Bringing citizen perspectives to bear on governmental policy may be motivated by either altruistic (concern for the welfare of others) or self-seeking interests. The means of seeking to influence government decisions may take the form of letter writing, appointments with people in congressional offices, testifying in congressional hearings, etc. Mennonites, as individuals and as denominational or agency representatives, have utilized all of these options in varying degrees.
Since 1525 Mennonites have appeared before high government officials to present their petitions. In the course of the four centuries delegations representing Mennonite bodies have traveled to such capitals as St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Moscow, Berlin, Jerusalem, Saigon, Asunción, Djakarta, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Washington, to present their requests, traditionally in defense of conscience on issues of peace and war.
As early as 1775, Mennonites wrote a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly regarding the bearing of arms. In 1916, the editor of the Gospel Herald (MC) wrote United States President Woodrow Wilson, requesting assistance for beleaguered Mennonites suffering in Russia. In 1917 the Eastern Amish Mennonite Church wrote President Woodrow Wilson petitioning him to exempt their members from military service. More than 20,000 Mennonites signed petitions sent to Washington in 1920 to forestall the renewal of conscription. Since 1940 Mennonites in America have testified periodically before congressional committees, especially on the matter of conscription which directly affected their families and faith perspective.
Only in more recent times have Mennonites established an ongoing presence near the seat of government. In 1968 the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Peace Section opened an office in Washington and in 1975, MCC Canada established an office in Ottawa. These offices serve as "listening posts" for constituents. Staff members monitor legislation and policy developments that affect the life and work of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches at home and abroad. Refugee concerns, world hunger, human rights, the environment (ecology), criminal justice and nuclear arms are among the issues added to conscription as legitimate areas of concern by the churches. Information is published for interested constituents, contacts with government are facilitated, and seminars are conducted.
The expanding global Mennonite presence in places of poverty, injustice, and warfare has increasingly resulted in requesting meetings with government officials to enable MCC and mission workers and interested church members to communicate observations and concerns that might helpfully enlighten governmental perspective and policy.
As education, travel, and communication media expand Mennonite awareness of the connection between governmental policy, the alleviation of human suffering, and threats to the planet's survival, so to the interest of church members in influencing those policy decisions has expanded. Some 6,000 Mennonites receive the Washington Memo of the MCC Washington office, and the "Ottawa Notebook" appeared regularly in the Mennonite Reporter in Canada. Both publications were designed to inform and equip readers for communication with appropriate people in government. Mennonites are of diverse perspectives on whether or not to influence government policy. "Lobbying" may be viewed in either a positive or negative light, depending on bow and for what purposes it is done.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: the Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 367, 377.
Gospel Herald (20 July 1916): 301.
See also Keith Graber Miller's Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves : American Mennonites Engage Washington. Knoxville : U. of Tennessee Press, 1996.
Mennonite Central Committee (search for Ottawa and Washington offices on MCC's search page)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 528. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Franz, Delton. "Lobbying." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/L63ME.html.
APA style: Franz, Delton. (1989). Lobbying. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/L63ME.html.