have been working on for the past year or so. In mid-April 2021 my guest-edited special issue of Political Theology on “Mennonite Political Theology” will publish contributions from confessional, queer, secular, and feminist Mennonite scholars.
These exciting contributions include:
• Maxwell Kennel, “Introduction: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Mennonite Political Theology.”
This special issue of Political Theology collects four exemplary contributions that showcase the interdisciplinary breadth of political theology done by and about Mennonites. Although there are many ways to conceptualize political theology from within established academic disciplines – including Christian political theologies that use theopolitical terms to refine and advance ecclesial aims, and self-consciously secular political theologies that analyze powerful confluences of theological and political concepts – my approach to framing this special issue is to suggest that Mennonite Political Theology is at its very best when it is interdisciplinary and pluralistic. The great benefit of political theology is that it can include under its auspices both normative theological projects with constructive aims and critical projects that cast suspicion upon normativity itself, all while allowing scholars to work with the depth of theological and religious concepts without necessarily conforming to predetermined visions of theology or the political.
Susanne Guenther Loewen’s essay “The Personal Is Political: The Politics of Liberation in Mennonite-Feminist Theologies” provides the reader with a thorough evaluation and extension of Mennonite-Feminist Theology that demonstrates its political and liberative character. A theologian and pastor on the leading edge of the feminist turn in Mennonite theology, Guenther Loewen follows her dissertation on Dorothee Sölle and nonviolent atonement and builds upon the work of foundational Mennonite feminist theologians like Lydia Neufeld Harder with her unique voice – especially in her forthcoming work on peace theology and sexual violence. In her essay, Guenther Loewen demonstrates how the personal and political comingle at intersections between Mennonite and feminist identities. Drawing from Malinda Berry’s shalom political theology and Doris Janzen Longacre’s theopolitical cookbook and simple living guide, Guenther Loewen shows how traditional women’s work around food and home has consequences for the pursuit of peace and justice that patriarchal political theologies pass over.
Daniel Shank Cruz’s essay “Mennonite Speculative Fiction as Political Theology” also cooks up suggestive and experimental readings of queer Mennonite literary works that demonstrate their theopolitical and theapoetic character. Building upon his ground-breaking work in Queering Mennonite Literature: Archives, Activism, and the Search for Community, Cruz’s essay shows religious resonances within speculative fiction, and follows the works of Casey Plett, Sofia Samatar, and Miriam Toews to find acts of resistance that embody Mennonite values like peace and community. Considering Mennonite speculative fiction, in which being ‘in the world but not of the world’ becomes something ‘out of this world,’ Cruz shows how a Mennonite literary ethics is really quite queer and ideally suited for apocalyptic times.
Russell Johnson’s essay “Building Peace in a Culture War” then provides a constructive account of how Mennonite ethics, broadly construed, can contribute to the clear and present need for political depolarization. Gathering insights from his dissertation on communication ethics and nonviolence and addressing the social and cultural conflicts that define American political life, Johnson’s essay treats polarization as a power and principality that calls out for theological remediation. Insisting that dissenting voices be heard rightly, while challenging the persistent resentments that underpin partisan politics, Johnson’s article seeks to prepare the ground for a peace that privileges liberation, justice, and reconciliation.
Lastly, we provide a translation of a controversial sermon by the German Mennonite literary figure Johannes (Hans) Harder, titled “Between Bourgeois Existence and Violence.” Translated by Vic Thiessen, and appearing here for the first time in English, Harder’s sermon gives the reader a glimpse into the tensions that Mennonite pacifists sought to address in postwar Germany. Delivered at the funeral of a ‘Mennonite terrorist’ – Elizabeth von Dyck, a member of the Red Army Faction who was shot and killed by police on May 4, 1974 – Harder’s sermon problematically navigates between the poles of apathetic bourgeoise class privilege and revolutionary violence. As I point out in my introduction to the sermon, Harder’s work is complicated by his involvement and complicities with the Nazi SS, and his legacy remains a matter of controversy and mystery that is currently being examined by Mennonite scholars who have undertaken a reckoning with historical connections between Mennonites and Nazism.